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9 1 The First Woman In September 1999 Rose Elizabeth Bird telephoned a female reporter to arrange a lunch date. She dressed carefully in a blue blouse and black slacks, but the clothes hung on her thin frame and she could barely eat. She was dying of breast cancer and had only a few more weeks to live. The phone call had been unexpected. Bird was notoriously risk averse when it came to the media.As her life slipped away,however,she wanted to revisit the past and set the record straight before it was too late. It had been too late for a long time—for two decades, in fact. She was almost sixty-three,and hers had been a remarkable life.From an impoverished girlhood in Arizona and New York, she had risen to heights no woman in California had then achieved. It had all unraveled . In 1986 she became the first chief justice removed from office by California voters. Even in her final months, she seemed not to entirely understand how it had all gone wrong.¹ But the beginning of her journey held clues to the end. Bird always claimed to have learned her life’s most valuable lessons at her mother Anne’s knee. Chief among them: that women had to take care of themselves ; that education, hard work, and perseverance were keys to a life free of physically taxing, low-paid labor; and that a career aimed at helping others less fortunate would bring psychic satisfaction along with remuneration.“She probably more than anyone else influenced me 10 the first woman in understanding that you had to rely on yourself—that you couldn’t rely on a husband to financially see you through life,” Bird once said.² But her father also played a profound role in the person Bird became: obsessively self-reliant, deeply untrusting of others, and possessing a nearly pathological need for control. She was also extraordinarily cautious , and she prized loyalty above all other traits, remnants of an early childhood with a parent who seems always to have had one foot out the door. Harry Dalton Bird left his family when Rose was small. As a teenager, she apparently revealed to a friend that he had been an alcoholic . As an adult, she never spoke publicly about Harry. She pointedly omitted references to him in all of her“Who’s Who”entries. If asked by journalists, she offered a terse response: “My mother married a much older man, and as a result my father died when we were very young.”³ Harry Bird was born in New Jersey in 1873 to parents who had emigrated to the United States from England just two years earlier. His first marriage took place in 1894 in Manhattan, and according to U.S. census records his first child was born less than six months later. Harry and his first wife, Charlotte, eventually had five children.4 In April 1918 Harry signed up for military service,though at forty-four he was too old to fight in World War I. The enlistment form described him as tall and slender, with blue eyes and light hair, and it listed his occupation as salesman for a New York City company that made sandpaper . He also worked for at least one company that made glue.5 Although Charlotte maintained that her marriage lasted into the 1930s, by the end of the previous decade Harry had left his family and was living in a rented apartment in lower Manhattan with a new wife, Anne Walsh Bird.6 When Harry and Anne’s first child, Jack, was born in August 1930, they had moved to Nevada; by the following year they had relocated to Tucson, Arizona. Three more children would be born there: an infant daughter who died in late 1931; a son, Philip, born in June 1935; and a second daughter, Rose Elizabeth, born in November 1936, four decades after her oldest half sibling.7 Anne was more than thirty years younger than her husband, though census records suggest that he may have misled her about the age the first woman 11 difference. Anne was twenty-five and Harry claimed to be forty-two at the time of the marriage, though he was really fifty-seven, about the age of Anne’s own parents, James and Hannah Walsh. Her reasons for marrying Harry are unknown, but Anne grew up in a farming area in central New York that provided limited employment...


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