1902pleasant

SEEKING MAMMY PLEASANT

Quiz time: Name the most prominent African-American ever to live in Sonoma county. Name the wealthiest woman in 19th century San Francisco. Name the person your grandparents and great-grandparents believed was actually practicing black magic. All three are Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant.

(RIGHT: Detail of a 1902 portrait of Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant at age 87)

Remarkably little  about her is known with certainty. She was born sometime between 1814 and 1817. She may have been a slave (or not). She refused to answer to the racist nickname, “Mammy” and the portrait most often used is not even a photograph of her at all, but Queen Emma of Hawaii. All that’s really certain is that she always carried herself with poise and was light-skinned, able to pass as white whenever she wanted – or then again, maybe her face was darker but had “European” features. But you can bet she was likely far smarter than anyone else she ever met.

An incident that happened at Glen Ellen in 1913 was originally planned to be retold here as part of the previous item about our ancestor’s readiness, just a century ago, to pull out their guns and blast away at each other. But as I prepared to write it up, it became clear that this shooting could be of interest to scholars as it reveals previously unknown details related to her story, and the canon of published work on Pleasant is so puny that even small bits may help.

Nearly all that’s available about her – both in print and online – is a thin weave of myths, canards and twice-told bits which fall apart with the slightest tug of fact checking. On the Internet this thumbnail bio offers a pretty good capsule view of her life. Further research is found in The Making of “Mammy Pleasant” which is available at the Sonoma County library (the introduction is particularly worth reading).

But most of what is still commonly said about her comes from novelizations of her life and times written by Helen Holdredge, who turned out a handful of history-based potboilers in the 1950s. Sources are rarely mentioned in “Mammy Pleasant” and “Mammy Pleasant’s Partner,” making it impossible for the reader to know how much was simply made up. The author sensationalized the story without restraint, always seeking to reveal malevolent motivations behind Pleasant’s every deed. And often staining those pages is Holdredge’s racism; not content to simply mention a newspaper at the time once called Pleasant “queen of the voodoos,” Holdredge spun out a three page yarn of the supposed ritual which gave her “absolute control over the Negroes.” Thanks to the availability today of digitized newspapers and other sources we can debunk some of the claims in her books but gaps will always remain, in part because Holdredge possibly destroyed some primary source material before donating her collection to the San Francisco Library.

This is not the place to attempt a full profile of Mary Ellen Pleasant, but here are some biographical highlights:

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INSTANT ENTREPRENUER   When Mary Ellen Pleasant arrived in 1852 California there were over nine men to every woman. Demand was high for domestic service skills; her first job here was cooking for $500/month (over $24,000/mo today). She followed by operating laundries and boardinghouses which catered to the richest men in town, presumably giving her the opportunity to pick up investment tips.
 
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FREEDOM FIGHTER   Mary Ellen established the western terminus of the underground railroad and was as important an activist in the movement as Harriet Tubman, aiding hundreds of slaves to find transport to new lives in Canada and the West. She was an avid supporter of John Brown and involved with financing Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. He was carrying a note from her when he was captured, which is the Believe-it-or-Not! connection between her and Santa Rosa’s Comstock family; Harvey B. Hurd was in the leadership of another group supporting John Brown and Hurd had provided the famed abolitionist with his own clothes to replace Brown’s tattered suit. While it’s unknown if Hurd and Pleasant met (and it is quite possible since they were only 300 miles apart during 1859 when she was in Ontario), her note was found in a pocket which once belonged to Hilliard Comstock’s grandfather.
 
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FINANCIAL WIZARD   Back in post-Civil War San Francisco, Mary Ellen Pleasant resumed her investments with mining and real estate deals, building one of the great fortunes in San Francisco during the Gilded Age. She did not conceal her wealth, riding through the streets in a carriage attended by a coachman and footman dressed in top hats and white breeches. In 1877 she designed and had built a mansion on a lot covering two city blocks (see photos below). It was said to cost $100,000 and she spared no expense in decorating; tapestries, gold bronze chandeliers and a clock over seven feet high were some of the features that left visitors gasping.
 
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HUMANIST, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST   Even Pleasant’s critics would concede she used her wealth and influence to great good. She marshalled a constant stream of protégées, both black and white, towards good jobs and good marriages while finding homes for unwanted babies. In the late 1860s she successfully sued the streetcar companies in San Francisco so African-Americans would be allowed to ride the trolleys.
 
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“MAMMY” IS BORN   Pleasant was a key player in a scandalous legal battle that dragged through most of the 1880s with papers nationally reporting every dramatic moment in the courtrooms, including an incident where someone pulled a Bowie knife on a Supreme Court justice at a hearing. At issue was whether socialite Sarah Hill was indeed married to Senator William Sharon, one of the wealthiest men in America, who claimed she was just his West Coast mistress. Pleasant’s connection with the woman isn’t clear, but Mary Ellen paid her legal fees, testified several times and attended every court appearance, sitting next to Hill. Pleasant’s reputation was collateral damage as the well-connected senator sought to smear Hill in the press. Accusations flew she was a prostitute and Pleasant was the whorehouse madam, and it was whispered “Mammy” had bewitched the senator with a love potion. The trials and demeaning press coverage set the stage for her downfall a few years later, when she would face some of the same judges in her own lawsuits.

