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A CHURCH OF STRONG FOUNDATION

Planning a time trip to witness the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake? Be careful where you’ll pop up; anywhere downtown will be dangerous as all of the brick buildings collapse. Surprisingly, the safest place while everything’s shaking will be inside a massive stone building – St. Rose Catholic church, on B street, built in 1900-1901.

It was (to state the obvious) an extraordinarily well-built place.

“With the exception of a few stones from a cornice, St. Rose came through the dreadful ordeal unscathed,” wrote historian Tom Gregory in his Sonoma County history five years later. A photo of the church apparently taken right after the earthquake shows a sawhorse next to the portico, where a a chunk of the corner appears missing. There was also some repair work needed on the steeple, but the job was already finished before downtown rebuilding began in earnest. The whole cost was reportedly $200; to raise funds the “ladies of St. Rose’s Church” threw a dance at Grace Brothers’ Park, illuminated by “many electric globes.”

strose1906(St. Rose church following 1906 earthquake. Source: “Views of Santa Rosa and Vicinity Before and After the Disaster, April 18, 1906” date unknown)

The expert masonry was done by a crew led by Peter Maroni, one of the skilled Italian-American stone cutters in Sonoma county. Gaye Lebaron has written often about these gentlemen from Tuscany and I have nothing further about them to offer. The basalt came from the Titania Quarry between Highway 12 and Montgomery Drive, where Santa Rosa Creek and Brush Creek join (the remains of the quarry are still there and can be visited – see this aerial view). Maroni leased it from James McDonald, the San Francisco banker and lesser-known brother of Mark L. McDonald. The stone used in building the church was donated by James.

All of that is fairly well-trod history but there’s a whopper of a believe-it-or-not! twist to the St. Rose story: It’s a forgotten design by a famous architect.

St. Rose was designed in 1899, a few years before Frank T. Shea (1859-1929) became widely known. He was classically trained at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, which shows in his public buildings such as the Superior Court building in Sacramento and the Bank of Italy headquarters in San Francisco. His masterwork of this type was the final design of San Francisco City Hall, which was lost in the 1906 earthquake.

Shea had been the architect for the city of San Francisco from 1893 to 1897 and had a steady flow of work in the years following the quake, a time when there was much ado about the City Beautiful movement and Daniel Burnham’s vision to transform San Francisco into “Paris with hills.” Frank Shea was perfectly in tune with those ideals, and everything he designed in those years was grand and majestic. Many are on the National Register of Historic Places and all of them deserve to be.

More than anything else, Shea designed Catholic churches, creating ten others in San Francisco, Sonoma and Marin: the Mission Dolores Basilica, St. Paul (Noe Valley), Star of the Sea (Richmond District), Saint Ann Church (Sunset District), Saint Monica Church (Richmond District), St. Brigid (Nob Hill, now part of the Academy of Art University), Saint Vincent de Paul Church (Pacific Heights), Saint Anselm Church (Ross), St. Philip in Occidental and the Church of the Assumption in Tomales. He also was involved with the rebuilding of several churches following the quake, including St. Patrick (Mission District).

The scope of Shea’s work is astonishing. None of his churches are alike; he glided with ease between English, French and Italian Gothic/Romanesque styles as well Spanish Colonial, all as appropriate to the setting. By contrast, his slightly earlier Bay Area Episcopal church contemporary, Ernest Coxhead, kept reusing a favorite stylistic trait – an enormous swooping roof, which makes his churches look like Norman fortresses prepared to fend off attackers (St. John’s Episcopal in Petaluma is a Coxhead design).

The style he used for St. Rose is English Gothic (which was more apparent before its spire disappeared) and the Tomales church was Northern Italian Romanesque. That version of the Church of the Assumption was destroyed in the 1906 quake and a simpler wood church was built in its place. But those two churches were like siblings; both were designed by Shea in 1899 and used basalt from the same quarry operated by Peter Maroni. Although it was much smaller, the Tomales church took until 1903 to complete.

It’s difficult to see how St. Philip in Occidental fits into the picture, although there’s no dispute it was credited to Shea & Shea, which was his partnership with brother William. The exterior is an eclectic mashup which insults the classical principles which Frank T. Shea held dear. If anyone in their office came up with this, perhaps it was William – he was supposedly an architect although he was never personally credited with any design, and none of his threadbare obituaries mention any training. And speaking of William Dennis Shea…

In the corrupt world of early 20th century San Francisco city government, William Shea deserved an award for exceptional grifting. The Board of Supervisors appointed him city architect in 1905, then abolished that position and reappointed him as “General Supervising Architect” – the difference being that with his newly-created title he could skim 3½ percent from any public building construction project, which meant William was expected to pull in today’s equivalent of about $5 million/year on top of his salary – and, of course, he surely would gratefully share this with his benefactors. After the 1906 earthquake and a bond was passed to build an auxiliary water supply system for fire prevention, he demanded $3 million be paid to his office for supervision, then another $91,000 for designing a temporary city hall which was never expected to be built (all figures in 2019 dollars). William Shea was among the first to be ousted by the court as the graft and corruption trials began in 1907.

There’s no hint Frank shared his brother’s flawed character and although Shea & Shea continued to exist, it appears all his ecclesiastical design in the following years was done in partnership with another architect, John Lofquist. Since these commissions came from the San Francisco Archdiocese, one wonders if the church weighed in against working with the sleazy William.

Frank designed another Santa Rosa building in 1921: The Elks’ lodge on A street, which was a full block long between Fourth and Fifth streets. As seen in the drawing below, this was to be a classic Beaux Arts design with Corinthian columns although as the inset 1941 view shows, the final design was more conventional. Besides retail space at street level, this Shea & Shea building included a large auditorium and 6,000 sq. ft. dance floor, which after WWII became the “Skyline Terrace Ballroom,” Santa Rosa’s sort-of nightclub with live music on Thursdays and other times when a C-list big band was touring through the area. It was also available to rent for weddings and banquets and like everything else in that part of downtown, was bulldozed in the 1960s to eventually make room for our monstrous mall.

St. Rose was also scaled down from Shea’s original concept, as seen below. The final building was smaller, the east facing rose window was eliminated, as was (what appears to be) a small apse on the northeast corner, which would have been the baptistry. These were probably cost-cutting measures; as it was, the church came in about $3,000 over estimate ($104k in modern dollars).

