SURPRISING NEWS: WOMEN SHOP

Another big change in 1910 Santa Rosa: Newspaper advertisers suddenly discovered women buy things and even spend money on themselves.

Newspaper display ads had changed little since the end of the 19th century. In small town daily papers like the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican, an ad with a photograph or drawing usually promoted the same national brands of patent medicines, goop like Danderine shampoo, whiskey, pianos, automobiles and the like, year after year. Local businesses sometimes offered generic cartoon clip art, although it was occasionally used in ways that were tangent or simply inappropriate, such as the Santa Rosa grocer who thought he could sell more meat by showing a cartoon of a pedestrian being run down with a car. What clothing ads that appeared were aimed at dressing men (overcoats! shoes!) with an occasional promotion of the latest engineering in wasp-waisted corsets to inflict organ damage on mature women.

But my, oh my, did things start to change in 1910. Mixed among the usual drab lot there sometimes appeared an illustration with beautiful artwork and elegant composition, such as the first one shown below. It probably took away everyone’s breath at the time; encountering it today still has that effect because it looks so damned modern compared to everything else around it. The laundry soap ad below it was equally compelling. Although not at all artistic, it was guaranteed to be the first thing a reader noticed on that page. Whomever designed its layout was no less brilliant than the creator of the fashion ad.

What all these ads have in common is that they were all aimed at women who made purchasing decisions for themselves without permission from a husband or parent. Buying a new hat in the latest style is an easy example, but nothing here so demonstrates women managing money independently than the luxury of discreetly having your painful corns plastered and bunions scraped by an “expert chiropodist” while at the hairdresser.

Why the change in 1910? For starters, the economy had greatly stabilized after the 1907 bank panic, which nearly plunged America into a great depression. Santa Rosa had mostly finished rebuilding from the 1906 earthquake and there seemed to be more disposable income available, as demonstrated by there being four downtown movie theaters. Or maybe the Press Democrat – where all the ads below appeared – started listening to Oscar E. Binner, one of the leading figures in commercial illustration and advertising in the world. In 1910 he was living in Santa Rosa at least part time, trying to build a business empire around Luther Burbank.

It’s also possible American society was becoming slightly less paternalistic, as hinted in the Santa Rosa Republican reprinting a little magazine essay on the travails of being a housewife. “The wonder to me is that in this ceaseless grind of petty, monotonous cares, the majority of the women do not go insane. Most men would.” It’s not exactly a manifesto for gender equality, but nonetheless surprising to find in the one of the local papers.

But if Santa Rosa women were enjoying greater purchasing power, it wasn’t because there were recently great strides made in the American suffrage movement; a two-year effort to collect one million signatures on a petition for a suffrage Constitutional amendment failed to get even half that number. Most of the front page coverage of the movement concerned the huge demonstrations taking place in London which cumulated in Black Friday that November, when hundreds of women were assaulted or arrested by police while protesting outside Parliament.

The majority of 1910 newspaper coverage of the U.S. suffrage movement concerned the hissing flapdoodle: Suffragists warmly welcomed President Taft for speaking at their annual convention – the first president to do so – but the mood soured during his speech when he warned that it could be dangerous to allow women to vote because it would be “exercised by that part of the class which is less desirable.” He also suggested women first “must be intelligent enough to know their own interests” ‘lest they be on the par of “Hottentots” (an ugly slur meaning a primitive, even savage, group). When someone hissed, Taft doubled-down on the condescending attitude: “Now my dear ladies, you must show yourselves capable of suffrage by exercising that degree of restraint which is necessary in the conduct of government affairs by not hissing.” Amazingly, Taft often stuck his foot into his enormous mouth like this; a wag later wrote, “His capacity for saying the wrong thing, or for being understood to say the wrong thing, amounts almost to genius.”

YOUR OCCUPATIONLESS WIFE

You took upon yourself a wife, and it is your duty to support her as best you may; also, in due season there came struggling along certain very small and absurd travelers from Noman’s Land, and it is your duty to support them. Consequently you must dig; you must be at the office when you would greatly prefer to go fishing; you must earn the bread, not only for yourself, but for from two to a dozen others, by the sweat of your brow and by keeping your nose faithfully on the ever whirring grindstone. Tough, isn’t it? Oh, you bet, one has to pay the price for being a man! And then to add to the sting, the average woman has nothing to do except keep house.

Yes, it really is a fact that many women have nothing to do–except, of course, to keep house, and as the United States census bureau so happily states the case, that is not an occupation. For a light and enjoyable form of entertainment commend me to keeping house, although the women do make such an immortal row over it. Consider for a moment what a snap it is. All the housewife has to do every day without intermission is: Get the breakfast, wash and wipe the dishes, make the beds, straighten the rooms, get lunch, wash and wipe the dishes, mend the kid’s clothing, spank the baby, make a new gown for Susie, get the dinner, wash and wipe the dishes, look neat and cheerful so she will attract her husband, improve her intel–

Oh, see here! I haven’t the heart to continue the list.  The wonder to me is that in this ceaseless grind of petty, monotonous cares, the majority of the women do not go insane. Most men would; ours may be the stronger sex, but we would.