Central to our story is the long and complex relationship between Mary Ellen and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bell. Before he met Pleasant, Thomas was already wealthy as part of the 1860s “Bank Crowd” in San Francisco, the insiders controlling nearly everything connected with Comstock Lode mining. In the 1870s he partnered with Pleasant and their mutual fortunes skyrocketed further still. He moved into her mansion which presumably raised some eyebrows, although a few years earlier he had been staying with another (male) partner from the Bank Crowd. Whether or not Thomas and Mary Ellen shared an intimate relationship is completely speculative.

Thomas’ wife, Teresa, is almost as much a riddle as Mary Ellen Pleasant. Most of her backstory comes from the unreliable Helen Holdredge, whose books claim she was another young protégée, groomed to be Bell’s mistress and nanny to his adopted children. (Another part of the Holdredge story that makes no sense is that Mary Ellen supposedly tricked him into believing he had to adopt them because they were his kids from prostitutes and mistresses.) After Teresa and Thomas married, all of them were living together in the 30-room manse where the fiction was Pleasant was employed as housekeeper. Altogether there were six children, but it’s unclear how many were born to the couple or were adopted.

Family life shifted to Sonoma county after Pleasant bought 985 acres near Glen Ellen in 1891. Included was one of the finest vineyards in California and a two-story ranch house, which she remodeled and probably expanded. She named the place Beltane Ranch, which survives today with the home turned into a bed-and-breakfast. (Sadly, the inn’s website includes only a few words about her and includes the usual dubious facts; for more information see this  history of the Beltane Ranch.) As usual, she made a savvy investment. Train service through the Valley of the Moon from the Tiburon ferry had just started the year before, and would soon transform the area into a favorite getaway for San Francisco elites, with the likes of sugar magnate Rudolph Spreckels raising polo ponies nearby.

The Bells and Pleasant played at being country squires but it only lasted about a year. The exact start of Mary Ellen’s downfall can be dated to October 16, 1892, when Thomas Bell died after falling over a railing in their San Francisco mansion.

Mary Ellen and Teresa continued their same roles, Teresa primarily at Beltane and Mary E. in the city. They co-parented the children and Pleasant continued handling all financial matters, even to the point of clothes shopping for Teresa.

They would also spend the next ten years in courtrooms fighting Thomas’ creditors, Pleasant’s creditors and finally each other. And except for the occasional sojourn to the courthouse in Santa Rosa, most of the legal battles were decided in San Francisco in front of Judge Coffey, who also presided over the endless William Sharon case.

Thomas and Mary Ellen’s investments were deeply entangled and became even more twisted after his death. For example, Mary Ellen apparently tried to hide assets by giving Teresa the deed to half of Beltane in 1894 but five years later, creditors convinced a judge to declare Pleasant the sole owner of the ranch. An old unrecorded deed conveying the San Francisco mansion to Pleasant had to be wrestled from Teresa’s grasp. Both were taking out mortgages on properties they may or may not have owned. It was an epic mess, impossible to straighten out today because the probate records for Thomas’ estate were lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

Matters were made worse when 23 year-old eldest son Fred Bell petitioned the court in 1897 to have his mother removed as guardian of the children, claiming Teresa was an abusive alcoholic and being manipulated by the “Voudon woman.” He lobbed escalating charges at Pleasant in following months: She had stolen jewelry, embezzled thousands from the estate and ultimately hinted she had murdered his father, although he hedged by adding that while he was in the house at the time, he was too drunk to say for sure.

The crisis came in the spring of 1899. A petty quarrel at Beltane Ranch between Mary Ellen and Teresa escalated into thermonuclear war. Police were called.  Mary Ellen – somewhere past 85 years old at the time – locked herself in her room as Teresa, sprightly at age 51 or 52, struggled to push in the door. You kids.

Mary Ellen packed her trunks and left Beltane, never to return. Shortly after returning to the San Francisco mansion she found police at the door with an eviction notice from Teresa – a curious twist since at that time Pleasant was the owner of record of both the mansion and Beltane. She moved out of there, too.

Pleasant spent most of her final years at a small house in what is now South San Francisco. She died impoverished in 1904 at the home of a couple who buried her in their family’s cemetery plot in Napa.

Even after Mary Ellen Pleasant’s death the lawsuits continued. Her probate wasn’t closed for six years, when it was decided (by Judge Coffey, again) she left Beltane to the couple who nursed her at the end. That spurred new suits which went on for much of the 1910s. A little tin box of Pleasant’s was found in a safe deposit vault, and in 1912 Teresa and a small army of lawyers crowded together over a courtroom table as it was unlocked. Instead of the jewels Teresa expected, there was only “a bunch of faded papers,” according to the Chronicle, including personal letters and some old deeds. Naturally, Teresa tried to claim they belonged to her.