Shea visited Santa Rosa at least three times while St. Rose was under construction, notable because the round trip from San Francisco would have taken most of a day and there was no profit in the architect making so many inspections on such a small project, particularly while work at the SF city hall was ongoing. As this was his first church, perhaps he took a personal interest in seeing the work done as well as possible, as well as hoping to gain a reputation with the Archdiocese as an earnest builder of churches.

As Frank T. Shea’s first church and his oldest surviving structure of any kind, St. Rose certainly deserves to be on the National Register of Historic Places. But unfortunately, as of this writing you can’t even peek inside; over 25 years ago structural engineers declared it seismically unsound and was closed to the public. The parish has plans for stabilization and restoration and is asking for help in raising funds. (Maybe some of those developers lusting after approval to build multi-million dollar high-rises downtown would like to chip in to fix up a building that’s really architecturally and historically significant, perhaps?) There’s a pledge form available at the link above.

In the meantime, there’s the mystery of the missing steeple. Compare any photos of St. Rose prior to the 1960s to the church today and notice the spire and the bell tower are gone – and no one knows why that happened or when. Best guesses are that it happened in 1964 as they were building the new church next door and possibly for some sort of safety issue. Or maybe there was an aesthetic concern of having such a big pointy thing adjacent to the new baptistry, another big pointy thing. And there’s also a question of where it went to – did they just saw it up and haul the parts to the dump, complete with its four mini-steeples? If anyone knows more, or sees a 90-foot steeple listed on eBay, please drop me a line.

Frank T. Shea drawing of St. Rose church (San Francisco Chronicle, December 3 1899)
Frank T. Shea drawing of St. Rose church (San Francisco Chronicle, December 3 1899)

 

Undated postcard of St. Rose church (courtesy Denise Hill)
Undated postcard of St. Rose church (courtesy Denise Hill)

 

Peter Maroni and August Deghi during construction of St. Rose church  (courtesy Sonoma county library)
The Sonoma county library has two copes of this photograph, one identifying it as Peter Maroni and August Deghi during construction of St. Rose church and the other stating it shows two unknown workers during construction of the Healdsburg Grammar School in 1906. As this is a Romanesque arch and St. Rose arches are (apparently) all Gothic, this is likely showing the school or another project



elks

 

 

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Will Build a Stone Church

From the Rev. Rector Cassin it was learned Monday that if the architect finds that it is at all practicable the new parish church of St. Rose in this city will be built of stone.

– Press Democrat, August 23 1899

 

The New Church at Tomales

Work on the new Catholic church at Tomales is being pushed ahead merrily. The edifice when completed will be one of the neatest in the state. It is probable that the architect of the Tomales church will prepare the plans for the new parish church of St. Rose in this city.

– Press Democrat, August 23 1899

 

Architect Shea in Town

Frank Shea, the well known San Francisco architect, was in Santa Rosa on Sunday for the purpose of inspecting the site for the new church for St. Rose’s parish. He has prepared plans for the erection of many magnificent edifices in this state, so it is expected that his work in this instance will give satisfaction.

The architect was well pleased with the site and will at once begin the preparation of plans. As stated before the church will be built of stone and in architecture that will be inspiring. The stone used will be from the quarries near this city and will be donated for the purpose.

From the Rev. J. M. Cassin, rector of the parish, it was learned that the proposed new church will cost about $14,000 or $15,000. The reverend gentleman is very enthusiastic over the report made by Mr. Shea after looking over the site.

– Press Democrat, September 27 1899

 

THE FIRST CHURCH IN SANTA ROSA TO BE BUILT OF STONE

The people of St. Rose’s parish expect before long to see the commencement of the building of their new church, as designed by Shea & Shea, the well known San Francisco architects.

The church of St. Rose is to be erected of stone to be found in the near vicinity of Santa Rosa from the quarries of Captain McDonald of San Francisco. Captain McDonald has permitted the church to take the stone from his quarry free of cost, and, therefore, when the edifice is completed it will stand as a substantial monument and strong evidence of his great generosity.

No brickwork will be used in the construction, as the walls will be entirely of stone, including the foundation piers, etc. The church will be 45 feet in width, 40 feet in height, and 90 feet in length, cruciform in plan, capable of a seating capacity of over 500 people. The spire will be 92 feet to top of cross. A gallery in front of the church of extensive capacity is also provided which is reached by a large square staircase placed in the square tower.

The baptistry is placed to the right of the church entrance and octagonal in shape, well lighted, and easy of access. The main entrance of the church is emphasized by three arches which face as many separate doors back of the main vestibule. Two side entrances are also provided in the transcepts which will permit of rapid exit of the congregation.

The lighting of the church is admirable, a large rose window pierces the front gable, two large gothic arched windows pierce the respective transcept gables, while the side aisles are provided with smaller yet perfectly proportioned windows flanked by buttresses. There is still provided [rest of paragraph missing]

It will be when completed one of the most substantial, picturesque and capacious houses of worship in the state outside of the city of San Francisco.

Much credit is due the Rev. Father Cassin for his efforts toward the erection of a church of enduring materials.

The idea of the past in this state has been to rear temporary structures or buildings of perishable materials, which demand constant attention in the way of repairs, for all time.

Economy in the end, saying nothing of beauty, dictates the employment of stone or masonry in ail buildings, and particularly in regard to a sacred edifice.

[start of paragraph missing] an extra effect of nave illumination by smaller windows above the aisle arches which adds to the architectural effect of both outside and inside and also provides perfect means of ventilation without draught.

The sanctuary, sisters’ chapel and side altars are crowned with arches and groined with artistic effect. The interior finish is proposed to be entirely of wood with paneled walls, arches and trusses, all finished in the natural state, while the sanctuary walls alone are to be finished in plaster for the purpose of future frescoe decoration which is so appropriate. The roofs will be of California black slate. The style of architecture employed is the English Gothic, destitute of high walls with their cheerless effect. The church will be lighted by electricity and heated by gas radiation.

No paint will be employed but the entire material used will stand for itself in evidence of its own natural virtues. Plainly decorated glass will be set in the windows but of a subdued pleasant tint that will enhance the interior effect considerably.