And we do not wish our wives to seek some occupation that, strangely enough, suits them better, and hire a housekeeper, because we are so tenderly considerate of them you know! John, Henry or Adolph, don’t you make yourself tired when you think about yourself and you self considering regard for you wife! Just between ourselves, I do.–California Weekly.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 16, 1910

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1906 EARTHQUAKE: THE LEGENDS OF CAPTAIN ROCKWELL

There will always be mysteries surrounding the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake, but now two of them are resolved. Well, one of them, for sure.

As the decades passed, the tale of the earthquake became enshrined into myth. The basic story holds that downtown area was completely destroyed, over 100 were killed (making the ratio of deaths worse than in the San Francisco quake), but the plucky litte farm town quickly rose from the ashes, phoenix-like. None of that is true, but that version has a nice dramatic arc.

MEET THE ROCKWELLS

Few made a greater impact on early 20th century Santa Rosa than the extended Rockwell family, and members will be mentioned often in upcoming articles. Here’s a quick guide:

Bertrand Rockwell (1844-1930) was a Civil War veteran who rose through the ranks from a private to captain in the Iowa Infantry. He saw combat in seven states, including the Battle of Fort Blakely in Alabama, now recognized as the last major battle of the war (in the last charge, a brigade of African-Americans advanced with bayonets, causing the Confederates to race towards white Union soldiers to surrender). In civilian life he became wealthy as a merchant and grain dealer, then later the president of a national bank as well as a director on several other national banks. He is still remembered today for his much-needed cash donations in the days immediately following the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake (see accompanying story).

James Edwards married Florence Rockwell in 1903, one of the five daughters of Bertrand and Julia Rockwell. Edwards was the assistant cashier at Exchange Bank at the time of the 1906 earthquake and was named treasurer of the Earthquake Relief Fund. He served as mayor of Santa Rosa 1910-1912 and later president of the Luther Burbank Company. Their home at 930 Mendocino Avenue was designed by Florence’s sister, Mary Rockwell Hook, a notable architect who created several homes now on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Edwards’ home.

Anna Finlaw (profiled in an earlier story) was the sister of Julia Rockwell and the aunt of Florence Edwards. She was the founder of the Saturday Afternoon Club and sponsored cultural events. Like other members of the family, she shared a great yen for culture and travel. All made several lengthy tours of Europe and some visited China and Japan. When in the states they were frequently visitors at each other’s homes for extended stays.

All good myths need a hero, and ours was an elderly visitor from Kansas named Bertrand Rockwell. Realizing local banks were closed and Santa Rosa would have an urgent need to pay rescue workers, he and son-in-law James Edwards drove to Petaluma where he cashed a check for $5,000, as legend has it. What happened next has appeared in print several times, most famously in Santa Rosa: A 19th Century Town by Gaye LeBaron et al:


With the cash in hand, Captain Rockwell organized and paid gangs of workers to extricate the dead and wounded from the debris. He helped set up two emergency hospitals–one at the new Church of the Incarnation rectory, the other at the Saturday Afternoon Clubhouse. When the crisis had passed he divided the surplus money among all the minsters in town, for distribution to the sick and needy.

Trouble is, there’s no evidence that most of that happened. Yes, he went to Petaluma and came back with an auto probably groaning under the weight of silver dollars which he used to pay workers, but nothing can be found in primary sources that even suggests the rest of the story is true. There was no mention of him organizing workers and two hospitals (the latter is particularly easy to dispute because the Saturday Afternoon Club clubhouse wasn’t built for another two years). Nor did the newspapers and surviving letters from that time say anything about Rockwell showering the local churches with riches that would have been worth around a million dollars today.

The first mention of Rockwell’s involvement appears in the City Council minutes for April 19, the day after the earthquake: “Mr. Rockwell stated that he was willing to pay the workers for the first 2 days for their service in rescuing those caught in the wreck the amount subscribed was $800.00. On motion duly made and seconded the offer of Mr. Rockwell was accepted with thanks.”

That terse notice is of great significance. Rockwell put an $800 cap on his donation, which could imply that was all the cash he was able to get. But that he already had the money is what’s remarkable; as all banks in California were closed on April 19th by state order – and remained closed past the end of the month – which meant he had to have made the trip to Petaluma on that chaotic, end-of-the-world day of the quake itself, when few were thinking clearly. Another possibility: They obtained the money as a special favor when the Petaluma bank was not open at all, either after hours or on the morning of the 19th. In a later memoir of events, Florence Edwards specifically mentioned Frank Denman cashed her father’s check. As cashier of the Sonoma County Bank of Petaluma, Denman had keys to the bank – but he was also James Edwards’ brother-in-law, married to his older sister, Charlotte.

