Dorothy W. Erskine Park, 7 Martha Ave, San Francisco, CA 94131
Dorothy Ward Erskine (July 29, 1896 - September 21, 1982) was a UC-Berkeley graduate and longtime activist in urban and regional planning. Today, Erskine is best known for her role in the founding of People for Open Space, which eventually became the Greenbelt Alliance. She was a member of the Northern California branch of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, as were Noel Sullivan and several other local intellectuals and artists. Langston Hughes later joined the branch.
A native of San Francisco Erskine lived in San Francisco. She was the daughter of Dr. Florence Nightingale Ward, and of Dr. James William Ward. Florence Nightingale Ward (1879-1919) was one of the first female surgeons in the early years of the 20th century, and opened her own hospital in San Francisco. Dorothy Ward Erskine's sister, Jean Ward Wolff, also became a doctor, as did Dorothy Ward Erskine's daughter, Florence Ward Erskine. Erskine’s grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the 1850s. Erskine’s mother raised her as a single parent and was a prominent homeopathic physician who ran a hospital in San Francisco while raising her children (and occasionally taking them on epic trips to Japan and Europe). Erskine attended Miss Burke's School and the University of California at Berkeley. She met her husband, fighting liberanl attorney Morse Erskine, while still a student and married him in 1918. They had two children: Florence Ward Erskine and John Morse Erskine.
She was a successful writer and editor whose works included Russias Story, a text on the Soviet Union and The Big Ride, the story of Anza's founding of San Francisco.
She referred to herself as a "professional volunteer" and was a tireless worker for the environment.
Her work was largely responsible for the formation of the San Francisco Housing Authority.
In the 1940s she helped create the San Francisco Housing and Planning Association and later worked with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). In 1938, when the national legislation for public housing had gone through in Washington, she formed a kind of economic study group. This was privately financed, but among the things that were done was a survey of Chinatown by about eighteen people who signed up. Among those were Martha Gerbode. Other people involved were Alice Griffith and Elizabeth Ash, who pioneered in the housing field for many years, and actually formed the San Francisco Housing Association and helped in passing the first legislation after the first earthquake of 1906, to prevent jerry-building in the reconstruction of San Francisco.
Her efforts resulted in the formation of Point Reyes National Seashore and parklands in San Pablo and the watershed area on Angel Island.
She was a key figure in the creation of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to preserve the bay. After the sensational third U.C. Extension conference, when people were aroused and alarmed, a meeting was called to save the Bay. That night Mel Scott was there and Jack Kent and all of them, including Erskine, again – the same group of people. The meeting was called by Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick (it was her house) and Sylvia McLaughlin. They were all connected with the University of California. They wanted to do something about saving the Bay because Berkeley at this time proposed to fill the tidelands for two or three miles out into the Bay and build a big industrial complex of one kind or another.
In 1954, hoping to escape from the increasing urbanization of Fairfax, Elsa Gidlow bought a 5-acre property in rural Marin County near Muir Woods. The property had been found by Roger Somers and his wife Mary, but they did not have the funds to make the purchase. Despite the inability of single women to obtain credit at the time, Gidlow was able to borrow funds, after her friend Dorothy Erskine collateralized the loan. Gidlow and Isabel Grenfell Quallo shared the property, naming it Druid Heights.
In 1958, Erskine co-founded the Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks (CRRP), as an organization to protect parks and recreational areas in the Bay Area. In the late 1960s CRRP became the People for Open Space, committed to preserving all sorts of open recreational space on a regional basis. By the 1980s, the POS had merged with their affiliated Greenbelt Congress to become the Greenbelt Alliance, which promoted what is now call livable neighborhoods—walkable places to live, with shops, parks, and homes that have good access to transit. Protecting open space was a key part of the movement, coupled with local activism.
The Dorothy Erskine Park is located at the top of Baden Street. Poised on the edge of a rocky outcropping, the small park affords great views of the southeast of San Francisco, from among a grove of eucalyptus trees—though without even the amenity of a bench from which to enjoy the vista. A tiny patch of undeveloped land, it has peaceful views of India Basin and the Bay beyond. Dorothy Erskine Park was dedicated in February 1979, attended by Dorothy Erskine herself, along with Mayor Dianne Feinstein. Local realtor Ken Hoegger, active then in the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, was master of ceremonies.
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