LEGACY OF WOMEN: Carolina Samueletta Dickson Danks

She had a shared history with John Steinbeck's family
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This is the fifth in an ongoing series of stories about notable women from San Benito County history. The women were honored last fall for their contributions to the county by the San Benito County Women's Fund at its "Legacy of Women" event held at the Paicines Ranch.

From an early age, Caroline Dickson’s life was interwoven with writer John Steinbeck's grandparents, the Grossteinbecks. Caroline played a fateful role during a terrifying scene in their shared family history. Her later commitment to the Women's Christian Temperance Union was most likely strongly influenced by it.

According to a short report on Steinbeck history provided by the San Benito County Historical Society, Johann Adolf Grossteinbeck left his home in Germany in 1850 moving to Jaffa, Palestine. His sister, married to a Lutheran missionary was planning to go there and invited her brothers to join her. Johann and brother Frederick quickly found work there manufacturing souvenirs from olivewood.

The report states, “In 1855, an American missionary (living in Palestine), Walter A. Dickson, lost a son to tuberculosis, and he approached the brothers to make a coffin. As they worked on the coffin, the missionary’s two daughters stopped by to check on their progress. Almira Ann and Mary Dickson took a fancy to the brothers, and soon the two couples were courting. They fell in love and the German brothers married the American sisters".

The two Christian Grossteinbeck families moved to Jerusalem and settled on a farm together. Our story subject, Caroline Dickson, was Almira and Mary’s younger sister who joined her older siblings in Jerusalem.

Frederick and Mary had a son, Edward.  Johann and Almira had a son, Charles. The two boys were born a few days apart.

Eight years after the Dickson and Grossteinbeck couples had married, the families were attacked on the farm. Taken from family accounts, the Historical Society report explained the horrible circumstance: “Edward and Charles were still infants when Arab tribes raided the farm one night, killing Johann’s brother Frederick, raping his wife Mary, and scattering the stock. Reports indicate that a third sister, Caroline Samueletta Dickson, hid baby Edward under a table. She pleaded with the Arabs to spare the child’s life.” (*See historical setting below) 

“The violence was more than the Grossteinbecks could bear, and they decided to move to the United States immediately. Before embarking to the New World, the young husband (Johann Grossteinbeck) decided a new country required a new name, something that would be easier for Americans to manage–John A. Steinbeck,” the Historical Society report continued.

The Dickson family was originally from the east coast. John A. (Johann) was temporarily embroiled in the Civil War. After about ten years of trying to make a home in the east, he traveled alone to Hollister in search of good weather and opportunity. “Upon arrival, the sound of building was everywhere, music to a carpenter’s ears. John had no trouble finding a job,” the museum history explained. Almira arrived soon after with their five sons. One of those sons was John Ernest, who would become the father of famous writer, John Steinbeck.

Caroline joined her sister and the Steinbeck family in Hollister within a couple of years. Edward and Charles, also survivors of that fateful night in Jerusalem, would eventually make Hollister their home too.

Dickson remained dedicated to her religious beliefs and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union became a passion. The WCTU started in 1874 and grew to its peak after the turn of the century. On its website, the WCTU states,  “The WCTU was organized by women who were concerned about the destructive power of alcohol and the problems it was causing their families and society. They met in churches to pray and then marched to the saloons to ask the owners to close their establishments.” The website explains that women at the time did not yet have the right to vote and business was often done between men in the saloon, where women were typically not welcome.

The WCTU, which has operated for more than 125 years, supports a variety of topics, including: 

–  women's right to vote

–  shelters for abused women and children

–  equal pay for equal work

–  founding of kindergartens

–  federal aid for education

–  stiffer penalties for sexual crimes against girls and  women

–  uniform marriage and divorce laws

–  prison reform and police matrons

–  women police officers

–  labor's right to organize

–  passive demonstrations and world peace

In her mid-30s, Caroline married Joseph Danks, a clerk. He was quite a bit older than her, and had children from a previous marriage. The couple had no children of their own and after seven years of marriage, Joseph died.

Caroline, or “Carrie,” was photographed late in life on her bicycle. She would routinely tour around the very small town of Hollister on her bike. If truth be known, it was the charm of this photo that won her a place in the Legacy of Women event last fall.

The Steinbeck and Dickson families remained a tight-knit group. When John and Almira celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with children and grandchildren surrounding them, Caroline Danks was there to sign her name on their card. The now-famous author John Steinbeck, grandson of Johann, was also there to commemorate the day. He was 4 years old and not yet trusted with the pen.      


-The "Legacy of Women" is an ongoing series on BenitoLink. The stories are written and owned by Leslie David. Special thanks to the San Benito County Historical Society and Sharlene Van Rooy in particular.

*During this time period, the Ottoman Empire was going through a major transition in land ownership.  According to Wikipedia, the Ottoman Code of 1858 was the effort of the Ottoman Syria, part of the Ottoman Empire to re-assert control over land that had been “cultivated and occupied by peasants”. The ruling powers attempted to tighten existing regulations with the result of politically connected individuals purchasing land historically used by the peasant class. New, often-absentee landowners sold to non-peasant buyers including foreign and Jewish families. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_Land_Code_of_1858)








Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.