From published snippets of Teresa’s diaries it is shown she had a burning hatred of Mary Ellen from 1899 onward. But why? Surely she still wasn’t nursing a grudge over the squabble at the ranch concerning which one of them owned an armchair. It certainly went beyond a kind of Monopoly game competition of who had claim to the most houses or even any particular place. No, she wanted to see “Mammy” Pleasant utterly destroyed; her hatred was visceral, and I believe it was driven by a single person: Bayard Saville.

 

 

 

Two views of Mary Ellen Pleasant’s mansion at the southwest corner of Bush and Octavia in San Francisco. At top is a 1926 photograph of the southern face showing the original home designed by Pleasant following the Second Empire/Mansard style. Below is a 1925 photo of the building adjoining it on the northwest side, giving the residence an overall count of thirty rooms. An early photo does not show the addition on the north side, so that building, constructed in the Italian Renaissance style popular around the Civil War, was moved there at some time after Pleasant’s home was built in 1877. The sprawling mansion was called the “House of Mystery” and “House of Secrets” by the press. Both photos courtesy of UC/Berkeley, Bancroft Library. CLICK or TAP to enlarge

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WHY YES, THAT IS A GUN IN MY POCKET

Questions we forgot to ask grandpa at the reunions: Did you ever shoot anyone? Were you ever shot at? Did you ever shoot yourself?

Open any Sonoma county newspaper from a century ago and prepare to be surprised at how often our ancestors reached for their guns to shoot someone. Keep in mind we’re not discussing the rootin’ tootin’ days of the Wild West but the early 20th century, when Santa Rosa and the rest of the looked pretty much like any place in Mid-America, particularly after 1910 or so. Breakfast was poured from a cereal box, people chatted on telephones, electric appliances were in the kitchens and in the evenings kids listened to recorded music their parents didn’t like. It wasn’t so different from today except everyone’s clothing had too much starch and men’s pockets bulged with guns.

It appears most were packing a snub-nosed “bicycle revolver,” so named because it was small enough to be carried by a cyclist to fend off dog attacks. There were many models that promised to prevent accidents by being “hammerless” with no exterior hammer to catch on clothing and/or with grips which prevented the trigger from being pulled unless the handle was being squeezed at the same time. Still, there were many cheap little .32 and .38 caliber revolvers available with no safety features at all – sometimes not even having trigger guards. As a result, the most likely person to be shot was the gun owner himself and filler items in the papers reported doctors patching up many a leg and foot wound.

When they did draw their weapons and begin blasting away our ancestors proved to be lousy marksmen, with their intended victims rarely seriously injured or even hit. In one of the wildest events chronicled here, Santa Rosa barber Andy Carrillo was in a four-way shootout in 1907 where he shot one man in the chest, causing a fright but little harm. When another of Carrillo’s bullets grazed someone else, that fellow pulled out his own gun and the two of them began shooting at point-blank range, both missing entirely. When the case came to trial, Carrillo went free – he was not even found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. But had he not slightly wounded the guy, the customary penalty for shooting at someone was merely a fine of $5 for each shot fired.

Among the shooting stories of 1913 was an incident near Guerneville that seems like a sketch from an old cartoon: Boys steal Farmer Jones’ fruit, Farmer Jones puts up a warning sign, boys steal fruit again and Farmer Jones peppers them with his trusty ol’ shotgun. Not so comic was that his gun was loaded with lead buckshot, not salt, and the boys were not comically wounded in the backside as they were running away. Farmer Jones badly injured one of them, with a doctor removing 24 pellets from a youngster’s face. This time the grand jury called it assault with a deadly weapon, but the judge allowed him to plead down to simple assault because he hadn’t intended to hit the kid in the face – he was aiming for their feet but alas, missed. Pay the forty dollar fine, please.

The other episode happened in downtown Santa Rosa. Since the previous year, the Rose theater was the target of pranksters, who jumped on the roof, shouted “fire,” and otherwise tried to panic the audience. Police were called to no avail. This time the manager grabbed his gun, ran through the restaurant next door and began firing away, although it was so dark he could not identify the people he was shooting at. Naturally, no one was wounded. This story had an unexpected O’Henry twist, however, when it was discovered that the theater projectionist was in on the malicious mischief: It was a cover for his theft of little parts and tools from the theater, along with his breaking some equipment which he could steal after the theater bought replacements. He pled guilty to petty larceny and was given a fine of $90 – or, as they might have said around the courthouse, two face-shots plus a couple of grazes.

BYSTANDER HIT BY BULLET AND SUES FOR DAMAGES

Peter Daliavanto, a 19-year-old youth, through his guardian ad litem, A. Bacci, commenced an action in the Superior Court yesterday against J. W. Leroux, a well known Cloverdale citizen, in recovering $750 damages.

The complaint alleges that on September 13, plaintiff was struck in the leg by a bullet and sustained severe injuries. He alleges that the bullet came from a revolver in Leroux’s hands at a time when defendant was aiming at A. Guicco for the purpose, as he alleges, killing Guicco. In other words, he says he was an innocent bystander and that Leroux’s aim was unsteady and the bullet intended for Guicco stuck him.

Allison B. Ware and Phil Ware are the attorneys for the plaintiff. The complaint gives the first news here of the alleged assault upon Guicco by Mr. Leroux. It is known here that Mr. Leroux has been worried over domestic troubles for some time.

