Ina Coolbrith Park
Ina Coolbrith Park is a hidden treasure in Russian Hill that offers spectacular views of the city and San Francisco Bay. In 1947 the park was dedicated to California's first Poet Laureate, Ina Donna Coolbrith (1841 - 1928), as it is located near her former home at 1604 Taylor Street. Ina Coolbrith inhabited a literary and artistic circle that included Mark Twain, Isadora Duncan, and Jack London. She was a librarian at the Oakland Library Association, the San Francisco Mercantile Library, and the Bohemian Club. Her monographs: "A Perfect Day and Other Poems", "Songs from the Golden Gate", and "California" are available today in print and ebooks.
Songs from the Golden Gate by Ina Coolbrith
Coolbrith Portrait by Ansel Adams
Backstory and Context
Ina Coolbrith came to California with her family on a wagon train in 1851. She attended school in Los Angeles, and as a young woman Ina made San Francisco her home (1). Coolbrith published her first poems in the Los Angeles Star and California Home Journal. In the 1860s, she published poems in The Californian, The Galaxy, and several issues of Overland Monthly, for which she also served as a co-editor (2,3).
Coolbrith held literary salons at her Russian Hill home that were well attended by America's artistic elite. Coolbrith, Bret Harte (the editor of Overland Monthly), and fellow poet Charles Warren Stoddard became known as the "Golden Gate Trinity" of the San Francisco literary scene in the 1860s and 70s (4).
Coolbrith moved to Oakland to take a job at the Oakland Library Association in order to support her mother, her infirm sister, and her sister's children (5). While working there, Coolbrith published her first monograph, A Perfect Day and other Poems, in 1881. It was reviewed well by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who said of the volume, "I know that California has at least one poet" (6). She is also known to have mentored Jack London, who frequented the Oakland Library as a young man (7).
In the fall of 1892, Coolbrith was let go from the Oakland Library Association (8). Famed naturalist and friend John Muir suggested she pursue the librarianship of San Francisco, but Coolbrith responded, "I am disqualified by sex;" San Francisco required its librarian to be a man (9).
Losing the Oakland job gave Coolbrith more time to focus on her poetry. She published a second monograph: 1895's Songs from the Golden Gate, a book made up of new verses she'd published in The Century as well as a reissue of well-received poems from her previous volume.
Coolbrith became the librarian at the San Francisco Mercantile Library Association in 1898, and in 1899 she was invited to act as part-time librarian for the Bohemian Club (10). During this time, she worked on a history of early California literature as well as giving readings and talks on California literary history (11).
Coolbrith's home at 1604 Taylor Street was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Though she escaped alive, her personal library of over 3000 volumes, much of her correspondence, and her nearly-finished manuscript on the history of early California literature were lost (12). Coolbrith, by now a pillar of the American literary scene, was the focus of fundraisers by Mark Twain and others, who built her a new home at 1067 Broadway on Russian Hill. Her salons resumed, and her poetry flourished (13). Coolbrith was named Poet Laureate of California in 1911.
1. Janice Albert, "Ina Coolbrith (1841-1928) and the California Frontier," California Authors, California Association of Teachers of English, accessed December 29, 2016.
2. Aleta George, "Ina Coolbrith's Lost City of Love and Desire," The Ina Coolbrith Circle, accessed December 29, 2016.
3. Mark Twain, ed., The Galaxy: A Magazine of Entertaining Reading, Vol. 2, (New York: Church, 1866), Google Books Edition, accessed December 29, 2016.
4. Western Literary Association, A Literary History of the American West, (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987), p. 349, PDF accessed December 29, 2016.
5. Albert, "Ina Coolbrith (1841 - 1928)."
6. "A Poet's Literary Friends, Their Answers to the Question, What has Ina Coolbrith Done?" San Francisco Examiner. November 27, 1892. Internet Archive edition, accessed December 29, 2016.
7. "Ina Coolbrith," Jack London State Park, accessed December 29, 2016.
8. Joe Redmond, "The Dismissal of Ina Coolbrith Revisited," Internet Archive edition, accessed December 29, 2016.
9. Ina Coolbrith. "Letter from Ina Coolbrith to John Muir, November 19, 1894.". Collection of letters to John Muir, Online Archive of California, accessed December 29, 2016.
10. Aleta George, "Petticoat Rule: A Guest Post for the San Francisco History Center of the San Francisco Public Library," Shifting Plates, accessed December 29, 2016.
11. Albert, "Ina Coolbrith (1841 - 1928)."
12. George, "Ina Coolbrith's Lost City."
13. "The Story Behind the A.F. Bradley Photos," Mark Twain Quotations, Newspaper Collections, & Related Resources, accessed December 29, 2016.