dooleyFB

THE SHORT CRAZY SUMMER OF DAREDEVIL DOOLEY

Ah, Spring in Santa Rosa. The colorful roses, the whiff of barbecue, the deafening roar of overpowered engines at the fairgrounds that ruin the evenings for everyone living near downtown. Now that the city is trying to lure developers into building high-rise apartment buildings, perhaps someone should mention that those units will be uninhabitable on weekends when there are motorcycle/hotrod races, destruction derbies or monster truck rallies. Hey, while we’re discussing a makeover of the downtown area anyway, could we please consider swapping the locations of the county fairgrounds and county admin center? Just a thought.

Santa Rosa’s always been a race-lovin’ town, however, starting with our hosting the first California Grand Prize Race in 1909. Even when there were fuel shortages during WWI and WWII we packed the grandstand to watch drivers spin around the dirt track and not-so-rarely crash. There have been deaths (two motorcycle racers were killed in 2016) and some of the pileups became the stuff of legend, such as the flaming tangle of nineteen Model T Fords in 1939 (“a smash-up spectacle Cecil B. De Mille couldn’t have staged,” gasped the Press Democrat).

Of all the events at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds I’ve read about in the old newspapers, there’s one I’d have truly loved to have attended: On July 4, 1918, Ed Dooley and another driver slammed their massive cars together head-on at an impact speed of 100 MPH, the men jumping out at the last second. At age 39, Dooley had never done anything like this before; he was a portly ex-salesman who apparently woke up one morning and decided he was fearless.

Dooley was never a race car driver; he only drove big, heavy touring cars which would seat 6-8 people and at the time cost as much as a small house. He had a gimmick, being that he only drove with his knees and feet, his hands cuffed behind his back. That’s not quite as astonishing as it might seem, as in all photos he is seen with the handcuffs behind his neck, so he could have swung them over his head if he needed to take control in an emergency or needed to scratch his nose. And although the automatic transmission didn’t yet exist, the cars he used were easy to shift gears because they had a linear gearbox, not the “H” pattern on today’s manual transmissions. A video of one of his favorite model cars, the Winton 6, shows the layout which made it possible to shift by throwing his leg over the stick (the entire short video is worth watching if you’re at all curious about what’s needed to restore such an old vehicle).

(RIGHT: Ad for the 1917 Oldsmobile Eight)olds8

On his 1918 WWI draft card Dooley listed his job as “performer in exhibitions” which was quite a new claim – in every earlier document he’s simply a salesman. He worked mostly for J. W. Leavitt & Company, which was the Oldsmobile dealership in San Francisco and distributor for the brand in California and Nevada. Ed was always described as well-known and well-liked, which is to say he had the traits of a good car salesman.

Almost nothing about Kieran Edward Dooley can be found prior to his adventures with handcuffs. He was born in Minnesota in 1879, the youngest of nine Irish farm children. His future wife, Nellie, was born four years later on a nearby farm.

Nor do we know why he started doing shackled driving stunts in 1917 as the “Cowboy Chauffeur.” A mid-life crisis? He was associated from the beginning with western themes and had a custom saddle to fit the hood of his car. At rodeos, local cowpunchers would try to hold on while Dooley made the car “buck” and sometimes he chased down a steer as the cowboy on the hood tried to rope it.

We know he made appearances that year at a rodeo in Salinas, the Stanislaus Livestock Fair and the Arizona state fair, but if he was paid much or anything for these appearances is anyone’s guess. It’s possible he was underwritten by the carmaker; in a 1917 newsletter for dealers, “The Oldsmobile Pacemaker,” it was boasted, “this feat of Dooley’s of driving without his hands and of guiding the car with his knees, proves how absolutely true the alignment of the wheels and steering mechanism is and how easily an Oldsmobile may be handled.” Another blurb appeared in the Los Angeles Times where Dooley praised the Oldsmobile Eight as a “super-quality” car.

It may be discovered he performed at other 1917 rodeos and fairs in the hinterlands – many newspapers from smaller counties are not yet online, and he didn’t get much coverage anyway. There was one brief item in a Modesto paper when he appeared there, and they misnamed him as “Dan” Dooley.

But truthfully, the hands-free driving schtick had limited appeal. It was more like a party trick, and one of the mentions that year had him driving up and down one of San Francisco’s steepest streets on a bet with other salesmen at the Olds dealership.

Come 1918, however, the “Cowboy Chauffeur” was reborn as “Daredevil Dooley” and “‘Suicide’ Ed Dooley.” Ed still did everything handcuffed but it became part of a complete show: “Dooley’s Automobile Rodeo,” which was to make its world debut at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds.

Dooley now had a press agent, a performance team and a small fleet of luxe cars to wreck. Who bankrolled the show is unknown, but it seems clear the objective was to get a Hollywood deal. An item in a Sacramento paper was clearly lifted from a PR handout: “Dooley has worked with Doug Fairbanks, Bill Hart and many of the big leaguers in the picture and racing world, and a year ago beat Barney Oldfield and others in the Phoenix race.” He was never in a race of any kind with Oldfield and no mention whatsoever can be found of him associating with moviemakers, although a newsreel crew supposedly filmed the whole doings in Santa Rosa.

The novelty act in the show was the “world’s youngest driver,” Ed’s son Ronald, who they claimed was five years-old but was actually six (Ed also shaved a couple of years off his own age when he registered for the draft later that year). More PR, this time appearing in the Press Democrat: “…this little chap, who cannot reach around the steering wheel, who has to slide ‘way forward in his seat to reach the brakes or change gears, is a thoroughly accomplished driver. Dooley tested his son repeatedly in the heavy traffic of San Francisco, and is satisfied that the boy has won his spurs.”

There were eleven parts in the Santa Rosa program, as transcribed below. Ed did his usual handcuff tricks and the cowboy bucking stunt along with a tug of war between two autos, a relay race and a few other competitions with both cars and motorbikes. There was also “the man from the Philippines, climbing a greased pole 40-foot high,” about which the less said.

The big attraction, of course, was the head-on collision. “‘First exhibition of its kind in history,’ the press agent says.”

 

dooleysantarosa

 

From the Sebastopol Times: “…And then will come the tremendous finale, the daring, death-defying head-on collision of two big touring cars, hurtling across the field toward each other at a rate of fifty miles an hour. Few people have ever seen a serious automobile accident, and those who have bear witness to the thrill of the impact of two great bodies. It is a breath-catching sensation, the one instant before the big cars crash with a roar that can be heard for blocks…”

I’ll offer only a few comments about this stunt: Presumably the driver’s doors were removed; presumably Ed and the other driver had practiced diving out of their cars at high speeds. Still, Edward Dooley was a 39 year-old man and from his photos appeared to be more chunky than lithe. He recently also had been in a highway auto accident near Fresno, when a tire blew out and hurled him 30 feet from the car.

There are no reviews to be found of the show, but we know no one was seriously injured – after all, they did the same head-on show a month later at Idora Park in Oakland. The only additional detail is that in Oakland both cars started from inclines, so it’s possible the engines were not running at the time of the collision.

Another month passed and it was time for the California state fair. The Sacramento papers were calling him “Suicide” Ed Dooley because his new stunt was to jump over a 20-foot high house constructed on the infield of the race track. His 3,000 lb. Oldsmobile Eight would shoot up a 50° ramp, fly over the roof and crash land on the other side.

This time he would not jump free at the last moment. “What will happen however, when the car hits the ground after its terrifying drop, even Dooley himself does not know, although he hopes to escape with nothing worse than a badly smashed car and a severe shaking-up,” said the San Francisco Chronicle.

And here’s the Believe-it-or-Not! twist: As crazy as that was, Ed Dooley had an even more risky stunt planned. Less than a week later, he was scheduled to be back at Idora Park, where he would perform another head-on collision – except it would be in midair this time. Both cars would race up an incline and the drivers would jump out just before the cars hit head-on, twenty feet in the air.

We don’t know if he did that show, and nor do we know if he did the house jump – again, it wasn’t customary to publish reviews of such entertainment events. But there certainly would have been news items if someone was killed or seriously injured, just as it was reported that several attendees were taken to the hospital when an Idora Park carnival ride malfunctioned that same afternoon.

It’s certain, though, that Daredevil Dooley’s career was over, having lasted only three (two?) months. Maybe his backers became cost-conscious after seeing how many $4,000+ autos he was busting up (the equivalent to about $70k per car today). Maybe it was because there was light attendance at his shows, as the Spanish Flu was near its peak and people were advised to avoid public places. Or maybe he could no longer ignore the toll on his middle-aged body caused by all those jumps from speeding cars.

Ed Dooley died in San Francisco about a year later, in December 1919. The cause was said to be “an attack of rheumatism” but it was probably a heart attack – at the time they didn’t understand rheumatoid arthritis is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease.

Had he reflected upon his daredevil days, I’m sure he would have remembered the Santa Rosa appearance as the high mark; not only did he receive the most publicity here but it was the only time his son was part of the show. Our ancestors, however, might not have remembered the day so fondly, as people all over town found themselves being pestered by all that noise in the middle of a very pleasant Summer afternoon. Say, did you just hear a terrible car crash? It sounded awfully close.