– Press Democrat, October 1, 1913

ONE OF A GANG OF VANDALS ANNOYING THE ROSE JAILED

With the plea of guilty made by C. Croft before Judge Atchinson, Monday afternoon, petty thievery which has extended back for almost six months at the Rose Theater, was brought to an abrupt end. Croft pleaded guilty to the charge of petty larceny preferred by C. N. Carrington. He was sentenced to a fine of $90 or ninety days in the county jail, and elected to serve out his sentence.

The arrest is the culmination of a long series of thefts and acts of rowdyism after the shows were out, which have perplexed and bothered the management of the Rose Theater since last June. With the giving of a false alarm of fire early in June last the management has been continually harassed by several unknown individuals. Throwing rocks on the roof of the theatre was a favorite pastime of the hoodlums. This was stopped when Mr. Carrington ran through the restaurant next the theater and fired at the men. The first time the trigger was pulled the gun failed to go off and this is responsible for the saving of the life of one man as he had time to get out of the way before Mr. Carrington could pull the trigger again. One shot was fired at a man who was on the roof of the theater but the bullet did not take effect.

During this time many things have been stolen from the theater and several machines broken. Suspicions fell on Croft, the operator, who has been with the theater ever since it was opened. A search warrant was issued Sunday morning and Chief of Police Boyes and Constable John Pemberton went to Croft’s residence, on Santa Rosa avenue. They found a lense [sic] from the machine first broken, a roll of tickets and a number of tools. They later searched the attic of the theater and found a moving picture machine and a number of parts of machines which had been stolen and hidden in the loft.

Croft was arrested and readily confessed his guilt. He said that he had no excuse to offer and could give no reason for his actions other than it was a policy of his to steal little things at every job he had. He said that he smashed the machines because he wanted Mr. Carrington to get new ones.

It is known that several were involved in the plans to harass and annoy the Carringtons, as different ones have been seen about the place at the same time. It is believed that Croft is one of a gang and could throw some light on the attacks if he were so inclined. The Carringtons have been put at a loss of about $500 altogether by the work of the gang.

One moving picture machine was stolen, another taken out and left on the roof of the building and a lamp-house valued at $40 was broken all to pieces Saturday night after the last performance. It was this last act of vandalism which led to the discovery of Croft’s part in the job. It is known that he is the only one on the inside who has been involved but the authorities have a clew on which they are working which may lead to the arrest of his associates.

– Press Democrat, January 28, 1913
IRATE FARMER SHOOTS YOUTHS
Boys Stealing Fruit Give Severe Treatment

Warning.

I have a shot-gun. It is not loaded with salt.

I use No. 8 shot. Stay out of this orchard.

Disregarding the above sign which is prominently displayed in front of a peach orchard above Guernewood Park three boys were shot Sunday and more or less seriously injured by the owner of the orchard. One of the boys was shot in the face, the other in the neck and the third in the hand and stomach.

The boys were found a few moments later by Sheriff Jack Smith, who took them in his auto and rushed them to Rionido where they were given medical attention. One of the boys had twenty-four of the shots taken out of his face.

The farmer who shot them claimed to have been bothered so much with people stealing his fruit that he was compelled to resort to heroic measures to save his crops. He put up the sign which is about then feet square. The boys admitted that they saw the sign but “took a chance.” They decided not to prosecute the farmer, and all parties considered themselves well out of the mixup.

– Santa Rosa Republican Ju;y 7, 1913

FARMERS ARE VICTIMS OF LAWLESS HOODLUMS

A few days ago a Sonoma County farmer was indicted for shooting at some boys who had been caught stealing his fruit. The boys had been warned repeatedly but took no notice nor paid the least attention to the signs that had been placed in plain sight to warn trespassers. Now what was the farmer to do? He had been annoyed repeatedly by summer campers coming into his orchard, taking no heed to his warnings, so when the boys bent on stealing, came into his property he was so incensed that he raised his gun and fired the shot hitting all of the boys.

This is only one case of trespassing. The farmers in this and other countries also are being repeatedly annoying by summer campers going on their places, stealing fruit, shooting in many cases killing stock, and destroying sometimes many thousands of dollars of property, by carelessly throwing burning cigarette and cigar stubs in the dry grass.

What would the city man think if you came to his yard and set fire to his house? The people seem to take no notice of the signs placed near approaching roads and trails; in many instances tearing them down or disfiguring them so that it is impossible to read them.

Now can you blame the farmer when he takes the law into his own hands, when the people treat him as if he were an agent to serve them and long after their pleasures?

– Marvin A. Watson letter, Santa Rosa Republican July 21, 1913

PEPPERED BOYS AND IS FINED $40
Farmer Jones Dealt With Leniently by Judge Seawell Here on Monday

Farmer J. C. Jones who “peppered” three San Francisco boys with small shot while they were robbing his peach orchard, located on top of a hill, some distance from Guerneville, appeared in Judge Seawell’s department of the Superior Court on Monday to answer the Grand Jury indictment, charging him with assault with a deadly weapon. He was allowed to plead guilty to a charge of simple assault, and under the circumstances the Court was lenient with Mr. Jones, who is seventy years of age, and fined him forty dollars.

