Hattie King, Activist

“Marching Through Kansas”

Bring along your hatchets, girls we’ll wreck some more saloons,

We’ll send them higher than the finest of balloons;

Wreck them as they should be wrecked, with hatchets and with brooms,

While we go marching through Kansas.

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WCTU Hatchet Pin from the Museum's Collection

During the 1800s the average American over 15 years old consumed nearly 7 gallons of pure alcohol a year. That figure is 3 times as much as is consumed now. Alcohol abuse, primarily by men was wreaking havoc on the lives of hundreds of thousands of families. A man could use all of his earnings for drink and leave his wife and children penniless. At the time women had little control over family finances and had only limited opportunities to work. Crusader Carrie Nation, with a one-year old child, was widowed when her husband died of disease caused by alcohol. She was famous for praying and singing hymns while leading marches protesting the sale and use of alcoholic beverages. She led groups of women who destroyed saloons with rocks and hatchets. Carrie called these “Hatchetations.” Arrested 32 times for these actions, she paid her fines by selling tiny hatchet pins and kept giving lectures across the country.

Another group called the Women’s Christian Temperance Society took on the social problems caused by alcohol abuse in a less dramatic way. The WCTU was known for its opposition to drinking but worked tirelessly to improve society. They participated in non-violent protests and were one of the first organizations to have a lobbyist in Washington, DC. Their motto was “Do everything” as they felt that all reform was interconnected and social problems could not be separated.  The reforms they worked on included building kindergartens, opposing child labor, working on sanitation and public health, international peace, prison reform, the 8-hour workday, and the vote for women. The organization started in 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio. By 1892 it had 150,000 dues paying members.

France Willard was the president of WCTU from 1879 to 1898. Her tireless efforts for the temperance cause included a 50-day speaking tour in 1874, an average of 30,000 miles of travel a year, and an average of 400 lectures a year for a 10-year period. In 1905 a statue of Frances Willard was given to Congress by the state of Kansas. It the first statue of a woman to be given to Congress and is currently on display in the rotunda of the U S Capitol building.

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George and Hattie King

On one of her trips, she passed through our Santa Clara Valley and helped form the Bard Union of the WCTU here.  Hattie King, a young wife and mother and charter member, became the president of the local union. Hattie was known for her activism and concern for the well being of the local citizens of our area. Her daughter described her as having a “wonderful sense of humor, a unique sparkle, moral courage and above all, a belief in the worth of people.” She and her husband, George, are credited with bringing about the opening of Fillmore’s first high school.

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Fillmore's Temporary High School.  It is now a home at 2nd and Saratoga St.

Born Hattie Virginia Busick in 1872 in the gold fields of El Dorado County, she was the daughter of a Pony Express Rider and a descendant of General Nathaniel Green. Hattie came to live in Fillmore with her aunt, Mrs. S. A. Guiberson, when she was 12 years old. George King, her future husband, came to Southern California in 1887 and worked as a ranch hand. In 1894 he went to work for the D. C. Cook Ranch which was owned by David Cook, the founder of Piru. George and Hattie met in Piru and were married October 11, 1896 in the Piru Methodist Church. Later the Kings bought farm land and built a home in Bardsdale that is still the residence of members of their family.

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Fillmore's First Permanent High School with Student Body on the Steps, c 1912

Mrs. King certainly was an example of WCTU’s motto, “Do everything.” In “Tales from the Past,” a column in a 1980 issue of the Fillmore Herald, her many projects and activities that benefited the community were listed. She was a Sunday School teacher, president of the Ventura County Epworth League (a Methodist young adult association), and headed the Women’s Home Missionary Society in the Long Beach District. She and her husband provided the lot for the Fillmore Methodist Church (now the home of the One Step a la Vez center.) She was a charter member of the local WCTU. In 1955 she had the honor to be nominated by the WCTU as Mother of California.

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First Fillmore High School Graduating Class, 1911. 

Left to right:  Mary Cummings, Albert Wiklund, Sarah King, Mabel Arthur

Up until the early 1900s Fillmore’s high school students took the train to Santa Paula to attend school. The Kings, along with Fergus Fairbanks and other community members, petitioned the supervisors for a high school in Fillmore. Mrs. King financed the building of a temporary school building. It is now a home on Second Street. She continued to campaign for a permanent structure which was completed in 1911. It was considered one of the most beautiful schools in the state. Unfortunately, that beautiful  building burned in 1937. The 1963 Copa de Oro is dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. King along with Fergus Fairbanks, in appreciation for their work to bring a high school to Fillmore. The current Fillmore High School is situated at the same location.

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First High School (later Junior High School) Burns, January 21, 1937

In Ventura County, districts could vote on whether to be “wet” or “dry”.  By 1909, the district which included Fillmore voted to be “dry”.  This meant alcohol could not be sold in the area, but it if a person had alcohol they could share it. Enforcement was by the local constable.  Constable Owen Miller was very selective on enforcement, since he was the leading bootlegger of the town.

Due to pressure from churches, social groups like the WCTU, and colorful individuals like Carrie Nation the 18th amendment to the constitution outlawing the use of alcohol was proposed to congress in 1917. An adequate number of states had ratified it by 1919 and Prohibition became the law of the land. A law that caused endless problems for our country and that was repealed on December 5, 1933. Although, these same groups are blamed for much, their underlying efforts to support and improve the well-being of our communities by building schools, helping win votes for women, working on labor reform, and ending child labor have left an enduring mark. That mark can still be seen in our communities today.