In 1911, Santa Rosa threw a grand party to honor a men's club. Naturally, some very uppity women crashed it.
The event was the annual state convention of the "Native Sons of the Golden West," a fraternal organization whose local chapter had recently built a magnificent lodge hall on Mendocino Avenue (it's still there, too). That gathering of members of the California-born Native Sons - and to be fair, there was/is a "Native Daughters of the Golden West" as well - drew the most visitors to Santa Rosa to that date. They arrived by the thousands on that September 9th weekend in special trains; in the local papers the Chamber of Commerce pleaded with residents to make a room or two available to out-of-towners, and hundreds did. Santa Rosa's population doubled as a crowd estimated at up to 10,000 pushed into Fourth street and Courthouse Square for the parade and carnival-like celebration.
Among the masses was a hardy band of suffragists eager to encourage men to grant women the right to vote. "RAID ON SANTA ROSA," read the subhed in an article about suffrage events that week in the San Francisco Call. "It was a fixed policy with us to go wherever we were not wanted," wrote Louise Herrick Wall in a report about the suffrage campaign of 1911:
|Into the pretty town of Santa Rosa we made one of these forced entries. It was during the week of the Native Sons' celebration and both the Golden Sons and the Golden Daughters assured us, with leaden emphasis, that suffrage was entirely out of place. But we felt that where so many thousands of idle people were gathered was exactly the place for us.
A store building on a lively corner, just across from a Ferris wheel, and next door to the knife-throwing booth, became the headquarters of the Blue Liner. The place was made as pretty as time alloted with flowers and banners and posters, and the doors set very wide upon the street. There was music and singing; and, as we had planned, hundreds of people sauntered in and out, and stopped and chatted or listened. One day we had a seven-hour continuous performance. In the evenings we held big street meetings from the Blue Liner that we kept up until our constellation waned in the brighter conjunction of the Native Son and the native grape.
(RIGHT: The "Blue Liner" and crew, San Francisco Call, August 16, 1911)
The "Blue Liner" was the big touring car that stayed constantly on the roads of Northern California in advance of the state constitutional amendment vote, as discussed in part I of this story, "WILL MEN LET THE LADIES VOTE?" That article points out passage was not assured; suffragists had only the eight months of California spring and summer before election day and faced an array of anti-suffrage interests that together were simply called the "anti's" in the press.
A sizable number of men (AND women) were social conservatives who thought voting was unladylike; the loudest voice in this faction was state Senator J. B. Sanford (D-Ukiah), who was also editor and publisher of the Ukiah Dispatch-Democrat. There Sanford penned several editorials insisting women would lose rights and privileges if they could vote. A sample passage: "The men are able to run the government and take care of the women...as long as woman is woman and keeps her place she will get more protection and more consideration than man gets." Sometimes Santa Rosa's own Frances McG. Martin would write her own op-ed for sympathetic newspapers, poking fun and/or slinging scorn over some of his more nitwit remarks. In an exchange transcribed below, Sanford sank to open fear-mongering: "Mr. Voter: How would you like to come home some evening and find the children dirty and hungry; no supper for you and 'wifey' locked up in a jury room with eleven men? This is what woman suffrage means." Martin deftly countered that suffrage had nothing to do with women serving on juries, as the legislature would have to pass a new law because juries were restricted to being property-owning men. And also, she asked (with appropriate snarkasm), why did he always presume there would be just ONE woman on the jury?
The other flank of the anti's was the liquor industry, which feared suffrage would inevitably lead to passage of prohibition laws. Better funded and well organized, they represented national, state, and local interests - everyone from brewery owners to saloon barkeeps to members of the Beer Wagon Drivers' Union - whom had already joined together to form a coalition called the "Associated Industries of California" (wonderful generic name, that). Their original objective was to block or modify passage of a proposed state law which would allow communities "to regulate or prohibit retail liquor business," and that usually boiled down to a town voting on whether it would go "dry." Their man in the state legislature was Senator Louis Juilliard (D-Santa Rosa) who tried to amend the bill so that votes would be only cast by entire counties, which would have probably ensured prohibition would not have passed anywhere in the state. His efforts failed and in April, the Local Option Law (AKA "The Wyllie Act") passed. After that, the focus was entirely on defeating the suffrage amendment, bringing in East Coast celebrity speakers and cranking out reams and reams of leaflets, including reprints of Senator Sanford's editorial bile.
The various anti's offered a spirited opposition, but at least there was never violence; no beer baron hired thugs to crack suffragist heads and cops didn't brutally attack women demonstrators at rallies, as happened in London just a few months earlier during the Black Friday police riot. Instead, the greatest adversary the suffragists faced was simple indifference. The public apparently didn't want to argue with suffragists that women should not have voting rights - they instead shrugged and politely demurred. Even progressive hero Teddy Roosevelt said he thought there were more important things to worry about, and populist Governor Hiram Johnson offered tepid support. In Santa Rosa to make a speech less than a week before the special election, he encouraged voters to support other amendments to the state constitution, but newspaper accounts do not mention any remarks at all made about the suffrage amendment. And if progressives with keen minds like Roosevelt and Johnson didn't get that there was something fundamentally wrong with half the adult population being forbidden to vote, what were the odds that Mr. Archie Average - a Santa Rosa family man who gleaned his political information via bull sessions at one of the town's thirty downtown saloons - had a good handle on this civil rights issue?
But here's the thing: After reading everything I could find on this 1911 suffrage campaign - including the book written by the participants and an excellent 1974 thesis by Donald Waller Rodes which pops up quite often in histories of women's rights in America - it seemed puzzling that the anti's managed to gain as much traction as they did. Were their supporters paralyzed by fear of temperance laws that might follow? Sure, many were. Did a number of male voters believe women were just hormonally incapable of handling full citizenship? Undoubtedly. There were other subtle and complex reasons why some might have opposed suffrage, however.
Mr. Average - and maybe Mrs. Average as well - also might well have resented the suffragists for trying to inculcate themselves as spokespersons for all women. In his classic book on the California progressives, George Mowry wrote that the progressive movement here was mainly driven by a small crowd of college-educated, middle-aged WASP professionals - the "fortunate sons of the upper-middle class." If so, the suffragists were mostly their sisters and wives. In their own report on the 1911 campaign, a whiff of condescending noblesse oblige emerges from many pages. Here again is Louise Herrick Wall, writing this time of a visit by the Blue Liner crew to the workers at the Navy Yard on Mare Island:
|...They crowded in closer, they lifted their faces up to us, listening, with the look on theirs that a child turns to its mother, of confidence and the will to believe. On the lips of a street lad the cigarette died out and hung, and on every face the smile faded. One should speak as a God to speak on the street, or as one knowing good and evil. It must have been so when words first came to interpret between man and man. Street-speaking is unspeakably difficult, an anguish of misunderstanding beforehand, and an anguish of understanding while it lasts and afterwards a strange, humbling revelation of the simple sincerity of men.
When, at last, each one in turn had spoken, and the Blue Liner drew out, leaving the crowd half-tottering, for it seemed to have built itself up on all sides around the car, we said to each other in hushed voices: "Isn't it wonderful how they took it? They seemed to understand."
And then there was the problem that many men still clutched to their sentimental hearts the Victorian notion of a social contract - that women were decidedly the weaker sex and men MUST be entrusted to protect them and decide what was in their best interests. As mentioned previously, the suffragists cited the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to put the lie to that, but it's hard to comprehend today how deeply this paternalistic fantasy was ingrained in American culture. Consider the "eight hour for women" law, for example.
Just months after the suffrage amendment was placed on the ballot, California limited women to no more than eight hours of work a day or 48 hours a week. The law also required "suitable seats" when women were not "engaged in the active duties" of their job. Sponsors in the state legislature vowed it was a "concession to womanhood over the dollar and as a protection to the mothers of future generations."
As the bill awaited the governor's signature, it came out that it wasn't quite as beneficial to women as it seemed. There was an exemption for "harvesting, curing, canning, or drying" any fruit or vegetable, which was the hardest work performed by women in California; the Press Democrat noted, "Sonoma county representatives and other members from the great fruit handling sections of the state where only a few months' work is given, had fruit packing and canning eliminated from the bill." Other newspapers at the time remarked there was also a loophole - employers couldn't require women to work additional hours, but the boss could still suggest workers might like to volunteer to stay at their jobs a few hours longer. Made aware of these and other problems, Governor Hiram Johnson called for an unusual public hearing before he would decide whether to sign it into law. Women telegraph operators testified the law meant they would be replaced by men, who had no restrictions on how many hours they could work. Governor Johnson said that he wished the law wasn't so inflexible, but he would sign it anyway, because the bill written by the all-male legislature was so darn important to protect women.