Jones told the Court of the depredations of the young hoodlums in his orchard on a number of occasions. This case was an aggravating one. He had already given the boys a basket of cherries, he said, and while his back was turned they broke into his orchard and filled baskets and hats with fine fruit and decamped. Next day they broke into the orchard and stole fruit again. The third time they came they were received with a volley of small shot from Mr. Jones’ gun.

Farmer Jones told the court that he had not intended that any of the shot should hit the boys in the face. He said he aimed at their feet, but was fired down hill.

Several good citizens of Guerneville were on hand to give Mr. Jones a good character…

…Dr. C. J. Schmelz was called as a witness. He is the resident physician at Rionido, and he extracted the small shot from the boys’ anatomy. The boys admitted to him that they had been stealing fruit, and said they did not wish anything to be done to Mr. Jones.

– Press Democrat, August 13, 1913

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WHEN WOMEN’S RIGHTS ENDED AT THE HEMLINE

In 1911, California women won suffrage. Had anything changed in Sonoma County after a couple of years had passed? Yes, but not much for the better.

The main opponent to suffrage was the liquor industry, fearing that women voters would demand lawmakers crackdown on saloons, if not outright banning alcohol altogether. That didn’t happen, although a portion of West County did vote for prohibition in 1912, (more of an issue about farm workers and real estate values) and a few scattered communities around the state did go “dry.” The temperance movement, however, acted as if the larger push for women’s rights gave them a mandate to impose a rigid faith-based moral code that might have made the Taliban proud.

Petitions circulated around the state seeking compulsory “Sunday observance” laws at the local and/or state level. Several groups formed to gather signatures and demands varied, depending how heavily the group leaned pro-labor or pro-Christian; some wanted only a guaranteed day off but others sought to ban any form of work, sports, recreation or entertainment – presumably an exception would be made for the police so they could lock everyone up. A “day of rest” bill was considered by the state legislature in 1913 but died after an amendment added saloons to the list of businesses exempt from Sunday closing.

Nationally the largest temperance group was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and according to them our handbasket to hell was speeding there at a breakneck pace. Per a 1913 wire service story, Dr. W. A. Ruble, president of the Loma Linda “College of Medical Evangelists” told WCTU audiences that booze and immorality was driving us all nuts. “Doctor Ruble declared that if insanity continues to increase at the rate it has in the last few years, the next 100 years will see a majority absolutely insane. They will be able to run the country.” By god, consider your prophecy fulfilled, doctor.

Here in Santa Rosa, the county WCTU’s 1913 convention heard an address by Dr. Sara Wise, a physician who was the group’s “purity lecturer” in California. Her usual topics were  “social immorality” and “race betterment” (eugenics, in other words) along with the need for proper sex education because “spooning is dangerous.” The Press Democrat published the complete text of her lecture, “Dress in Relation to Vice” which is excerpted below.

According to Dr. Wise, low necklines and tight skirts fortold the End of Civilization As We Know It and everyone agreed on that. “Any one who denies that such costumes are immodest and degrading is either untruthful or inconceivably ignorant or insane, and in any case should be put under restraint.”

Wise was in highest dudgeon over “the filmy X-ray skirt, made of several yards of nothingness” (the outline of a woman’s legs could be seen when a bright light was behind) and the slit skirt, which exposed a bit of ankle or even calf. Men must be protected from temptation, according to her: “We dare not tolerate that ‘which causeth our brother to offend'” she huffed. “We must not sanction that which has so evidently the ‘appearance of evil.'”

The cartoon to the right is one of several that appeared nationally poking fun at such prurient obsession in making sure women’s legs remained thoroughly covered, but there were more than a few bluenoses who agreed with Dr. Wise and her ilk. Newspapers of 1913 were peppered with wire service stories about women hauled to court because of “immodesty.” A Few samples:

Indianapolis ordered police to check on women wearing slit skirts to ensure they also wore “undergarments.” A judge in Milwaukee fined a woman $10 for a skirt that was “too short, too tight and too much slit.” The mayor of Portland gave police broad powers to arrest women if a cop thought anything about their attire was improper. In Richmond a woman was charged with indecent exposure for a slit skirt that went to her knee; her defense was it was legal to buy it in a department store, but the judge replied that while someone could also legally buy a gun, it was against the law to use it for murder.

And it wasn’t just a bit of leg that upset some people in 1913; the Santa Rosa Republican ran a letter complaining that women shouldn’t show their teeth when they smile for a photograph. That letter might be a satirical comment on the immodest skirt kerfuffle, however; some of the writing resembles the work of humorist and historian Tom Gregory. It’s either hundred year-old trolling or someone’s very odd kink; you decide.

Passage of suffrage meant women could also serve as jurors. Although it was 1922 before women were seated on a Sonoma county Superior Court jury, there was an unusual all-woman jury convened in 1913.

The case involved two Petaluma women neighbors, Mary Stegeman and Lena Waldorf. Mrs. Stegeman’s five cows were loose and grazed on Mrs. Waldorf’s flowers. Waldorf herded them onto her own property and there was a confrontation when the Stegeman kids tried to collect them. Mrs. Waldorf was said to have “punched” and pushed the girls. Although they had no bruises or other signs of injury, Mrs. Waldorf was charged with battery. She was found guilty but fined only one dollar.

