In Phoebe Apperson Hearst: A Life in Power and Politics Alexandra M. Nickliss offers the first biography of one of the Gilded Age’s most prominent and powerful women. A financial manager, businesswoman, and reformer, Phoebe Apperson Hearst was one of the wealthiest and most influential women of the era and a philanthropist, almost without rival, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Hearst was born into a humble, middle-class family in rural Missouri in 1842, yet she died a powerful member of society’s urban elite in 1919. Most people know her as the mother of William Randolph Hearst, the famed newspaper mogul, and as the wife of George Hearst, a mining tycoon and United States senator. By age forty-eight, however, Hearst had come to control her husband’s extravagant wealth after his death. She shepherded the fortune of the family estate until her own death, demonstrating her intelligence and skill as a financial manager.
Hearst supported a number of significant urban reforms in the Bay Area, across the country, and around the world, giving much of her wealth to organizations supporting children, health reform, women’s rights and well-being, higher education, municipal policy formation, progressive voluntary associations, and urban architecture and design, among other endeavors. She worked to exert her ideas and implement plans regarding the burgeoning Progressive movement and was the first female regent of the University of California, which later became one of the world’s leading research institutions. Hearst held other prominent positions as the first president of the Century Club of San Francisco, first treasurer of the General Federation of Woman’s Clubs, first vice president of the National Congress of Mothers, president of the Columbian Kindergarten Association, and head of the Woman’s Board of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst tells the story of Hearst’s world and examines the opportunities and challenges that she faced as she navigated local, national, and international corridors of influence, rendering a penetrating portrait of a powerful and often contradictory woman.