(RIGHT: Illustration that appeared in the Press Democrat and many other pro-suffrage newspapers. Note the feminine cuff above the wrist)
By the time election day dawned on October 10 - an odd date for an election, even then - Sonoma County and the entire Bay Area had been blanketed with banners, posters, leaflets and postcards from the suffragists and the anti's (the suffragists even glued posters to the duck blinds that dotted the shoreline around San Francisco Bay). Mr. Voter faced an imposing ballot of 22 proposed state constitutional amendments, concerning everything from standardization of weights and measures to a sort of "Prop 13" property tax cap for veterans to judicial reforms allowing the impeachment of judges. The suffrage amendment was the only item on the ballot that sought to rectify a problem which was not a tangible thing, which additionally might have worked against it.
Turnout for the special election was light, with only about one in three registered voters casting a ballot statewide. In the 72 nail-biting hours it took to finalize the count, suffrage appeared to be a toss-up. The San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner reported it was defeated and the SF Call claimed victory; likewise the Santa Rosa Republican headline said it probably failed and the Press Democrat predicted it would win.
In the final tally it won in Santa Rosa by only thirty votes out of nearly a thousand cast; it was defeated in Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and Healdsburg. Suffrage passed in the county overall by four percent. San Francisco, Alameda, and Marin Counties all opposed giving women the right to vote.
In the official state total, women's suffrage squeaked by with a mere two percent margin of victory.
Predictably, the anti's carped about the measure passing. There were noises about a Sonoma County recount, but nothing came of it. Senator Sanford put his unique spin on the results, making it sound as if men had foolishly decided to force women to vote against their will: "The ballot on Equal Suffrage was not a fight between the men and women, but was rather a fight between the women, and the men were called in to decide the matter...it seemed that a majority of women did not wish to assume the extra duty, but the men have said, 'Ladies, you must vote.'" Still, he encouraged the women of Ukiah to register "...and thus offset the evil that might arise from giving the ballot to some women in the large cities."
Sanford also couldn't resist throwing one final misogynist bomb: "[Women] will have to go to the county clerk's office and submit to many formalities, among which will be to give their visible marks and scars, age and previous condition of servitude, all of which will be open to inspection."
(RIGHT: This April, 1912 advertisement ran in the Santa Rosa Republican a few days before the first local elections where women could vote, one of several display ads that month with a similar voting theme)
Some confusion arose in the following weeks. Technically the amendment didn't become law until 90 days after the election, but women were already lining up to register in some places; county clerks added women registrars to help. The language on the official state voter registration form still read "male" and it was unclear if registrations would be valid. It was uncertain whether or not women would have to pay the poll tax to vote, as that part of the election law also named only males; it was quickly decided that women were exempt unless voters passed another amendment to change the language.
The first woman to register in Sonoma County on Jan. 2, 1912 was Mrs. Jennie Colvin, a milestone little noticed by either Santa Rosa paper.
There was much interest in the local elections that April, when women would vote for the first time and about twenty California towns had ballot items to decide if their community would go "dry." Locally, Cloverdale held a series of spirited public meetings; at the weekend rally before the vote, Andrea Sbarboro (male), the founder of the Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, made a rare public appearance to speak against the proposal. In the end the township of Cloverdale voted for leaders who promised to clean up the saloons - particularly gambling and serving liquor to minors - but rejected outright prohibition by an almost 2:1 majority. Overall, about half of the towns voting on alcohol went dry; in the Bay Area, only Los Gatos and Mountain View closed their saloons. "FEMALE OF SPECIES AS THIRSTY AS THE MALE," quipped the Santa Rosa Republican headline.
But suffrage did not equality make. It would still be a decade in Sonoma County before women were seated on a Superior Court jury, for example. And although Senator Sanford tried to frighten men in 1911 with the image of a helpless mother sequestered late at night with eleven leering men, there were five women jurors on that trial in 1922. Turns out they didn't need Sanford's protection at all. Never did.
PROMINENT PEOPLE ESPOUSE CAUSE OF EQUAL SUFFRAGEWomen Speak from an Auto to Large CrowdsFrancis R. Wall, a prominent San Francisco attorney and speaker; Mrs' Louise Wall, a cultured woman and forceful speaker; Miss Elizabeth Baker, elocutionist, Miss Ruth Parkhurst, who sings and dances very prettily, and who is a grand daughter of John Swett one of the best known and prominent pioneer educators of the state and Mrs. Frank B. Patterson, compose a party of distinguished members of the College Political Equality League, who arrived here yesterday to espouse the cause of Equal Suffrage, which is one of the Constitutional amendments to be voted upon at the October election. They are here and elsewhere in a campaign getting votes for Constitutional Amendment No. 8, which proposes to extend the right to vote to the women of California just for the love of the work. They have selected Santa Rosa at this time on account of the thousands of men and women who are gathered here for the celebration.
The headquarters of the College Political League in Santa Rosa are in the large room in the Odd Fellows' building at Third street and Exchange avenue, and there last night the first meeting was held at which Attorney Wall and Mrs. Wall spoke; Mrs. Baker recited and Miss Parkhurst sang and danced.
The headquarters are attractively decorated, special attention being given to a display of the banner designed by Miss Bertha Boyd. A large crowd of people were attracted to the headquarters.
Speak from Automobile
The meetings at the headquarters were followed by street meetings at which Mrs. Wall spoke. It was something of a novelty here to hear a talented woman speaking in the open air. Mrs. Wall spoke from Mr. Wall's handsome big touring car and Mrs. Frances McG. Martin and Mrs. Patterson were heard on their presentation of the subject of suffrage by large crowds.
More meetings will be held today at the headquarters and there will be more addresses from the automobile.
Mrs. Patterson drove here in her big "Blue Liner" touring car, the car in which she made the campaign in Washington state.
- Press Democrat, September 8, 1911
Vote Against Woman's SuffrageBecause man is man and woman is woman. Nature has made their duties and functions different and no Constitutional Amendment can make them the same.
Because the basis of government is force. Its stability rests on its physical power to enforce its laws; therefore it is expedient to give the vote to women. Immunity from service in executing the law would make women irresponsible voters.
Because the suffrage is not a question of right or of justice but of expediency, and if there is no question of right or of justice, there is no cause for woman suffrage.
Because it is a demand of a minority of women and the majority of women protest against it.
WOULD YOU STAND FOR IT?
Mr. Voter: How would you like to come home some evening and find the children dirty and hungry; no supper for you and 'wifey' locked up in a jury room with eleven men? This is what woman suffrage means.
An attempt to confer upon woman those duties and responsibilities that are distinctly for men will blunt the finer sensibilities of woman and cheapen her in the eyes of men and will bring to the front a political type of women whose conduct and characteristics are repellant to those who cherish conservative and reverent ideals of womanhood.
DOULBING THE VOTE [sic]
Every hobo and bum has his mate. Woman suffrage means simply doubling this illiterate and irresponsible vote. The result of the elections in the big cities of Colorado prove this. Here the immoral women are forced to vote and their votes are controlled by the police force and the party in power. The home loving modest women do not crowd into the throng and vote as a rule.
MAN REPRESENTS WOMAN
Women are represented at the ballot box by fathers, brothers, husbands and sons and they are content to be represented by them in the corn field and on the battle field and in turn they represent the men in the school room, at the fireside and at the cradle.
As long as woman is woman and keeps her place she will get more consideration and protection than man gets. She will have more influence in the home without the ballot than she than she will out of the home with it. When she abdicates her throne she throws down the scepter of her power and loses her influence.
WOMAN SUFFRAGE MEANS MORE DIVORCES
Woman suffrage has had a demoralizing effect in Colorado and Utah. The sanctity of the home has been invaded by every little candidate that was running up and down the highway for office. The home was neglected. Divorces have increased 37½ percent and the number of juvenile offenders and the number of young girls gone wrong has increased at an alarming ratio. The court records show that 60 percent of the divorces granted were on the ground that the wife had failed to properly take care of the children and had been gadding the streets "doing politics". Do the people of California want to hold up Colorado and Mormon Utah as the shining example to follow?
WOMAN AND TAXES
The thread worn argument that women pay taxes and should vote. It is the property that is taxed and not the individual. A minor may have property in several different counties, but he votes in only one. No one is mistreating the women of the country. They have more rights now than men have.
Woman suffrage carries with it that power that makes it irrevocable. As it has had a demoralizing effect on Colorado and Mormon Utah, can California afford to take chances on an experiment that is so fraught with danger?
A few misguided but well meaning people, in an effort to correct some political evils, want to pull woman down from her exalted position and throw her into the dirty pool of politics along with man, not realizing that by so doing they will not cleanse the pool but will leave a great deal of dirt on fair woman.
