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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Mrs. Frances McG. Martin

A woman of superior ability and characteristics, Mrs. Martin has made a record in two professions, either one of which might have crowned with success the efforts of one less ambitious than she. The history of her life and accomplishments is interesting and instructive, showing to what heights one may attain who is inspired by right motives and endowed with a mentality broad and deep.

Though a native of the east, her birth having occurred in Gettysburg, Pa., Mrs. Martin has no recollection of her birthplace, for soon after her birth her parents moved to Illinois and settled near Macomb, McDonough county. It was there that both parents passed away, leaving seven children, the youngest being but two years of age. Thrown suddenly upon her own resources, Frances Grier McGaughey (for she traces her ancestry to the Griers of Pennsylvania who were some of the sturdy pioneer settlers of that commonwealth and of national fame) planned her future course in life, which was to prepare herself for the teacher’s profession. At the time she was a student in the Minnesota State Normal, at St. Cloud, her application for a position as teacher during the summer vacation led to her appointment to teach a district school in a remote settlement in that state. Ninety miles by stage over the roughest of roads brought her to her destination; there she found her boarding place was a small shanty protected with a sod roof, while the school house was a log cabin. The young teacher was not dismayed and completed the term with credit to herself and profit to the pupils. Resuming her studies at the State Normal when the next term opened, she was later graduated with honors and subsequently became a teacher in the schools of St. Cloud and Minneapolis.

Miss McGaughey’s identification with California dates from the year 1874. Stopping temporarily in Alameda, she made application for a position as teacher there, later in Healdsburg, and being accepted in the latter city as first assistant, she made a splendid record. The following year she was made principal of the Healdsburg schools, a position which she filled until her marriage to Edgar Martin in 1876.

Left a widow in 1882 with two small children, when the youngest was four months old Mrs. Martin resumed her duties in the school room, accepting a position in a country school near Skaggs Springs, Sonoma county. This was the beginning of an important period in her career. From this position she became principal of the schools in Sonoma, which she held until her election on the Republican ticket in 1886 as superintendent of the schools of Sonoma county, which has more separate school districts than any county in the state. So successful had been her work that she was re-elected in 1890 by a majority of nearly four hundred votes, this too in consideration of the fact that the Democratic candidate for governor had received the largest number of votes in the county. She was the first woman elected to this position in Sonoma county and during her incumbency gave ample evidence of her ability. Graduation from the grammar grades of the public schools of the county was first carried into practice by Mrs. Martin. Formerly pupils were “turned back” by each new teacher, and eventually left school in disgust at not being able to accomplish something definite. Mrs. Martin worked the matter up personally, from school to school, urging the pupils to remain in school until they had at least completed the grammar course, assuring them that diplomas would be given all who completed the course. Questions were prepared by the county board of education; examinations were held simultaneously all over the county by the respective teachers; the papers were forwarded to the county superintendent’s office, were passed upon by the board of education and regular grammar-grade diplomas were issued to the successful pupils. Those diplomas were signed by the superintendent of schools and the president of the county board of education, and the holders were able to enter high school without examination, and after graduation therefrom they could, and now can, from the accredited high schools, enter the State University without examination. Pupils from the most remote mountain districts have the right-of-way to and through the portals of the highest educational institution in the state.

The first class of graduates from the country schools in 1888 numbered about half a dozen, but now scores and hundred are graduated each year. Many favorable comments were made concerning Mrs. Martin’s work, but of all of them none gave her more inspiration than that from Dr. David Starr Jordan, of Stanford University, under date of August 6, 1894: “No other superintendent in the state is doing better work than you, and none is working more intelligently and loyally.” In 18983 she was a member of the World’s Congress of Educators which convened in Chicago and many noted educators from the east were much surprised to find the line was unbroken from the smallest country school in Sonoma county to the State University. Some said: “We have been trying to reach that point for more than twenty years, but have not yet attained its accomplishment.” In January, 1895, Mrs. Martin retired from the office in which she had accomplished so much for the benefit of the pupils of the schools.

Mrs. Martin’s object in giving up educational work was to fit herself for the legal profession, a field for which she has proven herself equally well fitted as in the educational field. Her studies were conducted in the office of A. B. Ware of Santa Rosa. She was admitted to the bar by the Supreme Court of the state December 24, 1895, and in February of the following year she opened an office in Santa Rosa. Mrs. Martin prefers probate practice and has the reputation of looking closely after the interests of widows and orphans. In civil cases her aim has ever been to effect a settlement between the parties without the expense, strain and enmities usually accompanying a suit at law. In the settlement of differences between the parties she has ever been successful, ever bearing in mind the advice given her by a man well known and eminent in the United States and elsewhere, while she was engaged in the study of law. He said: “Settle whenever you can. I consider that person the best lawyer who has the greatest number of cases, but who takes the fewest into court.” No a little of Mrs. Martin’s success in both professions has been due to her pleasing personality, as well as board humanitarian spirit which enables her to enter into the problems of those with whom she is brought in contact.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011