An Interview with Jo Wallace

Jo Wallace
The following is an excerpt from Betty Lampen’s interview with the late Jo Wallace taped April 12, 1988.
By Gee Gee Platt

JW: At the former Madison School, now the Claire Lilienthal School on Clay Street between Cherry and Arguello that goes all the way to Sacramento Street, as soon as school was out, the little girls that belonged to the Club would go tearing out the Sacramento Street entrance and we’d run and stand on the corner waiting for the Number Four streetcar to come.  We would climb on the streetcar and misbehave terribly all the way downtown, exiting either at Mason or Taylor Street.

JW: At Madison School, we had organized sports for the boys.  But the girls didn’t have any.  Some of us wanted to play basketball, so we got the boys in our class to be our coaches.  But those of us who belonged to the Woman’s Athletic Club, you see, got special treatment because we were coached at the Club.  There were at least three athletic directors: for swimming, for gymnastic equipment and one for basketball.

JW: Way back in the earlier days, every Saturday, they let all the water out of the pool and scrubbed it and filled it again on Sunday.

BL: Really!  How extravagant!  Oh, it was saltwater though.  When did they change to freshwater?

JW: I have no idea when they changed to freshwater, but I remember distinctly the idea was that you had to get down and swim early because otherwise it would be too shallow to swim.

BL: So, they had no chlorine in those days, it was ‘just change the whole pool’.

JW: Yes, change the whole pool.  Then Sunday it was being filled up and Monday it would be ready to go.

BL: And not heated, of course.

JW: Of course not.  Nothing like that.  And we didn’t mind it.

BL: Where did you actually learn to swim?

JW: We learned to swim through the Red Cross at the YWCA next door.  Then we went to what is now the Marines Memorial formerly the Western Women’s Club…then I went to the Women’s City Club, which is now the St. Francis Tower, and there I learned how to swim properly.

BL: I learned how to swim entirely from the Women’s Athletic Club.  Mrs. Mackie was my teacher.  I don’t think I ever enjoyed swimming anywhere else as I do in that particular pool; Tahoe was always too cold, and everyone else’s pool was too small, and the river was too dirty.

JW: Actually, I learned to swim before I belonged to the Women’s Athletic Club.  Not nicely, I didn’t have a good stroke at all but I did learn from Mrs. Mackie too.  I don’t ever remember her wet.

BL: No, I never saw her in the water.

JW: No, I never saw that woman in the water, ever.  And I’m told that she does know how to swim.

BL: She did, she did know how to swim.

JW: But I never saw her wet, she was always in a bathing suit.

BL: But she was an inspiration.

JW: Yes, and she taught by the book.  I’m not sure what the book is.

BL: Well it was a book she and her sister wrote.

JW: Then after we finished swimming, we would take a shower quickly, run downstairs and get our clothes on as fast as we could and bolt upstairs to the tea room on the fourth floor.  And we used to eat lovely confections that had some sort of crispy cookie on the bottom and then a great big gob of marshmallow stuff and then it was all covered with chocolate and it was the best thing in the world…

BL: And did you know that tea cost $.25?