Three women who helped shape Irvine


Editor's note: Author, free-lance writer and Irvine resident Ellen Bell writes about three women who have helped shape the history of Irvine to help commemorate Women's History Month in March.


Kate Munger (left) was a determined businesswoman who opened the first Irvine Store in 1912.

In 1909, Kate Munger wrote to James Irvine and asked permission to open a general store.

At the time, families on the Irvine Ranch had to travel to Tustin or Santa Ana for supplies. After much persistence, James Irvine relented, and in 1912, Kate Munger opened the Irvine Store which would remain an important part of life on the Irvine Ranch for decades.

Although she was considered an "old maid" at 29, Kate Munger's business success was undeniable.

In addition to the Irvine Store, she farmed a bean lease on the ranch, managed an apricot grove, and also ran a profitable insurance business in El Toro.


Katie Wheeler was the first-born grandchild of James Irvine and the first member of the Irvine Family born in Orange County.

Her birth brought both joy and tragedy. Her mother, Kathryn Anita, died days after she was born, leaving her grieving grandfather to raise the little girl. Years later she recalled; "Pop wasn't a chatty person, and found it hard to talk to little kids...but we had some great times together, especially out inspecting the ranch in his touring car."

In 1941, she married Charles Wheeler who managed the Irvine cattle operation from 1953 to 1977.

Katie was the longest serving member on the James Irvine Foundation board. To honor her years of service, the foundation helped to the rebuild an exact replica of the Irvine Family home now known as The Katie Wheeler Branch of the Orange County Library.


In 1957, when she was 24, Joan Irvine Smith joined the Irvine Company's board of directors.

Strong-willed like her grandfather James Irvine, Smith was a formidable member of the board, and she vigorously debated the direction of The Irvine Company in an effort to preserve her family's legacy.

She was a strong advocate of bringing a new University of California campus to Irvine and urged the Irvine Company to set aside land for the school.

She has also been a tireless supporter of open space preservation and a patron of the arts. The Irvine Museum features her collection of art from the California Impressionist Period.