The next mentions of Rockwell came on April 21, the third day after the disaster. The combined Democrat-Republican newspaper reported, “Captain B. Rockwell of Junction City, Kansas, father of Mrs. J. R. Edwards, who donated $800 in cash to pay off men employed in removing debris and recovering bodies from the hotels gave each man his wage on Friday night and will do so again today.” The same edition noted, “[Relief Committee] Treasurer Edwards reported this morning subscriptions to the amount of $970.60, including the $800 donation from Captain Rockwell.”

According to the May 4 City Council minutes, Rockwell’s total donation ended up being $692 – enough to pay 173 men for working that Friday and Saturday. That is also the exact amount specified in a commendation sent to Rockwell at the end of May by the City Council.

The only other known primary source came from a letter by Florence Edwards published May 9 in the Wellesley College alumni newsletter (a remarkable discovery by local historian Neil Blazey). Florence wrote, “Father went right to the rescue and began to pay the workmen to unearth the bodies, and has spent a thousand dollars (all the money he could get) on the work.” The letter also mentions Rockwell had “sent for money to come by express,” so if he did make other charitable donations, it could have come later from those funds.

When Rockwell returned for a visit here in 1908, the Press Democrat reminded readers, “he was signally generous in his offers of assistance in that trying hour” without mentioning any dollar amounts, though the San Francisco Call noted he “paid nearly $1000 for wages to men.” During his next visit two years later, the PD stated, “At the time of the disaster in 1906, Captain Rockwell hurried to Santa Rosa and contributed hundreds of dollars in ready cash to pay for the rescue of the bodies of unfortunates and the demolition of buildings, thus providing employment for many men out of work and their pay.”

By the time he died in 1930, the legend was growing. According to his Press Democrat obituary, “He rushed off to Petaluma where his check for $2,500 was cashed and he brought back the coin in silver dollars. It was then he said: ‘Put men to work at once. Here is the money, and more will be coming.'” It’s a good heroic quote, but clear fiction.

At some unknown point later, the size of his generosity swelled to $5,000. That number is specified in an undated essay by Florence Edwards, so accurate or no, this became the family memory. A 1953 Press Democrat earthquake anniversary article on Rockwell’s gift is nearly verbatim the account that appeared later in Santa Rosa: A 19th Century Town.


Enlisting his son-in-law, an Exchange Bank officer, to drive him, Capt. Rockwell cashed a check for $5,000 in Petaluma and returned to Santa Rosa.

With the money, Capt. Rockwell paid organized gangs of workers to dig the dead and the trapped from the debris.

He also helped to set up 2 emergency hospitals–one at the newly-finished Episcopal rectory, the other at the Saturday Afternoon Clubhouse.

And when the crisis was past, the Good Samaritan from Kansas City gave funds to every minister in Santa Rosa for distribution to the sick and needy.

So in sum, Rockwell’s donation was officially $692.00 (which was still the largest contribution from an individual and more than an average Santa Rosa annual household income at the time) but in the telling and retelling and sloppy newspapering it was inflated until we reached the $5,000 figure now repeated as gospel. But here’s the thing: Exaggerating what Bertrand Rockwell actually did for Santa Rosa only gilds the lily. It was absolutely remarkable that he had the foresight to dash for cash and perhaps more amazing that he was able to get any money at all. His act need not be super-sized to make him a real life hero.

And I readily concede I could be wrong; trying to prove a negative is always a chancy business. There’s a gap in the Santa Rosa newspaper microfilm between May 3-18 (presumably a snafu at the town library, which archived the newspapers) and those editions might have reported in screaming headlines that Rockwell was going from church to church throwing money from the pulpits. But in those weeks other newspapers around the Bay Area were reporting on relief efforts in Santa Rosa and would surely have mentioned that a visitor was performing extraordinary act of charity. Also, Santa Rosa had no urgent need for cash donations past those first days of crisis; the relief fund had collected nearly $31,000 after two weeks had passed, most of it lying undistributed in a safe deposit box until the end of the year.

The second part of the Rockwell legend concerns a letter of gratitude. Again quoting  Santa Rosa: A 19th Century Town:


His only reward was a letter dispatched from Santa Rosa to his Junction City, Kansas home on May 11, 1906…the letter was signed by 132 Santa Rosans–Luther Burbank, Herbert Slater, Frank Doyle, and Dr. James W. Jesse among them. It was apparently thanks enough. On the back of the letter, which passed to his heirs, Captain Rockwell had written, “I consider this the best thing I ever did.”

It’s a touching epilogue, but also appeared to be a fiction. In the City Council minutes can be found a resolution of thanks (again, specifically mentioning $692) but it was written a few weeks later and had a different text, plus there was nothing mentioned about having it signed by every prominent man. I queried archivists and other historians in California and Kansas, but no one knew where the document was, or could even say with much confidence it existed. At best, the response was, “I think I saw it once somewhere.”

