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Black and white picture of 5 women holding bows and arrows from the women's army corps.

Mar 1, 2024

Women Making History in the Presidio

The trailblazing women who shaped the Presidio.

Meet the trailblazing women whove left an indelible mark on the Presidio of San Francisco’s history. From a pioneer who made a huge impact on San Francisco to one of the first women to serve the Army, explore the rich legacy of these influential women who shaped the Presidio. 

Juana Briones

sketch depiction of Juana Briones who was one of the most influential women in San Francisco.

Doña Juana Briones de Miranda (1802-1889) was a pioneering businesswoman and healer of European, Native American, and African descent, who was renowned for her entrepreneurial spirit and healing abilities and is considered the “founding mother of San Francisco.” She grew up at El Polin Spring in the Presidio, where you can see the foundation of her adobe home and learn more about her life. During her lifetime, she tended to sick sailors, provided a sanctuary for deserters, and expanded her land holdings, leaving a lasting impact on the region.  

Katherine Stinson 

Black and white photograph of Katherin Stinson leaning on the wing of her plane.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Katherine Stinson was a pioneering aviator and the fourth woman in the United States to become a licensed pilot. In December 1917, she flew from San Diego to the Presidio – more than 450 miles in nine hours – setting a non-stop distance record. She landed in the Presidio at a site that would later become the Presidio’s Crissy Field.

2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth E. Reese 

Black and white photo donated by Irene Wallace. She is figure on left. Middle figure is 1st. Lt. Elizabeth E. Reese, WAC, who was Letterman Public Relations Officer, and figure on right is Lewin S. Villa, Sergeant, Med. Dept.
Public Relations Office. Left to right: Irene Wallace, 1st. Lt. Elizabeth E. Reese, WAC and Lewin S. Villa, Sergeant, Med. Dept.

During World War Two, the United States government established the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) as a part of the Army, which allowed women to enlist and serve in a variety of non-combat positions. Over 15,000 women served in the WAC during the war. The first member of the WAC stationed at Letterman General Hospital in the Presidio was 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth E. Reese, who reported in February 1944 to serve as public relations officer. A graduate of the Sorbonne whod traveled around the world, she left her own advertising studio in Chicago to enlist. In her 14 months at Letterman, she contributed to its newspaper – the Fog Horn created her own cartoon series and prepared a souvenir photo book about the hospital. 

Dora ​Thompson  

Black and white photography portrait of a woman, Dora E. Thompson.
Image courtesy of U.S. National Library of Medicine.

One of the early women to serve in the U.S. Army, Dora Thompson started her army career right here in the Presidio. Dora joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1902 and served as chief nurse at the Army General Hospital in the Presidio played an important role in relief efforts after the 1906 earthquake. The Army surgeon general appointed her Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corp, where she served throughout World War I. She later returned to Letterman General Hospital after the war, where she served as chief nurse. She’s the namesake for ​​Thompson Reach, part of the larger restoration project around Tennessee Hollow Watershed and a key spot for butterfly viewing in the Presidio.

Amy Meyer  

Image courtesy of U.S. National Park Services. 

Amy Meyer, Bay Area conservationist and dedicated advocate for the Presidio and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) as a whole, is considered the “Mother of the GGNRA. In the 1970s, she spearheaded the successful 1970s campaign to preserve the land at the Golden Gate, which led to the establishment of the GGNRA in 1972. As co-chair of People for a Golden Gate National Recreation Area, she continues to advocate for parks. Her commitment to the creation and preservation of the GGNRA has earned her numerous awards over the years and she has built an enduring legacy as millions continue to enjoy the park annually.

Nancy Pelosi  

Image of Nancy Pelosi speaking at a podium with a crowd of people listening in front of her and the Golden Gate Bridge hidden in fog behind her.

In 1996, then-Congresswoman Pelosi, who served California’s 11th district in San Francisco, championed the law that created an innovative public-private partnership, the Presidio Trust. This was a bi-partisan effort with the twin mission of preserving the essence of a national park while providing a cost-effective structure for the American taxpayer. This unique structure has allowed the Presidio to thrive and welcome millions of visitors each year while covering its own annual costs of operation.

Marjorie M. “Mike” Hackett 

Black and white image of Marjorie M. "Mike” Hackett inspecting a canon.
Image courtesy of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives

In 1974, Marjorie M. “Mike” Hackett made history as the first woman superintendent of Fort Point National Historical Site in the Presidio becoming the 9th woman in National Park Service history to hold such a position and the first to hold this position in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. She began her park service career in 1944 and initially worked at Yosemite National Park in various roles before her tenure at Fort Point. She later served as the superintendent of Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments in Arizona until her retirement in 1980. 

Women-owned Businesses In the Presidio 

Explore some of the women-owned businesses in the Presidio: from the restaurant Dalida, a Mediterranean gem from co-chefs and co-owners Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz, to A Body of Work, a fitness haven in the Presidio owned by Jean Sullivan. 

Presidio Tunnel Tops  

Group of four women in construction gear standing in front of a CAT tractor. From left to right: Lauren Connolly, Teddy Huddleston, Paula Cabot, Rania Rayes

Meet the all-female construction team who led the building of Presidio Tunnel Tops. This much-loved, newest addition to the Presidio provides some of San Francisco’s best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, picnic areas, the Outpost playground, and is one of the best things to do in San Francisco. From left to right:  Lauren Connolly, Teddy Huddleston, Paula Cabot, Rania Rayes