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BSL's History

Mrs. Frances “Fannie” Anderson Steele Woods, a suffragist, started the Big Sister League (at age 70) with the original purpose of providing a space for women who had been jailed for breaking curfew laws. In 1942, the year the League began, laws stated that any unescorted woman on the street after 10:00p.m. would be arrested. 

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Frances Woods, the San Diego Years

  • Moved to San Diego in 1937, at the age of 64, to benefit the health of her husband  

  • Founded the Big Sister League of San Diego in 1942, at the age of 70, and served as President of the Big Sister League for 15 years. When she stepped down she was named as its first president emeritus 

  • Member of the Unitarian Church and President of the Unitarian Women’s Alliance 

  • Active in civic affairs for many years she received many citations, including a key to San Diego given to her by Mayor Dail in 1958 

  • Mrs. Woods died on September 1, 1965, at the age of 92, naming the Big Sister League of San Diego as principal beneficiary of her estate, valued in excess of $130,000 

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City Jail

Before the home was established, there was no place in San Diego except a cell in City Jail for women without funds or friends. Destitute girls and women were booked as vagrants, given suspended sentences and told to leave town in a few hours or serve the sentence. The need existed then due to WWII. Women and children came to San Diego to be with their boyfriends or husbands who were in the service. Many times their loved ones had been sent overseas and they were left stranded. Woods arranged with the local sheriff to provide beds for the arrested women, if the sheriff released them into her care. 

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The "Waffle Women"

The women Mrs. Woods picked up from jail were called "waffle women" because they would emerge in the morning with the pattern of the iron bars on their backs. 

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The Palms Hotel

Frances Woods, with help from community organizations, offered refuge to women and girls in a dormitory room with meals at The Palms Hotel, one of the first hotels built in Alonzo Hortons’ new downtown San Diego. In it’s first year, The Big Sister League offered refuge to more than 100 women and girls in a dormitory room with meals.

Front Street

April 1, 1943: The Big Sister League received its first home on Front Street. It was built in 1886 and had 3 stories. By 1945, an estimated 1,200 women had found accommodations in the home.
Between 1942-1948: 25,713 lodging with meals were provided to 4,969 guests. The house was torn down to make room for the Crosstown Freeway in 1956.

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The Redwood House

On May 21, 1958, the Redwood house is deeded to the Big Sister League. The home has 5 dormitory rooms on the second floor. The rooms are sponsored and maintained by various groups who keep up the maintenance of the rooms—paint, repair, new sheets and bedding etc., as needed. The main floor contains a large kitchen, a family type dining room where all the clients dine together, a large living room and the assistant directors room. The garage has been converted into a community room which provides laundry facilities, refrigerator for snacks, a television, books games and facilities where mothers can prepare baby's formulas.

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