As it turns out, there is a copy of the letter in a scrapbook maintained by Rockwell descendants – in the form of a yellowed clipping from the April 17, 1953 edition of the Press Democrat that published a reproduction of the thank-you letter. The PD chopped it up to format on one page, but it is shown here reassembled in what is believed to be its original form. (CLICK or TAP to enlarge.) At the time it was owned by 81 year-old Florence Edwards, but is now presumed lost.

So there were actually two letters of thanks sent to Captain Rockwell; the May 11 one with all the signatures and the formal city document of May 29 (the Rockwell family has that document). And I’m guessing there was a good story behind both.

On May 10, the City Council met and approved resolutions of gratitude be sent to Petaluma and Sebastopol for their assistance the day of the earthquake. There is no mention in the Council minutes of a similar resolution be drafted for Rockwell. It seems significant that the public thank-you was written the very next day and closes with a line that suggests enmity among the Council members: “We regret that some of us were prevented from personally expressing to you our appreciation of your generosity.” The big John Hancock at the top the signature list was Councilman William D. Reynolds. It is easy to imagine Mr. Reynolds, a real estate man by trade, storming downtown door-to-door collecting signatures to correct this affront. It was also Reynolds who introduced the May 29 resolution for the city to formally thank Rockwell, presumably after some arms were well twisted.

Also below are two memoirs of the 1906 earthquake, transcribed and published for the first time, courtesy the Rockwell family. Both speak of the terror of the moment “when the earthquake came crashing through this town,” as Florence Edwards wrote. Her mother, Julia, later recalled, “From the windows we could see great clouds and columns of what appeared to be smoke, going skyward…the town was on fire. No, it was dust from seven blocks of buildings down.” Both mentioned “We saw the pictures hung on long cords turn over to the wall,” which has to be one of the creepiest images of that terrible event I’ve ever encountered. Imagine fearing it is the actual end of the world and seeing the portraits of your departed ancestors and other loved ones turn around, as if even they could not bear to watch.

May 29 Resolution to Captain B. Rockwell

Councilman Reynolds offered the following Resolution-
Whereas Captain B. Rockwell, a citizen of Junction City, state of Kansas, was a visitor in the City of Santa Rosa on the 18th day of April, 1906. and seeing the distress of our people and their great financial loss, was moved by his generous impulses and sympathy for these in distress, to assist our people in the removing the ruins of our fallen buildings in search for the unfortunate dead, and for that purpose contributed from his private funds the sum of $692, and
Whereas in full gratitude to him for his timely assistance and also realize that such acts of generosity should not go unnoticed by a grateful people, therefore for it
Resolved, that Captain B. Rockwell has the heartfelt thanks of our people and especially of the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Santa Rosa for his timely assistance and generous act, and be it further
Resolved, that this preamble and Resolution be spread upon the minutes of the Council and that copy thereof certified by our Clerk with the corporate seal of our City attached, be forwarded to Mr. Rockwell and a copy for furnished the press of our City.
Respectfully submitted
Committee

The letter here quoted was written from Santa Rosa, California, by a sister of Miss Bertha Rockwell, 1893-1894, and Miss Mary Rockwell, 1900.

“After four days of horror, with death and destruction on all sides, I must tell you that we are alive and altho’ penniless, have a house which can be lived in by having the foundations strengthened, new plaster and new chimneys.

“Father is going to have it done for us and will of course keep us in necessary food until I can command some sort of a salary.

“Our dead friends are buried, and we’ve been working in the hospitals and trying to dig out our houses. Not a brick building stands and our beautiful town in flat, most of it burned too. Oh, I cannot tell you what we’ve been through and still we are not as desperate as San Francisco. Five to ten millions won’t cover our losses here. We have had the most ruin of any place from the earthquake. I can’t describe the shock to you. We were all without our senses but I remember the frightful roar and my mother’s screams, the cracking of bricks and timbers. We couldn’t stand up, were rolled out of bed and around like nine pins. All the charm of this land is gone. We hate the roses as they cling about the ruin.

“Father went right to the rescue and began to pay the workmen to unearth the bodies, and has spent a thousand dollars (all the money he could get) on the work. There is no money to be had. We couldn’t get away if we wanted to, we can’t get credit and here we are, on the mercy of the public for our food. Oh, it’s terrible!

“All the money in the world could not a telegram sent from here. There are no lines. Father went away on the train to the nearest line to cable the girls we were alive, and also sent for money to come by express. There will be great want here and we must have help at once. I fear that everything will be sent to San Francisco and we will be forgotten. Anything people send will be appreciated.

“We do not need anything; but many many people will need. J. is treasurer of the relief fund, without much to deal out thus far. Perhaps the Wellesley girls will be interested in sending a small sum to ten thousand ruined people.”
FLORENCE ROCKWELL EDWARDS.

