For Mattie and James Wyatt Oates, 1907 was filled with truly halcyon days, both of them busy in the swirl of things they loved best – even though they were now at ages when most of their generation began slowing down. Mattie turned 48, and her husband was roughly ten years north of that.

Hardly a week went by that without a mention of one or both Oates’ in the Santa Rosa newspapers They took auto trips around the county (a few uneventful ones not mentioned below), and Wyatt apparently learned to drive; he also took the train to visit his old haunts in Arizona. He again played the broker in a big financial deal, and she entertained friends and Santa Rosa’s society swells in a grand manner; besides the party with a string orchestra in May, there were at least three other notable shindigs at their home that year.

The most significant event will be discussed at length in a future post, and that was the role of both Oates in the creation of the Saturday Afternoon Club clubhouse. In 1907 the women’s group was incorporated (attorney Oates doing the paperwork, natch) and they purchased land on 10th street where their meeting hall would be built the following year, to a custom design by Mattie’s architect, Brainerd Jones.

There was also a 1907 item that mentioned a young woman “who in years past visited frequently at the home of Colonel and Mrs. J. W. Oates,” suggesting that the couple may have had a mentoring relationship with a debutante before Anna May Bell, who was treated like the Oates’ godchild. The other woman was Adelaide Murphy, daughter of Samuel Murphy, president of the First National Bank in San Francisco. A society item from 1899 noted Mrs. Oates was the guest of Mrs. Murphy at their posh digs in Pacific Heights, just as Mattie occasionally visited Mrs. Bell in southern California. (Several newspaper stories about Adelaide can be found in the San Francisco papers. In 1902, the millionaire’s daughter married John Breckenridge, the sickly and idle scion of another San Francisco banking dynasty. Her father disowned her for three years and the couple fled to Paris.)

(RIGHT: Adelaide Murphy Breckenridge. SF Call, July 18, 1902)

Most interesting to the history of Comstock House, though, is a transcript of a speech by Mattie Oates to the Saturday Afternoon Club. As we have few artifacts about her except for a scrawled name in a cookbook and a fuzzy picture, the speech gives us a tiny bit of insight to her personality.

Her presentation was on “The Laws of California as related to Women and Children,” and is roughly in two sections, the first being a school book rehash of marital rights under old English law, and the latter part bearing the legalistic thumbprints of her lawyer husband (“…the reciprocal rights, duties, and privileges of women and children have been receiving more and more attention from lawmakers”). Most interesting is that she speaks approvingly of outlawing child labor and sweatshops but doesn’t mention sufferage or temperance, the two legal issues concerning women that were most discussed at that time. The transcript isn’t provided here because it’s somewhat of a struggle to read, both because of mundane prose and the lack of proofreading by the newspaper, which leaves many a sentence bereft of subject, object, or worse (you can find the whole thing in the Oct. 13, 1907 Press Democrat “Society Gossip” section). Still, there are a few passages that reveal flashes of character and wit:

* [In olden times the husband] might chastise her if he used a rod ‘no longer than a thumb.’ Whether this led to preferring a husband with small hands we do not know, as there is no recorded instance on the point.

* [The husband] is the head of the family today, even as in the long ago in the eyes of the law, at least, but how much so in fact is frequently debatable. It always strikes me [he] has much the worst of it in spite of his ‘lordship.’ He may choose the place of abode, but if he does not like it and stays away and seeks a divorce and he forgets it, everyone says of him, ‘The mean thing.’

* In California the wife has much the best of it, in face of the law. She is [no] longer what they dubbed her two hundred years ago, ‘the weaker vessel.’ She is now the ‘Ocean Greyhound,’ [yet] as compared to her husband is but a ‘Tramp Freighter.’


Judge James W. Oates has planned a trip to the southern part of the state and will also visit Arizona, where he resided at one time. Judge Oates has been suffering from a severe cold recently and will take the trip to recuperate. Some time will be spent by the talented Santa Rosan at Santa Barbara by the sea and Los Angeles and San Diego will also divide his time. Many friends expect him to return in robust health after his outing.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 11, 1907

Judge and Mrs. James W. Oates took an automobile trip to the historic city of Sonoma Monday afternoon and enjoyed their outing greatly. They found the sport exhilarating and the roads in pretty fair condition for the trip. Shirley D. Burris handled the throttle and steering gear and the trip afforded the party much pleasure.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 9, 1907

Colonel Oates and C. A. Wright “Catch the Limit” in Porter creek

Last week Colonel James W. Oates and C. A. Wright, following an annual custom of eighteen years past, enjoyed a day’s fishing. They fished in Porter creek and they caught “the limit.” Before the gray streaks of light hearalded the dawn of day the bold fishermen left town for the scene of operations with a plentiful supply of bait and lunch. Both lunch and bait were disposed of and in the evening the gentlemen returned to town well pleased with their eighteenth yearly pilgrimage to Izaak Walton’s shrine.

