Alice Vail Holloway was born July 1868 in Belmont, Ohio as Alice Jane Holloway. Her mother was Rachel (née Wilson), her father Isaac Newton Vail. That appears to be his given name, and it was prophetic. Isaac tried to reform all of science and philosophy. [Isaac Newton Vail. The MisRead Record, Seattle: Simplex Publishing, 1921, 85-7]
A quaker born in 1840, he attended Westtown Seminary, where he subsequently taught and acted as a principal before leaving to become an independent geologist, spending much of his time around coal and oil fields. As he “gazed in confused wonder upon the ring system of the planet Saturn” his “boyish mind” conceived a new theory. “Believing that one unchanging and universal law presided in the construction of worlds, I could not divest my mind of the conception that the earth also must have had at one time a ring or annular system.” [Isaac Vail Newton, The Earth’s Annular System: The Waters Above the Firmament, Pasadena: Annular World Company, 1912, 378.]
The same year that Alice was born, Isaac began lecturing on his annular theory. In short, he argued that when the earth was a molten mass, it threw off much of its matter as vapor, which formed a ring about the planet. Over time, and in accordance with their physical natures, substances had condensed out of the ring and fallen to earth in giant cataclysms. Thus were born the various sedimentary layers—limestone and coal, etc., etc. Included in these falls were organic matter, which had started life, and after each of the falls life was pushed onto a new evolutionary track. The falls offered a new theory of the origins of coal (not ancient plant matter, but fallen hydrocarbons) and promised to offer new theories of biology and sociology.
In a move that preceded Velikovsky by almost a century, Vail looked for evidence of these falls in myths. The falls, he said—by reasoning I cannot understand—would especially effect the North Pole, and there is a history of the North Pole being a mystery, which he said reflected these falls. More obviously, at one point water also fell—which was recorded as the Noachian flood. Later, Isaac would also come to see this fall as explaining the disappearance of Atlantis: the seas suddenly rose and drowned that fabled city [Isaac Vail Newton, The Earth’s Annular System: The Waters Above the Firmament, Pasadena: Annular World Company, 1912, 375].
The falls were a universal history: the other planets had undergone similar transformations. Saturn, relatively new, still had its rings. Jupiter’s rings were mostly gone. Mars and Earth had lost theirs. He published his first book on the subject, “The Earth’s Aqueous Ring, or, The Deluge and its Cause” in 1874 and would go on to write, rewrite edit and expand books on this theory through the rest of his life. For a time, he even ran a magazine where he further developed his theories, especially in regards to the Polar mystery.
By the time Isaac wrote his first book, he was the father of a second daughter, Lydia, born in 1870. Two years later, in 1876, Rachel died. Isaac raised his daughters alone—though presumably with the help of family, since he was part of a Quaker community—eventually remarrying in 1880. Seven years later, Isaac and the former Mary Cope left Ohio for Pasadena, California. Why?
Who knows? It may have been that the family wanted in on the real estate boom in Pasadena. Or, it may have been that Isaac or Rachel were asthmatics—Pasadena’s climate was hailed as a cure for those who could not breathe well. It may also have been that Isaac wanted to test his theories. In 19o2 he wrote,
Thus, the oily carbons, formed in the world-alembic of the Great Chemist millions of years before a planet or a fish existed on the earth, arose together with other fiery distillations; together they revolved for long ages while the planet was cooling; together they fell and became a part of the world's strata, and together they lay in store for the use of man.
This being the process by which the earth became stored with the oily carbons, it is plain that the geologist, to be able to be of any practical use in locating oil fields, must familiarize himself as far as possible with the currents of the ancient seas, and forever discard the fish.
But enough of that. You want me to tell you some facts some annular facts about the oil field of Southern California. Well, I came to Pasadena in 1887, and in the summer of 1888 I spent much of the time in search for oil indications, for I had become convinced that a vast amount of oily carbon must have been carried from the northward into the ancient Pacific Ocean, and you all know that if that carbon fell in polar lands (and it did fall there), it must have been floated into that ocean. Well, the great currents from the west and southwest, it seemed to me, must have carried that carbon right toward the coast of Southern California. But where was the coast then? The waters of the Pacific at that time dashed against the feet of the Sierras in a great semi-circular curve, extending from the Santa Barbara coast to San Bernardino, thence southward by the San Jacinto Mountains. You can see that much of the lowland, even the low hills of Ventura, Los Angeles, and nearly all of Orange County, and great part of San Diego County were at the bottom of the sea, into which the ocean currents rushed with their charges of oily carbons. I spent a great deal of thought on this feature of the case, and became convinced before I came to California that it was oil territory. I reasoned that all the geological conditions were favorable for the formation of oil beds in the waters of this great semi-circular gulf, and therefore it could hardly be possible that they were not formed, for we must remember that our theory makes oil a world-deposit, and must have been formed wherever currents favored it.