– Press Democrat, January 17 1900

 

CONTRACTORS BID TO BUILD THE NEW CHURCH

The Rev. J. M. Cassin and Contractors J. O. Kuykendall and C. D. Roberts were present in the offices of Shea & Shea in San Francisco on Monday, when the bids for the erection of the new church of St. Rose were opened. The bidders and bids were as follows:

Carpenter work —Simpson & Roberts. Santa Rosa, $10,516; Dryer & Co., San Francisco, $11,695; McIntyre, Oakland, $10,440; Crawford & Son, San Francisco, $10,000; J. O. Kuykendall, Santa Rosa, $12,107.

Stone work — Fisher & Kinslow, Santa Rosa, $13,997; P. Maroney, Kenwood, $11,235; J. O. Kuykendall, $10,439; Joe Neurauter, Santa Rosa, $7,440,

It will probably be several days before the award will be announced.

– Press Democrat, February 14 1900

 

Kuykendall Secures the Contract

Bids for the building of the new parish church of St. Rose in Santa Rosa were opened on Wednesday at the office of Shea & Shea, the architects, at No. 26 Montgomery street, San Francisco. The Rev. J. M. Casein and others wore present.

Contractor J. O. Kuykendall of Santa Rosa will build the new church, his bid being the lowest. The bids were as follows:

Simpson & Roberts, $21,117; J. C. Lindsay, $19,492; Johnson, $18,981; Thomson, $18,107; J. O. Kuykendall, $17,299.

These bids were for the entire work of construction including stone work and carpenter work.

– Press Democrat, May 5 1900

 

Has Let the Contract

Contractor J. O. Kuykendall, the builder of the new church of St. Rose, has let the contract for the concrete and stone work of the church to the firm of Cushing & Wetmore of San Francisco. The firm will bring to Santa Rosa their own crusher to prepare the concrete for the foundation. Arrangements have been made with Ph. Meyer to supply power for the running of an electric dynamo which will operate the machinery. From Mr. Kuykendall it was learned on Saturday that work would be commenced on Monday morning and that it will be pushed ahead with success.

– Press Democrat, June 27 1900

 

Ground Broken For St. Roses

Ground was broken Monday morning for the erection of the new church of St. Rose on B street. Tuesday from ing & Wetmore’s [sic] men will arrive from San Francisco and the work of building the concrete work will go merrily ahead. The breaking of the ground Monday was an important event for the people of the parish.

– Press Democrat, June 27 1900

 

The stone foundation of the new parish church of St. Rose on B street has been completed in a satisfactory manner by Cushing & Wetmore of San Francisco. The architect, Mr. Shea, and the Rev. Father Cassin are pleased with the work done. Contractor Kuykendall will now receive his first payment from the contract price.

– Press Democrat, July 14 1900

 

New St. Rose’s Church

Architect Shea is expected here today from San Francisco and it is learned that the first stone of the superstructure of the new parish church of St. Rose will be laid. Mr. Maroni, who has the sub-contract for the stone work from Contractor Kuykendall, is ready to begin work at once. It is probable that in about two weeks a date will be set for the laying of the foundation stone.

– Press Democrat, July 21 1900

 

Contractor P. Maroni has a force of eight stone masons at work on the new church of St. Rose on B street and the building is progressing well. Architect Shea is pleased with the work so far.

– Press Democrat, July 28 1900

 

Construction of New St. Rose

The work of building the new church of St. Rose is progressing very satisfactorily. It is an interesting sight to watch a machine in the nature of a derrick, which lifts huge blocks of stone weighing over a ton from the wagons and places them in position where they are required in the building. One of the blocks, used for a sill placed on Saturday, weighed two tons and a half. The six huge iron pillars, two of cast iron and four of wrought iron, which will be used to support the gallery, have arrived.

– Press Democrat, September 5 1900

 

The handsome marble corner stone for new St. Rose’s church has arrived. It Will be laid on Sunday. October 28 by His Grace the Most Reverend Archbishop Riordan.

– Press Democrat, September 12 1900

 

South Gable Finished

The south gable of the magnificent stone church of St. Rose on B street was completed on Saturday and with pride and satisfaction the work was beheld by Rector Cassin and many of his parishioners and friends. On October 28, His Grace the Most Reverend Archbishop Riordan will lay the corner stone of the edifice. He will be assisted by Rector Cassin and a number of visiting priests.

– Press Democrat, October 12 1900

 

CAME AFTER STONE TO BUILD THE NEW CHURCH

The Rev. Father John Rodgers of Tomaies came to Santa Rosa Wednesday with a small army of six-horse teams to haul stone from the quarries near here to complete the new stone church he is building in the little Marin county town. The good priest has won the admiration of everybody for his indefatigable efforts in the building of the church of which he is justly proud. Wednesday he directed the men be brought with him and in the afternoon the wagons went home loaded. The thirty huge steps to the edifice are being quarried here by P. Maroni.

– Press Democrat, October 20 1900

 

CORNER STONE OF SAINT ROSE’S
Archbishop Riordan, Attended by Priests and Acolytes, Performs the Impressive Ceremony, While Hundreds Reverently Watch and Listen

With impressive ceremony befitting the occasion the corner stone of the new Catholic church dedicated to St. Rose on B street was laid by His Grace the Most Reverend Archbishop Riordan at half past 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon…

– Press Democrat, October 31 1900

 

HE DONATED THE STONE FOR THE CHURCH STEPS

Contractor P. Maroni shipped the last of the stone steps constructed for the new Catholic church at Tomales to that place yesterday by team and the huge blocks will soon be placed in position. The stone steps to be placed in front of the new Tomales church are not unlike those leading up to the entrance to the courthouse in this city. Each step is eighteen feet long, and there are four rests in the ascent, two six feet in width, one ten feet and another four feet wide. Yesterday while in San Francisco Contractor Maroni called upon Captain J. M. McDonald, the owner of the quarries from which the stone was taken, to ascertain the cost of the material used. Captain McDonald informed Mr. Maroni that as long as the stone was used for church work there would be no charge whatever. Needless to say the Captain’s generosity is highly appreciated.