 

Item from The Los Angeles Times, November 18 1917
Item from The Los Angeles Times, November 18 1917

 

 

Undated portrait of Kieran Edward Dooley (Photo: Ancestry)
Undated portrait of Kieran Edward Dooley (Photo: Ancestry)

 

 

Illustration from "The Oldsmobile Pacemaker," December 1917
Illustration from “The Oldsmobile Pacemaker,” December 1917

 

 

 

 

sources
Edward Dooley, one of the best known salesmen in the local automobile trade, has been appointed general manager for the Master Spark Company and will make his headquarters in Los Angeles. Dooley has been a member of the J. W. Leavitt Company and is well known to motorists throughout this part of the state.

– San Francisco Examiner, June 8, 1915

 

DOOLEY READY FOR BIG STUNT
HANDCUFFED HE WILL DRIVE OLDSMOBILE FROM METROPOLIS TO SALINAS

Tomorrow a spectacular stunt advertising the California Rodeo will take place. Ed Dooley will leave San Francisco at 12:30 p. m. from Third and Market street with his hands securely hand-cuffed behind him and under these difficulties will drive an Oldsmobile to Salinas. Miss Kitty Doner, leading star at the Cort theater, will lock the handcuffs and speed Dooley on his way…

– Salinas The Californian, July 16, 1917

 

COWBOY TO RIDE AUTO AT RODEO
Bucking Motor Car to Be Feature of California Round-Up Next Saturday.

Despite the fact that one of his arms was broken when a high-powered racing car crashed into his “broncho” automobile recently, Edward Dooley, cowboy motorist, who recently drove from this city to Salinas with his hands manacled behind his back, will appear at the California Cowboys’ Roundup, to be held under the auspices of the Newspaper Men’s Club of San Francisco at Ewing Field, September 8, 9, and 10.

Dooley, who is under a surgeon’s care, declared yesterday that he would put his car through its paces at the roundup with his good arm strapped behind him and the injured member in a sling…

– San Francisco Examiner, September 2, 1917

 

NOVELTY STUNT OFFERED FAIR

Most people have enough trouble driving an auto with their hands but Ed Dooley, called the “Cowboy Chauffeur,” found that too tame and so he has developed the habit of driving the festive motor car with his hands handcuffed behind him. Dooley is in Phoenix planning to hook up with the State Fair for an exhibition if such a thing is possible and with him he brings a big scrapbook of notices of his stunts on the coast.

Dooley has driven hundreds of miles using his feet to shift gears with and his knees to steer by. He climbs in his car up an artificial flight of steps set at an angle of nearly 40 degrees and he does a number of other hair-raising stunts besides, according to press notices.

– Phoenix Arizona Republic, October 10, 1917

 

 

See Ed Dooley at the Fair today ride around the track at 40 miles per hour in an Oldsmobile “8” hand-cuffed and steering with his feet!

– Oldsmobile ad in Phoenix Arizona Republic, November 14, 1917

 

 

Drives Auto Without Use of Hands or Feet

Ed Dooley, who recently drove an Oldsmobile from Los Angeles with his hands handcuffed behind him, has arrived in San Francisco.

Dooley has found that the Olds is the easiest car on the market to-day to handle this way, and has decided to prove this fact by driving around this city manacled with his hands behind his back.

He has a wager with some of the salesmen of J. W. Leavitt & Co. that he can drive an Oldsmobile up Jones-street hill, stop half way, back down, and then proceed up the hill.

Dooley will drive his auto along the Ocean boulevard in this method this afternoon.

– San Francisco Examiner, December 9, 1917

 

 

A spectacular automobile rodeo, with touring cars, runabouts and motorcycles replacing the bucking broncos, wild steers and outlaws of the old rodeo, will be the attraction offered July 4th at the Santa Rosa Fair grounds. The feature of the day will be a head-on collision between two huge touring cars. Ed Dooley, known from coast to coast where daredevil automobile driving creates a thrill, has assembled a group of daring spiries into an aggregation known as Dooley’s Rodeo Company, and the intrepid crew will present their sensational feats of skill and danger on the afternoon of the Fourth.

Dooley’s Los Angeles-Yuma race across the sands of the Mohave won him national recognition as a driver of utter fearlessness. His feats, throughout the southwest country are spoken of with bated breath. His run last year from San Francisco to Salinas, with his hands manacled behind his back, was at once the joy of those who love a new thrill, and the bane of the speed cops.

This year “Daredevil Dooley” as his associates in the auto game call him, has perfected his handcuff driving to such an extent that throughout the entire rodeo July 4th, he will do all his driving, no matter how difficult the feat or how desperate the chance, with his wrists handcuffed behind his neck.

Dooley drives with his knees and the muscles of his legs. Just a few paces ahead may loom sudden danger. Despite the fact that he has not the use of his hands, an almost indistinguistable [sic] motion of the muscles sends intrepid driver and his car safely by. Automobile and motorcycle racing, an auto race backward, a hundred yard dash between a sprinter and an autoist, and several other racing novelties — in all of which Dooley drives handcuffed, will comprise the early part of the program.

Another feature of universal appeal will be the driving of Dooley’s little five year old son, Ronald. This handsome, curly-headed lad, who, his dad claims is the youngest professional driver in the world, handles his big car with a sureness that many an older driver would envy.

The tug of war between two big autos will provide thrills of a different nature. The sight of the huge cars tugging and straining in an effort to conquer their rivals; the battle of the gasoline giants is well worth watching.

But the great feature of the day, the soul-stirring, hair-raising tremendous finale of a program full of thrills, will be offered by the head-on collision. A huge Winton Six will be sent by Dooley (handcuffed) hurtling across the field to crash head-on into a Cadillac, started from the opposite side of the race course. The crash of these two big cars provides a sensation well worth experiencing.

Prior to the opening of the Rodeo. Dooley and his fellow motorists will take part in the big Moose parade. The Fair grounds gates will be opened at noon on July 4, and the rodeo will advance sale of seats will be announced shortly. The price of admission will be $1.

– Press Democrat, June 23 1918

 

BIG AUTO RODEO AT SANTA ROSA ON JULY FOURTH

…Dooley, who has won a name for himself throughout the country as one of the most daring men who ever handled the wheel of a car, will present many novelties in the way of thrilling driving on the occasion of the big rodeo.

“Daredevil Dooley,” they called him when he flashed into national prominence in the Los Angeles-Yuma Desert Classic several years ago; and in the southwest, men who saw his reckless performance in the wild dash across the sands still speak of his feats with awe…

– Petaluma Argus, June 24 1918

 

THE AUTO RODEO HERE ON FOURTH
Whole Lot of Merriment and Sport Is Promised by Stunts of “Dare Devil Dooley” and His Aggregation When They Show Here on the Holiday.

Hundreds of small boys from Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, who are counting impatiently the days until “The Fourth,” which will bring Dooley’s Automobile Rodeo to the Santa Rosa Fair Grounds, are no more impatient for the big day than a certain little fellow, just past his fifth birthday, down in San Francisco.

War demands for powder this year promise to do away with fire-crackers altogether, but the head-on collision of two great touring cars, a giant Winton six and a Locomobile, which are already in Santa Rosa awaiting the word that will send them crashing head-on into each other, this collision of the gasoline giants, the kiddles know, will cause a bang! bigger than any cannon cracker they ever fired in the days before the “Safe and Sane” rule went into effect.

Down in San Francisco, is the little five-year-old son , of “Daredevil Dooley,” the auto handcuff king who will put on the big show. Little Ronald Dooley is counting the days before the Rodeo just as impatiently as any lad who has been figuring on how he would he able to “raise” the price of admission.

For Ronald, on the afternoon of July 4, will make his first bow to the public in the game his father has learned so well, that of professional automobile driver. From the time he has been able to walk, the little fellow has had a love for the big fast cars his daddy uses, and nightly takes his ride behind a daring driver. Little by little, he mastered the controls himself; and now this little chap, who cannot reach around the steering wheel, who has to slide ‘way forward in his seat to reach the brakes or change gears, is a thoroughly accomplished driver.

Dooley tested his son repeatedly in the heavy traffic of San Francisco, and is satisfied that the boy has won his spurs; so Ronald will give his first public exhibition of his skill July 4.

And here’s the good news for all the other kiddies who have been looking forward to the big show and wondering whether there would be a tent for them to sneak under (which there won’t).

In order that there may be a goodly bunch of little fellows and their sisters out to make little Ronald feel at home, Dooley will admit free all children under ten years of age who are accompanied by their parents. Up to 16 half price will he charged.

Remember, the head-on collision of the big autos, racing together at a 50-mlle-an-hour rate, will not be the whole show: not by a whole lot. There will be automobile races, three fast motorcycle contests for purses of goodly size; an auto tug-of-war, automobile bucking contests, an auto hurdle race, racing backward, and many other big events. It will be a big day for both the kiddies and their parents.

In the morning. Donley and his drivers will take part in the Moose parade, with their cars and motorcycles. The gates will open at noon, and the big show will commence promptly at 2:30.

– Press Democrat, June 27 1918

 

DOOLEY’S AUTO RODEO SANTA ROSA JULY 4

…And then will come the tremendous finale, the daring, death-defying head-on collision of two big touring cars, hurtling across the field toward each other at a rate of fifty miles an hour. Few people have ever seen a serious automobile accident, and those who have bear witness to the thrill of the impact of two great bodies. It is a breath-catching sensation, the one instant before the big cars crash with a roar that can be heard for blocks…

– Sebastopol Times, June 28 1918

 

ED DOOLEY AND HIS SON ARE HERE

Ed Dooley, famous for his daredevil automobile driving, and his five year-old son are here preparatory to their exhibition at the race track on July 4th. Mr. Dooley has many interesting tales to tell about his experiences and narrow escapes while performing his feats in his big Oldsmobile “8.” Many times he had escaped death by only a hair’s breadth, and has lain in hospitals several times from accidents received while performing his stunts. Following is an article that appeared recently in a Fresno paper after a harrowing handcuff drive between that city and Modesto:

Edward Dooley, handcuffed auto pilot, narrowly escaped death early this morning when the automobile he was driving to the county fair here was ditched as a result of a blowout while the machine was rounding ‘death curve” on the road between this city and Modesto.