The home loving, patriotic men of the country who love, cherish, protect and honor woman should go to the polls Oct. 10th and defeat this political hysteria that is sweeping over the country. That is the greatest service they can do their country.
- Ukiah Dispatch-Democrat editorial, October 6, 1911
SENATOR STANFORD'S SILLY SCAREEditor REPUBLICAN: On the front page of Senator Sanford's circular being so widely circulated by the anti-suffragists appears the following:
"Mr. Voter: How would you like to come home some evening and find the children dirty and hungry; no supper for you and 'wifey' locked up in a jury room with eleven men? This is what woman suffrage means."
Why always have ONE woman on the suppositious juries?
[...Martin explains state law allowed only property-owning men could serve on juries...]
The circular referred to herein is made up of extracts from the speech of Senator Sanford against women suffrage in the California Senate at the last session of the legislature. His logic and eloquence must have failed ignominiously on that occasion, since but four senators in addition to himself voted against Senate Amendment No. 8, fourth on the ballot next Tuesday. I think the consideration accorded him by the intelligent members of the Senate, representing the great majority of the people of California, is a fair example of the weight his warmed-over, rehashed speech will carry with the men of California at large.
Another threat made to women is, "If you vote, you must pay poll tax." If it becomes the law that women must pay poll tax, rest assured it will be paid; but the constitution will first have to be amended...
...A short time ago, in a talk with Hon. Rolfe L. Thompson, our governor, Hiram W. Johnson, said: "Formerly I was passively against woman suffrage, but now I am actively in favor of it."
If politics is a "dirty pool" as alleged by anti-suffragists and has been bad for men and women should be refused the ballot on that account, then we must conclude that it was a great mistake in the first place to give the ballot to men and it should be taken from them as soon as possible.
Our very efficient county assessor says women own at least one-fourth of the taxable property in this county at the present time, or about ten million dollars worth of property taxed for governmental purposes; is it just to tax these women without representation?
Hon. John D. Connolly, in his admirable address at the Columbia theater last night , said that after eleven years spent in New Zealand, as consul at Auckland, and close observation of the practical workings of woman's suffrage there, he is unqualifiedly in favor of giving the ballot to the women of California. New Zealand has an area of 105,000 square miles, almost as great as both Great Britain and Ireland, and has about one million inhabitants, the city of Auckland alone having a population of 89,577 by the last census. Mr. Connolly say there are fewer divorces each year in the whole of New Zealand than in Sonoma county for the same length of time. So much for the disruption of homes foretold by the "anti's," if women have the right to vote.
Voters of Sonoma county, in the name of right and justice, stamp a cross in the space at the right of "yes" following Senate Amendment No. 8 on the ballot.
FRANCES McG. MARTIN.
President Santa Rosa Political Equality Club
- Press Democrat, October 6, 1911
CANVASS OF THE VOTESAnti's Expect to Try to Beat MeasureAttorney Rolfe L. Thompson received a telephone message from San Francisco, and also a telegram, stating that the anti-suffragists are going to make a determined effort to beat the woman's suffrage movement by hook or crook when it comes to the official canvass of the vote by the Board of Supervisor and advised the local committee to have a watcher present during the canvass of the votes. The telegram gave the name of a man and description of him, which it was stated had been sent to the county for the purpose of defeating the measure. The local supporters of the eighth Senate constitutional amendment will have the count here watched by one of their number as a precautionary measure, though they state they have perfect confidence in our Board of Supervisors and are confident the precaution is not necessary. The official canvass of the election returns by the Board of Supervisors will begin next Monday at the supervisors' chambers in the court house.
- Santa Rosa Republican, October 13, 1911
It was good news, bad news for California women in 1911: There would finally be a vote on changing the state constitution so they would no longer be second-class citizens. The bad news was that the suffrage movement had eight months to convince male voters that allowing women these basic rights was not a radical thing. It would be an uphill battle all the way; only three other states had given women full suffrage, and those were in much smaller states and their campaigns had been ramping up for years. In 1911 broadcast media did not yet exist and state roads were still little more than unpaved wagon trails, so simply reaching voters would be an accomplishment itself. And opposing them was a well-funded, national coalition of social conservatives, the liquor industry - which feared women would vote in prohibition - and old-timers (male and female alike) who plainly didn't like uppity women.
Not since the Civil War had California been so divided on an issue. Some newspapers remained neutral, but they were few; it was more about how strongly the paper was "for" or "anti." The most supportive daily was the San Francisco Call and the most hostile was the Los Angeles Times. Within their pages, war raged daily.
Two of the most prominent fighters were in the North Bay. In Santa Rosa was Frances McG. Martin, a lawyer who countered anti-suffrage letters and editorials with crushing rebuttals. (In her 19th century history, Gaye LeBaron has quite a nice profile of Frances and her two equally remarkable sisters, one a pharmacist and the other a physician - their maiden name was "McGaughey" and it was never explained why all three abbreviated it to "McG."). in the other corner was state Senator John Bunyan Sanford (D-Ukiah), who said he held women in such high regard that they should not be allowed to enjoy the same rights he had - and damn them for even asking: "I have a new definition for a suffragette," he quoted from a letter on the Senate floor, "a suffragette is a woman who wants to raise hell, but no children."
California suffrage had already failed to pass in 1896, and Senator Sanford tried everything he could to keep it off the ballot in 1911. He proposed there should first be a special election where only women could vote on whether they wanted the right to vote, and only if that passed would the legislature consider an amendment. Such a pre-vote had taken place in Massachusetts, and amazingly, women there voted 3 to 1 against placing suffrage on the ballot. Sanford's proposal failed to pass, although he brought in witnesses to testify that women didn't really want to vote and suffrage would end up denying them of privileges "written and unwritten."
When it finally passed the California legislature, "Constitutional Amendment No. 8" did not mention women at all. It only stated "every native citizen of the United States" who was over 21 and a citizen could vote. It specified instead who could not cast a ballot: "No native of China, no idiot, no insane person, no person convicted of any infamous crime, no person hereafter convicted of the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money, and no person who shall not be able to read the Constitution in the English language and write his or her name." That pesky "educational qualification" didn't apply to current voters, of course, or anyone with some physical disability that kept him from being able to write or read, or anyone sixty years or older. With that established, the race to the voting booth was on.
To the dismay of suffragists, former president Teddy Roosevelt didn't help, giving a speech a month later at the UC/Berkeley Greek Theater where he remarked, "Personally I'm very tepidly in favor of woman suffrage, but it seems to me it is infinitely less important than innumerable other questions which are worthy of our thought and effort." This was a painful reminder to the public about the hissing flapdoodle a few months earlier, when President Taft told a convention of suffragists it could be dangerous to allow women to vote and then dressed down the audience when someone hissed at the condescending remark.
The legislature's approval caught the suffrage movement by some surprise. Fortunately, in the dormant previous five years, Mabel Craft Deering, a prolific writer whose articles appeared in some of the best magazines of the day, had taken on the work of being State Press Correspondent - we might call her the "PR director" today. She sent a query letter to all 700 newspapers in the state asking if they would be interested in receiving regular updates concerning "suffrage matter." Most were agreeable, and soon there were little items in the papers about women happily voting in Colorado and cheering that Norway had embraced gender equality. (Deering's history of the movement is quite interesting, but seems to be mostly overlooked by researchers.)
Once the special election was approved by the legislature, Deering quickly appointed a press manager in every county to pepper the editors with local news as well as reporting back to her about local coverage. (There was only a single county where she could not claim a foothold - she identified it only as "a very remote, sparsely populated mountain county" - but in the end it voted for suffrage, anyway.) Deering mentioned specifically seven women she relied upon, including Frances Martin. But at the top of Deering's list of effective county chairmen was Sarah Latimer Finley, whose son, Ernest, happened to be editor and publisher of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Ernest Finley seemed an unlikely champion of women's rights. As discussed here earlier, he was virulently opposed to the progressive movement of the day, using the PD to denounce those who wanted reforms in Santa Rosa as agitators stirring up "hard feelings" in town using "cowardly and un-American" tactics." Now, the paper was praising those same progressives because they were speaking out for suffrage. Finley had attacked civic groups seeking to rid the town of its underground economy based on gambling and prostitution, charging they were secretly prohibitionists who wanted to turn the county "dry." Now, he was aligned with a cause strongly supported the temperance movement. But whether Ernest Finley was stirred by filial devotion or a sudden bout of ethics, Mrs. Finley's suffrage columns were featured in the PD, and pro-suffrage letters began appearing regularly in both Santa Rosa papers; a typical example is excerpted below, written by William Keith, a Berkeley landscape architect and husband of a veteran leader of the movement.
