If anyone deserved recognition for being the “founder of San Francisco” the honor would have to go to Juana Briones Miranda.
Briones’ extraordinary trajectory will be displayed on Jan. 26 in a bilingual exhibition by the California Historical Society (CHS) in collaboration with Stanford University and Bancroft Library.
“Juana Briones y su California: Pionera, Fundadora, Curandera” will feature many historic documents, artwork, artifacts, photographs, and a memorable part of Briones’ house in Santa Clara County, which was demolished in May 2011.
In an early map of the city, La Playa de Juana Briones identified the area that is known as North beach today. She was also was also believed to be the first resident of the Yerba Buena area. A reminder of her remarkable contribution to San Francisco’s history can be found at the bottom of the Lyon Street steps in the Presidio.
Juana de Briones de Miranda was a businesswoman, a landowner, and a healer.
But most importantly, she was brave. She went through an ecclesiastical separation from the church at a time when this was very uncommon and risky. Shortly after, she dropped her husband’s surname after he allegedly abused her. She then adopted the name Juana de Briones.
Born in 1802, at the Villa Branciforte in present-day Santa Cruz, Brione’s story began with her journey to San Francisco’s Presidio District in 1812.It was there that she met and married Apolinario Miranda, a soldier, with whom she had seven children.
The couple’s marriage ended in divorce, as she petitioned for protection against her abusive husband. By that time, Juana moved by herself to a residence in El Pueblo de Yerba Buena, located between the Presidio and Mission Dolores.
As if life wasn’t difficult enough as a divorcee in a patriarchal and religious society, Briones faced another challenge: she was illiterate. Fortunately, Briones did not let this disadvantage stop her from becoming a successful and astute businesswoman and entrepreneur.
In 1841, Briones established a small dairy farm, selling milk and produce to sailors, merchants, and visitors, in what is known today as North Beach—just a few steps away from Washington Square, some say.
Also, taking advantage of the life on the frontier —the presidios, missions, and pueblos that comprised the landscape in which Briones was living – she made her name for herself as a curandera (traditional folk healer).
“Juana’s medical services promoted relationships with indigenous Californians, and Mexican Americans, Anglos, and sailors from around the globe—and distinguished her as a humanitarian—ensuring her an esteemed place in her community.”
In addition to her entrepreneurial successes, Briones also distinguished herself as a mother—adopting a Native American girl into her already sizable family.
According to Dr. Anthea Hartig, the executive director of CHS, Briones’ power, perseverance and compassion still are still major influences today. “We are honored to celebrate Juana Briones’ incredible history,” said Briones.
The exhibition will be open to the public from Jan. 26 to June 8, at California historical Society (678 Mission St., San Francisco).