Biographical Sketch of Anna Kalfus Spero

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Anna Kalfus Spero, 1855-1947

By Kiana T. Riles, graduate student, California State University, Northridge

Mrs. Anna Fredericka DeJarnette Kalfus Spero (A.K. Spero) was born in Shepherdsville, Kentucky around April 15 or 16, 1855. She was raised by her parents, Henry Frederick Kalfus and Elizabeth Virginia Birkhead Kalfus, and had one younger sister, Lily Dale Kalfus Smith (1860-1884). Her ancestry draws from some of the prominent old-Virginian families. Beyond women's activism, A.K. Spero was a published writer until her death on May 1, 1947. A.K. Spero passed away at ninety-two years of age in Berkeley, California and was buried in her home state of Kentucky.

In 1887, she married James Silas DeJarnette (1847-1911), with whom she had two children born in Louisville, Kentucky: Henry Kalfus DeJarnette (1889-1914) and Lillian Italia Janita DeJarnette Hollingsworth (1891-1982). In 1896 she married a reporter, Schuyler Colfax Spero (1871-1947), who was sixteen years her junior.

Anna Spero worked for women's suffrage after she became a member of the San Jose Women's Club and participated in the club's first major civic campaign in 1899 and 1900, which aimed to save and preserve the redwoods of Big Basin. The SJWC was founded in 1894 by a group of women, many of whom were students and faculty at the Normal School (now San Jose State) and the University of the Pacific, then located in San Jose. Many SJWC members participated in the California Women's Suffrage Association, others were also interested in temperance, educational reform and civic improvement.

On December 14 and 15, 1900, Spero attended the annual state convention with fellow suffragists in San Francisco. News coverage of the convention listed her as "an active member of the California Women's Suffrage Association." During the meeting she was elected on the board as an auditor.

In the same year, she moved from San Jose to the Berkeley, where she was an active literary presence in the greater areas of Berkeley, Alameda, and San Francisco. In 1900, she released "The Sun's Eclipse" and "Mrs. Skimp Joins the Army" in Bret Harte's Overland Monthly, a magazine publication based in San Francisco. In 1924, Spero published again with Harte's new magazine, Overland Monthly and the Out West Magazine, with the notable verse "The Rustle in the House."

Now something leaves the shaking window-drapes -
The wee dog, curious, tips like a mouse
To stalk the rustle in the house.
Across the Indian rug it viewless scrapes,

Yet quieter in footing to and fro
Than dead leaves blown and touching,
touching by.
I watch the rug where moonbeams lie
As pale as on a streaky patch of snow.

A soul is roaming in the house - I know
By mystic sense of mind awake in shy
Dim quiet, part of time and sky
Where feet of tender hauntings come, heard low.

The same article lists Spero as a former head of verse-writing activities in the California Writers Club. Some of her other publications with Overland Monthly include "A Day of Life" in 1927 and an untitled poem in 1929.

By 1910, the U.S. Federal Census shows that Mr. and Mrs. Spero lived in Alameda and they operated a boarding house there from the 1930s until the mid-1940s.

Sources:

San Jose Woman's Club (SJWC) historian in correspondence: April Halberstadt, M.A.

A.K. Spero's writings are listed in Harte's magazine(s) circulations in 1900 for "Mrs. Skimp Joins the Army" and "The Sun's Eclipse", and 1924 for "The Rustle in the House."

Primary sources on A.K. Spero can be found in her publications with Bret Harte's Overland Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine of the West Vol. 35, no. 210 (June 1900): 257; Vol. 36, no. 2 (September 1900): 560. She also published with Harte's later magazine, Overland Monthly and the Out West Magazine Vol. 82, no. 7 (July 1924): 317; Vol. 85, no. 5 (May 1927): 146; Vol. 87, no. 12 (December 1929): 387. All magazine articles were accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers Database and Google Books. She was also tracked in brief mentioning through federal census records and SJWC newspaper articles in correspondence with historian Halberstadt.

Biographical information on A.K. Spero can be found at Ancestry.com's Historical Person Search, MyHeritage.com's Family Trees Index listed as "Anna Kalfus," and CR Burkhead's Memorial Guide:Anna Frederika Kalfus DeJarnette Spero. The memorial guide notes that A.K. Spero's gravesite is without a headstone. A general (and very brief) overview of her activism in the State Convention of 1900 can be found in Elizabeth Cady Stanton's (with Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper) History of Woman Suffrage's completed edition published in 2017.

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