10 Facts About Vivian Hallinan, the Mother of San Francisco Leftist Bad-Ass Bitches

Okay, people, let's talk about an ally who knew how to freaking ally.

I heard tidbits about Vivian Hallinan, famed San Francisco matriarch, last night while listening to a back episode of The Dollop podcast.

With her husband and son, from  Found SF.

With her husband and son, from Found SF.

The episode was actually titled around Vincent Hallinan, her husband. And while he was also pretty damn cool (He defended himself in a lawsuit to force the Catholic Church to prove there was a god), I felt a very distinct sense of  “oh yeah, we’re still living in the patriarchy” when she didn’t get an equal share of the title/story. Because for everything progressively left-wing that Vincent did, she was doing something equally radical.

My experience of listening to the parts about Vivian Hallinan went from “Is this going to be another story of beautiful but crazy young wife ruins older man?” to “Oh wow, not where I was expecting this story to go. Good for her,” to “THIS IS A TRAVESTY. SHE DESERVES HER OWN EPISODE.”

And since most history people probably aren’t going to focus on Vivian Hallinan alone (she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry... do you know how mad that makes me???), I’m dedicating some space to her here.

A cousin of mine, Krista, uses Wednesdays to highlight great women - so consider this my contribution to #womancrushwednesdays ~


10 Amazing Facts ABOUT Vivian Hallinan

In no particular order, but kinda from her birth to her passing at 88


1. She apparently paid her way through UC Berkeley in the 1920s by being a card shark in Bridge tournaments. I didn’t even know they had tournaments for Bridge.


2. J Edgar Hoover called her marriage to Vincent Hallinan (13 years her senior and already a lawyer getting in trouble with the FBI), “a case of one warped personality marrying another.”

Anyone who gets a personal insult from J Edgar Hoover is A+++.


With Vincent and son, Terrance, from SF Gate.

With Vincent and son, Terrance, from SF Gate.

3. SHE was the money-making brains behind the family, buying up San Francisco real estate in the 1930s and becoming a multi-millionaire mogul. Vincent was the more stereotypical firebrand – lots of passion and mostly penniless. In comparison, Vivian was the keen business eye that not only kept the Hallinans afloat during Vincent’s showy pro-bono trials (and run ins with the law) and the countless lawsuits/arrests against them, but also turned them into one of San Francisco’s richest families.


4. And the crazy thing was that, unlike all the other terrible super rich real-estate moguls, she used her money for Progressive Good (that ought to be a D&D alignment) – starting with being one of the few landlords that would rent to black families in the 1940s and 50s.

By the way, it behooves me to remind people that redlining is a super terrible, super racist thing that still happens today. That NIMBYism can extend to actual groups of people is infuriating and needs to be rooted out whereever it tries to take hold.

5. In fact, she was a hugely radical Civil Rights activist, best buddies with W.E.B. DuBois and, during her husband’s candidacy as Progressive Party Presidential Nominee (which he accepted from jail), spoke alongside the first ever black woman VP nominee, Charlotta Bass. Speaking of another woman crush.


6. She was arrested herself in 1964 for participating in Civil Rights marches. She called her 30-day stint in jail "very dull… That's the outstanding thing about it. It's so boring." She was one of the last members of her family to go through the clinker, after which Vincent boasted that all his family had been arrested at some point in time.



7. She was also one of the co-organizers of the Jeanette Rankin Brigade aka the Peace Parade, a precursor to this year’s Women’s March, against the war in Vietnam. Speaking of another woman crush: Jeanette Rankin.


8. Her family, as rich as it was, pissed off all the other people in town with their “commie-leaning” politics. At some point in time, three men who’d been harassing her family broke into her house and tried to rape her. They tore off her nightie and revealed scars she’d just gotten from removing ovarian cancer. She convinced them cancer was contagious.




9. She raised 6 sons that credited her with turning them into liberal muckracking fighters (literally - every one of them learned to throw a punch). Two became lawyers in the vein of their father. The second son, Terrance, even became the District Attorney of San Francisco, despite early scrapes with the law and a reputation as a police hater (because, at some point in time, he defended a Civil Rights activist from a police baton). Her sons say she was the main reason they turned into what they are today. As her eldest son, Patrick, put it, "She was the political guts of our family."

If I wanted to be a mother, I would want to be this kind of mother.



10. Even at 83, she was still full of vim & vigor. Patrick Hallinan, eldest son was facing yet another set of charges (lawsuits trying to jail this family were shockingly constant) that he had “conspired” with a gang of drug smugglers while defending them. She was on the phone with him every night, giving him advice on how to fight the charges.


There's so much more to talk about: She was gassed in Chile while protesting Pinochet, she poured millions into supporting South American resistance movements against the U.S.'s disastrous policies, she pissed off the Chinese government by bringing up their human rights abuses to their faces, she was an early champion for gay rights, which she mentioned nonchalantly in a book she wrote in the 1950s (about raising her sons with her philosophical outlook on life: My Wild Irish Rogues). She punched out a cowboy once...

Basically, the amount of #lifegoals Vivian Hallinan represents is simply astounding. It was like she was out to prove how she could win at the establishment and win at being the Ultimate Progressive Champion too.

She was traditionally beautiful, but never got caged in by it. She was a great mother who loved being within the "family sphere," but was also fiercely feminist in action and word. She was business savvy beyond belief, but she used the millions she earned to help her family be fearless for intersectional equality across gender, race and LGBT issues.

And she doesn't have a Wikipedia page. What the hell, people.

Some more resources for ya

  • Vivian Hallinan obituary in the San Francisco Gate.
  • Vivian Hallinan obituary in the New York Times.
  • Vivian Hallinan obituary in the LA Times.
  • And once again, her husband was an amazing guy but is totally the old adage of "behind every successful (super liberal, establishment fighting) man..." Learn more about him with the Vincent Hallinan obituary in the New York Times.