Dr. Myra Knox arrived in Oakland in 1880 with her two young daughters, Bertha and Margaret. She was a widow, having buried her husband in Lovelock, Nevada a year earlier. The family had come west from Aitkin, Minnesota where Myra taught school from 1872-1876, first in her home, later in the town's first school building. The hope was that Nevada's warmer and drier climate would restore Clifford Knox to good health. He had developed consumption during his Civil War service. It was not to be, Clifford died in 1878. Myra continued to teach until she was eventually granted a Civil War widow's pension which allowed her to move to Oakland and pursue her ambition to become a physician. Myra and her daughters most likely traveled the approximately 300 miles by train, embarking from the newly constructed Central Pacific Railroad Station in Lovelock and disembarking at the then seven-year-old Oakland depot on 7th Street.
In 1884 Myra earned a medical degree from Cooper Medical College in San Francisco and established a thriving practice in Oakland from her home at 958 14th Street. (In 1908 Cooper Medical College was transferred to Stanford University becoming Stanford's Medical Department, later School of Medicine.) In addition to her practice, Dr. Knox was for many years the physician at the state-operated Industrial Home for the Blind located in Oakland at Telegraph and 36th Street. The first woman selected for the position. She also served on the Merritt Hospital Board. She joined Dr. Buckel's Home Club and helped with its pure milk campaign.
As a new Oaklander Myra joined the Ebell Society and by 1895, with her daughters grown, Myra had become one of the Ebell Society’s hardest working members. She served on the society's Carnegie library site committee, again along with Dr. Buckel, and was chair of the committee in charge of designing the new library's children's room. In addition, she was active in Red Cross efforts both as an Ebell member and on the Red Cross Society's Board of Directors.
In April 1895 she became the first woman in the county elected to serve on a school board; sixteen years before women could vote in California. Two years later she was president of the board and remained on the Oakland School Board for 12 years.
In 1897 she made local headlines with her speech at an Ebell luncheon urging members to take an active interest in civic concerns.
Had we not better drop Browning for a time?...We sit in our homes and call this city the Athens of the Pacific, and when we drive out we hold the nose with one hand and with the other clutch the vehicle to prevent being thrown out. If an ancient Greek should return and visit our Athens, get a whiff of our marsh and ride over Twelfth-street dam, he would immediately drop dead again. ...we women have done nothing. ...let us organize our club and consult with our city officials and make them understand that we are with them and in doing this, the Ebell Society will have originated a most valuable era. (San Francisco Call, Volume 82, Number 124, 2 October 1897, page 11 “Plain Words for the Ebell”)
Within days a new civic group, the Women's City Improvement Club, was formed. In 1898 the club was incorporated as the Oakland Civic Club with Dr. Knox serving as one its directors. It's purpose being “solely philanthropical and progressive”. (San Francisco Call, Volume 84, Number 25, 25 June 1898, page 11 “Women Organize”)
Newspapers asked if Dr. Knox was an example of the 'new' woman, moving into areas reserved for men? She was uninterested, “I do not argue the matter...I go ahead with it.'" (San Francisco Call, Volume 77, Number 59, 7 February 1895, page 13 “Dr. Myra Knox Nominated as School Director”) Yes, she was outspoken, independent and in many ways fearless, but she was also a woman of her times – opposed to women's suffrage, against wives working outside the home and husbands being supported by their wives. She was always careful to at least appear to know her place as a woman in a man's world. When Dr. Knox died at 62 of a cerebral hemorrhage “Oakland lost one of her strongest and most useful women.” (Pacific Unitarian, 1914, Volume 25, page 46)
Myra was survived by her daughters. Bertha who, upon graduating from the University of California, became a teacher and continued to live in the family home in Oakland. Younger sister Margaret followed her mother's daring, if not her ambition. At a tavern in San Francisco in 1912 she met future silent film star, Erich Von Stroheim, then a struggling salesman. They moved in together, scandalous for Victorian daughters, and Margaret acted as his mentor, encouraging his writing and teaching him languages and literature. They married briefly in 1913 but a little over a year later Margaret filed for divorce.