I searched in fullest confidence that I was in an oil field of vast extent. In both Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties I found oil, not only as it trickled from the rock, but far out on the surface of the ocean. This was all sufficient to vindicate the theory; for a single instance of oil thus found was competent to prove that our hypothetic currents had been at work, and if they had been thus at work on the coast of that region, it was almost certain that they had operated over the remainder of the gulf, and more effectively. From Santa Paula a search was made eastward, and a visit to the oil-steeped soil on Temple Street, Los Angeles, proved still further that an oil field of vast extent existed here. I then went to the Puente Hills, and on to the hills north of Fullerton, and found all the evidence
I wanted to vindicate the claim that all the region from the mountains to the sea, and certainly extending far out into the ocean, was a great deposit of petroleum.
Having made these discoveries, I went before the Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles and tried to move that body to institute an effort to awaken an interest in them. But the great boom was collapsing, and the calm after the tempest made my visit a failure. I told that body that petroleum was an ancient sea deposit, and the very fact that oil oozed from the hills was proof that oil-bearing rock underlaid all the region from the hills to the sea, and that the day would come when Southern California would prove to be one of the greatest oil regions on the continent. The upheaval of the hills on the south of the San Gabriel Valley has simply revealed the universal bed of hydro-carbons that the ancient currents carried to this region. That sea in which the oily carbons floated was a vast one, and hence the oily deposit is a vast one, too. We can easily bound it on the north, but on the east, south and southwest I cannot define its limits. I have repeated in a hundred lectures that the field must be very rich toward the south, but more and more barren toward the primary mountains. That wells could be sunk far out in the ocean with almost a certainty of finding oil. Why not? The ocean that received the oil carbons from the north world must have been almost a boundless one. The same ocean rolled its carbon-laden waters around the San Jacinto Mountains, over the Salton basin and great Colorado Valley, and must have deposited a great fund of petroleum there. The same ocean and same current swept over the plains of Western and Southern Arizona, and must have planted some of it there. The same ocean penetrated the inland valleys of a great part of all the Pacific States, and in all these, wherever currents from the west could enter, oil certainly can be found, and even up to the Arctic Circle. [Isaac Vail Newton, The Earth’s Annular System: The Waters Above the Firmament, Pasadena: Annular World Company, 1912, 402-404]
Despite failing to win the attention of the Chamber of Commerce, Isaac found at least one disciple, Stephen Bowers, editor of the Ventura Observer who in 1892 published a précis of Isaac’s theories. The introduction stated that Bowers was primarily interested in Vail’s work as a theoretical system for explaining the history of the earth (and according scientific findings with Biblical ones), but it is also possible that Bowers wrote about Vail as a way to generate interest in oil and cola exploration.
While Isaac and Mary were in California, Alice and Lydia remained back east. Both graduated from Westtown Seminary, like their father, Lydia going on to teach there. Alice went to Bryn Mawr for three years—1894 to 1897—as a scholarship student, majoring in English and German. [Program, Bryn Mawr College, 1905-6. Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1905, 265] The year of her graduation she married Walter V. Holloway, a member of a good Quaker family, in Philadelphia. She was 29; he was 22.
By 1900, Alice, Walter, and their two children—Rola (born 1898) and Walter Jr. (born 1899)—had moved to Riverside, California, near her father. Within five years, though, they had relocated to Berkeley, where they were displaying what Thayer would later consider a good Fortean independent streak. The Holloways were opposed to mandatory vaccination and so went in with several other families of similar belief to create a school in Berkeley that admitted students who refused vaccinations. [San Francisco Call, 3 August 1905, 6.]
Three years later, they were back in Southern California, and back in the news. Alice (at least) had become a socialist, and joined with others on a street to declaim her views. Such an act was against the law in Pasadena, though: one needed a permit for a public demonstration, and her request their request for one had been refused. Along with three other women (and some men), Alice Vail Holloway, Quaker and socialist, anti-vaccine crusader and proponent of the Annular theory of geology, was thrown in jail.
The case caught the attention of the local newspapers, which played up the law’s seeming disregard for the First Amendment. A writer from the Los Angeles Examiner reported that four women socialists had been put into the city jail. Of Holloway the reporter said,
“a picturesque figure. She is the daughter of Dr. Isaac M. Vail [sic] of Pasadena, who is the author of a number of celebrated works on geology and an honorary member of the Royal Philosophical Society of London, England. Mrs. Holloway has a beautiful home at 411 Kensington street, Pasadena. She was graduated from Bryn Mawr college in 1896 [sic] and taught school ten years.
Mrs. Holloway is the mother of two children. The oldest, Rola, is ten years old, and one of the prettiest children in Pasadena. The son, Walter,, Jr., [sic] is eight years old. Walter Holloway, the husband, is a graduate of Haverfort [sic] College, Philadelphia, and a member of a prominent Quaker family. He is general field manager of the Providence Life and Trust Company of Philadelphia in this state. His wife owns one hundred acres of land in Ohio.”
