Did Secret Societies Influence Ursula’s Destiny?

So, I have a theory about how Ursula’s parents, Alfred and Clara, met. And, based on a historical tidbit I discovered today, I have another, related theory about how our Mystery Dancer came to be named Ursula. In my version of events, it all started with two secret societies: the Odd Fellows and the Native Daughters of the Golden West.

Alfred Cheshire at 23

Alfred at age 24. He would marry Clara 25 years later.

Clara at 23

Clara at age 23. She would marry Alfred 7 years later.

Through several mentions in The San Francisco Call, I have learned that Alfred was quite active in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows fraternal organization, which is similar to the Freemasons with its degrees, symbols and ritual. He belonged to the society’s Yerba Buena Lodge No. 15, instituted in 1853, and was elected its Noble Grand (the lodge’s highest office) in 1896. (Fun fact: “Yerba Buena” was the original name of San Francisco.)

Odd Fellows Temple

The Odd Fellows Temple, located on the corner of Seventh and Market Streets in San Francisco, was one of the showpieces in the city. The structure pictured here was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, and the Odd Fellows rebuilt on the same site. (Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

IOOF Lodge No. 15 Seal

In 1896, Ursula’s father, Alfred, was elected Noble Grand of the Odd Fellows Lodge No. 15

While the Odd Fellows was (and is) a benevolent association undertaking various charitable projects, it also provided a social network for its members. For example, a newspaper article from 1895 reported that the Buena Vista Lodge threw a festive bash (with Alfred in attendance) for members and friends, featuring music performances, recitation, singing and a humorous address, which “for half an hour kept the audience convulsed with merriment.” To top off the evening, the hall was cleared of chairs and “dancing was indulged in until midnight.”

Odd Fellows Entertains

Odd Fellows events for members and friends included music, speeches and lots of dancing.

According to voter registration records from the early 1890s, Alfred was five-foot-nine with dark hair, a dark complexion and blue eyes. Did those eyes spy Clara among the ladies and gentlemen on the dance floor at a club event like the one described? Perhaps she was one of the “friends” invited. It’s possible.

You see, Clara belonged to a similar organization: the Order of Native Daughters of the Golden West, a fraternal and patriotic organization of California-born women. While Clara was active in the group’s Manzanita Parlor No. 29 of Grass Valley, she no doubt had friends, or at least acquaintances, in the San Francisco parlors, as she was a delegate to the 1896 Grand Parlor meeting held in Napa, and served as an elected officer in 1898. The Native Daughters and Odd Fellows worked together at times, for instance in 1897 organizing San Francisco’s Carnival of the Golden Gate, the purpose of which was to attract visitors to the city. Perhaps one of Clara’s Native sisters invited her down for the event and she met Alfred then. It’s just a theory, but I like it!

One-year-old Ursula

One-year-old Ursula

Native Daughters seal

Ursula’s mother, Clara, held elective office in the Native Daughters of the Golden West

In any case, they did meet each other, and married in 1899. Clara became pregnant with Ursula in 1901. My second theory related to the secret societies is that, while thinking of names for her impending baby, Clara was inspired by the history of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, the group she devoted time and energy to in the years leading up to her marriage. I was thrilled to learn today that when the Native Daughters group was founded in September 1886, its charter members selected for its first Parlor (akin to a Lodge) the distinctive name of “Ursula” (meaning “little she-bear”—suggestive of courage and strength)!

A Good Investment

The Cheshires' Baker Street home sold for more than $1.5 million in 2011

A 2011 photograph of the Cheshires’ Baker Street home

While researching Ursula and her family via the Library of Congress’s “All Digitized Newspapers 1836-1922” website, I discovered a bit more about their Baker Street home in San Francisco, where Ursula lived as a little girl. My previous post included a link to the deed for the lot on Baker Street that Clara’s father, Alfred, bought in 1903. When I initially read the deed, I had been puzzled that Alfred bought the lot for just $10. It didn’t make sense that it would be so cheap, unless perhaps the house hadn’t been built yet. Maybe the real estate records stating the house was constructed in 1902 were wrong, and the Cheshires had the house built in 1903. But that didn’t make sense either—$10 still would have been a ridiculous price for the lot.

And now I know why. The $10 must have been just a legal formality to purchase the lot, because Alfred actually paid $9,250 in August 2003 for the new 2,400 square-foot, 2-flat house, as I learned from the Real Estate section in The San Francisco Call. According to the article, residential properties were in strong demand at the time.