– Press Democrat, May 7, 1907

Mr. and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates entertained the Married Ladies’ Card Club and a number of invited guests in a pleasing manner at their beautiful home on Mendocino avenue Tuesday evening. Choice blossoms and dainty greenery were blended together most artistically in decorating the spacious rooms for the occasion; and they certainly presented a brilliant scene, when brightly lighted and filled with a large crowd of our society folks. The dainty, pretty gounds worn by the ladies, added a touch of beauty to the whole effect of the affair. Progressive euchre was the game of the evening and was played with keen interest for several hours. At its close delicious refreshments were served and another hour spent in general sociability are [sic] the guests took leave of the charming hostess and jovial host and turned their steps homeward, delighted with the pleasures of the evening and the generous hospitality extended to them…Mrs. Oates was assisted in entertaining her guests by Mrs. Soloman [sic] and Mrs. Blitz W. Paxton.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 22, 1907

The beautiful home of Col. and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates was the scene of a brilliant party Friday night, upon which occasion they entertained the Married Ladies’ Card Club and few invited guests. The large hall shone resplendent in bright canvas, pink roses cast their soft radiance over the living room, while in the dining room red geraniums constituted the decorative feature…

– Press Democrat, June 23, 1907

Will be Late

Attorney J. W. Oates has been called to San Jose by a subpoena requiring his appearance as a witness in a civil suit before the Superior Court. Ten o’clock this forenoon is the hour set for Colonel Oates’ presence in the court room, and he has not yet ascertained whether it will be possible for him to reach there in time. At eleven o’clock last night he quit studying the time tables, and began working upon a plea of mitigation of sentence for contempt of court.

– Press Democrat, July 26, 1907

The Insider of the Call says: Mrs. Adelaide Breckenridge, who has written a pantomime, which, the dispatches tell us, will have a London production, was never suspected possess a desire to hine as a dramatic writer in the old days when she was one of the most popular of our society girls. She was always known to be clever. Since Addie Murphey Breckenridge took up her permanent residence in Paris I hear that she has become so French that her old friends would not know her. She has a near approach to a “salon,” which so many of our clever women have tried to esablish here with disasterous results. Mrs. Breckenridge’s salon is said to be alomst Recamier-like in its scope. Nobody is permitted to speak anything but the Parisian tongue within the confines of her drawing rom, and that must be rather a hard ordeal for San Francisco girls who call upon their one-time chum in her French home.” Mrs. Breckenridge will be remembered well in our social circles as Miss Adelaide Murphey, daughter of Banker Murphey of San Francisco, and who in years past visited frequently at the home of Colonel and Mrs. J. W. Oates.

– Press Democrat, August 4, 1907

Col. and Mrs. James W. Oates, accompanied by Miss Anna May Bell, visited the Paxton ranch, this side of Healdsburg, Monday. The trip was made by automobile.

– Press Democrat, September 4, 1907

Mrs. David C. Farnham and Miss Myrtle Harell were the guests of honor at a most brilliant luncheon given Wednesday afternoon by Mrs. James Wyatt Oates. The beautiful Oates home had been artistically decorated for the occasion with great bunches of pink and white chrysanthemums intermingled wwith autumn foliage. Covers were laid for eighteen around a table that sparkled and flashed with its beautiful glass and silver conventionally placed under a huge bunch of white chrysanthemums that graced the center of the table. Mrs. Oates’ guests were:


– Press Democrat, October 27, 1907

Altogether informal, but none the less entertaining and enjoyable, was the afternoon given by Mrs. James Wyatt Oates in honor of Miss Katherine Rockwell of Kansas City, Thursday. Social conversation, interspersed with music, passed the afternoon delightfully after which a dainty collation was served. Mrs. Oates was assisted during the afternoon by Mrs. James R. Edwards and by her mother, Mrs. M. S. Solomon.

– Press Democrat, December 22, 1907

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