Over a hundred years ago, there was a very special woman that helped define the city of Long Beach and Costa Mesa. Her name is Fanny Bixby, and she was the daughter of the famous Jotham Bixby, also known as the father of Long Beach. Born into wealth Fanny Bixby was different than many other rich women of the early 1900s. At a young age she was aware of gender inequality and questioned the way boys were treated over girls. She was a non-conformist and would go on to become a leader in the fight for women’s rights. As a feminist and activist, she would grow up to help women win the right to vote in California before the rest of the country.
“Later in 1908, she would go on to become one of the first police women in the country for the city of Long Beach.”
During World War I she spoke out against what she felt was senseless killing. As a playwright she wrote a play protesting the war titled, The Jazz of Patriotism, which debuted in 1928. As an artist and poet she helped share a messages of peace. Later in 1908, she would go on to become one of the first police women in the country for the city of Long Beach. As a police officer she would help women in the red light district and victims of domestic violence.
When Fanny Bixby wasn’t helping other women, one of her other causes was helping poor disadvantaged children. Many of these children were immigrants at a time when there were no child labor laws. She would use her wealth to build settlement houses across the country and would go on to adopt 14 children of which 13 were of different ethnic background.
Bixby helped people of all skin color and backgrounds. When a black group of church singers from Mississippi were traveling and could not get a place to stay Bixby took them in and donated to help their school. After moving and becoming a founder of the city of Costa Mesa, she realized her poor Japanese neighbors were not allowed to buy land so she stepped in by purchasing plots of land and allowed them to farm it and keep the profits. In her final days she would go on to donate most of her wealth to many of her poor neighbors and charity’s she helped.
“Fanny Bixby helped people of all skin color and backgrounds.”
The two story adobe home Fanny Bixby grew up in is known as Rancho Los Cerritos. The 172-year-old home is one of the oldest in California and is still open as a museum today in the city of Long Beach. It was there we met Marcia Harris, who has played Fanny Bixby for decades and has become an expert on all things Fanny and authored the book, Fanny Bixby Spencer: Long Beach’s Inspirational Firebrand. “I always thought they should make a movie about her,” says Harris, who is well known in the Long Beach historic community. Part of the reason many in the city of Long Beach or Costa Mesa may have never heard of Bixby is because she kept her generosity private. Men during that time were also better at recognizing other men and many were not big fans of female rights advocates. Today we can clearly see a woman ahead of her time and her legacy lives on as an inspiration for many.
For todays generation looking to learn more about Fanny Bixby there isn’t much content on the web available so we took matters into our own hands. First we created a spoken word video tribute to Fanny Bixby we hope you all enjoy. In addition, we also interviewed author, Marcia Harris about her book, which happens to be the only one ever written about Bixby. By learning more about Fanny Bixby, we hope her desire to helping those who are struggling lives on in each of us.