San Francisco : History : people
Lotta Crabtree (1847-1924)
Lotta Crabtree (1847-1924)

Biography Lotta Mignon Crabtree was born on November 7, 1847, in New York City to Mary Ann Livesey Crabtree and John Ashworth Crabtree, immigrants from England

Her father, who had a bookstore just off Broadway, left for the California gold fields in 1851. A year later her mother sold the shop, and with little Lotta in tow, bought passage on a steamship to San Francisco.
Her father didn't even meet them at the boat and reappeared only sporadically. Later, when he made off with a trunk of her gold, Lotta tried to prosecute. But the laws of the day gave women no control over their earnings, so she had to get rid of him by pensioning him off to England. Her reputation as a suffragette began to gel.
It was Lotta's mother who swept the stage for nuggets when her 8-year-old began dancing in mining camps. According to legend, when the satchel with Lotta's earnings got too heavy, her mother would buy real estate in the cities where they toured.
Lotta never married. Some said her mother wouldn't allow it. But the redhead, who mastered the suggestive double entendre long before Mae West, never lacked admirers. In 1883, The New York Times devoted much of its front page to "The Loves of Lotta."
While besotted young men would unhitch the horses from Lotta's carriage and pull her to the theater, her mother, always dressed in black, would walk the streets of cities looking for investments.
In New York City, Lotta was the belle of Broadway. "The face of a beautiful doll and the ways of a playful kitten," purred The New York Times, insisting "no one could wriggle more suggestively than Lotta."
At 45, she quit the stage and retired to her New Jersey estate and the library that provided her education. Blackballed by a high-minded ladies' literary society, Lotta would only laugh -- and shake the skirts that society matrons thought were scandalously short.
It wasn't until her mother died, and Lotta moved to Boston, that her serious side emerged. She lived alone in a hotel but regularly headed to Gloucester, to paint seascapes, a dog at her feet, a cigar in her teeth.
Following her death, at 76, Boston papers recalled Lotta as a devoted animal rights activist who wandered the streets, putting hats on horses. --NewStandard: 1/28/98

The stage The miners in the Sierra of Northern California were used to the loneliness, dirt and disappointments that came with the search for Gold, but Gold of another sort appeared in 1853 to ease this routine and her name was Lotta Crabtree. The tiny, red-haired, six-year-old jigged and danced to their clapping hands, while they showered her with nuggets and coins which her mother hastily collected in her apron. ... ). Just two doors down from their boarding house, the infamous actress and Countess of Landsfeldt, Lola Montez herself had set up housekeeping. Mary Ann became acquainted with her and soon little Lotta, who adored Lola, became her protégé and was allowed to play in her costumes and dance to her German music box. --Lotta Crabtree, Fairy Star of the Gold Rush @Nevada County Gold Online
Lotta's Fountain

image credit
Almost everything was different here on September 9, 1875, as politicians and respectable citizens, along with more than an ample sampling of hellions from the Barbary Coast, assembled to dedicate San Francisco's new public drinking fountain. The very sky seemed larger then, if only because most of the surrounding edifices hadn't yet climbed beyond a few floors. The notable exception lay half a block to the east: the original Palace Hotel, which had opened mere weeks before and on this afternoon hung profusely with guests anxious to view the festivities. Two and a half acres in size, with 800 rooms and six of its seven gold-and-white stories decorated in parallel banks of bay windows, the Palace was this boomtown's pride and joy. But its inauguration had followed too closely the swimming death of its honored developer, William Ralston, and the temporary closing of Ralston's once-invincible Bank of California. Locals were desperately in need of a boost, and the unveiling of Lotta Crabtree's present promised them just that. --LOTTA'S LEGACY - Why the homeliest landmark on Market Street deserves your attention - By J. Kingston Pierce

It is the oldest surviving monument in the City's collection.... Lotta's Fountain - 1875
Located at the intersection of Market St. and Kearny St., Geary St. and 3rd St. ... The fountain will return to its original 1875 design in July 1999. A rededication of Lotta's Fountain is scheduled for September 9, 1999. -The City Arts Commission

5:12 AM
April 18, 1906
For thousands of Bay Area residents racked with worry and woe in the hours and days after the 5:12:38 a.m. temblor on April 18, 1906, Lotta's was a very, very low-tech sort of Internet. People went to the bronzed Beaux Arts column to learn who was dead and who wasn't, who was hurt and who was still sound of body (if not mind), and who had gone off to camp in Golden Gate Park or distant Palo Alto. Lotta's "is significant because it was a message center. It was the grapevine of information. People went there regularly," said Taren Sapienza, organizer and director of the annual 1906 Earthquake & Fire Commemoration. --Veterans of '06 gather to mark the Big Old One

No Place for a Woman?
The California gold camps were hard on the ladies, but that didn't stop them from arriving, surviving, and sometimes thriving... It was in Grass Valley that Montez met Lotta Crabtree.

Lotta Crabtree, variety star (1847 - 1924)
The quintessential female entertainer of her time and a true child of the Gold Rush, Lotta Crabtree was raised in California's gold country and performed in the vaudeville houses of San Francisco. She became the most popular comedienne of her era and the highest paid performer on the Broadway stage.

She clearly invested her earnings, and at age 22 purchased San Francisco real estate to begin a fortune valued at $4,000,000 at the time of her death in 1924. ... She retired from the stage in 1892, at 45, but made one last San Francisco appearance at “Lotta Crabtree Day” at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. Lotta Crabtree never married, and died in 1924 at her New York home. Charlotte Mignon “Lotta” Crabtree at

The New York Times called her the "eternal child" in her obituary. At the height of her career, she was known as "the nation's darling". She was described by critics as mischievous, unpredictable, impulsive, rattlebrained, teasing, piquant, rollicking, cheerful and devilish - Attol Tryst by Anna Travers, Mount Arlington Historical Society

See also: Lola Montez, Bret Harte and Sacromento Characters

You may add a comment to this page

Index - San Francisco History