Problems Women Solved: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition

by Steefenie Wicks

One hundred years ago, Anna Pratt Simpson wrote a book titled “Problems Women Solved.”  It was a story of the vision, enthusiasm, work and cooperation accomplished by the first Woman’s Board that worked on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  One hundred years later another woman has come forward, tackling the “problem” of doing an informative book on the subject of the Exposition.  The book, released earlier this year, is titled “San Francisco’s Jewel City, The Panama-Pacific International Exhibition of 1915.” The author is Marin resident Laura Ackley.

Laura Ackley now joins other Marin women who were part of the Pan-Pacific Exposition.

Photo collage by Steefenie WicksPhoto of Laura Ackley by Miguel Farias

For years Laura has participated in Sausalito’s 4th of July extravaganzas, playing the cymbals and marching with the UC Alumni Band.  She has been a guest speaker for both the Sausalito Woman’s Club, as well as the Sausalito Historical Society.   This year, because of the popularity of her endeavor, she is booked for over 100 speaking engagements.  After spending much of her time out of the public eye, she now finds herself very much the public figure.   Like Laura, the women who formed the first San Francisco Woman’s Board of 1915, spent much of their time working effortlessly in the background, one day to be part of one of the state’s most successful fairs.

It was the Woman’s Board that first organized the California State Woman’s Auxiliary.  This organization helped to bring women together, to bind relationships and show the possibilities of what could be accomplished when working together.   The Auxiliary felt that it was the right of every woman in California to participate in the making of this Exposition which would celebrate some of the greatest engineering achievements in their current history -- therefore, adding to the Pacific Coast a future of commercial importance and success.

Ackley explains this aspect of the Exposition in her book.  For example, the Exposition encompassed over 635 acres, so how was one to navigate this event?  This is where the innovations of transportation took over. There were pedal rickshaws, pushchairs or powered vehicles that could be used to explore the grounds.  Many of these innovative ways of travel were new to the public and caused a great deal of interest as well as the excitement of being able to travel aboard one of these new creations. 

The Exposition was the start of a new organization brought about by the Woman’s Board, to help and aid those who would soon travel to the event: the first Traveler’s Aid of California.  In 1915 the Woman’s Board felt that the organization would be able to protect the direction of young people coming to the Exposition, some of them alone for the first time.  The Exposition directorate had the tremendous responsibility of attending to the material wellbeing of its visitors.  They had to see to it that the hotels and restaurants would keep faith with the public and the Travelers Aid organization, or so it was written in 1915. As Ackley puts it, “Travelers Aid worked in conjunction with the Woman’s Board of the Fair, which absorbed more than half of the $28,000 cost of operation in an effort to ensure visitors could travel to and from the PPIE safely.”  In all, 21,551 travelers were directed to safe lodging places during the Fair.”  She goes on to say, “In April of 1915, the Idaho Statesman printed a warning to young women from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs advising against trying to seek employment at the Fair.  The article said the Woman’s Board was battling a movement to give over a section of the fairgrounds to prostitution.  The Woman’s Board was outraged, stating it never had to fight such an issue ‘because it never existed’.  The Woman’s Board also acted as an official subcommittee of the Exposition and was responsible for hosting visiting dignitaries.”

Ackley says she felt a responsibility when writing her book because this was a major American Fair that had no comprehensive, general history written about it.

Laura feels that what she has filled a void in the history of World Fairs with this endeavor. There are many aspects of the Fair, but her book serves to examine its cultural history.

Her book and that book by Anna Pratt Simpson are 100 years apart but come together to be part of the history of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In 1915, the Ladies of Marin who were on Woman’s Board were:  Mrs. John Hanify, Mrs. Carolyn E. Atherton, Mrs. Peter Hamilton, Mrs. Carl Renz and Mrs. J.C. Perry.  Now, history can add Laura Ackley’s name to those women of Marin who are part of one of the world’s greatest Fairs, the Panama –Pacific Exposition of 1915.


Laura Ackley will appear at Campbell Hall (Christ Episcopal Church) on Monday evening, December 7th, at an event that also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Sausalito Historical Society.  For information and to make advance reservations, go to recent-events.