– Press Democrat, November 14 1900

 

P. Maroni, the stone contractor for the new St. Rose’s church, says that if the weather remains clear that he will finish the stone work on the building in about twenty days. Mr. Maroni is doing some splendid work upon the edifice.

– Press Democrat, December 26 1900

 

THE CROSS ON HIGH
Stone Work of Upper Portion of Church Finished
Much Progress is Made With Building of New St. Rose’s Church in This City

The cross on the front wall of St. Rose’s church was placed in position Saturday afternoon.

This completes the upper portion of the stone work which has been carried on for months past with many delays on account of unfavorable weather. The steps and other stone work of tbe lower portion of the church will now be attended to. The carpenters, slaters and copper men will now quickly complete the upper portion of the church. The interior work will also be carried on at the same time, and probably in April the church will be dedicated and become an ornament to Santa Rosa.

– Press Democrat, February 10 1901

 

BELL OCCUPIES ITS CHAMBER OF STONE

Yesterday the sweet sounding bell which for many years has summoned the worshipers to the services in old St. Rose’s church on B street was removed from the old church tower and was hoisted into position in the new church. From its chamber near the top of the massive tower of the new stone church its tongue will be heard for the first time next Sunday morning. Architect Shea visited the church building on Monday and expressed himself as being well pleased with the work of the contractors.

– Press Democrat, 13 February 1901

 

New St. Rose’s Church

J. P. Silva of the Oakland Slating company finished the slating on St. Rose’s church last week and he has returned to Oakland. The copper work has also been finished by William Cronin of San Francisco. The stone work of the church has been completed all but the steps and in a few weeks now the carpenterwork will be finished and the edifice will be ready for occupancy…

– Press Democrat, March 17 1901

 

WITH A HIGH MASS
Last Service in the Old, First in the New Church
Elaborate Ceremony Will be Witnessed in New Saint Rose’s Church Today

This morning at 8 o’clock the last service will be held in old St. Rose’s church, which for almost half a century has been the house of worship for the Catholic congregation of the parish of Santa Rosa and around which cling so many memories.

Today for the first time divine service will be held in the handsome new stone church, whose embattled tower is surmounted by a cross of gold. Consequently today will be an important one in the religious history of Sonoma county, for the sacred edifice which will be used for the first time is the first stone church to be erected in the county…

– Press Democrat, June 2 1901

 

THE DEDICATION
Solemn Ceremony by Archbishop Riordan Today
The New Church of Saint Rose Will be Formally Set Apart For Worship

The solemn dedication of St. Rose’s Roman Catholic church will take place at 11 o’clock this morning…

– Press Democrat, July 21 1901

 

Permission was granted Rev. Father Cassin to repair the tower of St. Rose Church.

– Press Democrat, June 6 1906

 

Contractor P. Maroni finished the stone work on the Western Hotel on Thursday night and is now at work on the tower of St. Rose’s church.

– Press Democrat, June 8 1906

 

BIG SOCIAL EVENT
Fete and Dance at the Park on Wednesday Night

The entertainment and dance at Grace Brothers’ Park on Wednesday night under the auspices of the ladies of St. Rose’s Church, is sure to be a very delightful and well patronized event. Under the direction of Mrs. Joe T. Grace a splendid musical and literary program is being arranged, and San Francisco talent will assist. The pavilion will be decorated and many electric globes will glisten in the park. The proceeds are for the benefit of St. Rose’s Church.

– Press Democrat, June 17 1906

 

Church Repairs Made

The repairs on the Church of St. Rose have been completed and everything about the handsome edifice looks as it did before. Rector Cassin is greatly pleased that the work has been finished.

– Press Democrat, July 26 1906

 

Water Color of Elks Temple at Nagle’s

A large water color drawing of the new Elks Temple has been placed in the display window of Nagle’s Sport Shop, where it is attracting considerable notice. The drawing of the building, from plans by Shea and Shea of San Francisco, attractively presents the building as viewed from the Fifth street entrance.

– Press Democrat, July 20 1922

 

Plans For New Elks Building Are Submitted

Architects William and Frank Shea of San Francisco, were in the city last night to submit the plans for the new Elks’ building to be erected in Santa Rosa. The plans were submitted to the building committee and a report will be made to the lodge.

– Press Democrat, December 13 1922

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THE ANTI-VAXXERS OF 1920

The past is just a story we keep telling ourselves.

That’s a throwaway line from a recent film, “Her” (good movie) and not entirely original; “[something is] a story we tell ourselves” first appeared around 1960 and has become exponentially more popular since then, as shown by Google’s Ngram Viewer. What makes this version memorable, however, is that it’s uniquely wrong.

History (for the most part) is a story we DON’T keep telling ourselves. We only talk about an event when it’s big and momentous or directly related to our lives in the here and now. A more accurate version of the quote would be, “The past is just a story we keep forgetting to tell ourselves” and as a result, we don’t learn from the past and find ourselves repeating it. History is not a guide to understand our march toward the future; history is a treadmill.

This article is part of a series on the 1920s culture wars, an era with numerous parallels to America today – and no issue has found itself resonating again as much as the anti-vaccination movement. I’ve written twice before about the “antis” of a century ago (here’s part one and part two) but to recap and expand:

The only vaccine that existed in the early 20th century was against smallpox (MMR, HepB, DTaP, RV or any of the other modern vaccines were decades away). Since 1889 California had required all children to present a smallpox vaccination certificate when they registered for school. Opponents lobbied Sacramento to pass a couple of bills repealing the law but governors vetoed the legislation both times. The state Supreme Court upheld the requirement in 1904 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the same way the following year. Yet the anti-vaccinationists never gave up; they kept forming grassroots anti chapters, signing repeal petitions and writing letters. At the start of every school year some parents would keep their kids at home or protest to the school board – some apparently not over vaccine anxiety but because they couldn’t afford to consult a doctor. More on this in a moment.

At the same time a new anti-vaccine ally popped up in California: The chiropractors.

Over a century ago there were some three dozen types of physicians; some were licensed in some states, with many like Mrs. Preston of Cloverdale, operating in a gray area by claiming they were not really practicing medicine. Among the fields of quackery were eclecticism (adjusting the 12 “tissue salts” in the body), electropathy, homeopathy, hydropathy, vitaopathy, psychiropathy (apparently a combo of hypnotism with massage) and naturopathy.