– “Alumnae Notes,” College News, Wellesley Mass., May 9, 1906

My parents Capt. and Mrs. Bertrand Rockwell came to visit us in our home (rented) out on Humboldt Street when the earthquake came crashing through this town. I started to run to my screaming parents but was held back in a doorway where Jim and I stood and watched our grand piano roll to the other side of the room and back. We saw the pictures hung on long cords turn over to the wall and listened to the crash of our beautiful wedding china and glass as it smashed on the floor. My parents screaming as they both fell down on the floor amid glass and china and cut their knees and hands.

We dressed as fast as we could and ran to my aunt’s home (Mrs. Finlaw) opposite the Episcopal church – she could not open any of her doors, the locks were all banged and smashed. It was like the world coming to an end. Destruction on all sides. The problem was what to do – and then began to save those who were alive but underneath the buildings that had fallen.

My husband Jim Edwards and my father Capt. Rockwell drove to Petaluma so Frank Denman could get my father $5000 which he gave to Santa Rosa to pay men to work to release the people who were caught under blocks of destruction. Many lives were saved by the money my father donated. The bodies who died and those who were saved under the bricks of the Hotel Santa Rosa on the corner opposite the post office now standing. At that time all there was at the corner where the post office is now was the residence of Mrs. Edwards, Jim’s mother. We laid the bodies out on her lawn as they were taken from the Hotel Santa Rosa on the corner of 4th and B Street extending into 5th Street. For days the work of saving lives and removing bodies went on all over Santa Rosa as the pictures of the wrecks can be seen. We finally went to San Francisco hired one of the wagons who carried sight-seeing people all through the ruins of San Francisco from Van Ness Avenue out to the Presidio. Every one cooked in the streets as no houses had any lights or cooking facilities for months. Just masses of plaster and destruction for miles around where laid before what was our beautiful city of San Francisco.

– undated essay by Florence Rockwell Edwards

Coming across a letter dated April 25th 1906 to Emily then at Detroit Michigan school told her in rather mild terms, I think now, not to alarm her unnecessarily about the earthquake. This was a week after it happened. The accounts I have read descriptive of the earthquake, and the movie of the same [presumably the 1936 Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald movie, “San Francisco” – Ed.], have passed over this dreadful catastrophe lightly than it really was I can vouch for that. Moveover it was detrimental to the growth of the state, which was all right. That morning of April 19th at five o’clock in the morning people wakened from sleep thought the world had come to the end. Terrific noise and the thought of self preservation ran as we did not conscious in the flight where to. Nothing that I’ve ever experienced in my life was as terrible as that shock. Evidently we got from our room into the hall, to be thrown down by a leather gun case, which had stood in the corner.

What a sight came to our eyes on coming to, was the living room, bricks from the living room fire place were scattered over the floor, all the ornaments from the mantle, books everywhere along with vases of flowers, and the only thing standing was bronze head of Wagner.

Jim immediately knowing it was an earthquake held Florence from going to me screaming as I was, while the plastering was falling about them, and I saw them standing in the doorway looking at the wreck. Not for long however, for Jim was at the telephone, no answer. He was dressed and on his bicycle to go see his mother and sister.

From the windows we could see great clouds and columns of what appeared to be smoke, going skyward…the town was on fire. No, it was dust from seven blocks of buildings down. Though several blocks did burn, and more destruction been caused, had not one Fireman driven his horse out at the first tremble and so saved some of the city.

I remember how cold I was, shaking, and with trembling fingers, adding more wraps to my already warm costume, to go see what was happening to my sister.

A woman running down the street screaming, “Oh, my sister, my sister” added to my trembling. No thought of breakfast had entered our minds, the china closet had opened, and all across the dining room the china and glassware, lovely wedding presents, along with jelly had crashed in a mass, but we did not stop except to step aside.

The milk and bluing bottles had emptied their contents on the table on the porch, and along the floor out the door, and the ornamental posts of the elaborate fence gate were lying across the street. What impressions one gets under such circumstances. Our maid had gone we knew not where so leaving the house all open we too made our way toward the city.

How crazy things looked, houses partly over, some on one side, others entirely down, people everywhere. A friend ran to tell us she could not have us that evening for dinner, we had entirely forgotten it in all the distress about us.

Sister had escaped being killed by a huge gun falling across the doorway, the pictures in the living room with its high ceilings were turned to over, come to think of it, was funny. No chimneys on any house, and the destruction grew worse as we neared the city.

The fine courthouse partly down, the dead and injured were being take out of buildings and laid on the grass in a yard, others being taken into homes not badly damaged or friends taking the bodies away, others brought in a wagon their clothing covered with blood, a gruesome sight. We could only stand and look since already many were at work.

The courthouse was badly damaged as were the places of business along the streets such a sorry sight one seldom sees and the smoke going up in clouds from the burning buildings.

I could look back at the Saturday before when a party of us came to the city from Inverness where we were summering, and found the Bay gay with flags on the shipping to greet a Governor coming from the Philippines, and now from our window we watched that city burning three days and nights.

In the twenty days after the earthquake we had many “shakes” and it was a question what to do, but the rescue of the dead among the ruins went on day and night, until more than one hundred were recovered, and people began to restore their homes, for no one had a chimney, ourselves among the number. We had a place out in the yard where we cooked and heated water and left the doors open at night so that we might run if another shock came.

