Big Alma: San Francisco’s Alma Spreckels

One of San Francisco’s most vivid characters

Born with an unshakeable belief that she was destined for greatness, Alma de Bretteville Spreckels (1881–1968) rose from poverty to become one of San Francisco’s most powerful women. Alma’s humble beginnings and scandalous lifestyle would alienate her from the cream of San Francisco society: she became an artists’ model, befriended European royalty, married sugar magnate Adolph Spreckels, lived in the grandest mansion in San Francisco, and at age fifty-seven chartered a plane and eloped with a cowboy. But that same larger-than-life personality was a fruitful asset in the many pursuits that claimed her passions, the most notable of which still stands high on the headlands above the Golden Gate. Big Alma celebrates the woman who brought a magnificent collection of Rodin’s works to America and built the California Palace of the Legion of Honor to hold them.

After six printings, this new edition features new photographs, an updated family tree, and an introduction that adds more recently uncovered information and explores the intermingling of fact and controversy in the telling of Alma’s story.

Published in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

About the Author

Bernice Scharlach (1919–2004), a journalist-historian, wrote for many Bay Area publications. She wrote two other books: House of Harmony, a history of the Concordia-Argonaut Club, and Dealing from the Heart, a biography of San Francisco philanthropist Benjamin Swig.