Tracing its residence in Los Angeles back to the mid-nineteenth century, the Workman family holds a distinguished place in the city's history. Two brothers, David (1798-1855) and William (1800-1876), originally from England, were the first Workmans to settle in Los Angeles: David came from Missouri, and William from Taos, New Mexico. Of their descendants, the following Workmans figure most prominently in the collection: William H. Workman, the son of David, and his wife Maria Elizabeth; their daughter Mary Julia Workman; her sister-in-law, Margaret Workman, wife of Mary's brother Thomas.
William H. Workman (1839-1918) would make his great mark in two areas of Los Angeles history: city politics and the development of LA's infrastructure. The most important civic office that William Workman held was mayor of Los Angeles. During his tenure from 1887 to 1888, he investigated civic corruption in Los Angeles, had Fort (Broadway), Spring, Hill, and Main streets paved, and supported the establishment of the city library. Besides the office of mayor, William served on the city council for much of the 1870s (1872-1874; 1875-1880); these stints saw several important developments in Los Angeles. As a council member, he fought for, and won, a restriction of fifty years on the management by the Los Angeles Water Company, a private group, of the water rights of the Los Angeles River. This move would allow for the beginning, in the 1890s, of public ownership of the Los Angeles water system. In 1875, William Workman paid the Los Angeles Water Company to extend its services to Boyle Heights, thus ensuring a domestic water supply there. Workman also persuaded fellow council members to permit the building of a conduit bringing the water of the Elysian Hills to Boyle Heights for irrigation. These improvements permitted William Workman's opening of Boyle Heights to real estate sales, thereby developing Los Angeles east of the Los Angeles River. William Workman improved his development in such other ways as the building of bridges across the river. (For tract maps of his developments in Boyle Heights, see Series 3, Boxes 7ov, 8ov.)
His role in developing the city's infrastructure reached beyond Boyle Heights. William Workman was also instrumental in the building of street car lines in Los Angeles, some of which would reach Boyle Heights. He led the fight to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad, against considerable local opposition, to Los Angeles, a link to the outside world that would help make the land booms of the 1880s possible. As City Treasurer (1901-1907), he oversaw a general election for the building of the Silver Lake Reservoir. During his term on the Park Commission, he donated two-thirds of the land for Hollenbeck Park, a Los Angeles landmark. He also helped found the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. These considerable contributions in a critical period of Los Angeles' growth earned for him popularity, evidenced by the nickname that Los Angelenos knew him by, "Uncle Billy."
When he took the hand of Maria Elizabeth Boyle (1847-1933) in 1867, two distinguished Los Angeles families were joined. Maria, of course, came from the family which had bought property and settled in Boyle Heights before William Workman's acquisitions there. She received her education from the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and throughout her life was known for her devotion to Roman Catholicism. Maria strongly supported the Orphans' Fairs, an important charitable work, and was also active in the Catholic Women's Club and the Women's Athletic Club.
William and Maria had seven children; of these Mary Julia Workman, born in 1871, was a star whose activities form an important part of this research collection. William was Protestant, but the Roman Catholic faith of her mother, Maria, predominated; consequently, Mary Workman received a Catholic education, graduating in 1890 from the Convent of the Sacred Heart of Mary and Jesus, in Oakland. In 1902 she completed studies in kindergarten teaching, at the State Normal School in Los Angeles; Workman would teach in the city's public schools until 1923.
At some point during these years, because of her studies, Mary Workman became deeply influenced by the ideals of American Progressivism. The fruit of this influence was manifested in her leadership in the establishment of the Brownson House (1901), a landmark on the West Coast of the settlement house philosophy and one of its stronger Roman Catholic expressions.
In politics she was likewise dedicated to reform and humanitarian causes. Her advocacy of the Progressive tenet of city government based on civil service led to her presidency of the Los Angeles City Civil Service Commission (1927-1928). Mary Workman also participated in other civic reform groups, such as the Municipal Light and Power Defense League, which watched over city services, and helped in the recall of corrupt Los Angeles mayor Frank Shaw, campaigning for reform candidates John Anson Ford and Fletcher Bowron through such means as radio speeches (see Series 1, Box 1, Folder 2). Her work with the Democratic National Committee, Southern California Division, involved her in Democratic politics in the Los Angeles area.
