Photo Album: The Queen of the May

Ella Theresa Shea, San Francisco, May 1, 1880.
Ella Theresa Shea, San Francisco, May 1, 1880.

Submitted by Helen Chalmers Hellman, Del Mar, California
April / May 2003

This photograph of my grandmother Ella Theresa Shea was taken in 1880 when she was 14 years old. She was crowned the Queen of the May at the traditional May Day Festival in newly-opened Golden Gate Park. Ella was born in San Francisco on May 18, 1866, the second of nine children, to James Shea (born James Sheahy), from Barlogue Lough Hyne, Co. Cork, and Anna Shipsey of Cape Clear Island. The couple knew one another in Ireland; James’ sister was married to Anna’s brother. In 1863 Anna sailed to New York, then to Panama where she crossed the isthmus to board a ship to San Francisco where she and James married. In 1867 James became the owner of a firm later incorporated as Shea Bocqueraz Co. – importers and jobbers of French champagne and wine and whiskey.

In 1889 Ella Theresa Shea married Dr. William Patrick Chalmers whose mother was Mary Desmond of Co. Cork. He died of tuberculosis in 1907 leaving Ella a widow at age 41 with three teenage children. Ella never remarried. She was an independent woman much loved by her children and grandchildren until her death in 1940 in San Mateo, California. ♦

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