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The History Corner

by David Mostardi, Club Historian

Once Upon A Hillside: 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago

Number 26 in a series of articles profiling notable Hillside Club members of the past.

Agnes Morley Cleaveland (1874-1958)

Newton Cleaveland (1874-1944)

Club member for nine years (1912-20)

Agnes Morley was born in New Mexico in 1874, the oldest child of William and Ada Morley. William was a railroad engineer and newspaper publisher, but he died when Agnes was still a child. Ada remarried and the family moved to a ranch, but the stepfather later abandoned them. Agnes and her brother learned how to manage the ranch, ride the range, work with horses and cattle, and hunt grizzly bears.

Agnes went to high school in Philadelphia and Ann Arbor, and then to college at the new Stanford University, where she played guard on the women’s basketball team. On 4 April 1896, she played in the very first women's intercollegiate basketball game, playing for Stanford against the Cal Bears at the Page Street Armory in San Francisco. The players wore bloomers, and an audience of seven hundred women attended. All three big San Francisco newspapers sent women writers and artists to cover the historic contest, for men were banned for modesty’s sake. Denied admission, men climbed the roof and peered in the windows; women inside fended them off with sticks. The game was tied at 1-1 (not a misprint, basketball had far different rules in 1896) when Agnes made “a long, fine, straight throw clean from the shoulder” for the 2-1 win. Sadly, in December 1899, Stanford cancelled all its women’s intercollegiate team sports, according to the faculty, “for the good of the students’ health” and, according to the Daily, for “the unpleasant publicity accompanying the contests.” Agnes graduated from Stanford in 1900.

In 1899, Agnes married Newton Cleaveland, a mining engineer. They had four children, including Norman Cleaveland, a talented rugby player who was a member of the gold-medal United States rugby team at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Agnes was an early member and organizer of the California Writers Club, and published a number of articles and stories during her years in Berkeley. She was also the head of the local chapter for the National Organization of Republican Women and Pro America, and headed the California Federation of Women's Clubs. Her memoir about growing up on a New Mexico cattle ranch, No Life for a Lady, was published in 1941. It won a publisher's award and was critically acclaimed. It was released in a special edition for the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.

Newton Cleaveland died in 1944. Agnes died at the ranch in New Mexico in 1958, at the age of 84.

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