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.


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




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


(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


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


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



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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