Before Sheryl Sandberg there was Juana Briones

Juana Briones



Disruptive innovation, women who stand up and lean in,  and engaging in creative change is not new to Silicon Valley of 2014.   We just don’t know about many of the early pioneers.   Let’s get in the Wayback Machine and bring back Juana Briones and celebrate this early resident of Palo Alto and  amazing single mom of 7, victim of domestic violence who fought a male dominated system to win a divorce and bought 4400 acres of land in Palo Alto and ran a ranch. . She lived in Palo Alto….are we surprised?  I think if she were here today, Sheryl and Juana would be doing  coffee at Cafe Venetia or Coupa, planning the next start up. I like to think we’re all channeling Juana’s spirit.

Here is a guest post on this awesome woman, from another amazing local woman, a pioneer herself in tech. This is from Hilda Sendyk, M.S., a  Silicon Valley Learning & Development and Workforce Professional who also multi-tasks by providing information and insights into the history of early California. You can find more about Hilda on the Homebrew Computing Pages.


A Gala Opening for the Juana Briones Exhibit

Juana Briones Y Su California: Pionera, Fundadora, Curandera

Juana Briones de Miranda (1802 – 1889)

Juana Briones:   rancher,  land owner, savvy businesswoman, humanitarian, and healer.  This amazing woman lived in the 1800’s in the Alta California settlements of both Palo Alto and San Francisco.

Kudos to the California Historical Society, the Historical Museum, and its Executive Director, Anthea Hartig, and her team for producing an artistic, intelligent, and culturally-forward exhibit of Juana Briones (opened January 26th and continuing through June 8th). The exhibit, bilingual throughout, offers us a window into her life, the prevailing culture, art, activities, and daily challenges facing this multi-faceted Californio woman during that era.

Juana had seven children who she supported without much assistance from her physically abusive husband.  She was known as a “curandera”, always available to her neighbors as a healer using herbs and medications she learned about from her mother and the local indigenous people.  Although she had no formal education and lived during a time when women had few societal rights, she was one of only a small number of Californios to keep their land grants after California became part of the United States.

The California Historical Museum’s fully Spanish-English exhibit celebrates Juana’s life and times with paintings, maps, ranchero artifacts, photos, and a display of a wall segment salvaged from her house In Palo Alto.  (The house was demolished in 2011, after the Friends of the Juana Briones House organization was unsuccessful in saving the historic site.)  The Museum’s exhibit brochure is filled with remarkable information – a historical timeline, a glossary of terms, and a detailed list of historical members of Juana’s world.

The exhibit speaks personally to Director Hartig because “As a third generation Californian, this exhibit really resonates for me since it celebrates the story of a remarkable, hard-working, pioneering woman local to our Bay Area.”

Albert Camarillo, Professor of American History at Stanford University and Guest Curator of the exhibit commented, “The Juana Briones exhibit represents the life of an amazing woman who expertly handled the essentials of a full life well-lived in her ability to earn a living and sustain a large family essentially on her own, in her defense of human rights, and in the care and healing she provided to her neighbors.”

Jeanne Farr McDonnell, author of the definitive biography Juana Briones of Nineteenth-Century California, commented: “This exhibit opens a window into an era of drastic changes: California during the 1800’s.  Juana’s successful negotiation of these changes for herself, her family, and others who she helped is told strongly by the exhibit’s artifacts and documents that describe her life and times from 1802 to 1889.  These are the years during which California originated under Spain, passed to Mexican ownership, and then midway through those years, became one of the United States.”  McDonnell’s book is available through University of Arizona Press:


For a full description of the Juana Briones exhibit and associated events, go to:

California Historical Society

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