Thanks to Jill Tietjen, regular contributor to Grandma got STEM, co-author of the Bestseller Her Story, A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America, and President and CEO of Technically Speaking, Inc. for this post.
Inventor and businesswoman Harriet Strong (1844 – 1926) said “I’d train every girl so that instead of prefacing some innovation by saying ‘A man suggested this,’ she would rely upon her own judgment. Left destitute by her husband’s suicide with four daughters to raise, Strong also said “It is quite possible for every gentlewoman to make herself familiar with business methods, papers, etc.; to prepare herself for any and all emergencies, so that if the head of the household be removed, the home that he established may be kept intact, may be preserved on its financial basis.”
After her husband’s death, Strong set to work on inventions to redeem their fortunes. And, she was determined to cultivate her ranch in southern California. She planted a few orange trees and many walnut trees – fifty half-mile-long rows of irrigated trees, which made it the largest single walnut orchard in the world. She also grew pomegranates and pampas (pampas were a plume to provide a cash crop until the walnut trees matured). Her white pampas plumes were so successful that one decorated her friend Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose insignia in 1912.
She learned the market, purchased additional acres, formed a water company, and founded an oil company that successfully drilled wells. Because of her firsthand knowledge of both torrential spring rains and summer heat, she worked on the two inventions that led to her most successful patents. One invention was a series of dams, one above the other in a canyon so that the water filling the lower dam extended up the face of the succeeding dam and supported it. The second invention was a water storage system to be used in conjunction with the dam.
Known as the Pampas Queen and the Walnut Queen, Strong was the first female member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. I met two of her granddaughters when she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.