Juana Briones (1802-1889)
Art by Hey Lady Wanderlust (tumblr)
A native Californian, Juana was born to a Mexican family in Santa Cruz which at that time was part of the fringes of the Spanish empire. As a young girl, she moved with her family to the San Francisco Presidio. Juana married at age 18 and bore eleven children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. She also adopted an orphaned Native American girl who she raised as her own.
Juana’s husband was abusive and in 1840 Juana obtained a legal separation from him, incredibly unusual for the time. Juana ran a dairy farm in what is today the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco and a cattle ranch in Palo Alto. Many Latinos lost their land due to insufficiently documented ownership when California became a state in 1850, but Juana managed to document her landownership and retain her property despite being illiterate. Juana was also locally known as a healer who incorporated Native American traditions.
There are numerous memorials to Juana in the Bay Area. Plaques commemorating Juana can be found in San Francisco on the Lyon Street steps and on a bench in Washington Square Park. A park and an elementary school in Palo Alto are named in her honor.