Chiropracty stood out for several reasons, particularly because a treatment could result in immediate pain relief in some cases. They also had more training than other alternative physicians, spending a year at the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Iowa. But as noted in a 1921 exposé written by a member of the California state medical board, no applicants at the time were turned away and not even required to have a grammar school education. There was an emphasis on teaching salesmanship and how to use publicity, with the school running a large printing office to create newspaper advertising and pamphlets. The message they were selling was that chiropracty could cure any disease and conventional medicine was useless.1

The first chiropractor appeared in the Bay Area in 1904 and one set up office in Santa Rosa five years later. By 1922 there were seven in the City of Roses, most of them clustered in the new Rosenberg building at the corner of Fourth and Mendocino. They distinguished themselves from quack healers using gimmicks and sold themselves as pioneers of a new wave of medicine embracing up-to-date technology – note the ad below for the “X-ray chiropractor.” They were men of science whose livelihood depended upon peddling notions that germs didn’t cause disease and vaccines were a hoax.

George Von Ofen was not Santa Rosa's first chiropractor but he was the most prominent by 1922, running these large display ads in the Press Democrat
George Von Ofen was not Santa Rosa’s first chiropractor but he was the most prominent by 1922, running these large display ads in the Press Democrat

 

Their basic text, the 1906 “Science of Chiropractic,” denounced vaccinations as dangerous and often lethal. (Don’t miss the long section on sales and marketing where students were promised they would make lots of money.) Written by chiropractics founder Daniel David Palmer – who had earlier claimed he possessed magnetic hands – the book was filled with dangerous misinformation. Smallpox was not contagious (he said it’s spread by bedbugs) and spinal adjustments could cure polio, asthma and cancers (which were caused by “too much heat produced by calorific nerves”). It spread fear about vaccines with its heart-wrenching photos of deceased children along with anecdotes from their bereaved parents and by making outrageous statements which were not remotely true, such as “[vaccination] has now been made a crime in England”.

It’s surely no coincidence the antis’ literature soon began to mimic his style. There was more hyperbole (a 1907 letter in the Santa Rosa Republican claimed “vaccination is responsible for more or less of leprosy”) and conspiracy-think: Doctors were trying to bamboozle people by using “cooked-up statistics,” all in order to perform a large scale experiment on the public and/or make themselves rich on fees from giving injections. To support their case, the antis followed Palmer’s example by leaning hard on unverifiable anecdotes and outright lying about events – see sidebar.


MR. TAYLOR’S DECEITS

The antis loved quoting experts, as long as they knew nothing about public health medicine or were comfortably deceased. The PD printed a letter in 1913 from Samuel Taylor of the California Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League which claimed to quote “noted physicians” such as Dr. A. Vogt of Berne University, who supposedly examined the records of 400,000 vaccinations and lost all confidence that smallpox vaccination worked. “Vaccination is a curse,” another doc supposedly said. Taylor never revealed he apparently rustled his info from pamphlets of earlier anti-vaccinationists and the supposed quotes related back as far as the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. This little assortment of dismal tidbits can be found reprinted in American newspapers through the early 1950s.

The Press Democrat letter was also notable because it closed with an anecdote which had nothing to do vaccination, but revealed a sophisticated understanding of how propaganda works:

Just a hint to parents. In Winnetka, Illinois, girls in the new Trier High School were compelled to submit to complete physical examination. They were taken to the gymnasium and stripped of all their clothing. In the presence of other girls they were examined. A request from their parents to excuse them, and a physician’s certificate were ignored. The Inspector and the school authorities held themselves superior to both parents and family physician. The girls were led to the gymnasium and compelled to submit. When a protest was filed on the ground that the Schools were free and no physical examination could be required as a qualification of admission, the newspapers published the story. The board of education met, and decided that the physical examination was not required for admission to the high school, which was public and free.

In truth, there was a complaint from one 16 year-old girl who signed up for a physical education class; she and about ten other girls were brought to the female instructor’s office and told to change into robes, as they needed to be checked for skin diseases before being allowed to use the swimming pool. The facts were altered to evoke a reader’s feelings of disgust and anger – emotions which are well-known for their success at leading to people develop strong negative opinions about something.2 Taylor’s goal was to polarize the public’s views against schoolkids being “compelled to submit” to authorities for medical reasons.

While they always played the underdog, the antis rarely lost. In 1910 they won a surprise victory when a Superior Court judge ruled the vaccination law only applied to students in public schools; the decision caused excitement statewide with the Press Democrat printing the story at the top of the front page. (The judge also said there was no need for enforcement as there was no epidemic at the time, revealing his bias in favor of the anti-vaccinationists.)

Less than a year later they won a bigger prize. The state made vaccination optional, and any family with “conscientious scruples against vaccination” could opt-out as long as they submitted a no-consent form at the start of the school year. The new law declared any students not vaccinated would be blocked from attending only in the case of an epidemic.

Smallpox cases quickly began to increase. Over the next eighteen months there were 279 reported cases in the state with at least ten deaths (that was up to March, 1913; final statistics for that year alone show 800 cases and 15 dead). In Berkeley, five of the eight people who contracted smallpox died. Unbelievably, propagandist Samuel Taylor put a positive spin on this news: “The percentage was very small, about one case to every eight thousand inhabitants.” Not reassured, over a thousand UC/Berkeley students rushed to get revaccinated or receive their first vaccine.

Taylor, always a publicity hound, also pushed his way into the newspapers during a dramatic 1914 incident in Oakland. It was discovered that a conductor on the train coming from Oregon was infected and the cars were sidetracked before reaching the station. Oakland health officer Dr. Allen Gillihan, with assistants and police, boarded the train and forcibly vaccinated the 56 passengers. (Two mothers with small children refused and were not vaccinated.) Taylor made the papers by telling the press an assemblyman was going to introduce an emergency bill to have manslaughter brought against Dr. Gillihan should any of the passengers die because of the vaccine – although odds of which were nil.

