Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Josephine Pilkington Hill, 1841-1918

By Frances Rivetti, Petaluma, California

Sonoma-Marin W.C.T.U, Charter Member, 1869; Sonoma County Woman Suffrage Association, Precinct Officer, 1890s; Petaluma Political Equity Club, Vice President, 1903.

Josephine Pilkington was born in 1841, in Troy, New York, to James Pilkington, a British-born farmer and traveling salesman and his Irish-born wife Margaret Lennon Pilkington. Margaret's mother was a descendant of Scottish Jacobite William Wallace. In 1853, Josephine (Josie) and her pioneer family, including two brothers, Thomas and John, traveled west across the plains.

In 1862, aged twenty-one, Josie met and married pioneer William B. Hill in San Francisco, returning directly to live in Petaluma, where William had established agricultural interests. In 1866, William was elected as the first President of the Bank of Sonoma County. By this time, the couple was among the largest landowners in Sonoma County. Josie gave birth to four sons: Alexander B. Hill; Raymond P. Hill; William K. Hill and James V. Hill. Alexander was the only son to survive his mother post young adulthood.

Josie served as a charter member of Sonoma-Marin W.T.C.U in 1869. She was described by the Sonoma West Times and News as an earnest member in its ranks, serving elaborate luncheons in honor of visiting guest speakers and data gatherers and functions for her fellow Woman's Club members. In the summer of 1896, she attended a meeting in the Congregational Church parlors for the purpose of organizing an Equal Suffrage Club rallying for a referendum in California that same year. She was appointed precinct officer of Petaluma precinct number four, motivating members to interview voters and women in her precinct to establish how many residents supported the vote-for-women cause. She helped formulate lists for the state association to embark on missionary work and the circulation of literature.

In 1902, William, who had since established the banking house of William Hill & Son, died suddenly at home. The following year, Josie and Alexander sealed what was described in The Petaluma Argus Courier as "the most important deal in local real estate in many months" by jointly purchasing a "splendid piece of property at the corner of Keller and Washington Streets." News spread fast that a magnificent opera house would be built as a memorial to her late husband.

Also in December 1903, Josie was elected Vice President of a new organization known as the Petaluma Political Equality Club following a well-attended lecture on the Women's Suffrage Movement that continued gaining momentum after California's failed 1896 suffrage referendum. The W.C.T.U met regularly at her home, under the auspices of the suffrage department of which she remained actively involved.

In 1907 Josie became benefactress of Petaluma Woman's Club having donated one of the most valuable building lots in the city and assisting in the funding of the original clubhouse next to the Washington Street Hill Opera House.

Josie dedicated the rest of her life to seeking the vote for women and being active in "all movements that will better the conditions of the citizens." She passed away at home in 1918, after a long illness, aged seventy-six. The flag at the Woman's Club was lowered at half-mast in her memory and she was buried in the Hill Family plot at Cypress Hill Cemetery, leaving behind one son, three grandsons, Dolph, Blake and Raymond and one great-grandchild.

Sources: History of Sonoma County, California With a Biographical Review History by Tom Gregory Historic Record Company Los Angeles, California 1911

The Petaluma Courier: Aug 26, 1896, Nov 22, 1907

Petaluma Daily Morning Courier: Mar 1905

The Petaluma Argus Courier: Dec 4, 1903, Dec 9, 1903, Sep 14, 1907, Nov 9, 1911, Jan 10, 1918

Sonoma West Times and News: Jan 11, 1918

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