The machine, which was traveling at the rate of fifty miles an hour, was completely demolished and Dooley was hurled a distance of thirty feet, escaping, however, with a few minor scratches and bruises.

Dooley, who was a feature at the recent California cowboys’ round-up held by the Newspapermen’s Club of San Francisco, had been showing at the Modesto round-up and was making the handcuffed drive to Fresno on a wager.

At the time of the accident he had covered the greater part of the distance between Modesto and this city in the record time of two hours and 10 minutes.

– Press Democrat, June 29 1918

 

“DARE DEVIL’S” BIG FROLIC DN THE MORROW

When “Daredevil” Ed Dooley, hands manacled behind his back, hurls his powerful automobile out onto the Santa Rosa Fair Grounds track tomorrow afternoon, his appearance will signal the opening of one of the most spectacularly thrilling programs ever presented on a California race course.

For Dooley’s Automobile Rodeo will be truly a twentieth century roundup. with motor-driven cars, automobiles and motorcycles, replacing the fractious steeds and wild steers of the conventional rodeo; their daring drivers performing feats of skill and danger in a manner bound to bring the throngs to their feet with cheers for the intrepid performers.

Dooley himself is the premier of the daredevil crew who will race their gasoline steeds in novel contests of all kinds. The veteran of a hundred tracks, who has no superior in his line, will perform all his feats without the use of his hands, which will be firmly handcuffed behind his back. With this handicap, he will race the most reckless drivers of his crew; he will drive backward, will take part in the auto relay race, and in the stake or hurdle driving.

The motorcycle races will add their quota of thrills and excitement to the program. Dooley has secured ten of the fastest drivers in the bay district, and will present them in three death-defying contests. Substantial prizes have been offered the winners in the various races, and each man will be out to make the fastest time of which his machine is capable.

The auto bucking contest will be another event far out of the ordinary, and should prove productive of considerable excitement. Dooley during the past week has been busy rounding up range riders famous for their conquests of outlaw horses, and has offered a large bonus to the rider who can stay on a saddle attached to the radiator of his automobile.

– Press Democrat, July 3 1918

 

PICTURE MEN AT RODEO

With the completion of the track for the head-on collision of two big touring cars at the Santa Rosa Fair grounds on the afternoon of the Fourth, Edward Dooley manager of Dooley’s Automobile Rodeo, announced today that all is in readiness for the spectacular entertainment. Dooley has built a runway for the two cars, that will send them unerringly together to destruction at a fifty-mile an hour rate. The head-on collision will be the spectacular finale of the day’s program of thrills.

Attracted by the possibilities of the many novel events, moving picture producers have been besieging Dooley for the exclusive rights to film the various features; and today Dooley announce that he had finally closed with a San Francisco movie man.

The latter will “shoot” not only the automobile and motorcycle races, but the auto tug-of-war, Dooley himself in his sensational and daring exhibition of handcuffed driving; little Ronald Dooley, five-year old driver; the auto hurdle and relay racing; the auto bucking contest, in which a cowboy attempts to keep to the saddle strapped securely to the radiator of a bucking automobile; the racing backward, and all the other unique events.

Dooley announced today that he would himself pay the war tax on admissions; so there will be no charge outside the admission price…

– Petaluma Courier, July 3 1918

 

PROGRAM AT THE AUTO RODEO HERE THIS AFTERNOON
Card of Events That Will Be Pulled Off by “Daredevil Dooley” and His Performers at the Race Track This Afternoon, Beginning at Two o’Clock.

The program for “Daredevil Dooley’s Auto Rodeo” at the race track, beginning at half past two o’clock this afternoon, will be replete with many startling and unique features, and “Daredevil Dooley” and his five-year-old son, manly Master Ronald Dooley, will be the principal stars, assisted by a galaxy of other lesser stars. The auto tug-of-war, the great motorcycles and many other features will be on tap for the thousands this afternoon.

“Daredevil Dooley” can do most anything he wants with an automobile hurdle, drive it blindfolded and with his hands manacled and goodness knows what else. His work has attracted thousands at many rodeos.

THE BIG PROGRAM

First event – Motorcycle race; amateur: 10 miles: $5O cash prizes.
Second – Relay race with nine automobiles. First time ever attempted.
Third – Tug-of-war; automobiles.
Fourth – Stake race; with automobiles. First time on record.
Fifth – Ronald Dooley: five years of age; world’s youngest driver; demonstrating his complete control of seven-passenger, 60-horsepower touring car.
Sixth – “Ed” Dooley (“Daredevil” Dooley) in exhibition handcuff stunts
Seventh – “Daredevil” Dooley vs. B. C. Madden in five-mile auto race; Dooley driving handcuffed.
Eighth – Automobile bucking contest.
Ninth – The man from the Philippines, climbing a greased pole 40-foot high.
Tenth – Motorcycle race; five-mile; professional entrants; $50 cash prize.
Eleventh – Head-on collision between a Winton “Six” and a Locomobile “Six”. “First exhibition of its kind in history.” the press agent says.

– Press Democrat, July 4 1918

 

AUTOS TO CRASH AT IDORA SUNDAY

All is in readiness for the sensational head-on automobile collision which is to be staged in the stadium at Idora Park tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 o’clock sharp.

The spectacle will be a thriller from start to finish.

From the heights of two inclines at opposite ends of the stadium. “Daredevil” Dooley and Jack Rigo will drive the autos at breakneck speed to collide head-on in the center of the stadium.

To see these powerful cars driven to destruction at top speed, with the drivers clinging desperately to the wheel up to a fraction of a second of the terrific compact, is to experience death-threatening suspense, relieved only by the final crash in which the machines crumple up like a deck of cards.

Thrill is piled on thrill during the brief period the autos are racing toward each other, speeding at more than 50 miles an hour.

Dooley and Rigo must keep their nerve. They must use iron control and their eyes must work in unison with their minds. Otherwise they, too, face destruction.

But the spectators need have no fear. “Daredevil” Dooley and Jack Rigo have ridden in this spectacle before. They will leap from the machines a moment before the smash. They will jump to safety.

At any rate Idora visitors are promised the most sensational spectacle, free in the stadium, that has ever been staged in Oakland.

– Oakland Tribune, August 3, 1918

 

Dooley Will Jump Over 20-Foot House in an Oldsmobile
Other Stunts Will Be Performed at State Fair by Hair-Raising Dare-Devil.

Ed Dooley, famous the country over for his spectacular stunts with automobiles, is here this week and will stage a series of events at the state fair destined to thrill the thousands as they have never been thrilled before.

Dooley will use an Oldsmobile in a sensational leap over a house Monday at 3:3O and several other hair-raising feats will be pulled off during the week. Dooley has worked with Doug Fairbanks, Bill Hart and many of the big leaguers in the picture and racing world, and a year ago beat Barney Oldfield and others in the Phoenix race. He is using the same Olds he used in this race.

Dooley has just finished a 188-mile drive in 4 hours and 45 minutes handcuffed and he will demonstrate his handcuff driving some time during the week at the fair grounds. In the handcuff driving Dooley works with his hands behind his back and his performance has been the wonder of automobile men since he first staged this remarkable event.

– Sacramento Union, September 1 1918

 

[State Fair schedule] …This afternoon promises to be one of the most interesting of the fair. The most sensational features will be the harness races and the dare-devil ride of “Suicide” Ed Dooley, the cowboy chauffeur.

Dooley will hurl his big Olds machine over the top of a twenty-foot high house while driving with his hands handcuffed behind him.

Dooley, guiding his car with his knees and manipulating the gears with his feet, will depend upon the momentum gained from a dash up a runway to the eaves of the house to carry him clear over the roof.

– Sacramento Union, September 2 1918

 

DOOLEY WILL DRIVE HIS CAR OFF HOUSETOP
Cowboy Chauffeur to Give Spectacular Exhibition at State Fair

The big spectacular thrill of the California State Fair programme will occur Monday afternoon at 4:30 o’clock, when “Suicide” Ed Dooley, the cowboy chauffeur will hurl his big Oldsmobile Eight touring car over the top of a twenty-foot high house while driving with his hands handcuffed behind him at a speed of thirty or forty miles an hour.

The house and wooden runway approaching it are being erected on the infield of the race track in front of the grandstand especially for the stunt. The runway, rising sharply on a 50 degree angle, will end abruptly a foot or two below the eaves of the house and several feet distant from the side wall.

Dooley, guiding the car with his knees and manipulating the gears with his feet, will depend upon the momentum gained from his dash up the runway to carry him clear over the roof. What will happen however, when the car hits the ground after its terrifying drop, even Dooley himself does not know, although he hopes to escape with nothing worse than a badly smashed car and a severe shaking-up.

– San Francisco Chronicle, September 3 1918

 

Cars, Head-On in Air, To Be Idora Card

Two automobiles, racing down inclines from opposite ends of the stadium, leaping across a space of fifty feet and crashing head-on in mid-air, this is the spectacle supreme which will thrill Admission Day crowds at Adora Park Monday afternoon.