Coverage by the Santa Rosa Republican seems mildly insulting by noting she would be judged by a “jury of her peeresses” who were “juroresses,” but those were legitimate forms of address at the time, albeit awkward. The Press Democrat, however, assigned Dorothy Ann, their gossip columnist who never hesitated to wrinkle her snoot at women she presumed to be her lesser.

Dorothy Ann remarked Mrs. Waldorf was “a plain little woman” but reserved her ample condescension for the jurors, whom she described as “half-frightened” and simple, even childlike:

Introductions were numerous and for a space of time the scene only needed a well appointed tea table to convince one tea would soon be served. The flashes of colors radiating from the pretty summer gowns enhanced this impression and the chatter bordered on the common place. It was as every day. There was little said of the near approaching trial. A lively discussion as to the merits of doing early ironing ensued and when a street vendor passed yelling “Apricots,” the prospective jury rushed to the window to view his fruit.

As the trial wore on, the PD reported jurors were anxious because “it was long past the lunch hour and wives showed visible signs that they were worried over what husbands might get (or not get) to eat.” One juror said she was leaving and county counsel yelled at her to sit down. “And Miss Cassidy sat down, not having the slightest idea that she might have been fined for contempt of court.” Bravo, Dorothy Ann; that’s a grand slam of sexist snark.

(RIGHT: “The latest candidate for a position on the Santa Rosa police force, Maggie McGiure [sic], of Los Angeles.” Maggie McGuire was a fictional character in serialized stories about a jewel thief who committed robberies in disguise. Note the slit skirt. Cartoon from the Santa Rosa Republican, August 26, 1913)

A month later, Dorothy Ann – or maybe, the PD headline editor – threw a dismissive jab at the proposal to hire a female police officer by saying she would be a “copette.” Perhaps because this was being advocated by “prominent club women,” her article was straight-forward and sympathetic to the idea.

We finish our tour of suffrage updates with the good news that a “well known hotel keeper” in Santa Rosa was arrested after a complaint was made by Mamie Erickson, who was fired after demanding overtime for working 10-11 hour shifts as a cook. Under state law passed just before the suffrage vote, women could work only eight hours a day. The law was viewed as discriminatory because it gave employers an incentive to fire women who worked in stores and offices where a 55-hour week was common, and there were also loopholes exempting women who did the hardest manual labor. To have it turned around on an unfair employer was sweet justice.

 
DOZEN PETALUMA WOMEN TO ACT AS JURORESSES

Twelve women “good and true” will her the merits and demerits of the case of the People vs. Mrs. W. S. Waldorf of Petaluma. She is accused of having lawlessly punished the small sons of Fred Stageman of that city. The father swore to the complaint for the arrest and trial of Mrs. Waldorf, and a jury of her peeresses will decide as to the guilt of the accused. Deputy Sheriff Rasmussen has been working two days rounding up the dozen juroresses who may qualify for the trial, which will take place in Petaluma Friday. The case is attracting much attention around the Town of the Little Chicks, as its final disposition may establish a precedent regarding women juries at least in that vicinity.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 10, 1913

 

WOMAN JURY CONVICT ONE OF THEIR SEX–FINED $1.00

By DOROTHY ANN

Guilty and recommended to the mercy of the Court!

That was the verdict rendered by the first twelve women in Sonoma county selected to do jury duty in the case of the People vs. Mrs. W. S. Waldorf, held in the justice court in Petaluma, Friday morning. Judge George T. Harlow heard the charge of battery. The defendant, Mrs. W. S. Waldorf, was represented by Attorney Fred S. Howell and the case of the People was ably pleaded by Attorney Gil P. Hall.

The Crowd Gathers

Shortly before 10 o’clock Friday morning a swish of petticoats was heard coming down the hall leading to Judge Harlow’s court in Petaluma. A moment later the doorway framed several attractive looking women who sighed with relief when they discovered they were not late for the trial. They seated themselves in the small justice court and for the space of ten minutes there was a buzz of animated conversation only broken by the interruption of the arrival of more women. Politeness prevailed on all sides. Introductions were numerous and for a space of time the scene only needed a well appointed tea table to convince one tea would soon be served. The flashes of colors radiating from the pretty summer gowns enhanced this impression and the chatter bordered on the common place. It was as every day. There was little said of the near approaching trial. A lively discussion as to the merits of doing early ironing ensued and when a street vender [sic] passed yelling “Apricots,” the prospective jury rushed to the window to view his fruit. But this not last long. The defendant and plaintiff appeared with their attorneys and the court was soon called.

The Jury Sworn

A half-frightened expression appeared on the faces of the women when they were questioned as to their ability to give a fair and impartial trial; to cast aside all personal views; to be governed by facts; and to allow no sympathy to enter into their final conclusions. Frightened surely some of them were, but fully awake to their responsibility. Only one of the first twelve jurors’ names drawn was challenged. Mrs. W. J. Hickey admitted an acquaintanceship with the plaintiff and was not accepted. When duly selected the women settled themselves to listen to the testimony. They turned intelligent faces towards the witnesses and at all times paid the strictest attention. An occasional frown or smile crossed their faces as the trial proceeded and the case developed.

