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 Agnes Jean Cox  (1891 - 1976)

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Lived/Active: California/New York      Known for: interior design

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
According to family records, Agnes Jean Cox was born in Bakersfield, California on February 21, 1891, the daughter of Jessie Marie Helm and Cary Stitch Cox.  Shortly after birth, she was diagnosed as being deaf, possibly caused by heat stroke. In 1914, she went to San Francisco where she met her grandfather, William Helm, and became aware of the cultural possibilities in that area.  Shortly after that, with the intention of getting a degree in interior design, she went to New York City to a school called The Three Arts Club, located at 340 W. 8th Street.

New Year's Eve day 1917, she received a marriage proposal from Murray Campbell, a deaf man who had attended Gallaudet College, and who owned a farm named Locust Hill near Mt. Vernon, New York with the intention of doing scientific agricultural experiments. His father was a prominent physician in Weschester County. Agnes and Murray married in Fresno, California at St. James Pro-Cathedral the following June 23, and in 1918 had a son, John.  That same year, while the couple were living at Locust Hill, Agnes caught the flu of the widespread national epidemic, and Murray was showing early symptoms of tuberculosis.  For the health of the couple they moved with their son to the reported 'clean air' of Tucson, Arizona where Agnes' father, Cary Cox owned the Hotel Lewis.  Murray worked in the Arizona National Bank as bookkeeper, and they stayed two years and in 1920 returned to Fresno.  In Tucson they had a son, Peter, who lived only five months, and in 1922 in Fresno, they had another son, Douglas, who died in childbirth. 

A year later the couple moved to Berkeley because they had many deaf friends there and was near a school for what was then called the "deaf, dumb and blind."  During this time, Murray suffered from peritonitis and tuberculosis and the couple suffered financial hardships.  In 1929, the couple had a daughter, Muriel, and two years later at age 49, Murray died of tuberculosis.  When his wife Agnes Jean died in 1976, the ashes were sprinkled by a bridge in Yosemite National Park.

However in the interim, Agnes did not remain unmarried; she took four more husbands. The first one after the death of Murray was Thaddeus Stevens Ormes, a Berkeley policeman, noted for being one of the first cops in Berkeley to use a dog on his beat.  Next was Clarence Zirker, a sign painter from Merced; in 1961, she married William Mallman in Las Vegas, and in 1966 she married Harry Ducan, and divorced him after one year.

During her marriage to Murray and the travails of financial difficulties, the parents of Agnes and Murray sent their money and much advice.  In a letter dated January 4, 1925, Jessie Cox, mother of Agnes cautioned her 'not to start any business that would take her away from home." 

Agnes, apparently not heeding the advice of her mother, owned the Bay Span Auto Court Motel at 1701 E. Shore Highway in Richmond, CA, and it prospered during the war because of the areas ship building industries.  She also owned a horse and chicken ranch in Walnut Creek, and between 1951 and 1956, owned another motel, named Seaside, but it went bankrupt. In 1959, she again bought the Mariposa Auto Court, this time in a foreclosure sale, and her daughter and grandson continued to run that for many years.   Agnes Jean Cox Campbell died of kidney failure August 19, 1976 in Berkeley, California.

It appears that this woman who early in her life directed her energies to creative arts got much diverted from her potential of being an interior designer.

Online family records

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Agnes Jean Cox was born in Fresno, CA on Feb. 21, 1891.  Cox studied art at the School for the Deaf in Berkeley under Theophilus D'Estrella during 1906-12 and then did graduate work at the Arizona State University.  She further studied at the San Francisco Institute of Art and, having become interested in interior decoration, traveled to NYC where she enrolled at the Three Arts School.  While there, she met Murray Campbell whom she married in 1917.  After her marriage she made her home in Buffalo, NY.  She died in Alameda, CA on Aug. 19, 1976.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
City Directory; The California News, Sept. 1917
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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