Josephine Clifford McCracken

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Josephine Clifford McCracken

Josephine Clifford McCracken (or McCrackin) (1839–1921) was a California writer and journalist, a contemporary of Bret Harte, John Muir, Ina Coolbrith, and Joaquin Miller, and an environmentalist.

Early history[edit]

Josephine Woempner was born in Petershagen, Germany, during a time of much civil unrest. Her father, a former soldier at Waterloo, foresaw trouble from citizenry calling for revolution, and so gathered his family in 1846 and fled to St. Louis, Missouri.

In 1864, Josephine met and married Army Lieutenant James A. Clifford in New Mexico. Clifford's sanity began to unravel and he confessed to his wife that he had killed a man in Texas. He threatened her, saying that if she told anyone, he would kill her too. After appealing to his superiors and making sure he was under guard, she fled to her family in San Francisco.

In California[edit]

McCracken wrote articles for Harper Brothers and for the newspapers Out West and Western Field while traveling though New Mexico and lower California,[1] and once in San Francisco, turned full-time to her love for writing and literary pursuits. She joined the staff of the Overland Monthly as secretary in 1867.[2] She befriended poet Ina Coolbrith, who she called one of the Golden Gate Trinity along with the other two pillars of the Overland Monthly, Bret Harte and Charles Warren Stoddard.[3] Coolbrith called her "Jo". Her first piece for the journal, "Down Among the Dead Leaves", was published in 1869. In 1871 a collection of her short stories was published as a book entitled Overland Tales. She eventually became a respected figure in the San Francisco literary community. In 1880, she bought 26 acres (110,000 m2) of land in the Santa Cruz Mountains and built a home in the community of Summit, California.[4]

Josephine Clifford McCracken in the 1910s

In 1882 in Salinas, California, she met and married Joseph McCracken, a former Arizona congressman. The couple settled into Josephine's house, then a literary gathering place. However, in 1899 a large forest fire destroyed both the house and the surrounding redwood trees.[5]

The disaster prompted Josephine's turn to environmentalism to save the redwoods. In 1900, Andrew P. Hill was commissioned to photograph the area after the fire. As McCracken was both a friend and a member of the Pacific Coast Press Association,[6] Hill wrote a letter of concern to Josephine, which she published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel along with an article urging people to rally around the cause.[7] She continued to work with Hill, joining him in founding the Sempervirens Club, and together they succeeded in having legislation passed to protect the redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.[5]

On June 29, 1915, McCracken traveled from Santa Cruz, where she had moved after the fire, to attend Ina Coolbrith Day at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. She watched from the overflowing audience as Coolbrith was named the first California Poet Laureate. After several more speeches were made in her honor, and bouquets brought in abundance to the podium, Coolbrith addressed the crowd: "There is one woman here with whom I want to share these honors: Josephine Clifford McCracken. For we are linked together, the last two living members of Bret Harte's staff of Overland writers."[3] McCracken was then ushered up from her seat in the audience to join Coolbrith on stage.[8]

In 1919, at the age of 80, McCracken wrote to Coolbrith to complain to her dear friend of still having to work for a living: "The world has not used us well, Ina; California has been ungrateful to us. Of all the hundred thousands the state pays out in pensions of one kind and another, don't you think you should be at the head of the pensioners, and I somewhere down below?"[9]


  1. ^ Taylor, Arther Adelbert, California redwood park, sometimes called Sempervirens park: an appreciation, Sacramento, 1912, p. 31.
  2. ^ Egli, Ida Rae (1997). No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849–1869, Berkeley, California: Heyday Books, 2nd edition, p. 111. ISBN 1-890771-01-5
  3. ^ a b McCracken, Josephine Clifford (November 1915). "Ina Coolbrith Invested With Poets' Crown". Overland Monthly. San Francisco. LXVI (5): 448–450. 
  4. ^ Mighels, Ella Sterling, The story of the files: a review of California writers and literature, Vol. 1, World's Fair Commission of California, Columbian Exposition, 1893, p. 158. (McCracken's name is sometimes spelled "McCrackin" in the press listings.)
  5. ^ a b Scenes along the Line of the San Jose & Los Gatos Interurban Railroad: Photographs by Andrew P. Hill, San Jose, California: San Jose Historical Museum Association, 1994, ISBN 0-914139-11-8, p. 38.
  6. ^ Mighels, p. 382.
  7. ^ Taylor, p. 26.
  8. ^ Taylor, Marian (November 1915). "Congress of Authors and Journalists at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition". Overland Monthly. San Francisco. LXVI (5): 439–447. 
  9. ^ Egli, 1997, p. 113.

Further reading[edit]

  • Foote, Cheryl J. (1990). "4: "My Husband Was a Madman and a Murderer" Josephine Clifford, Army Wife, Writer, and Conservationist". Women of the New Mexico Frontier, 1846-1912 (1st ed.). Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado. pp. 67–95. ISBN 0-87081-215-7. 

External links[edit]