This thriller has never before been attempted. Engineers have figured out the weight of the cars, the speed necessary for them to travel and the exact spot, twenty feet above the ground, where they will collide head-on.

“Suicide” Ed Dooley will drive one of the machines and Jack Riga the other. Both drivers will jump to safety a fraction of a second before the cars leap skyward.

– San Francisco Examiner, September 7 1918

 

Ed Dooley, Popular Auto Man, Is Dead

Local motordom is this week mourning the death of Ed Dooley, one of the best-known salesmen identified with the industry. Dooley died Friday following an attack of rheumatism.

Dooley was quite a character, as his many novel stunts with an automobile were so daring that they attracted the attention of the general public. One of his recent feats was to tour to the Salinas rodeo with his hands securely fastened with handcuffs, while on another occasion he drove with handcuffs on through the traffic in Market street escorted by motorcycle police.

For years Dooley had been identified with the distributers of Oldsmobile cars and trucks, having worked as salesman for J. W. Leavitt & Co., as well as the former handlers of this line.

Dooley was not only prominent in the automobile world, but he had a host of friends in all walks of life. Politicians and theatrical people also knew Dooley almost as well as motorists, and he is being mourned by thousands.

A widow and six-year-old son survive.

– San Francisco Chronicle, December 14, 1919

Read More

sanquentinFB

BETTY’S GILDED CAGE: THE HOME FOR DELINQUENT WOMEN I

Betty Carey rattled around the huge mansion the winter of 1922, alone except for the 20-member staff who served her. She was waiting for a court decision; at stake was whether she could be kept there indefinitely, against her will.

She was a prostitute and a drug user who hated being at the 40-room “castle” outside of Sonoma, but was ordered to be sent there by San Francisco Police Court Judge Lile Jacks. After a month she begged the judge to let her leave, writing she’d “rather serve a year in the county jail than spend a month in the Valley of the Moon.”

“What awful, narrow-minded people are in the beautiful Sonoma Valley!” she wrote, according to the SF Daily News. “They said I was so wicked they wouldn’t have me in the city of San Francisco, that I have actually asked one of the insignificant farmers for a cigarette. I did, Judge Jacks, such a breach of etiquette! Such small town newspaper talk! They said a woman captured me. It took three men to capture me…”

It was true her neighbors in the Sonoma Valley did not want her there, and their “small town newspaper,” the Sonoma Index-Tribune, objected fiercely. One reason was because the place was a point of local pride: The old Kate Johnson estate on the grounds of the historic Buena Vista winery, with 645 acres of vineyards and manicured lawns which were once compared to Golden Gate Park. The mansion was a landmark by itself, being probably the largest private residence ever built in Sonoma county and where it was gossiped that Mrs. Johnson had devoted an entire floor to her hundreds of cats. (Not true; see “THE MAKING OF A CRAZY CAT LADY.”)

But what the locals really disliked was not Betty’s presence. It was the fear that her pending court decision might mean five hundred more Bettys would be coming to live indefinitely at the big mansion in the Valley of the Moon. And all would presumably have venereal disease.

This is part one of our history of the “California Industrial Farm for Women” – usually instead called some variation of “the Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women” –  which explains the background about why the women were there; part two describes what happened after the Home opened and what became of the building.

It has been an uncomfortable article to write, which is probably why no local historians have touched this topic before. Understanding what happened/why requires wandering down some darker alleys of our past we’d like to forget; it requires coming to grips with how such unjust treatment of women was considered not only legal but embraced as fair and just – as were some unspeakable medical procedures which will make you cringe (or at least, should).

Also difficult to understand is how all this happened just as the women’s rights movement was at a historic peak, having just gained clout with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. Why wasn’t there backlash to the all-male legislatures and all-male courts declaring some women did not even have the basic constitutional right to bail or a trial? Surprise: The loudest voices chanting, “lock her up!” were other women – who believed people like Betty needed to be disenfranchised for their own protection.

This is a complex and grim story; although the Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women was supposed to reform and benefit the women under its care, its real purpose was to protect men from venereal disease.

The estate where lonesome Betty Carey roamed was purchased by California in 1919 for a quarter million dollars 1920 for $50,000. Legislators didn’t seem to mind spending that much money for the grand old place, but from the start some were griping it could be put to better use than housing riff-raff like prostitutes and junkies, with a TB sanitarium or a home for disabled WWI veterans suggested as early alternatives. More on this thread in the following article.

That the state was spending such a large chunk of the budget on any sort of a female-only facility was considered a major victory for women. Starting more than forty years earlier, the W. C. T. U. and other temperance groups began beating the drums for a separate women’s state reformatory/prison; up to then female convicts from all over the state were crammed into small quarters at San Quentin. Some improvements were made after a shocking 1906 expose´ revealed there was no heat, rats ran loose and chamber pots were dumped into a hopper in the common room. But the women were still rarely allowed outdoors lest they be seen by the male prisoners, and windows in their quarters were whitewashed to likewise prevent men from peering in.1

RIGHT: Few of the women at San Quentin in the early 1910s were guilty of sex crimes. One exception was Laura Paulson, wife of a saloon and dance hall owner in Burke, Idaho, convicted in 1911 under the “White-Slave Traffic Act” (the Mann Act) for bringing over prostitutes from Washington state

The awareness of how poorly women were treated behind bars came during a period of explosive growth in social groups for women (that same year, the Press Democrat gossip columnist estimated there were 100 women’s clubs in Santa Rosa, when the town had a population of about 10,000). After California women won suffrage in 1911 the clubwomen became a formidable political bloc, and before the end of the decade the Women’s Legislative Council of California claimed it represented over 187,000 club members throughout the state. Improving conditions for “delinquent women” was among the Council’s top priorities – but what did that mean, exactly?

At the 1918 Council convention they urged the state to “establish rehabilitation farms and colonies for delinquent women and to establish a state boarding school for incorrigible public school children whose offenses do not demand reformatory treatment.” Take note first of “farms and colonies;” it was long presupposed by prison reformers and women advocates that rural, women-run institutions would transform law-breaking ladies into model citizens. “These pastoral prisons were supposed to accommodate the domesticity attributed to women’s natures,” explained prison historian Shelley Bookspan, because they could have “schooling and training in marketable female skills, such as sewing, mothering and nursing.”2

Second point: Even though the term was widely used, “delinquent woman” had no clear definition. Did it mean a sex worker/drug addict? A woman charged with any crime? Here the Council lumps delinquent woman together with juvenile delinquents (“incorrigible public school children”) which implies a D. W. is someone who makes poor decisions and may have committed petty crimes. The latter was indeed the definition earlier in the 1910s when legislators first considered a women’s farm; in a 1911 article transcribed below it’s stated that a delinquent woman was someone who had committed five or more misdemeanors such as drunkenness, vagrancy or shoplifting.

The clubwomen clearly expected a woman’s farm would be used for women who could be rehabilitated and released, but less clear is whether it was believed the place would be used to house all female criminals. Even as the opening date approached, there was uncertainty about who would be sent to Sonoma. Recently released from San Quentin was Dr. Marie Equi, who had served time for sedition.3 Shortly before Betty Carey became the test case, an Oakland Tribune reporter interviewed Dr. Equi, who apparently believed all the women inmates at San Quentin were going to the elysian gardens at Buena Vista:

The girls at Quentin are wild to get on the farm. They are housed in a little square mausoleum being permitted to go out among the green fields but once a week and having nothing to do to occupy their minds…The women inmates at San Quentin are not morons by any means…my cell mates at San Quentin were just the type of bright, pretty ‘chickens’ that the tired business man cultivates for his amusement. Check-passer, murderers, women of the street, forgers and narcotic addicts mingle together…

But although the April, 1919 act establishing the Home stated it was “to provide custody, care, protection, industrial, and other training and rehabilitation for the delinquent women,” none of that would be provided, except for custody and care. And few, if any, of Dr. Equi’s cellmates would be welcome. The Home was only for women like Betty Carey – prostitutes who were to be held under an indefinite quarantine because they had diseases considered nearly incurable at the time.


The Home never would have existed if not for the Wilson Administration’s obsession with the so-called “American Plan,” starting when the U.S. entered World War I and continuing on through most of the 1920s. Like Prohibition which soon followed, this was a morals crusade in the guise of patriotism – in this case, keeping our boys healthy before they went overseas to fight the Germans by attempting to eradicate venereal diseases.

There had been vice crackdowns in American cities before, or course, but the War Department decided the U.S. needed “invisible armor” around every training camp to protect soldiers against “heated temptations.” A five-mile radius “moral zone” was established around the camps where no alcohol could be sold; women suspected of being prostitutes could be detained and forced to undergo a blood test and gynecological medical exam. Even though any sexually active woman could have a venereal disease, every woman found to have VD was presumed to be a prostitute – and every prostitute was presumed to have VD. And that meant she could be locked up without due process.4

Besides local and military police, the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA) created its own national Law Enforcement Division and even local public health investigators now had powers to arrest civilian women on suspicion. The dragnet expanded after Congress passed The Chamberlain-Kahn Act of 1918, which was not restricted to the immediate vicinity of military camps. It’s usually said 30,000 women were swept up, but Scott Wasserman Stern, the author of an excellent study on the American Plan (see footnote 4), believes that greatly underestimates the true numbers.