 The Point at Issue

Mrs. W. S. Waldorf, a plain little woman, was accused of striking the children of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Stegeman. When sifted down to a fine point the history of the case was little else than a neighborhood scrap, in which five cows being driven to pasture were left alone on the public highway in front of the home of the defendant and were very impolitely chewing up the flower garden of said defendant over the fence. Mrs. Waldorf in trying to protect her property drove the cowns into her own yard, and refused to allow Mary and Lena Stegeman to take them when they demanded them. Mrs. Waldorf armed herself with a horsewhip, and according to the testimony of Mary Stegeman, struck her, not sufficiently to bruise, and “punched” her. The word punch was finally decided to be a punishing blow. Mary and Lena Stegeman  ran home and told their mother what had happened and Dora Stegeman, aged 13, rushed out of the house to the backdoor of Mrs. Waldorf and demanded the cows. Mrs. Waldorf refused to acknowledge the whereabouts of the cows, and Dora is accredited with being very impertinent, whereupon Mrs. Waldorf ordered her off the place. Dora refused to go and Mrs. Waldorf, coming out of the door, picked up the whip, and with it in her hand pushed the child out the gate with her left hand.

 The Defendant

Mrs. Waldorf, in appearance was a sweet-faced woman. She was plain and unassuming. The fact that the jury decoded against her in no way convinced me that her intentions were other than that of an exasperaten [sic] woman who had seen her flower and vegetable gardens eaten and trampled more than once by neighborhood cows. The fact remained though and she herself admitted it on the stand, that she did “push” the children away and it was this that convicted her. A very slight blow can institute charges for battery!

 Case Goes to the Jury

When the testimony was all in and the charges given to the jury, Deputy Sheriff R. L. Rasmussen appeared and locked them up. After an interim of ten minutes the verdict as quoted above was read. Judge Harlow fined Mrs. Waldorf the sum of $1.

 An Amusing Incident

During the last twenty minutes of the trial the jury was unquestionably getting very nervous and anxious to get away. It was long past the lunch hour and wives showed visible signs that they were worried over what husbands might get (or not get) to eat. A heated argument was being held by the attorneys and for a few minutes it looked as if the trial might be held over in afternoon session. Miss Cassidy, afterwards forewoman of the jury, arose and announced she would not stay.

“Sit down!” yelled Mr. Hall.

And Miss Cassidy sat down, not having the slightest idea that she might have been fined for contempt of court.

 The Democratic Jury

The personnel of the jury was democratic. It knew no social lines. Society women rubbed elbows with plain, little housewives; and women earnest in lodge affiliations sat by arden church workers. It made not the slightest difference what club, church, lodge, or home they came out of, they agreed that no woman was justified in striking another woman’s child.

The jury women were as follows: [..]

– Press Democrat, July 12, 1913

 

SANTA ROSA CLUBWOMEN WANT ‘COPETTE’ NAMED
(By Dorothy Ann)

There is almost a unanimous expression among prominent club women for the appointment of a woman on the police force. Men and women who take an active interest in the social and civic welfare of the up-to-date city agree that a woman on the force today is almost a necessity. The idea is not new or untried, but cities of any importance both in California and the East have found her work of manifold help with women and children. Santa Rosa women are much interested at the present time.

“What we need in Santa Rosa,” said a well known woman to me the other day, “is a policewoman. That would solve some of these unanswerable problems we hear about.”

Los Angeles appointed the first policewoman in the personage of Alice Stebbens Wells. Many will remember the quiet, little woman who lectured here months ago. At that time she explained to me how perfectly rational her duties were. She watched all police interests in which women and children were concerned. She befriended the unfortunate girl, guided the silly girl and mothered the homeless girl. She watched the dance halls and dark corners of the moving picture shows. She made arrests when necessary and pressed her cases with the same assurances as the policemen. And all so quietly, so unobstrusively [sic] that men gasped at her ability.

The right woman on the police force in Santa Rosa would be a step in the right direction. Intuitively she would guard and mother the girls whose home conditions do not conduce to moral uplift.

– Press Democrat, August 19, 1913

 

EIGHT HOUR LAW INVOKED
By Woman Required To Work Long hours

A well known hotel keeper was arrested by Constable Sam Gilliam Monday morning upon a complaint sworn to by Mamie Erickson, who charged her employer with violation of the state law prohibiting the employment the employment of women for more than eight hours in a day. It is alleged that she required Erickson woman, who was acting as a cook, to work for ten and sometimes eleven hours.

A demand for extra pay for overtime was met with a refusal, and a summary dismissal according to the employee’s story, and the result is the filing of the charge.

