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Jan Dennis Highlights Women in Manhattan Beach History

Feb 27, 2018 09:48PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Mira Costa student Francesca Bennett, left, and local historian Jan Dennis pose after a community forum at the Manhattan Beach Library.

Manhattan Beach owes much of its formation and organization to local women who were determined to make the town its own entity, according to local historian Jan Dennis.

Dennis spoke at a community forum at the Manhattan Beach Library on Tuesday night, highlighting the role of women in the town's development in honor of Women's History Month. She cited excerpts from her book "Skirts Across the Sand," which profiles leading women throughout more than a century of Manhattan Beach history.

The early Manhattan Beach women, primarily those who founded the Neptunian Woman's Club in 1909, were fiercely determined to get the town incorporated and create its own school district, said Dennis. Although women did not even have the right to vote until 1911, these women were "years ahead of their time" with their local activism and organizational capabilities. Their vision of an independent town came to fruition in 1912, with the school district following in 1913.

Dennis noted that the women's club would meet on the beach in full Sunday-best regalia. "These gals would get together during their summer teas with their fancy hats and their umbrellas up," she said.

The women also created the first flag of Manhattan Beach and established its first library.

"People need to be interested in their history," said Dennis, noting that she "fell in love" with researching history while writing her first book. "The next generations need to know where they come from."

Dennis then introduced Mira Costa student Francesca Bennett, who created a Manhattan Beach history lesson for elementary school students as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project.

In January, Bennett ran a total of eight slideshow/downtown tour workshops for students, and did more workshops for students in after school programs at the elementary schools. She plans to put the visual tour of Manhattan Beach online.

While doing her research for the project, Bennett had called upon Jan Dennis, who "opened my eyes to information I never knew existed," she said.

"History is more than just a class I'm required to take to graduate - it's our entire life story," Bennett concluded.

The event was hosted by the Manhattan Beach Senior Citizens Resources Committee, County of Los Angeles Manhattan Beach Library, Manhattan Beach Parks and Recreation Older Adults Program, Friends of the Manhattan Beach Library, the Manhattan Beach Conservancy and the Manhattan Beach Historical Society.

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