A week after we were allowed to go to the City, where in a little wagon and one horse we drove about, indeed we went as far as the Presidio to see our friend Mrs. Andrews, then post mistress and passed the Park with its hundreds of campers, and many out on the sidewalks kitchen.

It was terrible sight the City of San Francisco no pen could describe the desolation. The water mains having been broken with the earthquake the ground went down leaving great ditches along the streets and this lack of water caused the fire. No water. No telegraph wires, so Mr. Rockwell took the train to Vallejo to send word that we were safe to the daughters, one in Detroit Michigan and the other to three daughters in Paris France.

– undated essay by Julia Rockwell

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THE SEDUCER’S SCHOOL

Profiled earlier was a Santa Rosa girl who died from a botched abortion in 1909. Now let’s meet the villain responsible for her pregnancy: Professor Forest C. Richardson, a 45 year-old teacher, husband, father and serial sexual predator.

If this story was less outrageous it’s doubtful the local newspapers would have covered it at all. Anything related to sex that might arouse prurient interests was downplayed and thickly coated in euphanisms; a child molester who lurked around the E street bridge in 1906 and repeatedly grabbed young girls was described in a Press Democrat headline as a “hugger.” The only time I recall seeing the word “rape” was in a 1909 PD item that did not mention the victim at all – although readers of the Santa Rosa Republican knew she was 13 years old (that paper, however, described the the crime merely as “assault”). Also taboo was abortion, which was dubbed instead the “criminal operation,” as discussed in the essay about the young Santa Rosa woman who died following the procedure.

It was apparently a mention of Professor Richardson in the San Francisco coroner’s jury findings that led Sonoma County District Attorney Clarence Lea to bring him in for questioning. Richardson and his family had been in Santa Rosa since 1905 and operated the Richardson’s Business College at 521A Fourth street, which was probably only a room or two of walk-up office space. As the Press Democrat pointed out at some length, it had nothing to do with Sweet’s Santa Rosa Business College, “a large and successful institution [that] stands high in the estimation of the community.” Those who attended Richardson’s school, according to the Republican paper, were “mainly poor girls, struggling to get along in the world and make something of themselves.”

From the accounts that appeared in the Santa Rosa papers and San Francisco Call, Richardson was emphatic that the District Attorney understood he had nothing to do with the girl’s abortion-related death. But yes, he confessed he had a “familiarity with her” that dated back four years – when she would have been 14 years old – and that there had been others as well. When any of the girls became pregnant he gave them some sort of pill that was supposed to be an abortifacient. Richardson was arrested after signing a lengthy confession and the Grand Jury indicted him on criminal assault (rape) and furnishing girls with drugs for illegal purposes (abortion).

The prosecutor dropped the rape charges – perhaps the four young women investigated by the DA were consenting adults? –  and concentrated on a star witness. This woman testified Richardson had vowed to run away with her to another country and had given her a ring. When she became pregnant he gave her some of his special pills. They didn’t work and as childbirth drew near he didn’t provide the financial help promised. Thus she came to court and testified against him, bringing along their infant. Also in the courtroom were Richardson’s wife and four kids, which probably made for a few squirmy moments.

With excerpts from his confession being read in court and no defense made except to vilify the character of the witness, it was assumed that jurors would make quick work of their decision. They didn’t. The jury was deadlocked after being sequestered overnight.

When the retrial began a couple of weeks later, the Press Democrat could no longer maintain its pretense of journalistic objectivity, such as the nicety of using the word, “alleged.” One headline read, “State Calls Further Witnesses in Case Revealing Degeneracy of a Former Instructor” and while mentioning that Richardson’s family again was in the courtroom, sneered “the children being fortunately too young to grasp the meaning of the details of their father’s lust.”

The second jury found him guilty within five minutes, cheering themselves for a job done well. Richardson was sentenced to four years in San Quentin.

Richardson’s family remained here while he was in prison, living at the small house at 125 W 8th St. that still stands. The 1915 city directory revealed he joined them and was again working as a teacher (yikes!) somewhere not mentioned. The last trace of him is in the 1920 census, where he was listed as a janitor at the Western Union office in Seattle.

PROFESSOR RICHARDSON FACES SERIOUS CHARGE
Testimony of Young Girls May Convict Teacher of Felony

Professor F. C. Richardson, of Richardson’s Business College in this city, is under arrest at the county jail and is being held to face a serious charge.

The exact charge against the accused is that he has supplied a girl with drugs to be used in an attempt to commit an abortion, and directing their use. This charge will not bar the district attorney from filing another complaint at any time on a more serious charge.

According to the evidence against the man, he has ruined a number of girls who have attended his school, and has used his office in that place to accomplish his purpose. Some of his victims are declared to be under the legal age of consent, while some of the charges against him are now outlawed.