For the rest of the 1910s all was (mostly) quiet on the anti front – nothing more can even be found from the very vocal Mr. Taylor. “The number of parents who are conscientiously opposed to vaccination has dwindled from an alarmingly large number to practically none at all,” remarked the Press Democrat in 1919. That year over 500 children received vaccinations paid for by the Santa Rosa school district, so the expense of a doctor’s visit must have played a significant part in earlier protests. Dr. Gillihan – who became Santa Rosa’s health officer not long after the train vaccination – was now an inspector for the State Board of Health, and similarly vaccinated 1,800 in Chico in one week. There he was charged with battery over not having a parent’s vaccination consent, which shows there were still diehards.

And that brings us to the watershed year of 1920. The California ballot that year must have puzzled voters. Amid the usual assortment of items regarding taxes and bonds were two propositions which we would today consider feel-good questions. One seemed to oppose the torture of animals; the other stopped schools and the state government from discriminating against sick kids. Who could oppose things like that?

Although the items seemed harmless enough, on closer look a more distressing agenda appeared. Prop. 6 would have made vaccination entirely voluntary, turning it into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” issue for schools. Prop. 7 would block all medical research using animals as well as prohibiting smallpox vaccines because it required extracting serum from living cows.

We can’t be sure who paid to organize the signature campaigns to get these on the ballot, but from newspaper ads before the election there was backing from the usual American Medical Association foes, including Los Angeles chiropractors, the Anti-Vivisection Society and proto-libertarian national groups such as the American Medical Liberty League, which wanted absolutely no government involvement with medicine. And because this was during the hyper-patriotic culture war, ads and endorsements were wrapped in the flag and touted the issues as about “medical freedom.”3

amendment6(RIGHT: A deceptive ad from the antis intended to confuse voters. If it had passed, the new law would have blocked all means to stop an epidemic except via aggressive quarantines. Petaluma Argus, Nov. 1, 1920)

There were two other related propositions: Number 5 would create a state board of chiropractors to license themselves (something sought for years via the legislature or voters) and number 8, which regulated opiates and cocaine – curiously, it allowed doctors to prescribe the drugs to addicts, but any medicinal use required filing a report to the state pharmacy board.

A speaker from a public health group came to Santa Rosa and spoke on these four proposals, which he dubbed the “Quack Quartette.” His comments (transcribed below) explain the awfulness in all but the drug item. To that I’ll add only the perspective that the chiropractors had been pushing hard for their own licensing board since 1914, and it’s easy to see why; a report from the State Board of Medical Examiners found 2 out of 3 couldn’t pass an examination on basic anatomy.

The good news was that the anti-vaccination proposition lost by 56 percent (the chiropractor and vivisection amendments also failed to pass). The bad news is that the legislators still gave the antis their victory.

Changes to the state vaccination law in 1921 no longer required teachers to collect vaccination certificates or non-consent slips. If a child in the school district caught smallpox only those who were unvaccinated and exposed to the sick kid would be sent home for quarantine. As it was now impossible for the school to know who was vaccinated and who was not, what did they do? “Students, little Tommy has smallpox and everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated gets to stay home for two weeks. Can I see a show of hands?” That worked out swell, I bet.

There were now regularly thousands of cases every year in the state.4 California was fortunate that only the milder form of smallpox was found spreading. Sonoma county was extraordinarily lucky; the only child who became ill here in the early 1920s was a boy in Penngrove. “This is the first case of smallpox in this vicinity for some years and it is causing a scare because smallpox is rapidly gaining in the state owing to carelessness in vaccination and it is serious in several parts of California,” the Petaluma Argus remarked. “There is more smallpox now than for many years and it is increasing at an alarming rate while the illness is more severe than it has been for years and there have been numerous deaths.” That year 56 people died in the state, the highest since before the turn of the century.

There were no more anti-vaccination protests, of course; they had been given everything they ever wanted.

For those who embrace science and believe it’s not a good idea for people to unnecessarily get sick and die, this has been a depressing story – and it gets worse. Remember Dr. A. Vogt and the other vaccine skeptics from the 1870s who were quoted by Taylor in his letter to the PD? Today you can find many of those exact same quotes rehashed in brand new anti-vaxx books and recent websites – although now scrubbed of dates and any other historical context. Apparently Dr. Vogt is still gnashing his teeth over vaccines some 150 years after his heyday.

Maybe there are lessons to glean from the anti-vaccination squabbles of that era, but caution is needed; as a starting point, all of us should have some empathy for the antis prior to 1914 (well, all except for Mr. Taylor). Had I lived back then I might have felt leery about smallpox vaccination, but not because I believed vaccines were phony. There was a certain amount of risk in any doctor visit because medicine was then still in a generally barbaric state – no antibiotics, poor understanding of infection prevention and primitive test equipment for diagnostics.

Then there was often a question of whether any particular vaccination worked; that article about the 279 smallpox cases revealed about eight percent had been vaccinated, but not successfully. The failures could have been because the culture was dead, was low potency or the patient’s immune response was too strong. But it took a day or three and an expert eye to tell if a proper pustule had developed, which might mean another visit by the doctor. Also, an additional eight percent of the cases had been vaccinated in childhood but immunity in those vaccines lasted less than a dozen years.

And let’s concede some people really did die because of being vaccinated, although even the diehard antis never claimed there were very many (in New York state the ratio was reportedly five in a million in the late 1910s). They didn’t know how to sterilize the live animal serum extracted from cow/calf lymph glands until 1914 and the other vaccine source was using a fresh scab from someone with the disease – certainly a chance of infection either way.

Despite all those little risks, the odds of dying from the more aggressive form of smallpox was about one in four, so vaccination was always the wisest course for anyone thinking straight. But none of that mattered because the antis had a simple and effective counterargument – it just didn’t make sense to expose healthy people to a disease in order to prevent them from later getting sick. That’s the most common message repeated in their letters and pamphlets, often with the vaccine being scorned as “filthy,” “disgusting,” “rotten” and see above re: disgust being a most effective way to shape a negative opinion.