Also in Deering's campaign arsenal was the "Blue Liner," a seven-seat touring car that rattled over the pre-highway roads in Northern California for the six months prior to the vote, bringing the suffrage message to every town and every gathering they could find. And instead of trying to badger men into supporting the cause by appealing to better nature and higher principles, the troupe that arrived in the big auto sought "to conquer prejudice with laughter," according to Louise Herrick Wall, (who also penned a memorable first-hand description of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, by the way):
|A mock debate, parody songs and a suffrage monologue made up the program. For the debate we put up a man of straw, as an anti-suffrage advocate. He discoursed, in throaty tones, on the horrors of the woman movement--a movement that would destroy society so completely that all that would be left would be an effigy in some National Museum of History of a Home, done in wax, representing "a father, a mother and rosy, healthy, happy children of some perfectly definite sex."|
To the dismay of Wall and the others, they found a portion of the audiences were so anti-suffrage that their satirical arguments against women's rights were applauded and not considered absurd at all. "From that hour the Blue Liner was dedicated to 'straight talk,'" she wrote.
(RIGHT: "Girls wanted" drawing by Henry Glintenkamp of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory ruins. Image courtesy Library of Congress)
And while it's horrible to contemplate, it has to be recognized that the California suffrage campaign received a boost from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which occurred in New York City just as the Deering's publicity machine was shifting to higher gears. There were 146 young women killed in that sweatshop tragedy, most of them teenagers, working in a ten story firetrap when a careless cigarette ignited a pile of cuttings; in the fast-moving fire they found themselves trapped with doors locked (to prevent pilfering) and other exits useless because the doors only opened inward. Many jumped to their deaths.
Details of the Triangle fire unrolled in newspapers nationwide over the course of several days like a serialized horror story. It was reported instead of jumping, some were pushed out of the windows by the press of panicked women behind them; dismembered bodies were found closest to the exit doors; 50 people crowded into the single working elevator meant to carry no more than a dozen. Most terrible of all was the account of a a United Press reporter who happened to be on the scene: "I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound--a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk." And that is one of the least nightmarish passages in his report. Not everything that appeared in print was true, but you can bet every new horrific detail was being chewed over in every saloon, every fraternal clubroom, every parlor.
The Triangle fire was the antidote to claims by obstructionists such as Senator Sanford. It was hard to still argue "men could be counted upon to protect women" when even the weak safety laws weren't being enforced. It also put the public's focus on working women which helped dispel the sentimental, lace-bordered fantasy of every woman (well, every good woman) being a domestic goddess and mother; women also worked hard jobs and sometimes died in the workplace - in the fire the Maltese family, for example, lost their mother and two daughters, including a 14 year-old. And finally, it deflected attention from the concern that once suffrage passed, women would likely vote for prohibition laws.
Newspapers reflected the public's outrage mostly through editorial cartoons, but the angriest - and most eloquent - op/ed to be found anywhere appeared in the Press Democrat (and apparently, only in the PD). Most often identifying the victims as girls, the writer bitterly remarked, "this is a free country, and it has women to burn." If the impoverished young women didn't want to work in dangerous conditions they could quit like any other worker, because under the law, "all are equal." The editorial was unsigned, but dripped with the irony that flowed from the righteous pen of one Frances McG. Martin.
"PLENTY OF WOMEN"The frightful catastrophe in New York less than two weeks ago was even more frightful than was told by the telegraphic news. The most outrageous feature, as told by the New York papers, was that of the causes of the tragedy wherein 150 women and girls were roasted to death or smothered in smoke, or dashed to pieces on the pavement. The sacrifice was caused by oppression, greed and tyranny-- by inadequate laws for protection of the poor; by rich men's defiance of the law and by compliance of weak officials when rich men deemed it inexpedient to observe the law.
That towering building, ten stories tall and crowded with 2,000 working women, had previously been on fire six times within twelve months. Each fire was a warning and a prophecy of the terrible disaster that was to come.
That is not the full measure of the of the iniquity. To make sure that none of these girls could steal a yard of cloth [illegible microfilm] the Triangle Shirtwaist Company locked them behind an iron-barred door at the foot of a narrow stairway, and each evening when their work was done the company had them subjected to personal search--such search as policemen subject a sneak-thief to when they take him to jail. This door opened inward when opened at all and could not be opened when the door keeper fled with the key. When the lock was broken the door could not be opened because of the pile of dead bodies that weighed against it--about 80 girls piled on top one another.
When the girls went on strike because of the closed doors and the lack of sanitary appliances and the lack of fire escapes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company's directors did not miss a meal. They calmly waited for starvation to drive the girls back again. They broke the strike, and the girls, driven by poverty and hunger, went back to work, those of them who could get back. Those who could not get back, went on the streets or went to work in other places probably equally dangerous. Fire Chief Croker say there are scores of them in New York City. Not many weeks ago twenty girls went to death in the same way in the same sort of building in New Jersey. The girls had their choice. They could either go to work in such places, or they could starve, or they could go on the streets.
This is a free country, and it has women to burn. There is the brutal essence of the industrial condition that "protect" a factory-owner's profits with a benevolent tariff, but deny protection to the lives of young women who toil and moil to earn their bread, and to make dividends for the mill-owners. Most of the girls in those factories work for starvation wages. Some of them who were killed in New York were earning only $3.50 a week, and only 22 among 2,000 wer earning as much as $18 a week apiece.
Hood's "Song of the Shirt" fits New York as well today as it fitted London when it was written:
"O, men with sisters, dear!
O, men with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out,
But human creatures' lives."
Apostle of things as they are tell us that laws are made for rich and poor alike. Of course they are! The law forbids the rich as well as the poor, to steal milk from doorsteps, to beg in the streets, or to sleep in box-cars. This is a free country, and if girls object to working in ten-story firetraps for $3.50 a week, the law, before which all are equal, allows them the privilege of "quitting the job."
- Press Democrat editorial, April 7, 1911
LARGE CROWD ATTENDS THE SUFFRAGE MEETINGAt the meeting of the Woman's Suffrage League, held Saturday in Judge Emmet Seawell's court room, there was a large attendance of the ladies interested in the movement. Attorney F. McG. Martin made a splendid opening address and resided at the meeting. In her address she took up the suffrage movement point by point and explained them. Rev. C. Augustus Turner, formerly of New Zealand, made the principal address of the afternoon and gave his audience a talented presentation of the question.
- Santa Rosa Republican, April 21, 1911
VOTES FOR WOMENSanta Rosa, Cal., May 26, 1911
Editor REPUBLICAN: The women of California decidedly object to being called "suffragettes," a name that was first applied to the women of Great Britain, when they felt that they must actually fight to win the vote. Our women feel that no such procedure is necessary for, nor would it be becoming to, the women of America. They feel that the justice of their cause should appeal to every man who has mother, wife, sister or sweetheart, and that no coercion will be necessary to induce the men to roll up an overwhelming majority for women suffrage next October...
...A great many say, "But the women will not vote, if they should be given the right." The best women will vote, however, for when a duty is imposed upon a good woman, she never shirks her responsibility. On an average, about twenty per cent of the men do not vote, but is that any argument for disfranchising all men?
Count me on the right side of the woman suffrage question. - William Keith.
- Santa Rosa Republican, May 27, 1911
SUFFRAGE AND THE NEWSPAPER
Mrs. Mabel Craft Deering, State Chairman, and Mrs. W. A. Finley, County Press Chairman
Mrs. Mabel Craft Deering, who as Mabel Craft was widely known as one of California's brightest writers, has been chosen State Press Correspondent of the Woman's Suffrage movement. Mrs. Deering has returned to California and is now in San Francisco, where she will take active interest in the coming campaign. Attorney Frances McG. Martin, President of the Santa Rosa Political Equality Association, has received word from Mrs. Deering regarding her acceptance of the appointment as State Press Correspondent.
Mrs. W. A. Finley of this city has been asked to act as County Press Chairman and has accepted the position.
- Press Democrat, June 21, 1911
Jack London was a pretty busy fellow in early 1911, what with his leading the revolution in Mexico and all.
That February, newspaper readers around the country learned the famous novelist and outspoken socialist was fighting to overthrow the Mexican government. "JACK LONDON LEADS ARMY OF MEXICAN REBELS," a headline in the San Francisco Post proclaimed. "Jack London Reported at Head of Mexican Insurrecto Band," the Los Angeles Times declared and London was the "first of hundreds of American socialists to assist the rebels," readers of the Des Moines News were told. "Jack London, the novelist, has invaded Mexico and is spreading death and destruction and hell and smoke with his trusty pencil," reported the Dallas Times-Herald. London was also said to have been arrested and being held in a border town (Washington Post) and was wounded in combat (San Francisco Call).
