Chinese New Year will be celebrated on Jan. 28 – the Year of the Rooster. The rooster is a symbol of pride, ambition, and trustworthiness, and such character attributes were demonstrated by the action of a Chinese American named Joe Wing Hoy. One hundred years ago, Joe Wing Hoy became the first Chinese American from Merced to be admitted into the United States Army, coincidentally in the midst of an anti-immigration movement.
During World War I, the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917, which prohibited people in the designated Asia-Pacific Zone from immigrating to the United States. It marked an era of nativism as the anti-immigration movement reached its zenith. Because of his loyalty and patriotism, Hoy joined the Merced Drill Company, went through military training, and fought in WWI. Hoy’s ambitious and courageous action defied xenophobia.
Also defying the social norms were the Merced County women who made legal history a hundred years ago. In October 1917, Mrs. John O’Neil was accused of causing bodily harm to Mrs. Alice Dupont by hitting and choking her when Mrs. Dupont trespassed on her property. These two neighbors whose ranches were in the Rotterdam Colony despised each other and often fought over little matters. When the case was brought before Justice F. H. Farrar’s court, an all-women jury was impaneled. They found Mrs. O’Neil guilty of the charge and fined her $50.
Impaneling an all-women jury was a first in Merced County legal history. On the surface, this case may have seemed like progress since California women were not allowed to vote or serve on a jury until 1911. However, that an all-women jury could only hear and judge a case involving women as both plaintiff and defendant is troubling in that it fuses women’s enfranchisement and gender segregation in a legal proceeding.
As the Merced County women gained equal representation in the legal system, the Merced County farmers made progress in systematic and scientific farming with the creation of Merced County Farm Bureau. Due to the increased demand for food production during World War I, the University of California had obtained more federal funding to send its farm advisers to agricultural regions, including Merced County, to help local farmers.
In January 1917, Professor V. C. Bryant of UC Agricultural Extension (later renamed the UC Cooperative Extension) came to Merced and gave a lantern-slide presentation about the benefits of forming a farm bureau. On March 7, 1917, 417 Merced County farmers signed a petition to request the Merced County supervisors to allocate $2,000 a year for a farm adviser. This contribution was to help pay for the farm adviser’s traveling and office expenses, while his salary was paid by the University of California.
One of the prerequisites for obtaining a farm adviser was the creation of a farm bureau. As a result, Merced County Farm Bureau was organized and its first meeting was held on May 17, 1917 with W. S. Richey as president and Mrs. F. S. Stebbins as secretary. The membership for the first year was 406. With the creation of the farm bureau, J. F. Grass Jr. was assigned to Merced County as its first farm adviser.
The benefit of a farm adviser was immediately felt throughout the farming community, from initiating scientific cow testing to organizing a fire protective league to conducting rabbit extermination campaigns. This successful collaboration between the Farm Bureau and UC Cooperative Extension will be revisited in an exhibit unveiled this August at the Courthouse Museum. Stay tuned.
The Farm Bureau and UC Cooperative Extension are not alone in their centennial celebrations because Hilmar is turning 100, too. The coming of the Tidewater Southern Pacific Railroad led to the establishment of Hilmar in 1917. This area previously known as Hilmar Colony was created in 1901 when the Fin de Siecle Investment Co. subdivided John W. Mitchell’s estate. Soon, it attracted a large group of settlers of Swedish descent, many of them from Minnesota and Nebraska.
In 1907, a land promoter by the name of W. A. Irwin replatted a portion of Hilmar Colony and created Irwin City. Then, in 1917, because the landowners in Irwin City refused to give the railroad company the right of way, the Tidewater was built just north of Irwin City, which led to the creation of modern-day Hilmar.
One hundred years later, we remember several individuals and organizations that left their marks on Merced County history. You can leave your mark on history, too, by becoming a Courthouse Museum docent. As a docent you will help to preserve Merced County history by sharing it with visitors from the county and from around the world. Our annual docent training is on Jan. 21 at 10 a.m. at the Courthouse Museum. Please make your reservation by calling 209-723-2401.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.