The anti groups and the chiropractors effectively won the fight through manipulating fears, but the irony was that the champions of vaccines had a much more powerful weapon of this type which wasn’t used – horrific photos of children infected with smallpox. Had these been as well circulated as the antis’ pamphlets, the public would have begged for mass vaccinations. Here’s an example, and I’m linking to a Snopes.com fact-check page to assure Gentle Reader this is not a pre-Photoshop fake image. On that page click through their link to the “Atlas of Clinical Medicine, Surgery, and Pathology” to see more, if you have the stomach.

vaccinationcartoonSometimes efforts were made to get these images into view, only to find them thwarted by antis. In June 1913 the Berkeley Board of Health wanted to post photos of smallpox victims at city hall but an anti councilman blocked the effort, saying it was “evident intention of frightening people into an adoption of the unprovable theory that vaccination prevents smallpox.”

All of this resonates with the anti-vaxx dilemma today. Scientists are continually publishing studies showing modern vaccines cause no harm (PARTICULARLY NO INCREASE IN AUTISM) but that information is ignored by those endlessly tormented by the fear in the air. I visited scores of anti-vaxx websites this week (there are reportedly about 500). Want to know what I found? Not reasoned arguments refuting the science studies – but stock photos of babies crying and cringing from a doctor while receiving a shot. Hello, emotional triggers.

And just as the Press Democrat innocently became an accomplice by printing the antis’ propaganda in 1913, today Facebook and other social media are complicit in spreading misinformation. As of this writing (2019) anti-vaxxers have gamed Amazon to push anti-vaccine books by swarming the site with bad reviews for pro-vaccine books.

Thus far the year 2019 is looking a lot like 1912 in the last century’s culture wars, when parents were increasingly opting-out of smallpox vaccinations – which led to the 1,100 percent rise in smallpox cases over the following decade. And now there’s a skyrocketing resurgence of measles because there are regional pockets where parents are likewise choosing to opt-out by claiming religious or moral exemptions. Will the unease of a few again outweigh the needs of the many?

If history is indeed a treadmill, brace for a near future where old childhood diseases come roaring back and common ones increase by over a thousand percent. To pretend that can’t happen is folly.


1 The Chiropractic Problem; Dr. Charles B. Pinkham, Secretary-Treasurer, Board of medical examiners, state of California; American Medical Association Bulletin; January 1921

2 How Emotional Frames Moralize and Polarize Political Attitudes; Scott Clifford; Political Psychology; 2018

3 Medical Liberty: Drugless Healers Confront Allopathic Doctors, 1910–1931; Stephen Petrina; Journal of Medical Humanities; 2008 (Nothing specific to California, but good background on the American Medical Liberty League and National League for Medical Freedom)

4 Smallpox Deaths/Cases per year, 1918-1925: 3/1016, 5/2002, 7/4492, 21/5579, 20/2129, 1/2026, 56/9445, 58/4921. California. Dept. of Public Health Biennial Report, Volumes 26-30

(ABOVE: Rally of the Anti-Vaccination League of Canada in Toronto, November 13, 1919. The “German born” sign refers to Germany making smallpox vaccinations compulsory in 1874. As this rally was held just a year after the end of WWI, the message is clearly intended to associate the public’s lingering hatred of Germany with vaccinations)

Undated cartoon, source unknown
Undated cartoon, source unknown

FIGHTING VACCINATION.

It is passing strange that Berkeley, a community of more than average intelligence, lying as it does in the very shadow of the university, is the center and hotbed of the anti-vaccination movement. There are, it is true, some other advocates of the spread of smallpox in other parts of the state. Santa Cruz has a small colony, and Los Angeles, which is the home of isms and schisms, only second to San Diego, has also a few friends of the dread disease; but Berkeley has the doubtful honor of being the center of the movement to prevent the stamping out of smallpox; and already, the primaries being over, has started once more to carry out its ideas at the expense of the health of the people of the state. Once more the fight for safety must be begun also.

The sole argument the antis have to offer is that some children have died from the use of bad vaccine, and that others have contracted serious diseases from the use of impure scabs. No one will deny either contention, and if it were simply a question of insisting that the best of vaccine should always be used and that the physician should be held responsible for the condition of the matter and of the instruments he uses, there would be no dispute over the subject anywhere in the state. But with the logic of fanaticism, the Berkeleyites insist that no one shall be vaccinated because some have died and others have been made ill as a result of carelessness. They insist that smallpox shall not be stopped: that all the children !n the state shall be exposed to danger and disfigurement because some few persons do not want their children protected. The vast majority of the people of the country, of the civilized world, believe in vaccination, and yet the infinitesimal minority, against all experience, against the well established facts in the matter, against every teaching of modern medicine, insist that the vast majority must suffer because of their disapproval and absurd theories.

Any student of history knows what a dread disease smallpox was for centuries. Any reader knows that it is a minor disease since the utility of vaccination was discovered. Here in California we have only one case of smallpox in five thousand cases of disease, and only one death in one hundred eases of smallpox. In a word, thanks to the thorough vaccination of the children and adults of California, the disease has practically been stamped out here, and yet a few fanatics insist that such desirable and wonderful results shall be destroyed, because once or twice impure vaccine was used.

It is time that the people of the state aroused themselves and let their views on this subject be known to their representatives in the legislature, or it is possible that again, as has occurred severnl times before, the legislature will pass a law repealing the one on the statute books, and an epidemic of smallpox will result. Only the veto of the Governor saved this state the last time the experiment was tried, and as neither of the candidates for the governorship have announced their views on the subject, it is safest to kill the propaganda when it first appears in the introduction of repeal bills in either house. This is not a trifling matter. It is a very serious one. and one that should be watched carefully and fought energetically.

– Sacramento Union, September 24 1910

 

VACCINATION TO BE PARENTS’ OPTION
Senate Bill Passed in Assembly Which Removes Obligations Placed on School Children

Vaccination furnished the topic of the nearest approach to a fight in the Assembly Wednesday in the course of the passage of the few bills whose authors had energy enough to call them up for consideration when they were reached on the file. But even this near approach to a clash between the members of the lower House failed to furnish more that a slight diversion from the routine of the day. with but eight dissenting voices, Senator Hurd’s bill (Senate bill No. 655) was passed by the Assembly and sent to the Governor for his approval of its provisions removing the requirement of vaccination as a condition of admission to the public schools of the State. The bill makes vaccination of children optional with parents.