Richardson was summoned to the office of District Attorney Lea Saturday morning and was there given an opportunity to tell his story. Previously Mr. Lea had devoted considerable time to investigation of the girls alleged to have wronged by this monster. It is alleged that Richardson admitted much of the charges placed against him.

As yet no warrant has been issued against Richardson. He was arrested by constable Gilliam and is being detained at the county jail.

The man’s offense is all the more heinous when it is considered that his victims were mainly poor girls, struggling to get along in the world and make something of themselves, while he has been at work tearing down their defenses and betraying them.

The penalty for the crime with which Richardson is charged is from two years to five years in the penitentiary.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 22, 1910
CONFESSES GUILT OF HEINOUS CRIME
Professor C. H. Richardson Arrested Saturday and is Now Lodged in the County Jail

Professor C. H. Richardson, who for several years conducted Richardson’s Business College in this city, occupies a steel-bound cell in the county jail, where he was lodged Saturday after he had told a shocking story to District Attorney Clarence Lea admitting improprieties with a number of young girls.

To men whose official duties frequently cause them to hear details of depravity, Richardson’s admissions, coupled with the evidence they have secured, constitute a case unsurpassed by any that has come to their knowledge. With some show of shame, Richardson admits that he has been “very foolish.” Beyond that he has little to say.

Richardson’s traffic in immorality, according to his own statement to District Attorney Lea, has covered something like four years, or practically ever since he took up his residence in Santa Rosa. In his former home in Texas similar charges were made against him, and he left there.

To District Attorney Lea Richardson on Saturday confessed to five victims of his lust. District Attorney Lea is withholding names, but it is known that one of the victims of the man now behind the bars was a young woman who died recently in San Francisco under suspicious circumstances and whose death it will be remembered was made the matter of investigation. Richardson states that his familiarity with her dates back four years ago, but he denies any complicity with the cause of her death.

The specific charge against Richardson in the complaint sworn out in Judge Atchinson’s court by Constable Boswell is that of furnishing drugs to girls for an improper purpose. When seen Saturday night District Attorney Lea said:

“There is no doubt as to the truth of Richardson’s admissions. He has been persistently and incessantly ruining young girls. The matter was first brought to my attention a day and a half ago, and since then we have worked diligently on the case, and when Richardson was arrested today we were quite sure of our ground. He later made a confession to me of his wrong doing.”

– Press Democrat, January 23, 1910

UGLY CHARGES PUT PROFESSOR IN JAIL
Girl Pupils Accuse the Head of Santa Rosa Business College of Heinous Offense

(Special Dispatch to The Call)
SANTA ROSA, Jan 22.–With the arrest today of Professor Forest C. Richardson whispered rumors grew into broad tales of scandal concerning conditions at the local business college of which he is the head. A number of young Santa Rosa girls have been pupils at the institution and the revelations have shocked the community.

The investigations were begun by District Attorney Clarence F. Lea following the death in San Francisco of Leora Hendrison, an 18 year old girl, who had been a student at Richardson’s school. Miss Hendrison’s death was followed by the arrest of a San Francisco physician. The ensuing inquiry caused attention to be directed toward Richardson’s school.

The information that has come to the district attorney leads him to believe that the most serious accusations against Richardson are to follow. There are four specific cases under investigation. In some instances the girls involved were but 14 and 15 years old. There are charges also that many young women were compelled to abandon their studies shortly after enrollment because of the demeanor of the preceptor.

Richardson came to Santa Rosa six years ago from Corpus Christi, Tex. For four years he has conducted the business college. He is far from attractive in personal appearance. He is untidy of dress and of irregular features. He is 45 years old and has a wife and family of growing children. He has been active in religious undertakings and has professed sympathy with the local good government league.

Richardson was placed in a cell tonight. He will make no attempt to obtain bail for the present, believing he is safer in jail than out.

– San Francisco Call, January 23, 1910
NOT SWEET’S SANTA ROSA BUSINESS COLLEGE

A San Francisco paper refers to F. C. Richardson, now under arrest here on a serious charge, as “President of the Santa Rosa Business College.” This is not correct. The Santa Rosa Business College is conducted by James S. Sweet, former Mayor of the city, and one of the best known and most reliable men in this community and Richardson is not and never was associated with him or with that institution in any way.

Richardson ran a commercial class in a rented room on Fourth street. Sweet’s Santa Rosa Business College owns its own three-story building on Ross street. It is a large and successful institution, and stands high in the estimation of the community.

Readers of The Press Democrat should not confuse the facts in this case. Richardson’s commercial school and Sweet’s Santa Rosa Business College are two separate and very distinct concerns.

– Press Democrat, February 1, 1910
RICHARDSON CASE IS NOW ON TRIAL
Former Commercial School Teacher Faces a Jury on a Very Serious Charge

[12 men] were yesterday chosen in Judge Seawell’s court as the jury to try the felony charge against F. C. Richardson, who formerly taught a commercial school in this city. Richardson was indicted by the Grand Jury on two counts. He is now being tried on a charge of furnishing medicine and drugs for the purpose of producing a miscarriage.

