If Women's History, so-called, has more volumes of the high caliber of this book, even the most doubting Thomas of the masculine persuasion will be silenced in his criticism. … --Richard H. Dillon, The California Territorial Quarterly
Over the past few decades, thanks to a new generation of historians, our sense of just exactly who were the Founders of nineteenth-century American California has been significantly enlarged and enhanced. With the publication of this meticulously researched and elegantly written biography, what many of us have long suspected now stands clear: namely that Annie Kennedy Bidwell--in her concern for civilized and humane values and her willingness to put such values into practice--ranks among the great women of California in the nineteenth century. Like her husband, Annie Bidwell was a Founder. Historian Lois Halliday McDonald has recovered for us the splendor and moral purpose of an engaged and value-oriented American life. --Kevin Starr, University Professor of History, University of Southern California; State Librarian Emeritus
The impressively researched book deromaticizes Annie Bidwell while portraying her as a woman of enduring virtues. McDonald develops details of John and Annie's background and discusses intriguing questions in a manner satisfying for those who are familiar with Bidwell history. …
… For those who are first learning of this exceptional woman, Annie's story is developed in a mosaic of narrative and letters, largely in the context of the remarkable marriage of equals that was lived out by John and Annie Bidwell in late 19th century California. --Sara Stanley Baz, California Historian
Basing her work mainly on the Bidwells' extensive diaries and correspondence, with little reference to recent scholarship on late nineteenth-century women reformers or California white-Indian relations, McDonald has written a discursive yet sympathetic and clear-eyed biography of a complex woman, whose "rigid goals" worked against her genuine charitable impulses. … --Pamela Herr, California History: The Magazine of the California Historical Society
This fine biography of Annie Kennedy Bidwell, which is rich in informative detail about the remarkable wife of one of California’s early congressmen, succeeds in bringing the individuals to life. The author’s careful research shows on every page. Readers will enjoy the many photos which show period dress and emphasize contrasts in the lives of the gentry and the Indians who lived in the general Chico area. Highly recommended. —Esther Stamm Franklin, author of The Others at Monticello, and consultant in library services (retired)
McDonald’s book shows us an Annie Bidwell far more interesting than the one-dimensional character most of us are acquainted with. Rather than being John’s shadow, she is an active participant in the early days of Chico. While supportive of his efforts, she presses her own causes and concerns with a pleasantly surprising feisty streak.—Steve Schoonover, city editor, Chico Enterprise-Record
For those interested in early California history, or John Bidwell in particular, Lois’ biography completes the ‘other half’ of the picture. —Bernie Bidwell, John Bidwell's cousin
Lois McDonald has given us a new insight on the life of one of California's most illustrious pioneer women. Annie Bidwell was a dedicated Christian, devoted wife, and outstanding leader in the numerous causes that were near and dear to her heart.
Ms. McDonald captures the very essence of this spirited woman's life and has given us a tool that teachers and historians will utilize in the teaching of California history for years to come. --Judy Crain, Guide I, Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park
Lois Halliday McDonald, longtime Paradise resident, active as a board member of the Paradise Performing Arts Center, the Association for Northern California Records and Research, and the Butte County branch of the League of American Pen Women, now has a capstone to her fruitful career.
She is the author of the first book-length biography of the wife of Gen. John Bidwell. Annie Kennedy Bidwell: An Intimate History ($44.95 in hardcover from Stansbury Publishing in Chico) is a masterful and lively chronological portrait of a woman whose "greatest achievement was providing leadership in the causes she prayed ceaselessly to win others to, and in so doing she gave Chico and all of California a female model of whom to be proud."
Carefully researched and documented, the narrative draws from the couple's diaries and papers, as well as published works, all sifted through the judicious hands of the sympathetic historian writing almost a hundred years after Annie's death. The story has flow and verve as McDonald enters into the Victorian sensibilities of the Kennedys and Bidwells and returns with a tale that is a "must have" for anyone interested in local history.
It's all here: family drama, politics, Annie's meeting with Susan B. Anthony, her interest in the education of Rancho Chico's Native Americans, her fight against alcohol. Annie's personality -- sometimes severe or self-absorbed, sometimes merciful and compassionate -- is present throughout. There is just nothing else like it.
In a summary at the end of the book, McDonald writes that "Annie's story is both dramatic and romantic, and on the whole a happy one in spite of the tragic deaths of her older brother and father. She never faltered from the course she felt that her God had set for her, whether handling relationships within the Kennedy family or keeping secret those personal relationships of her husband prior to his confession and repentance made to her alone."
The moment of repentance came the last Sunday of 1867 and McDonald asks: "To what length did Bidwell go that winter evening when the dam burst and he released confidences detailing his sins? Did he then tell her of his liaisons with at least two Indian women and the children that had resulted? Could she have accepted that news and still felt the glow of affection toward him? Yes, in this biographer's opinion, she could do so and did."
When John Bidwell died on a Monday afternoon, April 4, 1900, he was 81, she 20 years younger. They had been married three decades, and Annie was to survive another 18 "restless" years. Was their marriage a good one?
McDonald takes up the issue in a thoughtful chapter, "The give and take of a successful marriage." Annie's deep Presbyterian faith, the fact that the couple had no children, and both her and the General's stolid expressions in photographs (many of which are included in the book), suggest less than a "close" relationship. Yet, as McDonald points out, sex "was simply not talked about openly in polite society -- or more precisely, not in mixed society or with the servants. So Annie Kennedy, who was very Victorian in her upbringing, and John Bidwell, who was not only a fast learner but of a naturally inhibited nature, were forced into very circumspect expressions of their intimate life together."
There follows considerable evidence of the couple's affection for each other, at least as it was expressed in letters and other writings.
"Annie's earliest letters to John after their marriage, and these began soon because of his frequent business trips to Sacramento and San Francisco, always ended with her enclosure of one of "our" kisses.' John, too, sent like tokens: His departure from home on their first Christmas Eve was followed by a letter from Annie almost drenched in tears. He wrote of his remorse, especially as his business purpose turned out badly, but sent the sweetest kiss I can give, Dear Annie."'
Theirs was sometimes a playful correspondence, especially in the matter of grammar. "He wrote: Rooves? You meant roofs.' She wrote: Bottany? Is it not botany?"'
Annie Kennedy Bidwell: An Intimate History is a delight and a treasure. --Dan Barnett, "Biblio File Book Review: Paradise historian's triumphant biography of Annie Bidwell"
To learn the complete history of Chico, California, Annie Kennedy Bidwell: An Intimate History is required reading. Not only did Annie Bidwell donate land, layout city streets, and support its development, she donated to the city of Chico one of the largest municipal parks anywhere in the United States: Bidwell Park.
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