Ursula's father buys their 2-family Baker Street home in San Francisco for $9,250

Ursula’s father buys their 2-family Baker Street home in San Francisco for $9,250

$9,250 was no small potatoes back then. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s inflation calculator, if he had paid that amount 10 years later in 1913 (the earliest date for which statistics are available) it would be worth about $219,000 in today’s dollars. Since he paid the amount in 1903, it presumably would be worth even more today.

The Cheshires lived at 715-717 Baker Street for the first several years of Ursula's life. The home sold for more than $1.5 million in 2011,

The Cheshires lived at 715-717 Baker Street for the first several years of Ursula’s life. The home sold for more than $1.5 million in 2011.

Compared with present-day real estate prices, however, Alfred paid peanuts for 715-717 Baker St. He would be laughed out of the real estate office if he bid $219,000 for the house today—almost exactly two years ago, this hot property sold for $1,635,000!

The real estate listing from 2011 describes the building as consisting of two large, remodeled, full-floor Victorian flats with period details, beautiful wood floors, high ceilings, bay windows and fireplaces. I wonder if the new owner would be interested in learning about the first family to walk across his home’s wood floors, play piano in the parlor, peer out the bay windows and warm themselves by the fire.


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MysteryDancer.net is dedicated to discovering who Ursula Cheshire was through the clues revealed in an antique photo album I bought on October 12, 2013. I post on an irregular basis, so be sure to subscribe to the blog so that you can receive an e-mail announcing each latest post.

If you’re new to Mystery Dancer, welcome—the best place to start is at the beginning and go from there!


Elizabeth Ross

She Got Her Start in San Francisco

Ursula Cheshire birth announcement

The “San Francisco Call” announces “a daughter” (Ursula) is born to “the wife of Alfred D. Cheshire.” Poor Clara doesn’t even get credited by name!

I’ve been having fun researching Ursula’s early life, and have found several mentions of her and her parents in early 1900s San Francisco and Los Angeles newspapers, mainly in the “Society” columns. I feel like I am on a treasure hunt, and for me, the clues I am discovering are the individual coins, gems and jewels that are amassing one by one in the chest that holds Ursula’s story—the ultimate treasure.

I was particularly thrilled when I came across this announcement of Ursula’s birth in the San Francisco Call’s “Births—Marriages—Deaths” column. It confirms

Baby Ursula on September 14, 1902, at age 3 months, 5 days

Baby Ursula at age 3 months, 5 days, with mother Clara, on September 14, 1902

she indeed burst into the world on June 9, 1902, which I had earlier deduced from the penciled caption on the back of the baby picture at left, which noted the photo was “taken Sept. 14th, 1902, baby age 3 mos., 5 days.” Another copy of the same photograph announced that Ursula weighed 12 pounds (!) at birth.

At the time of the 1900 Census, Ursula’s parents, Clara and Alfred Cheshire, were living at 516 Jones Street in San Francisco (just three blocks south of where my husband and his ex-wife lived in the late 1980s!). The Cheshires may still have resided there at the time of their daughter’s birth, but in August 1903 when she was one year old, they bought a lot on the west side of Baker Street, just north of McAllister. I discovered this in the “Real Estate Transactions” column in the San Francisco Call, which let me to an index of deeds, and then to the deed itself (which I found at familysearch.org).

House rendering

A modern rendering of the Baker Street home

The inscription written on the back of the photo below of the interior of the Cheshires’ home confirms their residence as 715 Baker Street, where they lived when Ursula “was small.” According to San Francisco property records and a contemporary real estate description, their house—which still stands!—was a Victorian dwelling built in 1902. As you can see from the picture, Clara and Alfred decorated it in typical ornate Victorian fashion. You can see what the exterior and interior of the home look like today, including some period details, in photos appearing on a 2011 real estate listing.

Baker St. house interior

An ornately decorated room in the Cheshires’ Victorian house at 715 Baker Street in San Francisco

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1897 (from Online Archive of California)

The Cheshires lived within walking distance of Golden Gate Park and I can just imagine Clara, Alfred and little Ursula visiting there from time to time. (In fact, a couple of the pictures in the album may have been taken there, although it’s impossible to say for sure because they have no captions.) According to the Encyclopedia of San Francisco, “At the turn of the century, Golden Gate Park was the free Disneyland of its time, with attractions ranging from animals and birds to lush plantings and numerous types of recreational and athletic activities.”

Ursula and Alfred

Ursula and her father, Alfred…at Golden Gate Park?

Ursula and Friend

Ursula (left) and friend…at Golden Gate Park?



I just want to say I am having a ball with this blog and everything it entails, and I hope you’re having as much fun learning about Ursula as I am! Until next time…