After the impannellment [sic] of the jury District Attorney Lea made an opening statement. Assistant District Attorney Hoyle is associate for the prosecution.  William F. Cowan is the attorney for the defense.

The young woman who is the prosecuting witness took the witness stand and her testimony was damaging to Richardson. She admitted her yielding to the importunings of the defendant, and their illicit relations, the birth of the child, etc.

The witness’ testimony presented a disgusting state of affairs. Her allegations more than hinted at Richardson’s alleged depravity and cunning. She told of his avowed affections for her and of his having given her a ring (the ring being produced in court) and of his providing her with a veil so that her identity might not be revealed on the occasion of visits paid to secluded spots in the country, when opportunities in town, she said, had frequently availed. [sic]

The witness detailed that upon one occasion Richardson had told her that he could not marry her, but he would be willing to run away with her to a foreign country. She said further that he told her he had been familiar with other girls. The defendant’s counsel objected to the latter evidence as he claimed it was offered to liken Richardson to “a moral monster” in the eyes of the jury.

Under cross-examination the witness’ direct evidence was not shaken. She denied that she had ever received any money from Richardson. Twenty days before the child was born she admitted she wrote Richardson a postal card on which she had told him that she was waiting for money. She did this, she said, because he had promised to help her and had not done so.

Richardson’s wife and four children occupied a front bench in the courtroom while the prosecuting witness was relating her story.

Under cross-examination the witness was asked questions touching upon her previous character. The case will be continued today.

– Press Democrat, May 18, 1910
ALL EVIDENCE IN; ARGUMENT BEGINS
Richardson Case Will Go to the Jury Today–Both Sides Have Rested Case

The trial of F. C. Richardson, charged with furnishing medicine to a young woman for the purpose of producing a miscarriage, was resumed Wednesday before Judge Seawell and a jury.

A startling feature of the evidence adduced Wednesday was the introduction of portions of a statement made by Richardson to District Attorney Lea and taken down by Court Reporter Scott, in which statement Richardson admitted his intimacy, with the young woman who is the prosecuting witness in this case. The statement was taken after the arrest of Richardson. In it he admitted giving the young woman pills.

When court resumed on Wednesday morning the prosecuting witness was recalled by Attorney William F. Cowan, counsel for the defense, and her cross-examination was continued. She amplified certain evidence given on the previous day. An effort was made to bring out that her character had not been all that it possibly should have been.

Medical and expert testimony was also a feature of the day, evidence dealing with the nature of medicine alleged to have been procured for the prosecuting witness by the defendant.

Thomas Price, for over fifty years an analytical chemist of San Francisco and a frequent expert in the courts, was called on Wednesday afternoon, and testified as to an analysis he had made, at the request of the prosecution, of a box of pills. He detailed the result of his examination, and gave the ingredients.

Another medical witness was Dr. J. W. Jesse, who was asked a hypothetical question regarding the medicinal properties referred to by Analyst Price.

Other witnesses were called during the day by the prosecution, including the foster parents of the prosecuting witness.

Only portions of the statement made by Richardson were read in evidence, the part telling of his conquests with other girls being omitted as not connected with the case at bar. The statement in full covers many typewritten pages.

During court recesses Richardson joined his wife, and they sat chatting earnestly together. Their children, four small ones, were not brought into court by their mother as on the previous day of the trial. The little baby in the case was in court for a few moments Wednesday morning.

[..]

– Press Democrat, May 19, 1910
RICHARDSON CONVICTED BY THE JURY LAST EVENING
Verdict Returned After A Few Minutes’ Deliberation

F. C. Richardson was on Thursday night found guilty in the Superior Court of the crime of furnishing medicine to a young woman for the purpose of committing an abortion. The young woman was a student at the commercial school of which he was principal. The maximum punishment for the offense is five years in the State’s prison. Judgement will be pronounced by Superior Judge J. Q. White at nine o’clock next Monday morning. Judge White presided at the trial for Judge Seawell.

Five Minutes Deliberation

The verdict was returned into court after a few minutes deliberation on the part of the jury. At five minutes to nine at night the jury retired; twenty minutes later they were ready with their verdict of conviction.

Two Ballots Taken

As is customary with juries, the first ballot taken is usually to ascertain the feeling of the twelve men and before deliberation of the evidence ensues. The course was followed out in this case and on the first ballot there were eleven for conviction and one for acquittal.

Just as quick as fresh slips of paper could be passed around another ballot was taken, with the result that all twelve men voted for conviction.

Jurymen Cheer

Directly upon the taking of the ballot there was a cheer from the jury room, which could be heard echoing over the Court House. A few minutes later the electric bell connecting the juryroom on top of the Court House with the outside corridor rang boldly, and when Deputy Sheriff Reynolds answered the call and inquired whether the jury had agreed upon a verdict there was a lusty “yes” is response.

[..]

– Press Democrat, June 10, 1910

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