Ina Donna Coolbrith: Poet Plaque

Ina Donna Coolbrith: Poet


1101 Miller Ave map it



Ina Donna Coolbrith, California’s first poet laureate and the nation’s first state laureate, was considered “the pearl of all her tribe” by her 19th century colleagues during the Bay Area’s first literary heyday.

Born Josephine Donna Smith, a niece of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, she came west with her family during California’s Gold Rush. Coolbrith was fifteen and living in Los Angeles when her poetry was first published. After she divorced her husband at age twenty-one, she changed her name to Ina Donna Coolbrith, concealed her Mormon ancestry, and moved to San Francisco, where her celebrity as a poet grew. Coolbrith became Oakland’s first public librarian and a mentor to Jack London, guiding him in his reading. She died in Berkeley and is buried in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.

When byways in the Berkeley hills were named after Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Mark Twain, and other literati in her circle, women were not included. This path was renamed for Coolbrith in 2016.

Berkeley Historical Plaque Project
Plaque sponsored by the Berkeley Historical Society

Berkeley Historical Plaque Project

  • Ina Coolbrith Oath, photo R. Kehlmann (2017)

  • CrimsonPoppy, Courtesy Oakland Public Library

  • Aleta George with Plaque Project, Path Wanderers, BHH members at plaque dedication ceremony, photo (2017) Colleen Neff

  • Coolbrith biographer Aleta George, photo (2017) Colleen Neff

More information:
Note on photo: After Coolbrith was crowned California's poet laureate in 1915, Luther Burbank was asked to name a Eschscholtzia in her honor. He said that years earlier he had developed a red poppy that could be named Crimson Eschscholtzia Ina Coolbrith, for "every Californian must feel a debt of gratitude to her for her beautiful life and its charming expression in poetry." Ina thanked him, and said when she wrote her poem "Copa de Oro" (The California Poppy) she hadn't known she would become a member of the family.

Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California's First Poet Laureate, an award-winning biography.

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society