Phoebe Apperson Hearst was born 1842 in Franklin County, Missouri. Before marrying her distant cousin, 41 year-old George Hearst at the age of 19, Miss Apperson worked as a teacher in area schools.
Soon after their marriage, the couple moved to San Francisco where Phoebe gave birth to their only child, William Randolph (named for his grandfathers) in 1863. In 1873, Phoebe took young William on a grand tour of Europe where the two spent more than a year visiting castles, museums and various cultural centers. This trip would prove to be a pivotal inspiration for William’s later endeavor constructing Hearst Castle. She established several free libraries in the towns where her husband’s mines provided employment.
When George Hearst was elected to the United States Senate in 1887, the couple relocated to Washington D.C. where Phoebe entertained many statesmen. Four years later, Phoebe became the sole heir to her husband’s valuable estate upon his death in 1891. In Washington, she established the National Cathedral School for Girls. (Hearst Elementary School was named in her honor many years after she died.)
After George’s death, Phoebe again returned to California and renewed construction on a palatial residence in Pleasanton, California that had been started by her son a few years earlier. For the project, Mrs. Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan as architect. Morgan would later become the architect of Hearst Castle.
Throughout her life, Phoebe was dedicated to education. She became a generous philanthropist of various educational endeavors. As early as 1891, she made a large gift to the University of California, Berkeley to endow several scholarships for female students. She also funded an international architectural competition for a master plan for the University of California, Berkeley, endowed a scholarship program for students at the University, and presented the campus with the gift of the Hearst Memorial Mining Building and Hearst Hall.
Later, she financed a school for the training of kindergarten teachers and founded the first free kindergarten in the United States in 1887. She eventually established six more of these free schools. In 1897, she founded the National Congress of Mothers, a forerunner of the National Council of Parents and Teachers, better known today as the PTA.
In 1897, she became the first woman Regent of the University of California, serving actively on the board from 1897 to 1919.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst died in 1919, a victim of the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918-1919.