The Glen Park Gum Tree Girls Festival
Sunday, July 10, 2022, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Glen Canyon Park
The Glen Park Gum Tree Girls Festival is a nonprofit, noncommercial event graciously permitted by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Learn more about the Gum Tree Girls Festival! To donate directly to the Festival with PayPal, click here. To offer in-kind donations or if you’d like to volunteer at the festival, please email GlenParkHistory@gmail.com.
Who were the Glen Park Gum Tree Girls?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines moxie as “energy, pep, courage, determination, and know-how.” It is a purely American term, having originated with an old-fashioned elixir called Moxie Nerve Food, developed in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1876. Within 10 years, Moxie was being enjoyed as one of America’s first soft drinks and continues to have a dedicated following in New England.
Since then, moxie has also come to identify American women who have glowed with vim, vigor, verve, courage, and resilience as they stood up for the rights of themselves and others in a patriarchal and discriminatory society. For the past 150 years, an abundance of moxie has emanated from several women who stood up to make a difference in the Glen Park district and adjacent neighborhoods.
For example, Glen Park suffragists lived and breathed moxie. They founded the Glen Park Outdoor Art League to help improve living conditions as refugees of the 1906 earthquake flocked to the new district. One resident suffragist, Johanna Pinther, was a co-leader of America’s first march for women’s suffrage, held in Oakland, California in 1908.
Minnie Straub Baxter, a lifelong Glen Park resident, channeled that suffragist moxie into the mid-20th century. Mrs. Baxter, the daughter of August Straub, a Glen Park saloonkeeper and co-founder of the district’s first improvement association (which appears to be one of earliest co-educational neighborhood associations San Francisco), was just 12 years old when she had observed the activities of Glen Park suffragists.
When the California Highway Department and San Francisco Department of Public Works announced construction of the Circumferential Expressway in 1958, Mrs. Baxter leapt into action. She galvanized Glen Park residents to stand up against a viaduct freeway that would have run parallel to Bosworth Street, turn north over the Glen Canyon Park Recreation Center through Glen Canyon parallel to O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, tunnel under Portola Boulevard and return to surface level at Laguna Honda Boulevard/7th Avenue, then under Golden Gate Park and up at Park Presidio Boulevard to the Golden Gate Bridge. All this to save only an estimated 3 minutes of driving time.
Mrs. Baxter also traveled to Sacramento to present to “you gentlemen of the California Legislature” the community’s opposition and the hardships they would face if the expressway were constructed. Through these efforts, Mrs. Baxter and Glen Park stopped freeway planning and construction. At least so they thought.
Then in 1965, Glen Park exploded with moxie! While walking with her toddler son along Alms Road, the main path in Glen Canyon (and today named the Gum Tree Girls Trail), Zoanne Theriault Nordstrom saw some men working. Suspicious, she walked up and asked them what they were doing. They told her they were drilling test borings for the freeway that was planned. Zoanne famously responded, “THE HELL IT IS!” She immediately contacted her closest friends, Joan Seiwald and Geri Arkush, all of whom lived about one block from Glen Canyon Park within 400 feet of one another.
With moxie overflowing, the trio of women quickly formed the Save Glen Park Committee, organized a neighborhood meeting to oppose the project, and garnered the support of Diamond Heights and Miraloma residents. Before the miracle of social media and with the help of Mrs. Baxter and other volunteers, they canvassed the neighborhood, dialed old-fashioned telephones to alert everyone they could, wrote handwritten letters to government officials, and crafted announcements on vintage typewriters that were mimeographed for distribution. They stood up not once, not twice, but three times between 1965 and 1971 to stop the California Highway Department and San Francisco Department of Public Works in their tracks.
San Francisco Chief Engineer Clifford Geertz became so frustrated with their efforts that he called the women “The Gum Tree Girls,” a reference to the eucalyptus grove once located near Diamond and Chenery Streets that was still being associated with Glen Park long after the original grove was gone. Geertz meant it as a term of derision.
According to Joan Seiwald, Geertz had earlier called the women “dumb housewives,” and that the attitude of the all-male government was that Glen Park was a “bucolic backwater” of working-class citizens. Yet, realizing they must have been having an impact, Zoanne, Joan, and Geri stood tall and accepted the moniker of “The Gum Tree Girls” as a badge of honor. Because of their efforts, but more importantly, their moxie, the shortcut to the Golden Gate Bridge was never built. Glen Park and Glen Canyon were saved!
Sadly, Zoanne Theriault Nordstrom passed away due to complications of COVID-19 on February 15, 2021. Geri Arkush was lost much earlier in 1999, and Joan Seiwald continues to call Glen Park home. When Zoanne’s son, Marcus Theriault, approached the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project with the idea for the festival, we were quick to accept.
Lasting impact of the Gum Tree Girls
Without the moxie, courage, and resilience of these and other women, the quality of life in the Glen Park district and the natural landscape of Glen Canyon Park would be nonexistent today. The legacy of the Glen Park Gum Tree Girls was highlighted in 2021 by National Geographic in an article about the San Francisco Crosstown Trail, and also on SFGate as a premier example of community activism moving forward in the 21st century.
Join us as we Celebrate Moxie! Learn more about the Gum Tree Girls Festival! To donate directly to the Festival with PayPal, click here. To offer in-kind donations or if you’d like to volunteer at the festival, please email GlenParkHistory@gmail.com. We look forward to seeing you at the Glen Park Gum Tree Girls Festival 2022 on Sunday, July 10 in Glen Canyon Park!
Evelyn Rose, Director and Founder of the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, is documenting the histories of Glen Park and nearby neighborhoods. To learn more about our local histories, visit www.GlenParkHistory.org. The Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project is currently offering intermittent virtual programs during the ongoing health crisis. Join the mailing list: GlenParkHistory@gmail.com. The Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project is fiscally sponsored by Independent Arts & Media, a California non-profit corporation. Evelyn is also the author of the history website, Tramps of San Francisco.