The need to lock up so many women created a problem of what to do with them all. Local hospitals and jails were kept full; state reformatories and orphanages were pressed into service and the CTCA began building detention camps. In a believe-it-or-not! twist, the feds decided that former brothels were ideal places to house them – just surround the place with barbed wire and add guards.5

Much of this was being paid for with money personally controlled by President Wilson, including $1 million from the Chamberlain-Kahn Act. And it wasn’t just for lockup; the CTCA was also charged with lobbying states to adopt a set of model laws it had written to curb promiscuity. Among the provisions were creating reformatories for women detained on “incorrigibility or delinquency” charges and outlawing all premarital sex. By 1919, 39 states had passed such laws.

To be sure, VD was endemic among prostitutes. A 1917 San Francisco study found 72 percent had syphilis, gonorrhea or both. In that year – just as the CTCA was starting – the city was lenient, allowing women who tested positive to sign an agreement to report to a physician or clinic within a few days. If she was not known to have a disease, a woman paid a $5.00 bail and was released, even though some were rearrested up to four times a night and certainly not retested every time. Under new pressure from federal officials, the bail was increased to $1,000 for the first arrest. As a result of the astronomical increase, many skipped bail and fled the city for places with lax enforcement.

Today it may seem odd that infected women did not eagerly agree to medical treatment, but in that pre-antibiotic era the options ranged from bad to awful; there was no guarantee of being cured – but weeks, months, or a lifetime of pain was assured and side effects could be crippling or lethal.

Arsenic-based Salvarsan was the first drug that could actually cure syphilis but problems abounded with the treatment: The shot was described as “horribly painful” followed by days of sustained misery – and the drug would be effective only if it were prepared immediately before injection under precise, nearly laboratory, conditions. Repeat for 4-8 weeks.

At the time the wonder drug for gonorrhea was 3-6 weeks of shots with a solution where the main ingredient was mercurochrome. Like the syphilis treatment, though, the compound had to be absolutely fresh and precisely formulated to cure. For women with untreated chronic gonorrhea – which most prostitutes suffered – doctors cut away or cauterized any parts of the reproductive system they deemed infected. Surgical procedures were routinely performed that today would be condemned as types of female genital mutilation.6

But let’s presume our misfortunate heroine, Betty Carey, was given the full course of treatment and it worked exactly as hoped. She’s now completely STD free. Maybe she sticks around the Buena Vista castle a little longer for followup tests to show that she’s really and truly cured; maybe she’s required to attend a class on contraception and safe sex taught by someone from Margaret Sanger’s new American Birth Control League. But after that, she would be given a pile of condoms and released, right?

Sorry, Betty – that might be the European Plan, but it wasn’t the American Plan. Over there prostitutes had to be registered so their health could be monitored for public safety; over there use of condoms was encouraged. Here prostitution was being driven underground by the new, harsher CTCA-written laws; here we didn’t even send our boys overseas in WWI with condoms, despite all the Wilson administration’s squawking about soldiers “keeping fit” and the president personally directing spending on ways to protect them from VD.

No, the state was not yet done with Betty; besides confinement and care, section one of the delinquent women act also calls for rehabilitation. What did that legally mean? How could Betty prove to a judge and the Board of Trustees that she was rehabilitated – and from what, exactly? Remember: She had not been convicted of prostitution or any other crime, but instead simply ordered to be sent to the Home by a justice of the peace.

Her court-appointed attorney immediately appealed when she was sentenced to the Home. For three months Betty would pace the empty corridors of the mansion awaiting a decision from the state appeals court. If she lost, they could keep her there up to five years.

Betty Carey’s fate was to be decided by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento. As Gentle Reader already knows there’s more to appear here about the Home for Delinquent Women, it’s not much of a spoiler to reveal now that she lost her case. Badly. But it’s the court’s reasoning behind the decision that is a true jaw-dropper, and reveals how unjust and unconstitutional the overall concept was.

Had she won any of her points it would have been unprecedented. The first suits against such sentencing appeared not long after the launch of the American Plan; with CTCA encouragement, Seattle police had conducted widespread vice raids, sweeping up “suspicious” and “disorderly” women and men (including labor activists) during the winter of 1917, holding them without bail or court hearings and forcibly starting the painful treatments whether the person had VD or not. Judges dismissed the complaints, ruling the police were acting in the interest of public welfare.7

One of those cases made it to the Washington State Supreme Court in 1918 and set an astonishing precedent. An unelected official – in this case, Seattle health commissioner J. S. McBride – had virtually unlimited authority to declare someone had a contagious disease and thus hold the person indefinitely in quarantine. Dr. McBride even refused to allow those being held to communicate with their attorneys. Not only was venereal disease now in the same category as lethal communicable diseases such as smallpox or plague, it gave police the authority to arrest and deny rights of habeas corpus to anyone they claimed was “reasonably suspected” of having VD.8

It cannot be said Betty had a poor defense. The petition for appeal was brought by Darwin J. Smith, then a statehouse reporter for the Sacramento Bee, and the attorney arguing on her behalf was Charles E. McLaughlin, Director of the State Prison Board and a former judge on the same appeals court. Their defense had five basic points:

*
A police court doesn’t have the power to commit offenders to reformatories
*
A police court can’t commit someone to an indefinite sentence
*
Commitment to an indefinite sentence is cruel and unusual punishment
*
It is discriminatory to confine women to reformatories for sex crimes and not men
*
  It is discriminatory to confine women for soliciting sex yet not men for pimping, which is soliciting sex on behalf of a woman

All were strong arguments, and in another context or another time, at least some should have won the day. But the appeals court turned down everything, even though they had to frequently wander out into legal weeds. You can read the entire decision in a few minutes; it’s only five pages. But you might want to first make sure the windows are tightly shut because you’ll probably be screaming in outrage.

Let’s get the most absurd stuff out of the way first: The court claimed the law couldn’t lock up men in the way they were about to incarcerate Betty. Why? Because there was no such thing as a male prostitute (“men cannot commit the crime of carrying on the business of prostitution…a business that can be carried on only by women”).

Next: Betty’s indefinite sentence couldn’t be considered cruel and unusual – because it wasn’t actually indefinite. Today we’d call it a Catch-22 situation: “It has uniformly been held that the indeterminate sentence is in legal effect a sentence for the maximum term.”

Women had no more legal rights than children. In order to justify Betty’s commitment to the Home by a police court judge, the appeals court cited two decisions, one of its own and another from the state supreme court. Both concerned juvenile offenders being sent to reformatories. Part of the supreme court cite stated the police court was just acting in the same role “…which, under other conditions, is habitually imposed by parents, guardians of the person, and others exercising supervision and control…”

The court also used the comparison to juvenile delinquents to make the Orwellian claim that Betty wasn’t being incarcerated at all, but merely being required to attend a reform school. Again quoting the state supreme court regarding police courts sending children to reformatories: “…the purpose in view is not punishment for the offense done, but reformation and training of the child to habits of industry, with a view to his future usefulness when he shall have been reclaimed to society…”

The longest, and most important part of the appellate court decision, didn’t address any of Betty’s complaints; instead, it attempted to justify the need to quarantine and disenfranchise women like her. Prostitutes, the judges wrote, are a unique danger to the rest of “the human kind.” They are like “the chronic typhoid carrier – a sort of clearing house for the very worst forms of disease” and that they are “a constant pathological danger no one would question.”

…The statute in question does not purport to deal with her as an innocent person. On the contrary, the law appraises her as so steeped in crime and in so exceptional an environment that ordinary methods of reformation and escape are impossible. Every door is closed to her. Every avenue of escape is shut off. The state, realizing this, has undertaken to take forcible charge of this class of unfortunates and extend to them a home, education, assistance, and encouragement in an effort, otherwise hopeless, to restore them to lives of usefulness.

This mix of loathing and compassion matched the clubwomen view, and they likewise shared a belief that Betty and the others had to be locked up until they were rehabilitated. Given enough time, eventually they would have to emerge from their chrysalis as women of adequate moral character – just as Prohibition would surely transform every drunk into a fine sober citizen.

With the court decision lost, Betty was no longer alone at The Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women, as the “castle” began to fill up with women inmates from San Quentin and other prostitutes sentenced directly from police courts.

As for the “education, assistance, and encouragement” the court promised she would receive, Betty told the San Francisco Daily News she was being treated like an imbecile or a naughty child, with nothing to do except caring for farm animals. “I feel like one of the goats out on this farm,” said the woman born in New York City, “I shall never milk these goats.”

