Ladies of the San Rafael Improvement Club rid the city of mosquitoes, planted thousands of trees and made their historic clubhouse a community center.
At the turn of the 20th century, the mosquitoes infesting San Rafael made gracious living difficult for year-round and wealthy summer residents alike. Swarms of mosquitoes bred in the swampy marshes that encircled San Francisco Bay.
According to the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District, the mosquitoes threatened in such numbers that commuters wore head nets while waiting for the Marin-San Francisco ferry, and businesses placed smudge pots by their storefronts to ward off the pests.
In 1902 a group of citizens formed the San Rafael Improvement Club to combat the insects. Initially both men and women joined, but over time the Club became primarily a ladies organization. Mrs. Eliza A. Neale, the first president, served as such for 12 years. Her husband, prominent attorney Vincent Neale, represented the club at civic hearings, what with female voices holding less sway at the time.
A Wild West Pony Show
Fighting mosquitoes took money, and in June 1904 the club held a successful fundraiser at the Bates grounds in the Coleman Tract. The Marin Journal announced:
“Every little boy and girl in San Rafael who owns a pony, and there are scores of them, will on the 4th of June give a genuine Wild West Show for the benefit of the San Rafael Improvement Club which in turn will use the funds to carry on the war against the mosquitoes…In addition to the pony show there is to be a tea. We know what that means in San Rafael – charmingly gowned, attractive women serving dainties under the trees.”
The San Francisco Call reported:
“many of the features of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West professional show will be attempted by the young sons and daughters of the wealthy residents of San Rafael. The children have been practicing for weeks and teaching their ponies tricks.”
The event included a parade of pony carts: the “smallest pony in the world,” railroad baron A.W. Foster’s Hungarian ponies, a maypole on pony back and the musical offerings of St. Vincent’s Orphanage’s juvenile band. Nearly 2000 people enjoyed the show.
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