Not a bit of that was true, but a Mexican-American labor activist from Los Angeles named Simon Berthold and about sixteen other gringos, joined by a couple of dozen Mexican insurrectos and all only armed with a few old rifles and revolvers, had indeed captured the border town of Mexicali while firing only a single shot. This surprising victory in their quixotic campaign drew scores of Americans to join their ranks in the following days.
The virulently anti-labor LA Times - which relished calling union members "anarchic scum" and worse - was quick to exaggerate the importance of Mexicali. According to the paper it wasn't about the Mexican Civil War at all, but was really a stalking horse by U.S. radicals plotting to turn Baja California into an independent socialist republic on America's doorstep. "BANDITS SACK MEXICALI," was the first Times headline, then later, "HOBOS AND CRIMINALS FLOCK TO STANDARD OF 'INSURGENTS.'" The latter article called the rebels a "chicken thief band...most of the revolutionists are either Mexican criminals or mongrel Americans who have good reasons for not risking their presence again on American soil."
It was that article that inspired Jack London to pen a short letter "To the dear, brave comrades of the Mexican Revolution:"
|We Socialists, anarchists, hobos, chicken thieves, outlaws, and undesirable citizens of the United States are with you heart and soul. You will notice that we are not respectable. Neither are you. No revolutionary can possibly be respectable in these days of the reign of property. All the names you are being called, we have been called. And when graft and greed get up and begin to call names, honest men, brave men, patriotic men and martyrs can expect nothing else than to be called chicken thieves and outlaws. So be it. But I for one wish there were more chicken thieves and outlaws of the sort that formed that gallant band that took Mexicali. I subscribe myself a chicken thief and revolutionist.|
The letter was read at the regular Saturday night meeting at the Los Angeles Labor Temple in support of the revolutionaries. Two days later, the first stories appeared about London being a combatant.
As with the previous item about a juvenile delinquent supposedly being sentenced to live and study with Luther Burbank, it fell to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat to debunk the story by simply knocking on a door and asking if it were true. No, London said, he had not been fighting or wounded or arrested in Mexico - but he thought "Jack London" might be the culprit. Our Glen Ellen novelist, it seemed, had a doppelganger.
For years, London told the PD, he had heard about a lookalike passing himself off as the famed author, tricking fans into hosting the impostor to free meals, lodging, and who knows what else. "I lost track of him last fall," London said. "I presume he has gone on down into Mexico for excitement and gotten into trouble and is using my name to assist him to get free."
It was actually worse than that; widow Charmian London later wrote he was plagued by a legion of ersatz Jacks:
|...Still others led girls astray, and many the piteous letters, addressed to places where Jack had never set foot, or when the pair of us were on the other side of the world, begging restitution for anything from stolen virtue to diamonds. Jack tried to get in touch with these floating impersonators, promising safe departure if they would only come to the Ranch and entertain him with their methods. But even when his letters never returned, there were no replies. While we were honeymooning in Cuba, according to one side of a correspondence that came into Jack's possession, a spurious J. L. was carrying on an affair with a mother of several children in Sacramento, California.|
The evildoing identical twin is a familiar theme in bad fiction, of course, and it's to London's credit he never once used that plot device, despite being somewhat an expert on the subject.
More about Jack London's 1911 adventures in a following post.
LONDON READS OF MEXICAN ARREST WITH AMUSEMENTAuthor at Home in Glen Ellen While Double SuffersThe telegraphic accounts of the wounding and arrest of Jack London, the novelist, a well-known resident of Glen Ellen, came as a great surprise to many of his friends in Sonoma county. Even Mr. London himself was greatly surprised, as he was at home on his ranch near Glen Ellen, when the news reached him Sunday.
London returned from an extended visit in Los Angeles a week or ten days ago, and after spending a week in Oakland and San Francisco returned to the ranch in Sonoma county Saturday evening. Great was his surprise on reading the papers Sunday morning to see the article relating to his having been injured and arrested charged with violation of the Mexican neutrality laws while the United States District Attorney and United States Marshal at Los Angeles had gone to investigate the case.
Mr. London denied to a Press Democrat representative Monday night that he had been in Mexico, or desired to [illegible microfilm] said London. "I have been in Oakland and San Francisco for several days and returned home to the ranch Saturday night. I was naturally interested and amused by the press dispatches Sunday.
"The report is due to a double I have. I first discovered the fact several years ago when through correspondence and press clippings I located the man in Tennessee. This man has represented himself as Jack London and I have letters from people who had entertained him for a week believing he was the author. By the letters of people interested and newspaper clippings received from time to time I have been able to trace his movements.
"After leaving Tennessee he went to Arkansas, thence to Oklahoma, Indian Territory and finally to Arizona, where I lost track of him last fall. I presume he has gone on down into Mexico for excitement and gotten into trouble and is using my name to assist him to get free."
Conductor George E. Andrews of the Southern Pacific local between Vallejo and Santa Rosa recalled having had London as a passenger Saturday night and Arthur Luc who came up on the train from Sonoma recognized him as a fellow passenger.
Mr. London is now engaged in a series of short stories for the Cosmopolitan and working his ranch. He is setting out 30,000 young eucalyptus trees on the ranch as a part of his plan to reforest a large section of his holdings.
- Press Democrat, February 21, 1911
A judge in 1911 sentenced a juvenile delinquent to live and study with Luther Burbank. Amazing? Yes. True? No, but it was such a cracking good yarn that newspapers nationwide published the story (often on the front page) even after it was revealed to be untrue.
The item first appeared on March 22 in the Press Democrat and San Francisco Call (it was probably also in many others around the state, but only a very small percentage of historical newspapers are available online). Datelined the day before from Los Angeles, it reported that Burbank had invited Donald Miller, a 15-year-old in trouble for "truancy," to live with him indefinitely and study botany. Judge Wilbur of the Los Angeles juvenile court was quoted as saying it was the best possible sentence that could be imposed on the boy.
The next day the PD asked Burbank if the story was true and if the young man would be the "subject of a series of experiments at Burbank's hands, in order to cure him of his tendency to run away from school." Burbank replied, "I am not conducting a conservatory for bad boys...I have not undertaken and will not undertake any experiments upon him or upon any other boy. I am engaged in rearing plants, not children."
"The whole story is just somebody's yarn," said Burbank, explaining that he knew the boy's grandfather many years ago. "So when I was asked if I would either give him employment or find him work with some one else, I said I would do it."
Thus within 24 hours, the tale was firmly debunked; Burbank had simply written that he was willing to help find work for a relative of old family friends, and either Judge Curtis D. Wilbur or other officers of the Los Angeles juvenile court misunderstood Burbank's letter. And the idea wasn't completely far fetched; while Burbank would never have offered to take the boy under his wing as an apprentice, he certainly did employ teenagers. In a 1967 TV documentary, Hilliard Comstock described working for Burbank shortly after his family arrived in Santa Rosa (skip forward to 13:35).
The same day Burbank's denial was in the Press Democrat, an enhanced version of the original story began appearing in papers around the country. Donald Miller was no longer to be simply living and studying with Burbank; now the boy was being granted "a golden opportunity to become famous by becoming a specimen for Luther Burbank," as if he were about to step into the magical world of Willy Wonka:
|...After a mass of evidence had shown the boy to be confirmed as a truant, a letter from Mr. Burbank was read. The plant wizard, according to the letter, believes that he can cure the boy of truancy....Mr. Burbank did not detail the method of treatment that he will use, but it is understood that the boy will be given sunshine, a reasonable amount of work, several hours play a day, a course in botany--and at least an hour's walk through the wonderful garden of Santa Rosa.|
Those additional made-up details were mostly drawn from Burbank's popular 1906 essay, "The Training of the Human Plant," which offered a variety of sensible child-rearing tips (as well as squirm-worthy sections about "mingling of the races" and "marriage of the physically unfit" which made it popular with the eugenics crowd). It was a safe bet to speculate Burbank would follow his own advice, of course, so aside from adding the detail about Burbank supposedly writing he could "cure" the boy, this version doesn't really stray very far from the original goofed-up report.
Both versions came from a wire service such as Associated Press or United Press but we don't know which ones - news syndicates were never identified in those days. The March 22 story could even have been a rewrite of the March 21 item after a syndicate editor decided the original needed to be fluffed up a bit. But a third version that started appearing on March 23 came from a completely different source. And sadly, it was the most untruthful version yet and also the one that seems to have appeared in the most newspapers, including the prestigious New York World and Washington Post.
