Edith James, a noted volunteer who was active for many years as a leader in organizations serving women, died Sept. 23 with Alzheimer’s disease, her family said. She was 95.
Mrs. James, who worked her way through college earning less than men, was a longtime advocate for equality and opportunities for women.
In 1968, she joined a steering committee that formed the Sacramento Community Commission for Women, a coalition of groups and individuals in government, professions and family. She served in leadership positions, helped draft a proposal for a breast cancer detection center and spearheaded efforts to publish a directory of women’s groups.
In the 1970s, while raising seven children at home, she attended rallies and spoke out in support of the proposed federal Equal Rights Amendment.
She focused on issues facing “displaced homemakers” – women who find themselves without income later in life because of a divorce or husband’s death – as a longtime member and former president of the American Association of University Women. She raised money for scholarships for women returning to college and served as the AAUW representative to the community commission on women.
Mrs. James also was a former president of the UC Women’s Club and volunteer with the KVIE auction program. In 1979, she was honored as Woman of the Year by Soroptimist International of Sacramento.
Advocating for women “was a passion of hers,” said her daughter Lihrle Maxwell. “Even going to college, she had to deal with men getting paid more than she was. She was sort of an early women’s libber.”
A former teacher, Mrs. James started volunteering as a homemaker. She was active in Camp Fire Girls, Cub Scouts and the PTA while raising her family in Carmichael.
In later years, she turned her efforts to helping seniors. She earned a certificate in gerontology from California State University, Sacramento, and led a program for the Mission Oaks Recreation and Park District organizing tours for seniors. In 1988, she started a business at home with her husband, leading seniors on day trips, overnight tours and ship cruises.
“God blessed me with good health,” she told The Sacramento Bee in 1996, “so I’m going to offer myself to the community to benefit somebody else.”
One of 14 children – including 11 who survived to adulthood – raised by farmers, Edith Lillian Richt was born April 1, 1918, in Sarpy County, Neb. She spent summers attending a teachers college during the Great Depression and taught in a one-room schoolhouse before moving to California in 1942. She worked at a day care center, waited tables and taught ballroom dancing while earning a recreational therapy degree from UC Berkeley.
She worked as a counselor at a clinic for emotionally troubled children in San Francisco and married Robert C. James in 1947. After moving around the country while he served in the Air Force during the Korean War, the couple settled in Sacramento in 1953. They led tour groups to many countries before closing their business, Golden Voyagers Travel, in 2001.
“She knew how to lead people and how to organize people – and she knew how to have fun and enjoy herself,” her daughter said. “She was an example to many young women.”
Avid Scrabble players, Mrs. James and her husband named their children for words created from the couple’s names. Robert James, a retired state agency administrator, died in 2008.
Mrs. James also was predeceased by a daughter, Alindreth Moore, in 2004. She is survived by three daughters, Lihrle Maxwell, Danelle Ingalls and Leahna Barton; three sons, Tarrel, Lewan and Rahner; a sister, Alice Kerstetter; two brothers, Jack Richt and Dick Richt; 18 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.
A service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Carmichael Presbyterian Church, 5645 Marconi Ave., Carmichael.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila