health history

The Life and Legacy

The Life, Times and Legacy of Phebe Abbott Rideout


She came to California from Missouri at age 11, bouncing along in a Spring Buggy, clutching her pet white hen so tightly on her bouncing lap she joked that when they reached Yuba County the hen had lost all of its feathers. She watched Abraham Lincoln inaugurated and lived long enough to travel the world and fly in an airplane. She was the first woman bank president in the United States.

Phebe Abbott Rideout was a woman ahead of her times, and an inspiration to her family, especially the women. A niece became the first woman deputy attorney general in the United States. The woman who gave the family home and the family name to the first public hospital in Marysville was as remarkably accomplished as many in her family and many of the people who touched her life.

Born in Weston, Missouri in 1841, she entered California by way of the Beckwourth Trail, discovered by James P. Beckwourth, the African-American mountain man whose biography was published in three languages. Her father came to California in 1849, returned to Missouri to retrieve his wife and three daughters in 1852, then bought, farmed and sold land in the Yuba County foothills-often conducting experiments in horticulture.

Her husband owned railroads, steamships, a lumber mill, a flour company, and several farms and founded a chain of banks that ultimately became the Bank of America. After his death, she became president of the bank chain. Her son, a former mayor of Marysville, died in a rock slide at the family's Magalia (Butte County) gold mine. Her granddaughter married into the McClatchy family, longtime owners of the Sacramento Bee. She brought Julia Morgan, the famous architect of the Hearst Castle, to Marysville, to build a home for her nephew and his bride at Seventh and F streets.

Her niece, Annette Abbott Adams, was known as "California's First Lady of Law," becoming the first woman to serve as a United States attorney, the first to be appointed assistant attorney general of the United States, the first woman appointed to the California appellate court, and first to serve as a presiding justice and the first to sit pro tempore on the supreme court of California."

Phebe Rideout attended the College of the Pacific when it was a new institution and located in San Jose. She married Norman Dunning Rideout at the Abbott family farm in the Yuba County foothills in 1858. The ranch no longer exists-it is inundated beneath Collins Lake.

Her granddaughter, Phebe Briggs McClatchy Conley, wrote: "Phebe Rideout had a natural affinity for and understanding of children, especially of boys. Much of her active life was spent in connection with children, first in her enlarged family and later in orphanages and hospitals."

Her Marysville home "was a center for the ladies of Marysville as well as for the young people. They came with the remnants of their party gowns and made patchwork quilts, where the quilting was done in feather stitching. The gowns of these ladies must have been very elegant, for the pieces remaining are silks and satins, velvets, and embroidered stuffs. "

After the Rideouts moved to San Francisco, the Rideout home there was a San Francisco headquarters for travelers from Marysville. After the death of her husband in 1907, Phebe Rideout became active in the administration of the banks in Northern California. The last of the chain of Rideout banks was disposed of in 1926 when it was sold to the Bank of Italy. In 1930, the Bank of Italy became Bank of America.

She had three children, Norman Abbott Rideout, who died in the mine accident; E.G. Rideout, who worked in the banks until his death at age 53; and Grace, who was the only child to survive Phebe. Phebe Rideout loved to travel, especially late in life. She celebrated her 90th birthday by taking a motor coach trip to Texas, where she owned oil interests.

At the age of 87, she took a trip around the world, riding horses, camels, donkeys, elephants and flying in an airplane over Java. She saw the pyramids, visited in Europe, including Paris, traversed Asia on the Trans-Siberia Railroad, and, according to her obituary, when she returned to San Francisco said, " I'd like to do it over again. Maybe I will."

Her philanthropic acts included a gift of $167,000 for the creation of the Marysville Veterans Memorial Auditorium, honoring veterans of World War I, which was located on E Street between 8th and 9th streets. Built by Julia Morgan, it was torn down in the 1970s for a fast food restaurant.

Phebe Rideout died on May 17, 1932, at San Francisco.