Version three is easy to spot because it misspells the boy's name as "Millar." Some newspapers compressed it down to the essential (mis)information: "Luther Burbank, the plant wizard, had undertaken to transform Donald Millar, an irresponsible, incorrigible, truant boy, into a normal person." The full length article, however, pretended a reporter had interviewed Burbank and found him downright chatty:
|Luther Burbank the plant wizard, gave some hints today as to the course to be followed in the transformation of young Donald Millar...
"...I believe most children go to school too early, and are kept there too steadily. I shall give the boy a home a minimum of care, and plenty of life in the open. He will be called on to work a little more and study a little less than the usual run of boys. I knew Donald Millar's grandfather in Massachusetts many years ago and I am glad to help the boy."
When it was suggested to Mr. Burbank that he might be deluged with requests to train other boys, he said, "I am not conducting a conservatory for bad boys. I am engaged in cultivating plants. Donald Millar is the only boy I shall try to train."
Note the "conservatory for bad boys" quip, which also appeared in Burbank's denial. This shows the wire service reporter knew the story wasn't true at all - yet wrote it up anyway, complete with phony Luther Burbank quotes.
Thus over the course of a few days in mid-March 1911, most of the nation probably came to believe that young Donald Miller/Millar was the kid who lucked out to become Robin to Burbank's plant-breeding Batman. And here's the believe-it-or-not twist: Of the multitude of newspapers that printed any of the three versions of the story, it appears not one ever printed a correction or retraction. Did Burbank receive penpal requests from boys and girls addressed to Donald, wanting to how how his enchanted life was going? I'll bet he did.
So kudos to the 1911 Press Democrat, for apparently being the only newspaper in the United States to tell the true story. Alas, the PD coverage also causes the plant wizard to lose a little of his wizardly status today; while debunking the story Burbank told the paper that all sorts of crazy things were attributed to him, such as developing a seedless watermelon - and that could never exist, of course.
BOY MUST STUDY UNDER BURBANKJudge Wilbur of Los Angeles Juvenile Sends Donald Miller of Pasadena to Santa Rosa for Indefinite PeriodLos Angeles, March 21--Judge Wilbur has imposed upon Donald Miller, the 15-year-old son of Mrs. H. G. Miller of Pasadena, a sentence to study botany, flowers, trees, and plants for an indefinite period in Santa Rosa under Luther Burbank.
The boy has been wayward and became acquainted with Judge Wilbur of the Juvenile Court. When Judge Wilbur learned that Burbank was a friend of the Miller family, and had written to Donald inviting him to come and live with him and study botany, he said it was the best possible sentence that could be imposed.
- Press Democrat, March 22, 1911
"BAD BOY" STORY IS JUST A YARNBurbank Denounces the Faker Who Sent a Dispatch Crediting Him With Undertaking Experiments"I am not conducting a conservatory for bad boys," said Luther Burbank yesterday when asked if it were true that Donald Miller of Pasadena is to be sent to Santa Rosa to become the subject of a series of experiments at Burbank's hands, in order to cure him of his tendency to run away from school.
"All there is to the matter is this: I knew Donald Miller's grandfather in Massachusetts many years ago. So when I was asked if I would either give him employment or find him work with some one else, I said I would do it. I have not undertaken and will not undertake any experiments upon him or upon any other boy. I am engaged in rearing plants, not children."
The whole story is just somebody's yarn," declared the breeder of plants. Burbank has had many occasions to be displeased with the frequent yarns that are printed concerning him. He is widely quoted as saying things he never said, concerning things that he has never even though of, and these false quotations are read by people who believe them genuine and who criticise [sic] Burbank for having expressed views that he never held, and as having claimed achievements that he never thought of attempting. One of them two years ago said he had invented or developed a "seedless watermelon"...[illegible microfilm]...Of course, a "seedless watermelon" is as impossible as "seedless wheat" would be.
- Press Democrat, March 23, 1911
Too bad Robert Ripley wasn't drawing his famous cartoon series in 1911; he would have loved the story of Harold Casey, dubbed by the Press Democrat as the "crippled messenger boy."
Readers of this blog were introduced last year to the "Rapid Messenger Service" and its odd little ad seen here (why the running character looks angry or demented was never explained). That earlier item also reproduced a funny comic strip that appeared only once and showed a bicycling messenger racing between Santa Rosa and Petaluma at rocket speed. Here's the Believe-it-or-Not! twist: Messenger boy Harold Casey only had one leg.
Harold's right leg had been amputated just below the hip when he was nine, the result of a pair of usually routine accidents. He used crutches. He was certainly a plucky young fellow to take such a job, and fie on the local newspapers for not telling us more about him and how he coped with his handicap in 1911 Santa Rosa. Bicycles were the main type of speedy transportation in those days and he certainly could have used a bike with some sort of handbrake installed.
But we only know about 16 year-old Harold Casey at all because of an unusual benefit held to raise funds for a prosthetic leg. "The performance this evening for Casey's benefit is intended and expected to 'fix him up' as good as new," the Press Democrat said. "Everybody is invited to attend. There has never been anywhere an entertainment and charity ball for a purpose more worthy." Among the entertainers were "Tom Pierpont, the human canary," "Hoey and Lee, Hebrew impersonators" (um...), and "Jack Mathews will also be on hand with a mysterious stunt which he refused to talk about." As the previous item revealed, barkeep Jack liked to dress up and warble minstrel show tunes while wearing blackface, so perhaps it's best he kept mum about his "mysterious stunt."
Hopefully a grand time was had by all and Mr. Casey collected enough money for a good quality leg to make his job easier. The messenger service appears to have closed about a year later and while one of the articles below states he was attending school, there's no record he graduated from Santa Rosa High. His trail disappears after the benefit dance although it's likely he is the same Harold H. Casey who can be spotted in the 1920 and 1930 census working as an elevator operator, first in Portland and later in San Francisco.
(RIGHT: Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1911)
FINE PROGRAM FOR TONIGHT'S BENEFITEntertainment and Dance to Provide Funds for Purchase of New Leg for Harold Casey, the Crippled Messenger Boy
Everybody is going, or ought to go, to Harold Casey's benefit entertainment and ball at the rink tonight. This affair has been arranged to help the crippled messenger boy to stand on two feet again, to buy him an artificial leg [illegible microfilm] as well as may be the limb that was amputated when the lad was nine years old. He is now 16, and has so nearly attained his growth that the makers give assurance and guarantee that the leg made to fit him now can be adjusted as he grows heavier, and that it will last him to the end of his days.
Harold is a native of Santa Rosa. While living at Windsor, and when three years old, he sustained a wound in his right knee which became infected. Blood poisoning followed, and the leg did not fully heal. When he was nine the same leg was broken and amputation became necessary. Since then the boy has gone on crutches, attending school and working to earn his living as best he could. Part of this time he has been with the Messenger Service, and after today he will become proprietor, the business having been donated to him by W. Clay Silver, for whom the boy has worked for the last eight months.
The performance this evening for Casey's benefit is intended and expected to "fix him up" as good as new. Everybody is invited to attend. There has never been anywhere an entertainment and charity ball for a purpose more worthy. The program offered will be one of the best of the kind that has been presented in this city. Among those who will participate are the Rose City Quartette. Hoey and Lee, Hebrew impersonators; Tom Pierpont, the human canary; Professor Madison, magician; Dan Leno, cartoonist of the Bulletin, and Frank Greene, Jr., the local sketch artist, who will make life-sized drawings and cartoons of well-known Santa Rosans.
As an additional attraction the management has secured a Moonlight machine and the dancers will glide 'neath the silvery light of the calcium moon. Mrs. Berry's orchestra will render several selections at the opening of the performance and play for the dancing afterwards. The committee of arrangements have announced a good program, a fine floor and excellent music. Nuf Sed.
- Press Democrat, February 2, 1911
BENEFIT DANCE FOR HAROLD CASEY AT RINK TONIGHTEverything is in readiness for the big benefit that is to be given tonight at the Pavilion rink for Harold Casey, the one-legged messenger boy. The floor is in first class condition and Mrs. Berry's ten piece orchestra will furnish the music and from the number of tickets that have been sold there is sure to be a large crowd. It is a worthy cause and should be well attended...
...The first part of the evening will be devoted to a vaudeville performance, and some splendid stunts will be given, and following that the floor will be cleared and dancing will ensue until midnight.
Dan Leno, the Bulletin's famous cartoonist, came up from San Francisco on the 1:15 train to participate in the evening's fun. Jack Mathews will also be on hand with a mysterious stunt which he refused to talk about. A big surprise is expected when Jack appears. A moonlight dance has been arranged by the management as an addition attraction.
- Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1911
Just before Memorial Day in 1911, one-fifth of Santa Rosa's entire African-American community died on Fourth street. His name was John Williams.