The law in question has never been invoked in this county before. It is very strict in its terms, holding for not more than forty-eight hours in a week, nor more than eight hours in every twenty-four for any woman employee.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 29, 1913

 

VICE IN RELATION TO DRESS
In Paper Before the W.C.T.U. Convention Here, Dr. Wise Strongly Condemns “Slit Skirts,” “Tight Skirts,” and the “Filmy X-Ray Gown” as Being Immodest and Creators of Sensation

“Whether it be the slit skirt, or the tight skirt, of the filmy X-ray skirt, made of several yards of nothingness, the result and the desire are the same–to show the figure as much as is possible and as much of the figure as possible–without getting arrested.”
– Dr. Sara Wise

At the recent convention of the Sonoma County Woman’s Christian Temperance Union held in Santa Rosa, a paper, written by Sara Wise of San Francisco, a woman who has been prominent and active in temperance and Christian Endeavor work in the metropolis and State created much interest. Dr. Wise, in her paper on “Dress in Relation to Vice,” handled the subject without gloves. The Press Democrat has been requested to give the paper space in its columns and this morning prints Dr. Wise’s effort in full as follows:

(By Dr. Sara Wise)
Dress may be an indication of the degree of civilization of a people. It is also, to some extend, indicative of character, manners and morals.

The first mention of dress or covering for the body, was of aprons of leaves sewed together and worn, not for comfort, warmth or adornment, but because the knowledge of good and evil had come into life. Something had gone wrong. Shame had developed…

…Modesty is not only a beautiful and attractive quality in man or woman. It has its origin in sex and is a necessity for sex protection. Modesty is the shield the race has raised to safeguard its progress in ideals. When through long years of unbridled passion, of license, of lack of self-control, man has thrown down that shield, then it immediately becomes of vast importance as to what constitutes real modesty on dress and conduct. Any fashion in dress or conduct or amusement which is suggestive, or seductive, or tempting to the passions of man or woman; anything which leads to the idea of indifference to ideals for the one, or makes attainment of ideals impossible for another; anything which removes the barriers of restraint between the sexes, or encourages impure thoughts and undue familiarity should be decried; yes, should be most assiduously opposed, even to open war by all those who value safety of children and youth, or the perpetuity of the nation…

…Decent men and women are rebelling at the outrageous costumes of some of our women, not only of the society women, who ape the styles of the demimonde of Paris, but the working girl and the high school girl who ape the society women.

They are not worn for either comfort or beauty, but solely to be “in style.” They who wear them will declare quite earnestly that they are comfortable and very beautiful and artistic. They would, however, be the very ones to insist that such gowns were hideous and horribly uncomfortable if any other style prevailed.

Whether it be the slit skirt, or the tight skirt, or the filmy X-ray skirt made of “several yards of nothingness,” the result and the desire are the same–to show the figure as much as is possible and as much of the figure as possible–without getting arrested. Any one who denies that such costumes are immodest and degrading is either untruthful or inconceivably ignorant or insane, and in any case should be put under restraint.

I say unhesitatingly that the woman or girl who is immodest in her dress will be immodest and impure in her thinking and when a real temptation arises will inevitably be immodest in her conduct…

…The great crime in allowing high school girls, or other girls, to dress immodestly in any respect, is because they are in their most emotional age–the teen age–the time of physical awakening, which means the time of greatest unrest and mystery, the time for greatest care and caution. Because they are peculiarly sensitive to impression a very little thing will turn the scale in the wrong direction. That which robs the girl of her greatest sex protection, her modesty, it is criminal to destroy. It seems almost as if some of the fashionable, or would-be fashionable mothers, would rather have their daughters fashionable than pure; rather in style than safe; rather have her “stunning” and the envy of her girl friends, than the source of noble inspiration to both girl and boy friends.

Some forms of immodest dress, our civilization has permitted to become a custom. The very low neck of the ball room, is certainly not exactly modest.

The action of the Roman Catholic prelates of Canada prohibiting the wearing of low-neck evening gowns at church functions is more eloquent than a sermon. The libertine, alias the man of the world, may not care how much of the female figure is exposed–the more the better. He will flatter and encourage and say it looks “cute” and “fetching.” But it is the men who are making a strong fight for their own purity of life, who rebel at the insidious temptation…

…Let the Christian people but unite in emphatic protest against all immodesty and immorality in dress and such would soon cease to be “good form.” We dare not tolerate that “which causeth our brother to offend.” We must not sanction that which has so evidently the “appearance of evil.”

– Press Democrat, September 24, 1913

 

WE DON’T KNOW

Mr. Editor: It there is anything more silly than the present custom of taking women’s pictures with an open mouth to show their teeth. It is hard to find, and when a forced grin is added, it surely tops the climax. The natural, normal pose of the human features used to be considered the proper thing in a picture, and with sensible women, it is yet; but the rage for open mouths is on, and like the hobble skirt must have its run, the way it looks. But all of life is full of follies and ever has been, so Pope’s advice to “shoot folly as it flies” will always keep the shooter busy  if he complies.

Answer, We don’t know, have no mans of knowing, never expect to know. Why a woman, not insane, one of the sex devoted to a life effort to look well, should get herself into the grotesqueness of a set grin and preserve that facial distortion in a photograph is beyond human conception. Those deface faces frequently remind us of the phiz of a gargoyle on the eve waterspout of an ancient building. But or correspondent will have to let the fashion of appearing ridiculous run its course. Any attempt to mitigate would only accentuate.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 17, 1913

 

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