Riot girls

The newest issue of American Ancestors magazine prominently features women: how to trace them, their accomplishments in the field of genealogy, and even their role “hiding in plain sight” with infants in early photographs. It seems appropriate, therefore, to share something surprising that I discovered this past summer about one of my great-great-grandmothers.

I have spent countless hours tracking down genealogical material in old newspapers, but in this case, exciting information was handed to me on a virtual silver platter through a hint on Ancestry.com. It was a short notice in the 20 June 1911 issue of the Nevada State Journal, with a dateline the previous day in Los Angeles: Mrs. A. J. Corker had posted $5,000 bond with another woman, releasing from custody Ricardo Flores Magón, “alleged head of the revolutionary junta in this city, which has been credited with promoting the Liberal movement in Lower [Baja] California.” It also related that my ancestress was “a member of the socialistic defense committee.”

From Wikipedia, I learned that Cipriano Ricardo Flores Magón (1874–1922) was “a noted Mexican anarchist and social reform activist,” and that his brothers Enrique and Jesús were also politically active. There is even a term for the followers of the Flores Magón brothers: Magonistas. Of course I wasn’t going to just leave things there. I had to see whether there was anything more to uncover … and indeed there was.

There is even a term for the followers of the Flores Magón brothers: Magonistas. Of course I wasn’t going to just leave things there. I had to see whether there was anything more to uncover … and indeed there was.

The following June, Enrique and Ricardo Flores Magón were put on trial for violating U.S .neutrality laws, along with Librado Rivera and Anselmo L. Figueroa, publisher of the newspaper El Regeneracion. During their trial, three young women physically and verbally attacked a witness in the corridor, calling him a spy and coward. They were Helen Luevano; Lucile Norman, step-daughter of Ricardo Flores Magón; and Mercedes Figueroa, daughter of Anselmo Figueroa. The three young women were cited for contempt of court, and Lucile and Mercedes then went on – joined by three other women – to incite a riot following the 25 June sentencing of the men!

On 19 July 1912, the Los Angeles Herald published news that 15-year-old “riot girl” Mercedes Figueroa had been taken in by Aurelia J. Corker following her release on bail, and that the elderly woman planned to adopt her. The next day’s issue of the same paper contained a front-page article featuring a photograph of the two women, and noted that Aurelia was foster mother for fifteen girls already and had posted bond for all of the “so-called rioters.” While the quality of the newspaper photograph isn’t terrific, I’m excited to finally have a picture of this ancestress (only two of my great-greats now remain faceless).

The article concluded with this paragraph: “The fame of Mrs. Corker’s kindness to motherless children has spread far and wide among persons of her belief, and in many languages she is spoken of as ‘the little mother of the revolution.’”

Wow! Nothing I’d learned, either from my family or from previous research, had hinted that my great-great-grandmother had been a major figure in California’s Socialist-Labor party and an ardent sympathizer with Mexican revolutionaries. But once I started looking, I found all kinds of articles detailing her exploits, both a personal arrest in 1908 (for addressing a crowd on public streets without a permit) and frequent bond-posting for others.

[Once] I started looking, I found all kinds of articles detailing her exploits…

There were a couple of ironies in all this that quickly sprung to mind. One was that Mercedes Figueroa must have felt quite at home with her new adoptive mother, who lived at 237 North Figueroa Street. The other was that – quite unbeknownst to anyone at the time – the late mother-in-law of Aurelia Corker’s youngest daughter had been a goddaughter of Manuel Garfias … a nephew of the Mexican president whom Aurelia’s friends and associates had fought to overthrow!

Pamela Athearn Filbert

About Pamela Athearn Filbert

Pamela Athearn Filbert was born in Berkeley, California, but considers herself a “native Oregonian born in exile,” since her maternal great-great-grandparents arrived via the Oregon Trail, and she herself moved to Oregon well before her second birthday. She met her husband (an actual native Oregonian whose parents lived two blocks from hers in Berkeley) in London, England. She holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon, and has worked as a newsletter and book editor in New York City and Salem, Oregon; she was most recently the college and career program coordinator at her local high school.

9 thoughts on “Riot girls

  1. Newspapers are important for filling in the lives of some of our relatives, as your post illustrates. My brother found one of our relatives in 1927 in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, where it was claimed that she was the youngest great-grandmother at age 42. She was a great-grandmother, but also, of course, older than that!

  2. Wow is right. What an incredible history and amazing story of your great great grandmother. Without the newspaper article, descendants of Aurelia might dismiss this as an extraordinary and possibly fabricated family story. Congrats to you and kudos to Aurelia Corker for her service.

  3. Hello my fellow Duck,
    I took my own Oregon Trail from Rhode Island to St Louis to Eugene for an MBA in 1977. The only risky part of the trip was the Wagonmaster -AAA- wanted me to drive my u haul trailer over the Cascades along the Mackenize river in the dead of winter. I decided it was time to “go your own way now” and take route 5.

    1. Glad you made and came up with your own route…otherwise you might have had to follow the lead of much earlier trail travelers and let your trailer down the steep slope of the Santiago Pass using a chain wrapped around a tree! There are still trees that bear the scars from that maneuver over 150 years later. To be honest, I’m not sure which route my own family employed; they were pretty late to come out in the scheme of things, since (I believe) my g-g-grandfather was claiming a Civil War veteran’s land grant; in any case they arrived in the second half of the 1860s.

      1. Good heavens! Autocorrect “helped” me by changing Santiam to Santiago. It is an amazingly wonderful sight, so if you’re not traveling with a trailer or in an oversized vehicle, it is well worth the trip.

  4. Pamela, Mercedes Figueroa was my great grandmother. I have more of her story if you are interested in her and the Magonista movement

    1. Goodness yes! I believe I’ve tracked some details down, but it would be lovely to have those confirmed and expanded. Could you please email the blog editor Scott Steward, and then he can forward your email to me: Scott.Steward@nehgs.org

      Sorry I didn’t see your comment until now.

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