They Came Before Us: Trail Blazers

I recall how nervous I felt the day in 1951 when my eight-year-old self reluctantly appeared on my grandmother’s weekly children’s TV show!! Today I realize that she, Vera May Lewis, was a pioneer in television! This month, National Women’s History Month, allows us to celebrate the pioneering women on whose shoulders we stand.
Our sagging family album revealed her photo on the set of The Playcrafters Club. It aired on Channel 5, KTLA, Thursdays at 5, from 1950 through 1955. According to the Los Angeles Mirror, Playcrafters Club was the oldest educational children’s program on the West Coast. My grandmother was breaking new ground. Today there are hundreds of programs for youth, but back in the early days of TV, in the late 40’s and early 1950’s, the pickings were slim, relying heavily on regional programming. Hers was a local show sponsored by Los Angeles County. As a Senior Recreation Director, she was assigned as host. It was a 30 minute-long craft program where local children created art projects for those at home.
Today our devices allow us to watch anything at anytime, nearly anywhere!! Ninety-eight percent of Americans have televisions. Back in the beginning things were far different. There was one national children’s program, The Howdy Doody Show on NBC which aired from December 1947 until 1960, and by 1956 The Mickey Mouse Club, and soon others, but hers was an important early step.
I am proud of my grandmother, Vera May Cooper Lewis, born in Los Angeles in 1901. After marriage and becoming a mom, she went on to graduate from the University of Southern California in 1929, majoring in Speech. Her career modeled possibilities for me.
What about your own fore bearers on whose shoulders you stand? What family member pioneered for you? I’d love to hear about them.
Still pondering the trail blazers, I examined a few more pages in our decrepit album and came upon my father’s grandmother. A pioneering woman; she raised her two small children while working full time in the family store. She was Lydia Cram Lewis, born in Minnesota in 1859. She, with her pharmacist husband, Charles H.V. Lewis, arrived via rail to the City of Angels in the late 1880’s leaving the civilized comforts of Des Moines, Iowa, for the rugged frontier of the rough “out west,” where gun fights on Saturday night were the norm, and the population was about 15,000 people.
In my mind’s eye, I can see them lumbering off the train, their hands heavily laden with bags, struggling to hold on to their two small children. Their children, daughter, Fayetta, was six and their son, my grandfather, was two. The trunks and cases would have held their worldly household possessions as well as the starting stock for their intended pharmacy. This 1894 photo is of Lydia behind the counter of the Lewis Drug Company at 4th and Broadway in Los Angeles.
They would ultimately become a family of druggists, owning nine pharmacies and cigar shores in Los Angeles. Lydia would earn her California State Board of Pharmacy certification in 1901; as would both of her children. Fayetta, after owning and operating her own pharmacy, would go on to manage the pharmaceutical department of the Hollywood Hospital, while her younger brother, Ray, would also own his own businesses.
My memory skipped to my favorite of his stores, at Sunset and Gardner in Hollywood. I loved the sparkling medicine ball hanging over the front door. Upon arrival at the store, my little sister and I would spring from the car and dash, giggling, through the front door heading straight for the candy counter! 
Lydia and my grandfather were very close, hence my childhood was filled with his fond narratives about her life. One of my treasures is a collection of his 1903 letters to her. For several months at age 19, for health, he needed to live in the Mojave area, a long, dusty, and bumpy 66 miles in a stage coach from Los Angeles. The penciled, hand written pages describe tasks of everyday life like his packing his trunk for the stagecoach and oiling his gun. Like teens today might do, he asked his mom for clean socks! These stories allow us a peek into lives lived in Southern California almost 120 years ago, and the pioneers who settled our land, making possible the lives we live today. I realize that through my grandfather’s stories, Lydia Lewis has influenced the woman I have become.
I would love to know of one of the women on whose shoulders you stand. I enjoy your thoughts. My best, donna