Editor and poet Ina Coolbrith was born Josephine Smith to Mormon parents in Nauvoo, Illinois. Her uncle, Joseph Smith, was the founder of the Mormon Church. Her father died when Coolbrith was an infant, and her mother subsequently left the church and remarried. In 1849 the family moved to California, lured by the Gold Rush. Coolbrith was educated in Los Angeles, and as a teenager published her first poems in local newspapers. A brief, abusive marriage and the infant death of her son marked the end of Coolbrith’s teen years.
In 1865 Josephine Smith took her mother’s maiden name and became Ina Donna Coolbrith. She settled in San Francisco, where she hosted many salons, helped to co-edit (with Bret Harte) the journal Overland Monthly, and was the first woman to become an honorary member of the Bohemian Club.
In 1874 Coolbrith adopted three foster children and began a career as a librarian that lasted for two decades. Working at the Oakland Free Public Library, she encouraged Jack London’s and Isadora Duncan’s early reading.
Coolbrith published four collections of poetry in a range of formal structures, including A Perfect Day (1881) and Wings of Sunset (1929). Though the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed Coolbrith’s home, many of her poems, and notes for an autobiography, she became California’s first poet laureate in 1915.
Ina Coolbrith Park is located on San Francisco’s Russian Hill. She is buried at Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery, in a grave that was unmarked until 1986, when the Ina Coolbrith Circle erected a headstone there.