“The women prisoners, all used to homes of refinement and many of the luxuries of life, seem not to mind imprisonment. Indeed, they seem perfectly at home in their squalid surroundings. They eat their meals without knife or fork, amid nauseating odors; sleep upon hard cots that are innocent of mattresses or pillows; listen tot he ravings of drunken men in the drunk cell, and watch through convenient peep holes how their male companions are faring [sic], with a spirit of equanimity.” [Victory for Free Speech, The American Journal of Eugenics, August 1908, volume 2 no 5, 205-207.]
Walter wrote to the Los Angeles Herald
My wife, Alice Vail Holloway, arrested for speaking on the streets without a permit from the police commission, which permit was asked for by her and refused by the commissioners, has her trial set for October 21 in Judge Chambers' court. Her bail was fixed at $300. I notice that Dr. Arthur Houghton, arrested upon the same charge, has his trial set for August 13, and that Judge Frederickson ordered his bail bond returned to him and that he be set free upon his own recognizance. With this discrimination before them, Is it a wonder there is a growing belief in the public mind that justice has gone on a long vacation. [Los Angeles Herald 17 July 1908, 4.]
Seemingly embarrassed by the controversy, Pasadena’s City Council got rid of the law a few days later, yet it still took some time before Alice was freed.
What happened to Alice over the next several years remains a mystery. Isaac died in January 1912, and Alice and Lydia started putting out new and revised editions of his work that year, through the early 1920s. Presumably she was still living in Pasadena, although I find no record of her in the 1910 census. By 1920, according to that census, she and Walter had divorced and Alice was living with Walter Jr., his wife, and their daughter. Walter Jr. was a bookkeeper and his wife—the census page obscures her name—a bookmaker. Alice had no occupation listed. She disappeared from the census again in 1930, but was supposedly in Hollywood in 1935. In 1940 she was living there with Rola, neither of them having any listed occupation.
These were the years when Alice became involved with the Fortean Society. In 1938, she sent Thayer a collection of her father’s writings. Two years later, he name first appeared in The Fortean Society Magazine.
It is not hard to see what would have drawn Alice to the Fortean Society, even if she and Thayer would have had vastly different interpretations of the data that interested them. Isaac Vail’s tried to reconcile the Bible and science. For him, the ages of life—fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals—reflected not Darwinian evolution, but the reseeding of the world after various catastrophes by the “great Gardener of nature.” He was intrigued by some of the same falls that Fort recorded, though to a different end:
If Jupiter’s belted system had long ago descended to the body of that planet, so that we could gaze upon the continents and seas as we do those of Mars, we would conclude that they swarmed with life. An incomplete world must contain incomplete or primordial life-forms; forms that in time develop. In yellow snow, dust showers, ‘blood rains,’ etc. we have evidence that organic forms are natural accompaniments of the nebulous and elementary forms of matter.
Spider showers are well authenticated. Sometimes the air is filled with their gossamer threads upon which they mount to unknow [sic] depths of space, where they live. If spiders can live there for a time, and toads can live for untold ages immured in solid rock, they could live in belts of aqueous and mineral matter. The manner in which organisms have succeeded each other on the earth as revealed by the geologic records demands that the annular system was the cradle of infant life. [Stephen Bowers, The Vailian or Annular Theory, Ventura, CA” The Observer Press, 1892, 13.]
And so Fort’s Super-Sargasso Sea is, instead, God’s workshop. And the polar mysteries that Fort and They both triumphed are more evidence for the annular system. At some point in the early 1940s Alice was involved with the Annular World Association, located in Azusa, California (likely her home), which published “The Origin of Petroleum” in 1942. But the Association does not seem to have done much more than that.
Alice’s only other mention in The Fortean Society Magazine came in the spring of 1944 (issue number 9). Thayer said that she was an Honorary Life Member—meaning she had life membership without the need to pay dues—but wether that was a new title or something bestowed on her before is impossible to say. Thayer published his first list of Honorary Life Members in 1944—and she was on it. But so was L. B. Dilbeck, who had been dead for two years.
At the time, Thayer was trying to extend the reach of those heretics who had connected with him. He wrote,
If it be mitigation of a platitude to state that Plato wrote it, then ’twas he, or Cicero, perhaps, who enjoined—‘Pass on thy lamp!’—advice which has been followed by most Forteans, before Fort and since: advice which the Society pledges itself to follow. [He continued later,] Every member is urged to report promptly whether or not any oohs by Vail are available in any accessible libraries. Please look that up. This lamp, too, was passed to us and we must keep it lighted. [“New Life Member,” 2.]
Presumably, Thayer wanted to stock libraries with copies of Vail’s work, as well as those of other eccentric theorists.
Alice Jane Vail Holloway died 16 April 1948.