The Life of Emma Allison

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition Women's Pavilion Steam Engineer

Unanswered Questions


UPDATE 2: Was there another Emma Allison in San Francisco at the same time, one who used the middle initial “B”? There is a record of an Emma B gaining citizenship who was a copyist. Still uncertain.

UPDATE 1: Very likely yes since Emma mentions to one person in 1876 that she previously worked as a copyist.

Did Emma Allison go to San Francisco to be a writer as she supposedly told one author? Here is a reference to an Emma Allison in San Francisco in 1882, working as a clerk at the U.S Surveyor-General’s Office. The title page of this directory and page 69 can be viewed in this PDF.  This full document can be viewed and downloaded at Internet archive. Is this our Emma Allison?

Langley’s San Francisco Directory, 1882, p. 69


Emma’s mother dies in San Jose, California in 1887. Does this mean the family moved there after the death of Emma’s father, Richard, in 1877? UPDATE: Emma lists 1877 as the date of her entry into the United States on later census forms.


There is an Emma Allison who marries an A.D. Marchand in 1887. One possible connection between Marchand and the Emma Allison listed in the U.S. Surveyor-General’s office is that Marchand was a supervisor for a mining company. UPDATE: This is the same Emma Allison.


See new information uncovered about Marchand in this post: Who was A.D. Marchand: A Treasure of Gold


The Woman’s Journal (a newspaper associated with abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone) reported that Emma Allison was found starving in her boarding room two months after the Centennial Exhibition opened. This report was later disputed by the Women’s Pavilion newspaper. UPDATE: Lucy Stone also later disputes the story, pointing out that it was very likely the food the sickened her. Later reports also suggest that many workers at the exhibition became ill with Yellow Fever and other diseases.

No record of Susan B. Anthony or Matilda Gage discussing this incident have been found in their letters, diaries, or other accounts (so far).  A PDF of the full page of the newspaper is here.

“Women vs. Whisky in Philadelphia,” The Woman’s Journal, July 1, 1876, p. 1


How did Emma Allison get hired to run the steam engine in the Women’s Pavilion? The only mention of the process suggests that a Mrs. Wright (probably Martha Coffin Wright, Lucretia Mott’s sister correction: it was Henrietta Hoskins Price Wright, wife of Robert Kemp Wright) suggested hiring a female steam engineer. How Emma was chosen is still unknown.


An Emma Allison, age 22, from Grimsby, was listed as an inmate at the Toronto Insane Asylum. Is this the same Emma Allison? UPDATE: This is the same Emma Allison.


Is this also the same Emma Allison? UPDATE: This is the same Emma Allison. She lists her profession for years as a journalist, one time stating that it was for the Daily Graphic. This balloon adventure was reported by dozens of newspapers across the country and Emma later tells her account of the story to a reporter in California.

In 1879, off the coast of California, a young woman named Emma Allison was caught in scandal as she traveled as a reporter in a hot air balloon. Full story below, but here is an image I found that is possibly the first and only one we have of Emma (if this is our Emma Allison).

Here is the report from the National Police Gazette, page 5 of this July 19, 1879 issue. NationalPoliceGazette1879-p4-5 can be seen here.

A Los Angeles Times version of the story was printed on July 8, 1879.LAT-July1879balloon

Categories: Birth, Canada, Death, Emma Allison, Engineering, Family, San Francisco

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