Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Coming to the Aid of Orphans: Ysabel Varela del Valle

 
Ysabel del Valle
 California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California 

Ysabel Varela (1837–1905) was only fifteen years old when she married Ignacio del Valle, a man nearly thirty years her senior. She and her new husband lived at El Pueblo, among other elite Californio families, in an adobe facing the plaza. As there was no child welfare system at that time, orphaned children were left to roam the streets. So while Ignacio was busy with his work as an elected official, Ysabel ministered to the poor and homeless in the area. 

 
Ysabel Varela del Valle with Orphans, ca. 1884    
Courtesy of Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Los Angeles County Museum of National History

In 1861, Ysabel, Ignacio, and their young children moved to Rancho Camulos, a property Ignacio had inherited. Continuing her commitment to children, Ysabel brought eight orphans with her to be raised in her family. According to some accounts, she periodically brought more children to the ranch. 

 
Portrait of the Del Valle family, Rancho Camulos, ca. 1888
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California
The journalist and preservationist Charles F. Lummis, who was a friend of the del Valles, noted that Ysabel also saw to the care and well-being of the Native Americans who lived on her property; for example, she studied the medicinal qualities of plants and used them to care for the sick. Lummis wrote, “She was a woman whose life was dominated by the spirit of absolute and simple faith which led her through a long life of untold deeds of kindness and charity.”


Ysabel del Valle
Cabinet Card
California Historical Society, MSP 2230_004

The child in the cabinet card above may be Ysabel del Valle’s son Reginaldo, who went on to become a California state senator in 1882. Boys at this time often wore dresses, primarily for the convenience of toilet training and because dresses were easier to fit to growing children.
 
Rear view,  Los Angeles Orphan Asylum (1891-1953)
Courtesy of Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Los Angeles County Museum of National History

When Ysabel del Valle’s funeral procession passed the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum in Boyle Heights orphanage on its way to the cemetery, three hundred children stood outside to say goodbye to the woman whose work among the homeless was legendary.

_____________________________________________________________________________

History Keepers: Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles 


Ysabel’s story is not unlike the other 10 stories of perseverance, kindness, and lasting history in History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles, on view at the El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at El Pueblo National Monument in Los Angeles, August 4 to October 1, 2017. Contributing institution to History Keepers: Eleven That Moved Los Angeles: California Historical Society.















Post a Comment