By Joey Babbitt
March is Women’s History Month and a fitting time to celebrate all of the amazing women who have made Stern Grove Festival the best admission-free concert series in San Francisco. When I first began working at the Festival in 2010, I was inspired by the sheer number of women involved in producing the concerts year after year. Though women are typically under-represented in music production, at Stern Grove Festival women lead in programming, marketing, stage managing, and other areas. I am constantly motivated by all of their ideas, energy, and commitment to accessible performing arts.
But Stern Grove Festival would not have even existed without the vision and determination of one woman in particular: Rosalie Meyer Stern.
The founder of Stern Grove Festival, Rosalie had a lifelong passion for charitable service and the arts. Her dedication to her responsibilities, including helping to raise her six younger siblings, cultivated Mrs. Stern’s gracious sensibility and work ethic. “How many of us make good resolutions but how few have the energy and strength of mind to carry them into execution,” she wrote in her diary in 1895.
She was known as someone who delighted in sharing her ideas and solving problems. From helping to establish the San Francisco Opera Association with Gaetano Merola, to an appointment with the American Red Cross (one of only three women in the country), Mrs. Stern demonstrated her charitable nature. At a time when the country was mired in the Great Depression, she possessed the intelligence and fortitude to lift up the community around her by making the joy of the arts accessible to all (while supporting local working musicians), when she purchased Stern Grove and gave it as a gift to the city.
Sigmund Stern Grove and Stern Grove Festival are living memorials to Mrs. Stern’s passion for philanthropy, art, recreation, and her beloved city of San Francisco. Today, Mrs. Stern’s legacy is palpable every Sunday at Stern Grove Festival. You see it in the families that bring their picnic to a concert, you hear it in the musicians who perform on the stage, and you feel it when you soak in the natural beauty of the Grove. The Festival’s mission still reflects her desire, articulated nearly 80 years ago, to produce “a summer series that is distinctly a forward mark in newness, designed to educate and entertain the public.”
Mrs. Stern was a woman with a generous spirit and clarity of vision and purpose, whose legacy inspires me every day.
As the world celebrates Women’s History Month, what women inspire you?
You can also read more about Stern Grove Festival’s history on our website.