Obscure Unitarians: Emily Sophia Elliot Pardee Karns Dixon

Emily Elliott was born March 3, 1853 in Kane County, Ill., daughter of Wilson and Maria J. Elliot Edmund and Sarah (Smith) Elliott [corrected per comment below], both born in New Hampshire. Her family left Illinois and moved to a farm in California’s Central Valley when Emily was six; it seems likely that the family traveled overland on the Oregon Trail or the California Trail. In 1860 she and her parents were living in Elkhorn Township, San Joaquin County; her father was working as a farmer, and the Elliot family shared their home with another farmer and three farm laborers.

Though not listed as a graduate, she studied at the California State Normal School c. 1870. In 1870, she was living in San Francisco and “attending school”; the State Normal School was then in San Francisco. Emily taught school in Oakland for seven years.

She married Dr. Enoch H. Pardee on July 19, 1879, when she was 26 and he was 52; Enoch’s 22 year old son George was not pleased when his father remarried. Enoch was mayor of Oakland and a co-founder of the Unitarian church in Oakland. Enoch and Emily had one child, a daughter Eleanor (“Nellie”), born in 1880. Enoch died in 1896, and four months Nellie, then age 15, also died. After a legal battle with Enoch’s son, Emily received a third of Enoch’s substantial estate. Enoch’s estate was valued at approx. $275,000, or roughly $8 million in 2016 dollars; so Emily received the equivalent of $2.6 million.

For the next few years, she traveled extensively. She married William A. Karns, a lawyer, in Baltimore on March 21, 1898. The couple moved to San Jose where William practiced law.

Emily settled in Palo Alto in 1903. In August, 1906, William filed suit for divorce on the grounds of desertion. A bitter legal battle ensued, during which Emily revealed that she had indeed left her husband, but had done so on advice of a physician. William was denied a decree of divorce. Then in 1913, Emily filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion and failure to provide. This time, William did not appear at the trial because he was a fugitive from justice, and Emily received a divorce decree under which she retained control of extensive property interests.

Emily supported woman suffrage, and in 1911 was the president of the Palo Alto Suffrage League. She was one of the early members of the Woman’s Club of Palo Alto. and served as president. She was active with the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the local chapter was organized at her house in 1924.

In 1916, she married a third time, to James Leroy Dixon, who was some twenty years younger than she (b. c. 1874). Leroy was a Stanford graduate, and in 1916 was principal of the high school in Lakeport, Calif.; by 1919 he was teaching at San Francisco Polytechnic High School. Their marriage lasted only three years.

She was an early member and later president of the Women’s Alliance, and was active in the national Unitarian Women’s Alliance. In 1908, she hosted the Sunday school picnic on the ten-acre grounds of her Palo Alto house. She later gave the house grounds to the City of Palo Alto as a park to memorialize her daughter Nellie. In 1909, Emily was a delegate to the Pacific Unitarian Conference in Seattle.

She died on Feb. 5, 1940, in Palo Alto.

Notes: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1920 U.S. Census; John W. Leonard, Woman’s Who’s Who of America, New York: American Commonwealth Co., 1914; Historical Sketch of the State Normal School at San José, Sacramento: State Office, 1889; “How Palo Alto’s Pardee Park Came To Be,” Pardee Home Museum Newsletter, Nov., 1999, pp. 2-3; “The Pardee Home Histo-ry,” Pardee Home Museum, www.pardeehome.org/history.htm, accessed May 23, 2017; Emily Karns Dixon, Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, 1948, p. 758; San Francisco Call, July 9, 1913, p. 2; Stanford University Alumni Directory, 1921; Calif. State Board of Education, Directory of Secondary and Normal Schools, Sacramento: Calif. State Printing Office, 1916, p. 33; Calif. State Board of Education, Directory of Secondary and Normal Schools, Sacramento: Calif. State Printing Office, 1919, p. 117; Pacific Unitarian, Aug., 1909 p. 294. N.B.: In early records of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, she appears as Emily S. Karns, later as Emily Karns Dixon.

3 thoughts on “Obscure Unitarians: Emily Sophia Elliot Pardee Karns Dixon”

  1. I took a walk to and through Pardee Park on Saturday after reading this. Some is community gardens and the rest regular neighborhood park with playgrounds, playing field, picnic tables and barbecue stands. It is a relatively large park, just under 10 acres.

  2. I am the great-great-grand niece of Emily Sophia Elliott Pardee Karns Dixon.
    Her parents were not Wilson and Maria J. Elliott. They were her siblings. Her parents were Edmund and Sarah (Smith) Elliott.

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