 

1 A Germ of Goodness: The California State Prison System, 1851-1944 by Shelley Bookspan, University of Nebraska Press, 1991; pg. 74-75
2 ibid pg. 77-78
3 Under the Sedition Act of 1918, criticism of the U.S. government, the American flag or military uniforms was outlawed. As a socialist and outspoken pacifist while the country was gearing up to enter WWI, Dr. Marie Equi was an early target of J. Edgar Hoover, then a rising star at the Bureau of Investigation office charged with harassing “radicals.”
4 The Long American Plan: The US Government’s Campaign Against Venereal Disease and Its Carriers by Scott Wasserman Stern; Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, 2015 (PDF). Much of this section is sourced from this excellent thesis.
5 ibid, pg. 384
6 Mercurochrome was not universally accepted as a cure  for gonorrhea, and the medical journals c. 1920 show physicians experimenting with a wide variety of treatments which were frequently torturous. Because it was known that a sustained high fever killed the bacteria, electrical rods or cathode ray tubes (gauss lamps) heated to 112 F were sometimes inserted vaginally for up to four hours a session and repeated daily. The most common form of gonorrheal surgery was removal of the Bartholin glands, which would cause the women agonizing pain during sex for the rest of their lives. And if that wasn’t punishment enough, the gynecology department head at the San Francisco Polyclinic Hospital wrote in the 1922 AMA journal that the Skene’s gland also should be cauterized with a hot needle, which would have destroyed nerve endings (PDF).
7 op. cit. The Long American Plan, pg. 389
8 ibid, pg. 393

 

Collage of San Quentin mugshots, 1918-1919

 

 

ALL FARMS LOOK ALIKE TO WALLACE
Agricultural Committee Will Grapple With Delinquent Women Bill
Aim of Measure Is to Take Female Prisoners From Penitentiaries

[Special Dispatch to The Call]
CALL HEADQURTERS SACRAMENTO, Jan. 13.—Thanks to Lieutenant Governor Wallace’s determination to accept things for what they may appear to be, a bill designed to establish an indeterminate sentence farm for delinquent women who have been convicted of five or more misdemeanors reposes in the hopper of the senate committee on agricultural and dairy interests.

The bill, which Is a free copy of the New York law for the treatment of delinquent females, has the support of virtually all the women’s clubs of California. It provides for the appointment by the governor of a board consisting of the prison directors and two women to have the management of a state farm for the custody of delinquent females. The board is to select a site and upon approval by the  governor purchase it and equip it with buildings for the accommodation of at least 250 inmates. The farm is to take the place of custody for females over the age of 25 who shall have been convicted on misdemeanor charges five times. The sentences are for indefinite terms, but not to exceed 3 years.

The women’s organizations framed the measure and gave it to Finn, chairman of the committee on prisons and reformatory, for introduction. Finn sent it to the desk confidently expecting that Lieutenant Governor Wallace would immediately refer it to his committee. The reading of the title “state farm for the custody of delinquent females” was lost on none but Wallace. He gravely referred the measure to the committee on agricultural and dairy interests, A shout of laughter instantly went up, but it failed to perturb Wallace. A farm measure the bill was labeled and to Wallace farm suggested agricultural and dairying.

– San Francisco Call, January 14 1911

 

WOMEN PRISONERS WILD TO GET TO BUENA VISTA.
Recently Released Political Prisoner From San Quentin Says Newcomers to Delinquent Women’s Farm Here Will Be “Classy” Janes

There has been considerable specilation among Sonoma Valley folks as to the kind of wards the State of California is to care for at the new penal institution at Buena Vista. The former Kate Johnson place known as the Castle was purchased about a year ago to be used as a farm for Delinquent Women and according to Dr. Marie D. Equi, recently released political prisoner from San Quentin, the women are yearning to get here and will be bright, classy Janes. Here is what the Oakland Tribune reveals:

“Girl prisoners at San Quentin penitentiary are the smartest women felons in the United States, according  to Dr. Marie D. Equi, political prisoner, who has just been released from the prison and who says that the latest styles are all the vogue at the Marin county resort.

“The women inmates at San Quentin are not morons by any means,” Dr. Equi declared yesterday. “They roll ‘em down, wear ‘em high and the sleek silk-clad ankle and high-heeled shoe are always in evidence at the parties staged in S. Q. F. D.” The S. Q. F. D. means the San Quentin Female Department, she explained.

The high moral tone at the State prison, however, bars cigarettes for the girls, limits the night owls to 10 p.m., prohibits debutantes from going out unchaperoned, while at the same time countenancing the “shimmy,” the bunny hug” and the “San Rafael Waddle,” Dr. Equi says.

CLASSY PRISONERS

“Western women prisoners are greatly superior in all respects to the inmates of Eastern penitentiaries where the majority in the female departments are morons or lower,” Dr. Equi, a graduate physician of Portland continued.

My cell mates at San Quentin were just the type of bright, pretty “chickens” that the tired business man cultivates for his amusement. Check-passer, murderers, women of the street, forgers and narcotic addicts mingle together – crochet, sew, cook, read books, discuss the latest styles or dance in the big living room to the jazz tunes of a piano, just like their sisters outside.

“These girls are intelligent, not intellectual. Some of them are more intelligent than the intellectual free women. Their wits are sharpened from contact with the world.”

STATE FARM BOOSTED

Dr. Equi is beginning a campaign to have the women prisoners at San Quentin transferred immediately to the new farm provided for them near Sonoma.

“Here the women will live an outdoor life and will be able to work and become more self-supporting,” says the Doctor. “The girls at Quentin are wild to get on the farm. They are housed in a little square mausoleum being permitted to go out among the green fields but once a week and having nothing to do to occupy their minds.

“Their removal from the prison to the farm is being held up pending the construction of a hospital. I contend that the women can be transferred and the hospital built afterward…

– Sonoma Index-Tribune, September 3, 1921
WILL TEST SONOMA FARM LAW

San Francisco, December 7.- Following the sentencing of Betty Carey, an alleged drug addict, to the new state home for delinquent women, near Sonoma, for an indefinite term, legal steps will be taken to test the law giving the courts authority to impose such sentences.

This was decided upon today by Police Judge Lile T. Jacks when he announced that he would pronounce sentence sending Betty Carey to the home.

Attorney Harry McKenzie, appointed by the court under agreement with Chief of Detectives Duncan Matheson, to appeal from the court’s judgment in the case, in order to test the law, expressed the hope that the law would be sustained.

Judge Jacks and Captain Matheson also declared their hope that the law would be upheld and thus give the courts clear headway in their efforts to cure the addicts who are brought before them.

The question at issue is whether or not the courts have the right to deprive an addict of his or her liberty for an indefinite period.

– Sotoyome Scimitar, December 9 1921

 

First Woman for Sonoma Farm

Miss Betty Carey, who lost a Christmas present of her liberty by failing to leave town as she promised Police Judge Lile T. Jacks, was Saturday ordered committed to the Sonoma Home for Girls. She is the first woman to be sent to the new home on court order from San Francisco county.

– Argus-Courier, January 9, 1922
WOMEN MAY BE SENT TO FARM
Court of Appeals Upholds Act; Will Operate to  Protect Morality
(By Associated Press leased Wire)

SACRAMENTO, April 10. The constitutionality of the act establishing the state prison farm for women and also the right of police and justice courts to sentence women to the prison farm for a period not exceeding five years, today were upheld by, the third district court of appeals, denying the application of Betty Carey, an inmate of the farm, for a writ of habeas corpus.

Four points were urged by Judge C. E. McLaughlin on behalf of the petitioner in applying for the writ, as follows:

That it was beyond the jurisdiction of the police court of San Francisco where Betty Carey was arrested to sentence her to the prison farm for an indeterminate sentence which might amount to a detention for five years; that the punishment is cruel and unusual; that the act is discriminatory in that it applied only to women and that the legislation can not be general enactment modify an ordinance of San Francisco.

Replying to Judge McLaughlin’s first contention, Judge J. T. Prewett of Auburn, as the juristice protem, who wrote the opinion, declared the claim that the police court was without jurisdiction to sentence women to the prison farm was untenable. He cited Supreme Court cases upholding the right of police and justice courts to commit minors to reformatories and he held the same right existed in the matter of sentencing women to the prison farm. He declared the purpose in view is not punishment for the offense done but reformation to reclaim the women to society.

Being that the commitment of women to the prison farm is only for the purposes of assistance and reformation,” Judge Prewett held that the incarceration can not be regarded as cruel and unusual punishment.

Replying to Judge McLaughlin’s claim that the statute is unconstitutional in that it discriminates against women, Judge Prewett quoted from a Supreme Court decision holding that legislation may be directed to women as a class and that they may be segregated into groups or sub-classed in the interests of public health, safety or morals.

– San Bernardino Sun, April 11 1922

 

Read More

1101

RIDGWAY’S CHILDREN

That huge white house was the first thing you’d notice when driving into Santa Rosa during the early twenties; it stood right on the northern city limit with a three-story turret like a lighthouse, marking the transition from Redwood Highway to Mendocino avenue and the route downtown. Out-of-towners probably assumed it had been built by a prominent family wanting to make an ostentatious show of wealth. Maybe it was the grand house was out there on the edge of town because they threw riotous parties and did not want to disturb close neighbors. Those assumptions were completely wrong – the home was built by a modest Quaker woman who lived there quietly with her brother until both died in the 1910s. Not that they were uninteresting people; it was said by some in Santa Rosa he kept a fortune buried somewhere on their property, and it was widely believed she was long dead.

(RIGHT: The Judith Todd home at 1101 Mendocino Avenue, as seen in 1915. Photograph courtesy Sonoma County Library)

These were the children of Jeremiah Ridgway. Not much is known about their father; he was profiled in only one of the Sonoma County histories although bits and pieces about him can be found in a few other places. Ridgway was fifty in 1854 when he arrived in California via wagon train with neither a specific trade nor fortune. But he prospered once he came to Santa Rosa three years later and by the boom times in the 1870s, “Jerry” Ridgway was among the wealthiest men in town, owning property on three sides of Courthouse Square. Most significant was the Ridgway Block, which was the eastside of Third street between Courthouse Square and B street. Next to the current location of the Empire Building he built Ridgway Hall, the hotspot for public dancing in late 19th century Santa Rosa.

