Partner With Us!
Writer: Jesse LaTour
Florence Millner Arnold was born in Reno, Nevada in 1900 to a miner and a farm girl from Missouri. Her mother became involved in the Women’s Suffrage Movement in 1914, 1915, and 1916. Arnold recalls, “All the great women that were promoting the cause came through and stopped in Reno...Ann Martin and the other great women who stopped there, would come to the house and have dinner and we would talk. Then out into the street we would go. I remember carrying my little flag that said “Votes for Women” on it...The women would stand and try to gather a crowd, and the men would heckle them.”
After getting her music degree, Florence took a job teaching music in Sacramento: “I didn’t know anything about teaching. My experience in teaching had been six weeks in a second grade and a semester of harmony in the Oakland high school. And I was really ignorant, making it up minute by minute. Every twenty minutes, they would send in another class...I didn’t know if it was going to be a second grade, or a fourth grade, or a first grade. I would open those music books, and we just winged it. I don’t know to this day how I did it. When I think back on it, it was a miracle.”
Florence married Archie Arnold and moved to Fullerton, near where Archie’s family was from. She began teaching music in Placentia in the 1920s, a fascinating time in the history of Orange County, a time when there was an active Ku Klux Klan. She recalls: “You couldn’t get a job in Fullerton if you were a Catholic.” Also, at that time, schools were segregated into “white” schools and “Mexican” schools. “We had three Mexican schools in Placentia,” she remembers.
By contrast, Flossie made it her mission “to show other people how good they were, how great they were. I would take the youngsters and show them that they could do it. This became my ambition or my fun in life...sometimes, children don’t have an opportunity to show how great they are. They are circumscribed with rules and regulations, and somebody is there with a whistle over them or with a time clock...I think so many teachers miss the point. They think the subject matter is the important thing or the answer, rather than turning it around and saying, ‘Let’s take the child first.’”
Flossie and Archie had a daughter, Adrienne, in 1932. Because of her teaching job, Flossie decided to seek a “nanny” of sorts to look after he daughter. She was referred by a friend to Ida Irwin, an African American woman (one of very few living in Fullerton both then and now) who lived in Truslow, on the “other side of the tracks,” one of the few places where minorities could get housing in Fullerton in those days, because of racist housing covenants. Arnold recalls, “One of the greatest experiences of my life was to know that great woman. She was a marvelous person. I can’t tell you how beautiful she was. She was just an elegant human being and to have her accept me was just one of the most elegant things that has ever happened in my life. She was willing to come into my home and take care of that little girl and see that she was cared for when I wasn’t home. Ida was my joy and my life.”
In 1950, an unlikely experience pushed Flossie’s life in a new direction. She recalls: “Adrienne was in high school and I was taking her down to summer school at Fullerton High School. As I was walking down the hall, Arla Smith, an art teacher, saw me and grabbed me by the arm. She said, ‘Come in and sit down. I need twenty people to keep this class going this summer. Of course, I don’t have enough people, so just sit there.’ Being an accommodating person, I sat down; and she gave me a brush or a pencil and some paper. Everybody was doing watercolors. People were sketching, and they would sit on the lawn and sketch those arches, the houses and the trees. It was amazing to me. There were teenagers in the class and middle-aged people. I was fifty years old.”
Florence quickly discovered a passion for painting, and joined together with a group of other local artists, and started taking “art trips”: “We would meet on Saturdays, pool our cars, and go all over this county. We would go down to Laguna, to the brick yards out in Orange, any industrial site that we could find, and out to Hunt’s. We just went every place to sketch and to do those watercolors.” Flossie began showing her paintings around California, in gallery and museum exhibits, and even had a series of art shows in Italy.
With her newfound passion for art, Flossie began a mission to bring arts and culture to north Orange County, a culturally desolate place at that time. She describes organizing the Orange County Art Association in the early 1950s: “We didn’t have any art in this end of the county. Laguna always had some art going on at their museum, but the northern part of Orange County really had no viable outlet for artists.”
Eventually, through persistence and strength of personality, Flossie succeeded in starting the Orange County Art Association. She also helped to found the “Night in Fullerton” event in 1966, to help promote and showcase local art and culture. Flossie created a committee to organize and promote the event, and even went door to door to raise money for it.
For the rest of her life, Flossie worked hard to help build a real arts community in Fullerton, founding the CSUF Art Alliance, and showing her work at venues all over town, even well into her 80s. Because she was such a magnetic and well-loved figure, her birthdays were huge community events, with city officials and organizations getting involved. For her 85th birthday, the City of Fullerton presented her with the “Key to Our Hearts.”
“My painting is a direct outgrowth of all the things I’ve ever done. Everything is grist to your mill. It’s a continuation of living...painting is marvelous, and music is marvelous. There is no end to the enjoyment that I have in both. I couldn’t live without music. I don’t want to. I don’t plan to. I don’t want to live without color. I don’t want to live without art. But, mostly, I don’t want to live without people. People are the most elegant things in this world, the give and the take and the fun of communicating, comes from people. And art is a means of communicating, the same as music.” --Florence Millner Arnold
"I don’t want to live without color. I don’t want to live without art."
—Florence Millner Arnold