Isabel Maydwell Jaggar

(1874 - 1964)

Soon after her birth in a gold mining camp in Bloomfield Township, Nevada County, California, her parents moved to Sacramento where her father found work as a lumberman and her mother as a seamstress.  Isabel graduated from Sacramento High School in 1888 and began her working career the next year as an elementary teacher.

One of the other schoolteachers, Ollie Maydwell, introduced Isabel to her brother, Guy Maydwell.  He was a man of ambition.  He was a young attorney who saw opportunity in San Francisco and so he moved to that city and opened an office on Sutter Street.  In 1898 a man who had recently bought a coffee plantation near Hilo, Charles Eagan, arrived in San Francisco and he needed a lawyer.  Eagan convinced Maydwell to make the move.  Guy sent a message to Isabel, asking her to marry him and move to Hilo.  She agreed.

Isabel Jaggar, about 1912.

Guy Maydwell died in 1910.  A few years later, Isabel Maydwell met Thomas Jaggar at Kilauea.  Their romance was fostered by a spectacular eruption in 1916.  They married on September 17, 1917, exchanging vows twice that day.  The first was during a public ceremony in front of a few close friends and a minister.  The other was a private vow, agreeing not to involve each other in their respective families.

Isabel and Thomas Jaggar at the source of the 1919 eruption of Mauna Loa, October 1919.

Isabel Jaggar standing near the crater edge of Halema`uma`u, 1919.

According to observatory reports Isabel Jaggar worked as "general assistant," "recorder" and "skilled mechanic."  She learned to adjust and repair seismographs, to read earthquake tracings and to describe subtle changes taking place at the lava lake.

On December 11, 1917, she made a solo trip at night to the edge of the lake.  She stationed herself just outside a dense plume of smoke rising from the crater.  She recorded bluish flames around the edge of the lake that night.  Two streams of red lava were creeping across the crater floor.  She ended her report succinctly:  "Heat from the lake was strong."

In October 1919 she made the arduous climb with her husband and a few others to the summit of Mauna Loa to see an eruption of that volcano.  They camped close to where red lava was pouring out of the ground.  During the night, she awoke, later writing:  "With hot roaring lava fountains in front of me and a brilliant moon taking on all sorts of complexions as it passed through the volcanic smoke above me, it was useless to try to sleep."  And so she decided to walk around.

She was alone standing close to the lava fountain when the sun rose.  "What changes in sky, in clouds, in mountain, and especially in the magnificent pillar of smoke directly opposite the rising sun and with the fire fountains at its foot!"

She concluded her short adventure by writing:  "I cannot think of it without tears welling up.  I have never seen anything like it, and I have seen some wonderful sunsets down in the crater at Kilauea."

Lava flow of Mauna Loa, 1919.