At only 31 years old, Mr. Williams was too young to die of a heart attack. He worked as a bootblack at the downtown Overton Hotel barber shop but apparently when the chest pains began that spring evening, he was at home in the small rooming house above Frank Muther's cigar store at 513 Fourth (about the current location of Tex Wasabi's). He went downstairs and used the store's phone to summon a doctor, which is what anyone did in those days if there was an emergency. He collapsed after making the call and died in the storeroom of the tobacco shop, attended by two physicians. The Press Democrat reported his last words were, "Goodbye boys, I'm dying. Goodbye."
He lived alone but was married; his wife, Lucy, worked as "a domestic in the country," according to the PD. In the census taken almost exactly a year earlier we found him in another rooming house and again alone. The census takers recorded only four other blacks living within city limits, a group so small that we can name them here and maybe help some descendant fill out a family tree. There was Ruben Safford (a barber) and Aleck Houston (a cook), hotel chambermaid Bertha Christopher and Lu Ann Edwards, a 63 year-old housekeeper.
That year African-Americans were the smallest racial minority in Santa Rosa (there were 37 Japanese and 70 Chinese in the census). Never before or since has Santa Rosa had so few black residents - there were even four times more blacks 'way back in 1860, when the town was little more than a dusty crossroads with a county courthouse. Among those living here in those pre-Civil War years was John Richards, a former slave who became a successful businessman here and owned the property that became the South Park neighborhood, near the intersection of highways 101 and 12. (Gaye LeBaron has written several times about Richards and other black Santa Rosans in the 19th century; one such column can be read online via the SSU archives.)
In 1910, however, there was probably no great surprise that the census-takers found only five blacks in town - Santa Rosa was then about the whitest community in the whitest county in the whitest state. Look at the numbers: John Williams and the others represented just .06 percent of the town's population. There were only 43 "negroes" in all of Sonoma County, less than even neighboring Marin and Napa (0.1, 0.6 and 0.2 percent, respectively). Overall, fewer than one person in a hundred in California was African-American.
(RIGHT: One of several advertising cartoons that appeared in the 1908 Santa Rosa Republican that featured a servile African-American youth. The drawing was from a series created by Richard F. Outcault, the cartoonist behind The Yellow Kid)
As the shoe-shiner in Santa Rosa's best hotel, Williams was "a well known colored man about town," according that Press Democrat item about the last few minutes of his life, which is really all we know for sure about his years here. We know he was light-skinned because he can be found as a baby in the 1880 census for Paris, Texas listed as "Mulatto". The instructions to census enumerators that year specified, "Be particularly careful in reporting the class mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this class..." The notion that there were "important scientific results" riding on accurate labels was racist nonsense, as shown by John Williams' family. His father John was listed as black and his mother, Gracy, as mulatto. Of John junior's four brothers and sisters, three were designated as black plus one sister as mulatto. Scientists, sharpen your pencils and prepare to write really important monographs about what that could possibly mean.
And although we may think of the "mulatto" designation as a lingering throwback to Civil War-era mentality, it was still deemed somehow important in 1910 to fine tune African-Americans by their skin tone (1920 was the last year it was required). The census instructions for that year ordered, "the term 'black' (B) includes all persons who are evidently full-blooded negroes, while the term 'Mulatto' (Mu) included all other persons having some proportion or perceptible trace of negro blood." The Santa Rosa census further shows the absurdity of requiring census takers to draw conclusions about race; John Williams was now designated black and the town had one mulatto - who was actually from the Philippines.
For the government to care whether Mr. Williams was a "full-blooded negro" or a "mulatto" reveals one of the many threads of racism woven into American culture in those days. There was (probably) little overt discrimination in 1910 Santa Rosa - we know anecdotally that black men were welcome at downtown saloons, which were the primary social centers for males in that era. He didn't seem to face housing discrimination; the other three boarders in the 1910 rooming house were whites. He apparently was receiving good medical care as he was dying and when he died, John Williams was not buried in the Potter's Field graveyard as was required for anyone Chinese; he is one of at least ten African-Americans in Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery. (The location of his grave is unknown, but that's a common problem in the Fulkerson section.) It would be wrong to presume this was a bastion of racial harmony, however - a few years earlier, another black man was beaten for the offense of simply tipping his hat to a white woman.
While Santa Rosa wasn't really a Jim Crow town, it was nevertheless deeply part of a culture that dished up routine unkindness. Nearly everything that appeared in the local papers about African-Americans sent the message they ranked beneath whites and would never catch up. The Press Democrat was usually worse about this than the Santa Rosa Republican, but both often published offensive ads such as the one shown above. Neither Santa Rosa newspaper spewed racist epithets against blacks - as they sometimes still called Asians "Chinks" or "Japs" - yet the editors thought it great fun when whites smeared their faces with burnt cork and performed "Coon" songs.
(RIGHT: saloonkeeper Jack Mathews in makeup for the Elks' minstrel show and unknown men in drawing captioned, "Dewey and Bowen as the Bridegroom and Bride in the Elks' Minstrels")
Amateur minstrel shows became quite a fad around 1910; every few months some club or society, both male and female, would put on a show somewhere in Santa Rosa. The January, 1912 performance by members of the Elks Club was the biggest one yet, with several advance articles in both papers promising the audience a really swell time, illustrated with original caricatures of prominent men in costume and makeup. As discussed earlier, minstrel shows of this type were a far cry from the real thing, which had been seen here just a few years before. The turn-of-the-century minstrel show was an all (or mostly) black ensemble of top performers such as "Father of the Blues" W.C. Handy and Billy Kersands, who basically invented tap dancing. They performed before biracial audiences and included cultural references specifically for blacks that whites wouldn't get. There were few of those companies still around by 1910 - now attending a minstrel show meant watching members of the Chamber of Commerce shuffle about the stage telling watermelon jokes, acting foolish and laughing at the disenfranchised. It was mean-spirited and condescending, bordering on cruel. Strike that: It was cruel.
The difference between the two Santa Rosa papers was only apparent when it came to national news content. The Republican stayed true to its party-of-Lincoln roots by keeping Southern lynchings and other racial violence at the forefront. Over at the Press Democrat, shameful examples of prejudice abound. Some examples:
|During the 1904 presidential election, PD editor Ernest Finley expressed alarm that Teddy Roosevelt was inclined to promote racial equality, even having a black child stand onstage next to a white child during the convention. The following year the PD had even more of a fit when Teddy appointed an African-American to the position of collector of the Port of New York, because "Not one man in a thousand having business with the collector of the New York port is a negro."|
|When black workers from Los Angeles were brought here to break a strike in 1906, the race of the men was the predominant issue for the PD, not that the local contractor bringing in scab labor.|
|A PD editorial warned about African-American "uppishness" if Jack Johnson were to beat a white boxer in a 1910 match for heavyweight champ.|
But maybe the ugliest example of racism was also the softest, and goes back to the PD item on John Williams' death:
|...Suddenly he raised his arms and cried out: "God have mercy." He staggered back... [realizing] that the end was coming. He raised himself and said: "Goodbye boys, I'm dying. Goodbye."|
That's the kind of breathless, melodramatic prose that could have been found in a pulp magazine story, or maybe an old-time novel such as Uncle Tom's Cabin. It shows no respect for his loved ones to repeat details about his begging to God and staggering about, clearly in mortal pain. In the eight years I have been reading Santa Rosa newspapers from this era, I don't recall a single instance where a banker or businessman or other prominent had his or her final moments described with pathos or even finely detailed at all, except for gentle euphemisms about "entering into peace" or such. But it's likely editor Finley and the reporter didn't think for a moment that they were demeaning John Williams by not extending to a "colored man" the same courtesies. After all, their unkindness grew out of long habit.
GOODBYE BOYS, I'M DYING--DIEDJohn Williams, Colored Man, Dies Suddenly in Storeroom on Fourth Street Last Night
John Williams, a well known colored man about town, who was for sometime employed as bootblack in the Overton barber shop and in other locations here, died very suddenly last night.
Williams walked into Frank Muther's cigar store shortly after nine o'clock and asked Mr. Muther if he might use the phone to call Dr. Jackson Temple, as he was feeling ill. Permission was readily given, and Dr. Temple, who had retired, said he would come as quickly as possible. Lying down the phone, the man again complained of his illness and walked out into the store. Suddenly he raised his arms and cried out:
"God have mercy."
He staggered back. Mr. Muther rushed to his assistance and helped him into the inner room and laid him down. Then he and William Brown, the latter the man's old employer, did what they could for him, and medical assistance was summoned. Dr. S. M. Rohr was on Fourth street at the time and he came at once to the store. Mr. Temple also arrived quickly, and the physicians did what they could for the dying man. The latter realized that the end was coming. He raised himself and said:
"Goodbye boys, I'm dying. Goodbye."
