People & Community

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Friday, Jan 25 2013 12:02 AM

History: Don't forget these women who helped shape Kern County

By Jeff NickellPhotos courtesy of Kern County Museum

Kern County has been fortunate to have so many women who have made an impact with groundbreaking effects. Countless articles have been written on local women in history; however, they seem to touch on the same women over and over again. And though those women are more than deserving of the accolades, here are just a few who also should not be forgotten.

Honorable Ellen Quarnstrom

Related Photos

Myrnie Ada Gifford made tremendous efforts toward recognizing the Valley Fever problem. She is pictured here in 1937.

Kern County has produced many top tennis players, but it was Louise Snow, right, who became the first woman from Kern County to play in the Wimbledon tennis tournament. She is pictured here in 1945.

Ellen Quarnstrom, pictured here in 1956, was the first known female attorney in Bakersfield in 1950. In 1957, she became Kern County's first female judge.

A flier for a women's softball all-star game in 1951 featured pitcher Wilda Mae Turner, who attended Bakersfield High School.

Wilda "Willie" Mae Turner, a softball pitcher who attended Bakersfield High School, was the first woman inducted into the Bob Elias Hall of Fame

Ellen Miller was born in Greer, S.C. in 1912, and moved to California in 1928. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in law from the University of the West Los Angeles and passed the State Bar in 1936. Miller married Arthur Quarnstrom in 1938. She practiced law in Long Beach for a law firm and then for Superior Oil Co. Her husband's career as an engineer led the family to move to Bakersfield.

After years of being a housewife, Ellen Miller decided to take up practicing law again, becoming the first known female attorney in Bakersfield in 1950. She applied to be judge of the Weedpatch Judicial District and said in The Bakersfield Californian on Nov. 20, 1956, "I believe I am fully qualified, and there is a place for women in the Kern County court system."

In 1957, she was appointed to the post and became Kern County's first female judge.

Myrnie A. Gifford, M.D., M.P.H.

The Valley Fever Vaccine Projects of the Americas' November 2002 newsletter included a memorial honoring Dr. Myrnie Ada Gifford's efforts towards the Valley Fever problem.

It stated she was the first person to put "two and two together, figuring out that two separate diseases being treated in Kern County were actually different aspects of the same disease caused by the organism Coccidioides immitis."

The "One-Hundred-Year Biographical Directory," 1837-1937, of Mount Holyoke College stated Gifford attended Stanford University from 1915 to 1920, and also attended the UC Berkeley in 1921. Gifford worked at San Francisco Hospital from 1919 to 1921, working as an intern and then house director.

She then served as a physician in the Bay Area from 1921 to 1923, and was also a clinician before moving to Kern County.

Gifford joined the staff of the Kern County Department of Health in August 1934. When Gifford first came to Bakersfield, the link between the benign "Valley Fever" and the often fatal disease "coccidioidal granuloma" had not yet been established. It was Gifford who noticed the same characteristic rash in patients with both diseases, made the connection and established the link. The discovery is documented in "a special study of available data on Coccidioides Fungus Infection 1901-1936."

In fact, even to this day, scholarly articles on the subject -- including the U.S. Army Medical Department -- refer to the work she created by herself, and with others in Kern County.

The Kern Public Health Services Department library on Mount Vernon Avenue in east Bakersfield is named after Gifford "who wanted to know the why of things," said Valley Fever Vaccine Projects Director Dr. Richard Hector, in the newsletter.

Louise Snow

Kern County has produced many top tennis players, but it was Louise Snow who became the first woman from Kern County to play in the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

She played in the tournament in the 1950s and reached the round of 32 in 1956. The points she earned during her play ranks her 1,776 all-time in points earned using both amateur and professional statistics compiled by Scoreshelf.com. Snow also was the 1944 Hard Courts National Champion in both singles and doubles.

She honed her talents at the renowned Bakersfield Racquet Club. Other women from Kern County have attained higher status, such as Camille Benjamin and Marianne Werdel-Witmeyer -- both reached semifinals of Grand Slam tournaments -- but Snow was the first to achieve such high status.

Wilda "Willie" Mae Turner

Although she was born in Tulare, Wilda Mae Turner attended Bakersfield High School. She was the first woman inducted into the Bob Elias Hall of Fame, in 1975. Turner was a phenomenal softball pitcher, gaining world-wide accolades.

According to the Elias Hall of Fame, Turner played for the Mears Lumber Company team at the age of 11. She also played for Coca Cola, and at the age of 14 played in the World Softball Tournament for the Progressive Optical team. In 1938, at the age of 16, she began playing for the J.J. Krieg's World Amateur Alameda team. She had consecutive winning streaks of 46 and 102 games. According to Bakersfield High School's archives program, Turner was a member of the Krieg's world championship team while a student at the school.

Turner turned professional playing for the Parichy Bloomer Girls of Chicago, where she won 153 games in six years. In 1946, she threw a perfect game and was featured in Life Magazine with the headline, "Wilda Mae Turner's Speed and Control Baffle Batters."

She was one of the greatest softball pitchers of all time, and pitched 104 consecutive scoreless innings in 1948. In her time playing for Chicago, she made the all-star team every year. Willie, as she was known, finished her career with an astounding 0.14 earned run average. This is not a misprint -- a 0.14 ERA.

Upon retirement, she became the first female manager in Women's Professional Softball League. Wilda Mae Turner was probably the most dominant athlete to ever come out of Kern County.

-- Jeff Nickell is a coordinator at Kern County Superintendent of Schools, and former director at the Kern County Museum. This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting important women in Kern County's history.

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