Maria Solares was born in a Chumash village in southern California in 1842. Maria grew up by the Mission Santa Ynez, where her father served as mayor, and learned about her Chumash heritage and the Catholic religion. When the Mexican government secularized the missions, mission lands which had belonged to the Chumash before the missions were built were given away or sold, leaving the Chumash people in poverty. Their tribe had been decimated by disease earlier (Maria had survived a cholera epidemic) and now lost their homelands.
Maria became a doctor and midwife who treated Mexican and Spanish patients as well as Chumash persons needing care. Her personal spirituality was a blend of Catholicism and native religion. Maria served as godmother to Chumash and Mexican babies.
By the 1870s the Chumash tribe was small. An anthropologist, John Peabody Harrington came to study the Chumash. Between 1912 and 1919, Maria Solares worked with Harrington and is today remembered as the one who helped preserve Chumash customs, culture, religion, and language. Maria died on March 6, 1923 on the Santa Ynez Reservation that was established by the U.S. government in 1901.