By Dana Whitson and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
As Steefenie Wicks wrote in a recent Historical Society column, Susan Sroufe Loosley, the first president of the Sausalito Woman’s Club in 1913, was related to the current president, Alice Merrill. Alice remembers growing up hearing tales of her ancestor who was known as the pistol-packing president of the Sausalito Woman’s Club. That reference inspired me to learn a bit more about this colorful character from Sausalito’s past.
Historical Society member Dana Whitson wrote a profile of this remarkable woman in a book commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Woman’s Club. Here are some lightly edited excerpts:
Susan Sroufe was born in Petaluma on October 2, 1853, to parents who had traveled in 1850 to Gold Rush-era California in a covered wagon.
Sroufe studied painting in Paris and Munich and exhibited her work at the Paris Salon to favorable reviews. She became an early California landscape painter of some note. In addition to working with oils and watercolors, she was also a woodcarver.
Susan Sroufe was an independent woman who defied the conventions of the era into which she was born. Although raised in a life of privilege, Susan nonetheless retained the pioneer spirit of her parents. Remarkably, she managed to navigate effortlessly between San Francisco society and the life of a free-spirited adventurer.
Rather than following the typical path of marrying young and settling into a life of domesticity, Susan Sroufe remained single until she was 39. She traveled widely to exotic locales and supported herself as a successful artist.
Sroufe likely met her husband on one of her frequent trips to the Southwest, where she painted
and acquired baskets from various local Indian tribes. John R. Loosley grew up in Phoenix, Arizona Territory. His earliest profession was listed as a bartender, though he later became a member of the Phoenix City Council, served on the Board of Directors for a railroad company and was apparently involved in mining interests as well. The couple bought property at 141 San Carlos Ave. in Sausalito in 1911, constructed their home and moved in by 1912.
Susan and John Loosley were well entrenched in San Francisco Society. The 1905 Blue Book listed them among the community's elite. In 1893, Susan served as Treasurer of the newly founded Sorosis Club of San Francisco (a member of the California Federation of Women's Clubs) and later rose to the rank of Vice President and then President of that organization. She also served on the board of the Red Cross Society of San Francisco in 1899.
According to Fanny Shoobert [a founder of the Sausalito Woman’s Club, active in Sausalito civic affairs and antigambling movements, according to the Sausalito News], Susan was selected president of the Woman’s Club because, "We had to choose a president who was in no way involved in our bloody battles of the past fighting the poolrooms and saloons, whose smoke had not cleared and traces of which were still faintly red." Susan Loosley, who had recently relocated to Sausalito from San Francisco, fit the bill perfectly.
With a father who worked in the liquor industry and a husband who had at one time worked as a bartender, Susan Loosley did not advocate abstinence from alcohol. In fact, she said in a San Francisco newspaper story that her "ideal man must be temperate in habits, but not necessarily a total abstainer from liquors or tobacco."
Susan Loosley served as the president of the Sausalito Woman's Club from its inception in 1913 until I9l7, at which time she was elected to serve as first Vice President to incoming President Clara Lanagan.
According to author Barbara Lekisch: “As president of the club, and a member of the building committee. Mrs. Loosley assisted in the selection of architect Julia Morgan (1872-1957), the first woman to receive a master’s degree from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and the first woman to earn an engineering degree from the University of California, in 1894. Miss Morgan designed the redwood-shingled, craftsman-style building. Contractor A. W. Teather was hired to build the clubhouse, which was completed in 1918.”
In June, I923 at the age of 70, Susan submitted her resignation from the Club; her resignation was rejected. Instead, Susan Loosley was voted the first honored member of the Club. She died at her Sausalito home on January 3, 1940. The Board of Directors adjourned their board meeting the next day in her memory.
A lasting legacy of Susan Loosley's presidency was the gift of her oil painting of redwoods to the newly opened Clubhouse in 1918. That painting still hangs in the Club entry today. One of Loosley's watercolor paintings of redwood trees, donated by one of her descendants, hangs in the stair landing in the Clubhouse.