Ina Coolbrith

Librarian and Laureate of California


Can one, after reading a book twice, write an objective critical review of a biography which is the result of years of careful, even loving research? One need only scan the fifty pages in small print of footnotes and the thirty pages of bibliography to get an idea of the time and care that have gone into the effort to make Ina Coolbrith live for a new generation.

I met California’s first poet laureate through a brief chapter in California Mormons by Annaleone D. Patton. This, in brief, is Ina’s story.

Ina was born in Nauvoo in 1841, the third daughter of Don Carlos Smith, youngest brother of the Prophet Joseph, and Agnes Coolbrith Smith. She was named Josephine for the Prophet, but she was called Ina. She was never to remember her father, who died at twenty-five when she was a year old. She might have remembered her next older sister, Sophronia, and the assassination of her uncles, Joseph and Hyrum. When the Mormon exodus began Agnes, with Lucy and Emma, three Smith widows, went to St. Louis. Lucy and Emma returned to Nauvoo, but Agnes stayed in St. Louis and married William Pickett, a lexicographer who had fought with the Saints in defense of Nauvoo. Agnes bore Pickett two sons, Don Carlos and William, twins. Later Pickett was attracted to California, and the family went West, living at Spanish Ranch, Marysville, San Francisco, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, then back to the Bay area.

In Los Angeles at the age of seventeen Ina made an unfortunate marriage which ended in divorce. In those days divorce was a disgrace, and the violence which attended this one made it particularly painful. Leaving her happily married sister Agnes in Los Angeles, Ina and the rest of her family moved to San Francisco where Ina adopted her mother’s maiden name; she kept secret to her death her relationship to Joseph Smith and her unhappy marriage.


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