It seems out of character that he settled here, as Santa Rosa was not known for having a Quaker community and Ridgway’s faith was important to him. “[He] used the Quaker form of speech,” Press Democrat publisher Ernest Finley wrote later in a character sketch for the newspaper. “He would say ‘thee’ and ‘thine’ rather than ‘you’ and ‘yours.'” Except for a stay in Sacramento, every other place he is known to live had a large and well-established Quaker presence, including LaPorte Indiana, where the Ridgways lived before heading west. It was there he would die in 1885 during a visit to his oldest son, Jeremiah Jr.

LaPorte was also the place 20 year-old Judith, the middle child of the Ridgway family, met and married her husband in 1850. Simeon Seymour Todd was a recent graduate of the medical school there and after a few years practicing in Kentucky the young couple joined her parents in heading to California in 1854, apparently on the same wagon train (or at least, the general dates match).

Todd set up an office in the Gold Country and later wrote the doctoring business was lucrative, but he utterly failed in his attempts at gold mining: “I managed to dodge prosperity at every threatened point and keep poor as a rat.” After a couple of years of patching up miners the Todds moved to Santa Rosa, about in tandem with her parents. It might well have been Dr. Todd who paved the way for the Ridgways; here he formed a partnership with college classmate, Dr. J. F. Boyce.1

In Santa Rosa Judith gave birth to two sons (a couple of other children had died in infancy). Rush Boyce Todd – note the middle name of his partner – was born in 1857, and Frank Seymour Todd in 1859. It was around the time Frank was conceived that the doctor began beating her.

For this chapter of the story, all credit goes to historian and cemeterian Jeremy Nichols, who has extensively documented Dr. Todd, even photographing his Missouri tombstone. Most importantly, Jeremy dug through old court records which can be a nightmare, poorly indexed (if indexed at all) and available only on often illegible microfilm. This is the root canal of local historical research.

Judith asked for divorce in June, 1861, citing spousal abuse and frequent intoxication. She told the court he choked her in October, 1858 and struck her in her face in September, 1860. She and the boys had moved in with her parents three months before the suit was filed.

Todd denied everything; he wasn’t a drunk and never abused or threatened her. She had “abandoned him in a period of stress due to the burning of their home and due to a ‘difficulty’ with her brother”. Further, he complained, his father-in-law Jeremiah Ridgeway “hates Defendant and verbally abuses Defendant in front of the children.” The doctor’s lawyer, by the way, was the notorious Otho Hinton, recently admitted to the California bar and starting life anew, having avoided federal prosecution for mail theft. Long story.

As discussed in an article about another local divorce case around the same time, divorce then was unusual but not unheard of. California had a divorce for every 355 marriages, close to double the national rate in 1870 (the first year statistics were collected). While divorce wasn’t forbidden among the Society of Friends it was exceptionally rare and considered to be a breakdown of the Quaker community – although for what it’s worth, Dr. Todd was not a Quaker. The divorce was granted in 1863, almost exactly two years after she filed suit.

While divorce proceedings were underway Todd was in the Union Army, serving as a hospital administrator and surgeon in California. At the end of the Civil War he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he quickly rose to become a respected physician and prominent citizen. There he told everyone he was a widower – and he was making no vague remarks of once having an unnamed wife who died sometime long ago; he precisely stated she was Judith Ann Ridgway, daughter of Jeremiah Ridgway of LaPorte, Indiana and that she passed away in 1861.

It’s unknown whether the Ridgways knew that Judith’s ex had pronounced her prematurely dead. But the audacious claim appeared in at least four Missouri histories and in his 1899 front page obituaries, so it’s hard to imagine that not a single person who knew the Santa Rosa family did not stumble across his lies over three-plus decades. The deception continues still; every online genealogy I find for that branch of the Todd family notes first wife Judith died in 1861. (He married twice again and the second wife, Thirza – likewise a Quaker – really did croak on him.)

Free of the odious Dr. Simeon Seymour Todd in 1863, the Ridgways of Santa Rosa flourished over the next 20+ years. Judith raised the boys, grandpa Jerry’s real estate empire grew and Joseph, her younger brother, did…well, it’s not quite clear what he ever did. More about him later.

It’s certain they all lived together during those years, but we can’t be sure where; neither the 1870 or 1880 census report lists a street address for them. It appears the only residential property they owned was the north end of the block between Glenn street and Healdsburg avenue (now Mendocino ave). There’s an 1885 bird’s-eye view of Santa Rosa – a portion of it can be seen here  – and it shows a modest house apparently surrounded by a garden. On the keymap shown to the left, it’s the smaller red dot. There are also a few other buildings closer to the avenue which could be homes; it seems likely the Ridgway family lived somewhere in this group.

Across the street was their crown jewel – the 160 acres that Jerry had purchased soon after moving to town, shown here outlined in green. Judging by the 1885 map it was still peppered with mature valley oak trees. It was the largest untouched parcel of land on Santa Rosa’s borders.

Come 1885 and Jerry Ridgway passes away, his will slicing the estate equally between his three children. Jeremiah Jr. presumably received much of value in the East, as it appears he inherited nothing in Santa Rosa. There were many other properties divided up but youngest son Joseph got the north end of the 160 acres that ended on Elliott avenue with Judith taking the southernmost half. With her inheritance she built that grand house on the corner, the largest red dot on the keymap.

Seen to the right is a detail from the 1897 bird’s-eye view, showing her castle-like home and grounds, nearly the size of a city block. (There was no development there on the 1885 map, proving she built everything after her father’s death.)

In the big white house little apparently changed over the next quarter century except for the boys growing up and moving away. Judith did not remarry, but changed her status from divorced (1880 census) to widowed (1900 census). Apparently the only souls shuffling through the hallways of that enormous manse were her and brother Joseph, an Asian servant and Annie Mathias, a woman the same age as Judith about whom nothing is known. The only thing noteworthy about those years is that Judith kept growing younger. She was actually born in 1830, but shaved between 4 to 27 years off her age in every census report between 1860 and 1910. As a result Joseph – born nine years after her – vaulted waaaaay back in time to become her much older sibling.

Then in 1912 Joseph died, nursed by Judith through months of declining health. He was 54; except for the eleven years of her marriage to Dr. Todd, Judith and her bachelor brother had lived together their entire lives.

We really don’t know much about Joseph Ridgway; he’s listed as a farmer in city directories and every census, but many people who never touched a plow claimed that profession. Even the urbane and fabulously wealthy Nellie Comstock told the census taker she was a “farmer” by way of living in the Hoen avenue rural district at the time. In another of Finley’s character sketches found in “Santa Rosans I Have Known,” he wrote Joseph made personal loans:

Joe Ridgway was much like his father. He used to loan a good deal of money and I have been told on good authority that very frequently when he made a loan, which was usually in gold coin, the latter showed every appearance of having been buried. Ridgway is believed to have kept much of his money secreted in the ground, as did certain others at the time.

It’s hard not to wonder if he claimed to be a farmer as his little joke about planting and harvesting gold coins, which would befit a man who might have been a tad eccentric. The obituary below remarks “he had his own way of doing things” (an odd thing to write in an obit) and Dr. Todd blamed some “‘difficulty’ with her brother” as being a significant reason for their split. Whatever his personality and relationship with his sister, he died wealthy, leaving an estate worth today about $6 million entirely to Judith (there was no bequest to brother Jeremiah Jr. whom he thought had “ample fortune”).

Judith died at home five years later at age 87 – although in accordance with the last age she told a census taker, she was a sprightly 69.

Our final chapter begins on November 15, 1921. Judith’s oldest son Rush was then living in the great house with his extended family. From their third floor front windows it’s likely they saw the flames shooting from the high school, three blocks away on Humboldt street. As it continued burning through the night with the unnerving thunder of occasional explosions, there were fears burning embers flying over the rooftops might set the neighborhoods on fire, according to first-hand accounts in Lee Torliatt’s “Golden Memories of the Redwood Empire.”

The school was a total loss. Nothing could be done for the 485 students except to scramble finding them temporary classrooms in churches, office buildings and whathaveyou, but planning for the construction of a new high school had to begin immediately. But where should it be? In a remarkably swift two weeks – with the Thanksgiving holiday in the middle – a deal was struck with the Todds. The banner war-victory sized headline in the December 2, 1921 Press Democrat: “BUY 30-ACRE TRACT FOR HIGH SCHOOL” (transcribed below).

It was no great surprise that officials turned first to the Todds. Rush and Bertha had recently sold another thirty acres directly north of the designated school site to the city and Chamber of Commerce which was intended to become the “Luther Burbank Creation Garden.”2 And although the PD article is vague on specifics, it appears the Chamber was also negotiating with Todds for an option to buy the 65 acres to the west as a future home of a junior college or possibly an agricultural branch of the University of California.

Even though the high school plans were cooked up in just a few days, much of the description sounds like what we have today. It envisioned a campus with the main building facing the street (then part of the Redwood Highway) with parking lots and ball fields behind. It would be so modern there would even be space for “the new school bus transportation system” then under development.

The surprise in the deal was the carve-out of seven acres on the corner for the “old Ridgway mansion” as a continuing family home. And indeed they stayed. The 1936 obit for Rush Todd reported he died “at the old home in Mendocino avenue that had been the residence of the pioneer Todd and Ridgway families for more that half a century.” His widow, Bertha, can be spotted there still in the 1940 census with a niece and grandson. She lived until 1972 although the house certainly did not survive that long.

