|Birth: ||Mar. 10, 1841|
|Death: ||Feb. 29, 1928|
Ina was born Josephine Donna Smith the daughter of Don Carlos Smith 1816-1841 and Agnes Moulton Coolbrith Smith 1811-1875. Her Grandparents (parents of Agnes)were Joseph Coolbroth 1780- unknown and Mary Hasty Foss Coolbroth 1783 - unknown.
Ina Donna Coolbrith (March 10, 1841 - February 29, 1928) was an American poet, writer, librarian, and a prominent and beloved figure in the San Francisco Bay Area literary community. She was the first California Poet Laureate and thus the first poet laureate of an American state.
Her poetry was written at a time when women were supposed to write either melancholic or uplifting poems, but Coolbrith surpassed this expectation by including a wide variety of themes in her work. Her sensuous descriptions of natural scenes foreshadowed the Imagist school and the work of Robert Frost. Coolbrith broke new ground for women poets.
Ina Coolbrith was born Josephine Donna Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, the last of three daughters of Agnes Moulton Coolbrith and Don Carlos Smith, brother to Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. Coolbrith's father died of malarial fever four months after her birth, and a sister died one month after that; Coolbrith's mother was then married to Joseph Smith, Jr., in 1842. Following Smith's death at the hands of an anti-polygamist mob, Coolbrith's mother left the Latter-day Saint community and moved to Saint Louis, Missouri where she married a newspaperman named William Pickett. Twin sons were born to the couple, and in 1851 Pickett traveled overland with his new family to California in a wagon train. As a ten-year-old girl, Coolbrith entered California riding on the same horse with the famous African-American scout Jim Beckwourth, through what would later be named Beckwourth Pass. The family settled in Los Angeles, California.
To avoid identification with her former family or with Mormonism, Ina Coolbrith's mother reverted to using her maiden name, Coolbrith.
Coolbrith, sometimes called "Josephina" or just "Ina", published her first poem, "My Ideal Home," in 1856 as Ina Donna Coolbrith while living in Los Angeles. Her work appeared in the Poetry Corner of the Los Angeles Star, and in the California Home Journal. Coolbrith was renowned for her beauty; she was selected to open a ball with Pío Pico, the first governor of California. In April 1858 at the age of 17, she married Robert Carsely, an iron-worker and part-time actor, but she suffered abuse at his hands, and further emotional pain came from the death of the couple's infant son. An altercation between Pickett and Carsely resulted in a bullet mutilating Carsely's hand, requiring amputation. Carsely accused Coolbrith of infidelity, and she divorced him in a sensational public trial; the dissolution was final in December 1861. Her later poem, "The Mother's Grief", was a eulogy to her lost son, but it was only upon Coolbrith's death that her literary friends discovered she had ever been a mother. In 1862, Coolbrith moved with her mother, step-father and twin half-brothers to San Francisco to ward off depression, and changed her name from Josephine Donna Carsely to Ina Coolbrith.
In 1911, Coolbrith accepted the presidency of the Pacific Coast Woman's Press Association, and a park was dedicated to her, at 1715 Taylor Street, one block from her pre-earthquake home. Coolbrith was named honorary member of the California Writers Club around 1913.
In preparation for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Coolbrith was named President of the Congress of Authors and Journalists. In this position she sent more than 4,000 letters to the world's most well-known writers and journalists. At the Exposition itself, Coolbrith was crowned with a laurel wreath by Benjamin Ide Wheeler, President of the University of California, who called her the "loved, laurel-crowned poet of California." Her status as California Poet Laureate was subsequently confirmed by the California State Legislature. Several months later, at the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego, festivities included a series of Authors' Days, featuring 13 California writers. November 2, 1915 was "Ina Coolbrith Day": her poems were recited, a lecture on her life was given by George Wharton James, and her poetry was set to music and performed on piano and voice, with compositions by James, Humphrey John Stewart, and Amy Beach.
Coolbrith continued to write and work to support herself. From 1909 to final publication in 1917, she painstakingly collected and edited a book of Stoddard's poetry, writing a foreword and joining her short memorial poem "At Anchor" to verse submitted by Stoddard's friends Joaquin Miller, George Sterling and Thomas Walsh. In 1920, she received visitors such as art promoter Albert M. Bender who brought Ansel Adams to meet her. At the age of 80, Josephine Clifford McCracken wrote to Coolbrith to complain to her longtime friend of still having to work for a living in 1920:
The world has not used us well, Ina; California has been ungrateful to us. Of all the hundred thousands the state pays out in pensions of one kind and another, don't you think you should be at the head of the pensioners, and I somewhere down below?
In 1923 when she was crippled with arthritis, Coolbrith moved to Berkeley to be cared for by her niece. In 1924, Mills College conferred upon her an honorary Master of Arts degree. Coolbrith published Retrospect: In Los Angeles in 1925. Ansel Adams made a photographic portrait of Coolbrith in 1926, seated near one of her white Persian cats and wearing a large white mantilla on her head. Coolbrith died on Leap Day, February 29, 1928, and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. Her grave was unmarked until 1986 when a literary society known as The Ina Coolbrith Circle placed a headstone. Her name is commemorated by Mount Ina Coolbrith, a 7,900 foot peak near Beckwourth Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains near State Route 70.
A book of Coolbrith's later poetry was published in the year after her death, entitled Wings of Sunset. Charles Joseph MacConaghy Phillips edited the collection, and wrote a brief memorial to Coolbrith's life.
The University of California established the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prize in 1933, given annually to authors of the best unpublished poems written by undergraduate students enrolled at the University of the Pacific, Mills College, Stanford University, Santa Clara University, Saint Mary's College of California, and any of the University of California campuses.
The California Writers Club occasionally selects a member, one distinguished by "exemplary service", to receive the Ina Coolbrith Award.
In his 1997 novel Separations, author Oakley Hall set Coolbrith and others of her 1870 literary circle as main characters in the story.
Don Carlos Smith (1816 - 1841)
Agnes Moultin Coolbrith Smith (1811 - 1876)
Agnes Charlotte Smith (____ - 1841)**
Sophronia C. Smith (1833 - 1843)**
Ina Donna Coolbrith (1841 - 1928)
Mountain View Cemetery
GPS (lat/lon): 37.83325, -122.2391
Maintained by: Darlene Langley
Originally Created by: Shiver
Record added: Jun 02, 2004
Find A Grave Memorial# 8862150