Harriet Williams Strong was the primary innovator of dry land irrigation and water conservation techniques in late 19th century southern California. With no formal engineering or business school training, she became a renowned inventor, agricultural entrepreneur, civic leader, philanthropist, and advocate of women’s rights and women’s higher education.
Born in Buffalo, NY, raised in the mining towns of the California-Nevada border, she was widowed at a young age with four daughters to support. Pioneering new methods of conserving flood waters and irrigating to supply her walnut, olive and pomegranate plantings, she saved her family ranch and provided for her children. She turned her talent for invention into patents, raised fast-growing pampas grass and sold the plumes to the millinery trade. In less than five years, she rescued her family and land from debt, became the leading commercial grower of walnuts in the country and known as the Walnut Queen.
She tirelessly advocated for water conservation and new approaches to arid land agriculture, for the education of women, women’s independence, and for women’s suffrage, traveling across the continent with Susan B. Anthony to promote women’s causes. Mrs. Strong became the first women member of the Board of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the first woman Trustee of the University of Southern California Law School.