At some point Berry lane was renamed Ridgway avenue, a token nod to history lost on students racing in and out of the parking lots. Where once Judith’s grand house stood are now windowless squat buildings and satellite dishes, unquestionably the ugliest part of the high school campus. It’s hard to believe this bleak corner was once among the prettiest in Santa Rosa, or that it meant so much to a family who left their land mostly untouched for decades until it was given up for higher and better use.

1  Dr. J. F. Boyce had a storied reputation as a heavy drinker who bolted down up to thirty shots of liquor each day, according to Finley’s sketch found in “Santa Rosans I Have Known.” Every morning Boyce would walk down to the butcher shop and cut off a piece of raw meat in order to have “something for the whisky to work on.” Boyce had a beautiful house built after the Civil War which still can be seen at 537 B street.

 

2  Despite its name, the “Luther Burbank Creation Garden” had very little to do with Burbank, aside from a promise he would contribute some plants. It was really the latest installment in the perennial melodrama over Santa Rosa’s efforts to create its first public park, this time with the good juju of Burbank’s famous name and intentions that it would someday include a community auditorium, another benefit the town lacked. Nothing much came of it (although they passed the hat at events for years, seeking donations) and the property was sold in 1930 to become the basis of the new Junior College campus.

 

BUY 30-ACRE TRACT FOR HIGH SCHOOL
Regional Junior College Planned For
Todd Property is Selected As Site of School Center

Location of the new Santa Rosa District High School on a thirty-acre site on the highway just north of the city limits, has been assured with the purchase from Mr. and Mrs. Rush B. Todd of the sixty-five acre property lying between the site highway and Cleveland avenue, Berry lane and the Southern Pacific railroad.

Deeds transferring the property to a committee of trustees jointly representing the Santa Rosa High School Board and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce were signed Thursday and are held in escrow pending the perfection of the abstracts and certificates of title.

Simultaneously with the execution of the escrow and trusteeships, articles of agreement were signed for the protection of the school board’s right to take over the property, or such portion of it as may be needed for high school purposes, when the present legal status of the high school district is determined and arrangements perfected for the construction of the new high school.

HANDLED THROUGH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Negotiations of this transaction followed a joint meeting of the board of directors of the chamber of commerce and the board of education, together with City Superintendent Jerome O. Cross, on November 16th, the afternoon following the burning of the Santa Rosa high school building. Its details have been handled by a joint committee representing the two bodies, comprised of Hilliard Comstock, R. A. Belden, Frank P. Doyle and Glen E. Murdock and Wallace L. Ware, the latter two representing Mr. and Mrs. Todd.

TODD RESIDENCE SITE EXCEPTED

Transfer of the property to the trustees named makes available for high school purposes a 600-foot frontage on the west side of the Redwood highway beginning at a point 390 feet from the corner of Berry lane. The articles of agreement provide for excepting from the sale a seven-acre parcel of land on which the old Ridgeway [sic] mansion stands, and which is located at the corner of Berry lane and the highway. This the Todds wished to retain as it is the site of their home. The seven acres extend westward to a point corresponding with the extension of Glenn street.

WILL WIDEN BERRY LANE

Arrangements provide for widening Berry lane to eighty feet, the entire length of the tract, west from the state highway to Cleveland avenue and for the extension of Morgan street, north through the sixty-five acre property, and thence on across the Southern Pacific railroad and along the western line of the Luther Burbank Creations Garden site, owned jointly by the chamber of commerce and the city of Santa Rosa.

MODERN SCHOOL GROUP PLANNED

It is proposed to use the east half of the property for the high school site, on which will be built the new building group, along lines of the most advanced plans for modern high school institutions in the United States. This contemplates a group of modern, fireproof buildings on a campus, units being added from time to time as the need arises. The rear portion of the thirty acres will be utilized as an athletic field for baseball, football, and other athletic activities, ample parking space for automobiles and the new school bus transportation system that will be developed with the perfection of the new high school district administration.

The new school will be erected according to present plans on that part of the tract now used by the baseball diamond and will face the state highway.

AGRICULTURAL STUDY GARDENS

Agricultural studies will be facilitated by using a portion of the thirty acre high school site or the necessary experimental and practical demonstration plots…farming and agriculture work in the Santa Rosa district will be greatly benefited as a result of thus combining the two phases of instruction in the new Santa Rosa District High School.

REGIONAL COLLEGE ON WEST HALF

The western half of this splendid sixty-five acres tract will be held in trust by the chamber of commerce committee pending arrangements, already under way or location of a regional junior college at Santa Rosa. This has been quietly worked on by a joint committee and the board of education for more than six months, and is practically assured.

Already negotiations have been entered into by City Superintendent Jerome O. Cross with the authorities off the University of California or the development of an agricultural plan of sufficient strength to warrant the hope that some day a branch of the agricultural department of the university will be established in Santa Rosa.

This hope is justified by the proximity of the new site to the Luther Burbank Gardens, which will be the most important in California, if not in the United States.

Location of regional colleges is provided for in recent legislation, and Santa Rosa’s claims for consideration as the place or such an institution have been presented in a most effective manner by the joint committee representing our aggressive civic-commercial organization and the board of education. It will provide here in Santa Rosa two years of college education, and is designed to relieve the main institution at Berkeley of the crowded conditions that are beginning to make educational work there so difficult.

[editorializing on the hopes it will become a regional educational center]

BEAUTIFY TODD RESIDENCE

Beautification and improvement of their seven-acre homesite is being planned by Mr. and Mrs. Rush B. Todd, as an additional attractive feature of the transaction. This will include the removal of all old fences and buildings now on the property, and the landscaping of the portion adjoining the house on the highway.

[Santa Rosa baseball association agrees to not challenge lease on ball diamond]

TODDS ARE PRAISED

Those who have been working on the matter highly praise Mr. an Mrs. Todd for the public-spiritedness and co-operation. They went more than half way in assisting the trustees, and it is felt that through their help the district will have the best possible site for its new high school.

– Press Democrat, December 2, 1921
DEATH OF JOS. W. RIDGWAY
Well Known Pioneer Resident of Santa Rosa Dies at His Healdsburg Avenue Home

At five o’clock Monday night amid the familiar scenes of fifty-four years Joseph W. Ridgway’s eyes closed in death.

The well known pioneer died at the beautiful suburban home out on Healdsburg avenue, where he and his sister, Mrs. Judith Todd, had resided together for many years.

For several days before the end Mr. Ridgway had been in a very critical state and in a comatose condition. Prior to his final illness Mr. Ridgway had not been a well man for months, and had failed perceptibly.

During all of his illness he was devotedly ministered to by his sister, Mrs. Todd. The bond between brother and sister was very strong, and now that the ties are broken the sister is almost prostrated with grief.

Mr. Ridgway was a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Ridgway, early pioneers of this state. He came to this state in 1856 and two years later came to Santa Rosa. Both his parents are buried in the local cemetery.

The deceased was a just man, and his integrity in dealing with his fellow man was never questioned. He had his own way of doing things, and he was never known to swerve from what he considered right. Those who knew him best said this of him Monday night.

The deceased owned considerable property here and in the east. He was a very wealthy man. In addition to his sister, Mr. Ridgway is also survived by a brother Jeremiah Ridgway of Indiana. He once lived there, and is now on his way from the east to Santa Rosa, having been apprised of his brother’s death. Upon his arrival the funeral arrangements will be made.

The deceased was a native of Pennsylvania, and was seventy-three, nine months and twenty days old. He came of an old Quaker family in Pennsylvania.

– Press Democrat, November 12, 1912
A KINDLY WOMAN GOES TO REWARD
Death Thursday Morning of Mrs. Judith R. Todd After a Long and Trying Illness.

The soul of a quiet, kindly woman, Mrs. Judith R. Todd, was called from its earthly tenement just before daybreak on Thursday morning.

In the passing of Mrs. Todd, Santa Rosa has lost one of her oldest and much esteemed residents, for those who knew Mrs. Todd best were aware of many kindnesses to friends and many a kind deed, not of record in the outside world, but of that sweetest of virtues, the charity done without ostentation.

Mrs. Todd died at the fine family residence out on Healdsburg avenue. Mrs. Todd had been ill for many weary weeks and had suffered much pain, so that the silent messenger came as a harbinger of peace.

Mrs. Todd  was a woman of fine character and her heart was full of goodness. Her life span had extended seven years more than four score. A long life it was and about sixty-two years of that life were spent in Santa Rosa.

Mrs. Todd was born in the state of New Jersey and when she was a young woman she came with her father the late Jeremiah Ridgway, and other members of the family, to this state in 1854. They first settled in the Sacramento region, remaining there until 1856, when they came to Santa Rosa. For many years Mrs. Todd and her brother, the late Joseph Ridgway, lived together in the family home on Healdsburg avenue, standing as it does at the edge of the 160 acre estate adjoining. She continued to live there after her brother’s death.

Mrs. Todd was a very wealthy woman and owned, in addition to te residence and 160 acres of land on Healdsburg avenue, the big lot on Hinton avenue, adjoining the City Hall, and the lot on Exchange avenue the site of the former Ridgway hall. In addition she owned the block of store buildings on Third street, as well as the big lot on the opposite side of the street and other property.

Mrs. Todd came from an old Quaker family. She was a member of the Friends’ church. Mrs. Todd is survived by her two sons, Rush D. Todd of Santa Rosa, and Frank R. Todd of Oakland, two grandsons, Addison and Roland Todd, and a brother, Jeremiah Ridgway of La Porte, Ind.

– Press Democrat, June 1, 1917

Read More