Mary Workman's political pursuits extended beyond parochial Los Angeles issues--vital as they may have been--to national and international issues. Part of the post-World War I movement for world peace, Workman vigorously labored for the participation of the United States in the League of Nations. To this end, she founded, and was an officer in, the Southern California chapter of the League of Nations Association. Of a similar nature was her participation in the Catholic Association for International Peace, Southern California Committee, of which she was secretary. The CAIP was intended to apply Christian ideals to the troubled world politics of the post-war era; this application of Christian principles to resolve international conflict clearly expresses Mary Workman's philosophy of social activism.
Thus, underlying all her life's work was Mary Workman's Roman Catholic faith, a connection vividly demonstrated in Pope Pius XI's grant of the papal medal "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" to Mary Workman in 1926 (see Series 1, Box 1, Folder 3). The medal rewarded Roman Catholics for their humanitarian work and, in Mary Workman's case, especially recognized her contribution to the field of social work, but within the Roman Catholic tradition. This was a signal honor for Workman, for she was the first woman in the diocese of Los Angeles to receive this medal. Mary Workman's praiseworthy life ended in 1964, following complications from a broken hip.
Like her sister-in-law Mary Julia Workman, Margaret Kilgariff Workman (1902-1987) achieved similar, notable accomplishments in social and philanthropic causes; indeed, the two often worked together on issues. Margaret was born into a well-known California family, the Kilgariffs: her mother, Regina, was a suffragette and one of the first women on the Democratic State Central Committee. In 1925, Margaret, after graduating from college, married Thomas Edgar Workman (1890-1972), son of William H. and Maria E. Workman. The couple would make their home in Los Angeles, where Margaret would compile a record in civic, philanthropic, and community works sterling in its breadth and quality; and in these activities she participated in historic issues ranging from social welfare, to politics, to education. Her membership on the board of the California Relief Commission (1935-1937) saw the implementation of the New Deal in California. She, as her sister-in-law Mary Julia, fought successfully for the recall of the corrupt Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw, a truly landmark moment in Los Angeles politics. Margaret was a member of the famous "Citizens' Committee" headed by Clifford Clinton that was the key in toppling Frank Shaw. Democratic politics was another arena that Margaret Workman, a staunch New Deal liberal, knew first hand. Her leadership as co-chair of the Culbert Olson campaign for governor in 1938 led to his election as the first Democratic governor in California in the twentieth century. Margaret Workman was delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1940 and played a role on the Democratic Women's Advisory Platform Committee. That Los Angeles news publisher Manchester Boddy would solicit her support in his senatorial primary campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950 demonstrates her importance in state Democratic circles (see Series 2, Box 6, Folder 8).
In World War II, she served as secretary of the Los Angeles branch of the National Committee Against Nazi Persecution and Extermination of the Jews, whose members included Norman Littell, Roosevelt's deputy assistant attorney general. She also was a member of William Allen White's Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, a group active before the United States's entrance into World War II that strongly advocated logistical support for Great Britain in its war with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Her support for liberal causes was manifested in her membership in the National Conference of Jews and Christians, and she actively opposed the anti-labor Proposition 1, which was on the California ballot in 1938. Her service to both secular and Roman Catholic philanthropy in Los Angeles was tireless: the latter included work with the Social Service Auxiliary, and the former involved such organizations as the Hollywood Studio Club of the Young Women's Christian Association. This list of activities, impressive in its own right, is still incomplete, which suggests that Margaret Workman's record of service to her community and nation knew few peers in Los Angeles.
The Workman family presence in Los Angeles civic affairs has continued. Margaret and Thomas Workman’s son David A. Workman was a judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court (1981-1983) and a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court from 1983 until his retirement in 2006; his papers from his judicial campaigns in 1980 and 1982 form part of this collection.
All information in this biography comes from material in the collection or from the following sources:
For additional information on the Workman family, consult Donald E. Rowland. John Rowland and William Workman: Southern California Pioneers of 1841. Spokane: Arthur H. Clark Co.; Los Angeles: Historical Society of Southern California, 1999.
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