He laid back and expired. He has a wife who is employed as a domestic in the country.
- Press Democrat, May 27, 1911
Before there was a "Redwood Highway" there was a proposal for a grand boulevard running the length of Sonoma County, both sides of the road lined with those damned palm trees.
(RIGHT: Undated postcard, probably c. 1905-1910. Courtesy Larry Lepeere collection)
Such a plan was offered to the Board of Supervisors in 1911, and the Press Democrat reported the Supes were "charmed with [the] suggestion." No surprise, really; landscapers all over California in that era loved palm trees, despite the drawbacks of them sucking up enormous amounts of water and that they made swell homes for rats (try a Google search for "palm tree rats:" About 1,170,000 results). Like many places, Santa Rosa lined some streets with them, as seen here, and homeowners in the early 20th century often planted one or a few in their yards. You can still spot a survivor or three on probably every block in the older parts of town.
It takes some doing to imagine driving the route we now call Old Redwood Highway from Marin to Mendocino and seeing shoulder-to-shoulder palm trees in the countryside. Combined with the "grand boulevard" mention in the article it sounds like they expected the highways would simply replace the old farm roads with something more like paved city streets, but no one really knew - no state had yet created a highway system for automobiles.*
These years around 1910 witnessed a swift and amazing leap into the modern world for Sonoma County. There were opportunities to watch hometown aviator Fred J. Wiseman and his associates fling themselves into the air, risking death in frequent crashes. Downtown Santa Rosa suddenly came alive with three (sometimes four) movie theaters and vaudeville houses. The Russian River resorts became the Bay Area hotspot after electricity came to the region and new trains made it easier to reach from San Francisco. And with one of those newly-affordable automobiles, anyone anywhere in the county could participate in these new adventures.
Autos themselves were both familiar and foreign; for example, there was still no convention on what to call the owner of the machine. Prior to 1908 anyone behind the steering wheel was called a "chauffeur" in the Press Democrat but in the 1911 article transcribed below the paper can be found experimenting with "automobilists" and "autoists." While the state was preparing to spend an empire's fortune building those highway-things there was no driver's license exam to show an automobilist knew how to operate the vehicles using it. In a hilarious item below, the PD reported on its front page that 20 year-old Hilliard Comstock had purchased one of the finest handmade cars available in 1911 and drove it all the way back to Santa Rosa from Sausalito in high gear, apparently not knowing how to use a gearshift. "Although Mr. Comstock had had no previous experience in handling an automobile, he brought his new car up from San Francisco without difficulty and without assistance," the paper noted kindly, "as the machine can be throttled down to four or five miles an hour without shifting the gears."
It was also nice that the Sonoma County Automobile Association that year officially disapproved of running down pedestrians, even though some autoists apparently felt anyone on the streets was fair game:
|...The Association placed itself squarely on record in the matter urging respect for all law and letting it be clearly understood that it does not stand for protecting the auto owner any more than for the protection of other people walking or driving along the highways, recognizing that each have equal rights. While many autoists do recognize these rights there are others who bring odium on the whole body by their disregard of the laws.|
This was the final Association meeting with James Wyatt Oates as president, ending his two years of leadership. His retirement was announced with a cartoon in the Press Democrat shown here. In his hand is the ever-present cigar; his beady eyes glinted with the piercing gaze seen in all three known portraits. The cartoon is decorated with stock thumbnails of fishing and recreational motoring (both actual passions of Oates) but note in particular his "elevator" shoes. From the 1892 voter registration records we learn his distinguishing features were a scar on the left side of his head and that he was exactly five feet, seven and five-eights inches tall - the only voter to specify his height with such exact precision. As his shaving mirror in Comstock House seems designed for a person of somewhat shorter stature, we can presume he reached that particular altitude only with the boost of those remarkable heels.
*Voters in 1910 approved the State Highways Act with blind faith that a highway system could be built and would bring progress (and maybe palm trees). They also believed those roads would be coming, pronto. Alas, much to the frustration of Sonoma County boosters and dreamers of boulevards, it would be 1913 before Sonoma County saw its first few miles of highway construction and it would be over a dozen years more before the North Coast's patchwork of old stagecoach turnpikes were improved and linked to become the Redwood Highway ("Redwood Empire" was coined in 1925, both springing from a regional civic association).
WOULD MAKE ON GRAND BOULEVARDSupervisors Charmed With Suggestion That Road Through Sonoma County Be BeautifiedAn endeavor was made Wednesday to interest members of the Board of Supervisors in a scheme to make the ride through Sonoma county, from the Marin to the Mendocino line, additionally attractive by the planting of date palms on either side of the county road at proper distances apart.
Mr. Lawrence, a landscape gardener, talked over the matter with individual members of the board, and his description of the pleasure such a boulevard would be quite fascinating. In other sections of the state Arbor Leagues have been formed and are being formed to plant shade trees along the county roads and something very picturesque has resulted.
It is understood that the palms and the planting, etc., would probably cost $5,000, if the Supervisors should carry out the suggestions made by Mr. Lawrence.
- Press Democrat, April 6, 1911
HILLYARD COMSTOCK HAS FINE NEW KLINE-KARHillyard [sic] Comstock has purchased a handsome 1911 fore-door [sic] Kine touring car, similar to the one on exhibition at the Press Democrat office. It is a classy machine, and attracts much attention.
In every respect Mr. Comstock's beautiful car is a duplicate of the one to be given away by the Press Democrat on May 20 to the most popular lady contestant, and he is a beauty and runs like a top. Although Mr. Comstock had had no previous experience in handling an automobile, he brought his new car up from San Francisco without difficulty and without assistance. He did not find it necessary to shift his gears once on the trip, but made the entire distance from Sausalito to this city on the "high." The construction and ease of control make this entirely feasible with the Kline, as the machine can be throttled down to four or five miles an hour without shifting the gears.
- Press Democrat, March 25, 1911
RETURNED WITH HUP FOR COLONEL OATESColonel James W. Oates and Shirley D. Burris went to San Francisco on the morning train Friday, and they returned to this city in a pretty Hupmobile, which has been purchased by Colonel Oates from the Santa Rosa garage. Colonel Oates will use this machine for short trips and personal pleasure for himself and Mrs. Oates, and with his large machine will entertain their friends with delightful trips about the country. The Hup is a royal blue, for two passengers only, is fully equipped and has twenty horse power engines. It is capable of splendid speed and will make a nice roadster for Colonel Oates.
- Santa Rosa Republican, March, 17, 1911
AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION CONDEMNS SPEEDINGAnnual Outing Held in Knights Valley on SundayIn the beautiful sunshine of a June day over two hundred people members of the Sonoma County Automobile Association and friends and many others gathered amid all the picturesqueness of the Knights Valley Ranch formerly owned by the late Calvin H. Holmes and now the property of his heirs, the site most favored for the location of the new State Trades and Training School, to enjoy the annual outing and picnic of the Association on Sunday. The day was ideal for such an event, and into its pleasures all entered with zest.
The shady trees, the waterfalls, the vineyards, the valley and mountain scenery and the other delights of the open air at this time of the year, lent much attraction to the outing. Well filled luncheon baskets were brought by the automobilists, and the contents enjoyed at noon in one of the loveliest spots imaginable. An additional attraction was the presence and music by the Healdsburg band, accompanying the large delegation from that city and sections. All part of Sonoma county were represented and the entire outing, unmarred by any accident, was voted a splendid success.
His Excellency Governor Hiram W. Johnson was invited to be present, but many engagements following his southern trip prevented his acceptance of the courtesy. He sent a neat acknowledgement of the invitation.
Following the luncheon the business meeting was called to order by the President Colonel James W. Oates of this city. Colonel Oates Spoke of the work of the past year, and of the great help the automobilists represented in such organizations the Sonoma County Automobile Association could be the campaign for good roads. He welcomed everybody to the gathering on Sunday...
...The by-laws were amended so as to make women eligible for membership in the Association. This was a wise move as there are scores of enthusiastic women automobilists in Sonoma County who are deeply interesting in the aims of such an organization...The Association also passed resolutions upholding the laws and ordinances against "speed burning..."
...The Association placed itself squarely on record in the matter urging respect for all law and letting it be clearly understood that it does not stand for protecting the auto owner any more than for the protection of other people walking or driving along the highways, recognizing that each have equal rights. While many autoists do recognize these rights there are others who bring odium on the whole body by their disregard of the laws. It is the latter type that The Association does not uphold. At the same time a gentle reminder is also given to drivers or vehicles who sometimes pre-empt more of the highway than they require to be more generous and aid in bringing about a better feeling all the way around...
- Press Democrat, June 6, 1911