March has been an exciting and reflecting month. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we also mourn the loss of our beloved community members and museum volunteers Maggie Randolph and Barbara Hale. Maggie is best known for her dedication to the founding and growth of Merced College. Barbara was an outstanding reporter and editor for the Merced Sun-Star until her retirement in the early 2010s.
Their love for Merced and drive to preserve its arts, culture, and history were widely shared by the women before them like pioneer photographer Alice Hare, theatre director Alice Osborn, and Snelling historian Elsie Estep. In my previous columns, I wrote about Merced County women making a difference in education, sports, business, and agriculture; so, this year, I would like to celebrate the cultural achievements of these three women.
Alice Hare was born in 1859 in New Geneva, Pennsylvania to a large family of eight children. She came to California with her husband, James W. Hare, and three boys in 1895 and settled in Santa Clara where her fourth son was born. In addition to making a home for her and her family, Hare also developed an interest in photography. She produced hundreds of prints during her active years from 1895 to 1912 and her subject matter included people, places, buildings, landscapes, nature, agriculture, industry, recreation, and special events. Working as an amateur photographer, she published her works in books and magazines and some of her photos won awards in exhibitions and competitions.
Hare brought her passion for photography with her when she came to Winton in 1911. Winton, developed by the Co-operative Land and Trust Company, was considered the “Youngest Town in Merced.” With a slogan like “Win Wealth in Winton,” it lured over 200 settlers within eight months in 1911 including Hare and her family. The Hares gained the title of being the first persons to ask for reservations when the lots were to be surveyed. The people of Winton immediately saw the benefit of Hare’s photographic skills as she captured many historic moments of this young town including the dedication of a 200-pound bell for the People’s Church of Winton and the newly completed Winton Grammar School which was designed by her son, J. Carson Hare. Both events took place in 1912.
As 1912 came to an end, it marked the beginning of a decline in Hare’s photographic activity. Hare channeled her energy in the development of many civic and social activities in the new town of Winton. She helped start the Winton Women’s Improvement Club and became the first librarian of Winton branch of the Merced County Library, a position she held until 1918. Eventually, the Hares returned to the Bay Area. She died in 1942.
Like Alice Hare who made strides in the male-dominated world of photography, Alice Osborn may have been one of the first female theatre directors and producers in the county. When Osborn passed away in 1981 at the age of 81, she left a great vacuum in the arts and cultural scene in Merced. Born in 1900 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Osborn displayed her talent for theatre at a young age. After high school graduation, she went to the University of Oregon as a drama major. She then continued her graduate education at Stanford University and Catholic University in Washington, D. C.
Moving to Merced County, Osborn taught in Dos Palos, then Merced High School from 1945 to 1961. While teaching, she was a drama coach for the high school and directed over 30 plays. She also directed plays for the AAUW and the Gateway Players (also known as Merced Community Players). In all, she directed and produced more than 350 plays including “Pygmalion,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and “Macbeth” during her career. She was a charter member of the Regional Arts Council and member of Merced College Fine Arts Council.
Also active in her own community was Elsie Robinson Estep who served as a charter member of the Snelling Municipal Advisory Council, the past Noble Grand officer of the Snelling Rebekah Lodge, and a member of Snelling Women’s Club. Born in 1909, Estep was a member of the pioneer Robinson family in Snelling. She joined the Merced County Historical Society and served on the Merced County Historical Society Board of Directors from 1971 until 1983.
When the Merced County Historical Advisory Committee was created, Estep became a charter member and was instrumental in the nomination of our Courthouse to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. She was also an unofficial historian of Snelling who authored Snelling - Cradle of the County published by the Historical Society in 1982. To recognize her contributions to Merced County history, Merced County Historical Society established the Estep-Burchell Community Grant, partly in her memory, when she passed away in 1989.
Many ordinary citizens in Merced County, day after day and year after year, quietly are doing their part to make our community a better place. Just like Alice Hare, Alice Osborn, and Elsie Estep, their stories may not have been told or heard; however, their impact is truly being felt. Next time when you walk in the County Library, just remember Maggie Randolph championed its construction; or when you use the digital newspaper archives at the Courthouse Museum, just remember Barbara Hale helped to compile the data base. Maggie and Barbara, thank you for making a difference!
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.