Historic Female Influences Abound Including those Making History Today

When Santa Catalina acquired the name we know it by today, Spanish explorer Sebastian Viscaino couldn’t have known that the island would inspire numerous women to become entrepreneurs. The island’s namesake, St. Catherine of Alexandria, was known for her intelligence and perseverance, and building a successful business certainly takes both. Today, Catalina Island simply wouldn’t be the destination it is without the drive and ingenuity of its women leaders. 

Historic structures bear the names of female members of iconic families including Mt Ada named for the wife of William Wrigley Jr., Ada Elizabeth Foote Wrigley and the Hotel Atwater named for Helen Atwater Wrigley. Claressa Avenue is named for early Catalina Island Company Owner George Shatto’s wife Clara. 

Over the years women have continued to have considerable influence, in fact, today the Island is represented by Los Angeles County Supervisor Chair Janice Hahn and California State Senator Lena Gonzalez; Avalon is led by Mayor Anni Marshall and three other female council members. Catalina Island Medical Center’s Chief of Staff is Dr. Aimee Warren, Family Nurse Practitioner is Santa Dominguez and Catrina Awalt is its Board of Directors Chair. Our pharmacist at Leo's drugstore is Sue Ponce. Our postmaster is Margarita Jackson and the list goes on.

“We're fortunate to have so many strong, smart, sassy, resilient women who have made the choice to impact their community in a positive way through their work & lives in Avalon,” Avalon City Councilwoman Lisa Lavelle said. “Having worked for and learned from many amazing female entrepreneurs in Avalon I am bowled over by the staggering amount of knowledge and life experience they've imparted to younger generations and because of that example, I work to do the same through interactions with service clubs, volunteering in the community, presentations for Avalon Schools, and just in being a strong community partner who is willing to take the time to help when asked.”

Having lived on the island since she was in kindergarten, Lavelle has been inspired by the diverse, multigenerational groups of women who worked to create Catalina Island’s strong sense of community and its enduring businesses. 

Avalon K-12 School is no exception with Emma Peguero and over 20 female faculty and staff.  The school’s interact club is led by Lola (Laura) Di Miele and this year’s interact club is predominantly female. The Avalon's Lady Lancers Basketball Team were Academy League Champions in 2023. The students also benefit greatly from the leadership and inspiration of Linda Rivkin of the Catalina Island Foundation and its AVID program. Through Rivkin the foundation’s efforts, scholarships and student mentoring has led to many island girls’ (and boys’) success in colleges and universities. Other nonprofits are also succeeding at the hands of female leaders like Gail Fornasiere and Sheila Berman of the Catalina Island Museum for Art & History, the President of the Catalina Art Association, Avalon Beautiful, Friends of the Library Association, the Catalina Island Medical Center Foundation, the Catalina Island Foundation, the Catalina Island Women's Forum and the Catalina Island Humane Society, all chaired by women!  Even Love Catalina, Love Catalina Island Tourism Authority's (home of this blog) incoming chair is Amanda Bombard of the Catalina Express and past chair is local hotel General Manager Nicole Hohenstein. And Love Catalina's board members include seven local business women and five of our staff members are women.

Rosie’s Seafood on the Green Pleasure Pier was but one example of female success in the island’s food industry and even though Rosie has retired, she is still very much a loved and respected fixture of the community and the restaurant lives on as her legacy. Today, many female restaurateurs offer visitors and residents great dining options, including Megan Wright, owner of Café Metropole, who has taken the helm of iconic establishments; Airport in the Sky Restaurant, ScoopsCatalina Cantina and The Pancake Cottage

Women owned dining:

Counting all the female entrepreneurs on Catalina Island is a daunting task but we gathered a pretty good list in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women's Day.  We estimated that almost four dozen businesses currently operating are owned by women and include retail, real estate and many other services.  Please note these lists are not comprehensive.

Women owned shops and online retailers: 

Activity and adventure companies owned or operated by women include: 

Local services operated by women include:

Women own some of the oldest businesses on the island, including the Catalina Island Company, The Edgewater Hotel, Hotel MacRae, La Paloma Las Flores and the Old Turner Inn, as well as some of the newest businesses on the island like Sailor's Delight Ice Cream Shop, Seaside Sweets, Island Donuts or Mrs. T's.

“Catalina Island is close-knit, and you build your business based on your reputation,” said Christy Lins who owns Catalina Taxi & Tours and Catalina Divers Supply, as well as an accounting firm. “That closeness means you get to see how much your hard work and the success of your businesses benefit your neighbors and friends.” She attributes the many women business owners to the fact that island life requires a certain personality. “You need to be able to adapt and love the small town feel and the relationships we make here,” she said. 

For fomer mayor pro-tem and local business owner Cinde MacGugan-Cassidy the island’s small-town atmosphere also creates a sense of community and camaraderie. “On the island women have the same playing field and equality in opportunity – that has empowered more women to step up and reach their goals.” 

History is still being made by the next generation of Catalina Island women in entrepreneurial roles, athletics and the sciences, all inspired by their unique island home, and if history repeats itself, they will continue to make this place even more special.