… Assemblymen Schmitt and Chandler were the only open opponents of the bill in the discussion prior to its passage. Chandler declared that “there are a few old women down in my district who are against vaccination, but I am in favor of it and will vote against this bill.” Schmitt declared that he would vote against the bill in question because of his fear that its passage would lead to the ultimate repeal of all legislation pertaining to vaccination.

But Joel lost his motion to continue consideration the bill, and it came the final vote of 58 to 8…

– Press Democrat, February 24 1911

 

VACCINATION MEETING IS RIOT
Aged Stepfather of Health Officer Benton Hissed for Defense of Physician
Police Chief Restores Order When Session of ‘Antis’ Grows Too Stormy

[California Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League meeting in Berkeley
story ends by noting five out of nine smallpox cases in Berkeley were fatal]

– Oakland Tribune, January 31, 1913

 

CALIFORNIA ANTI-COMPULSORY VACCINATION LEAGUE STATE HEADQUARTERS
Berkeley, California, Jan. 20, 1913

The citizens of Berkeley have been thrown into a deplorable condition by an over zealous Health Board, after the discovery of eight cases of smallpox. The percentage was very small, about one case to every eight thousand inhabitants. So insistent were these officials for WHOLESALE VACCINATION, they threw the people into a panic, thereby causing a withdrawal of several hundred pupils from certain schools. Thereupon the School Board deemed it wise to close ALL schools. However, that did not prevent them from insisting upon a wholesale vaccination of school children and teachers. Articles that they caused to be printed so excited the parents that even people who had an aversion to vaccination were terrified into having their children vaccinated.

They have boasted that they would destroy our League in Berkeley, the city of its birth. THE IRON HEEL OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION in the part two weeks has ground harder and deeper than in the past nine years of the League’s existence. Our Treasury is depleted. Briefs carrying our case against the University of California to the Appellate Court amounts to $104.90. Three lawyers’ fees, $150. Besides paid advertisements in local papers, literature, stamps, etc. There is no officer connected with our League receiving any salary. The life of our League is at stake. Can you assist us financially? If so do so at once. Interest your friends in our League, your city may be the next to be visited by an epidemic.
Very earnestly yours,
SAMUEL TAYLOR

 

CASES OF SMALLPOX GROWING RAPIDLY
Twenty-Seven in Sacrarnento Since January – Other Cities Suffer Same.
TWENTY-SEVEN THIS YEAR
Secretary of the Health Board Charges Increase to Anti-Vaccination Idea,

During the year 1911, when the effect of the compulsory vaccination law could still be felt, the number of smallpox cases in Sacramento was limited to three.

In 1912, following the repeal of the compulsory feature of the law and the substitution of one requiring the exclusion of unvaccinated children from the public school only when smallpox existed in the particular school or district to which they belonged, the numbers of cases mounted to twenty-nine.

For the two and a half months of the year 1913 there have already been twenty-seven cases reported in this city. If this ratio is maintained the total for the year will reach 130, or more than forty-three times as much as in 1911.

Smallpox is not exactly epidemic, but there is an alarming increase in the number of cases, and according to the reports of the state board of health the experience of other cities in state is not unlike that of Sacramento.

HIGH DEATH RATE.

The recent outbreak in Berkeley had fatal consequences for five out of ten persons who contracted the disease within one circle of focus, originating from one person, and there were thirteen cases altogether. In Imperial Valley, four out of eighteen persons died, when the disease was introduced in one of the valley towns.

In almost all of the cases the patients had either not been vaccinated or not successfully vaccinated. Of 279 cases of smallpox reported in the last year and a half there were 228 where the patient had not been vaccinated, 22 not successfully, 22 successfully in childhood, from twelve to fifteen years previous, 2 where the victim had previously had smallpox and 5 where there had been successful vaccination.

These figures are presented by Dr. W. F. Snow, secretary of the state board of health, who was asked yesterday to back with data the statement that there is an increased and increasing prevalence of smallpox in California and to account for the phenomena.

“They are no doubt directly traceable,” said Dr. Snow, “to the modification of the compulsory vaccination law and the agitation that has been going on insistently against vaccination. During 1907 and 1909 a very active campaign was conducted against compulsory vaccination and it finally resulted, in 1911, in the repeal of the law and the substitution of the present one.

INCREASE OF EXPOSURES.

“Letting down the bars has of course produced an increasing population of unvaccinated, and the more unvacclnated there are the greater the opportunity for contamination and contagion. This danger is increased by the fact that the population of the state is increasing all the time, which, with the new ramifications of commerce, results in a larger proportion of exposures.

“When a disease has once been well under control it takes time for it to become re-established, and that is what is occurring with smallpox. There seems to be no apparent reason why, now that the gate is open, smallpox cases will not go on increasing in numbers. It is not putting it too strongly to say that if we had compulsory vaccination we wouldn’t have smallpox.” Dr. Snow says also that an alarming incident in connection with the disease is that the confluent type, the most violent and loathsome of all, is becoming more prevalent. In recent years this form of the disease was almost unknown.

– Sacramento Union, March 15 1913

 

MUST PRODUCE CERTIFICATES
Requirements of Students Attending School Here Next Monday Morning

Health Officer Jackson Temple stated yesterday that in order to prevent disappointment when the schools assemble after summer vacation next Monday, the pupils will be required to show vaccination certificates, or else certificates showing that their parents have conscientious scruples against vaccination, or else they will not be allowed to attend school.

The law requires that the Board of Education furnish the certificates setting forth conscientious scruples against vaccination which will be handed to their children to be taken home for signature, by their parents. In the case of any infectious disease breaking out in a community the children who have been vaccinated will be allowed to attend school and those who have not will have to remain home.

Dr. Temple further stated that Santa Rosa had been freer from cases of smallpox than possibly any other city of its size in the State and at the present time there is no case in the city limits.

– Press Democrat, August 20 1913

 

MEDICAL FREEDOM AND VACCINATION

Wednesday morning the Press Democrat published the announcement that Health Officer Jackson Temple, M. D., would demand either a vaccination certificate or one setting forth the fact that a child’s parents had conscientious scruples against vaccination when the schools reassemble again next week.

Wednesday morning the following communication from the Santa Rosa Branch of the American League of Medical Freedom was handed in at the Press Democrat office with a request for its publication:

“Compulsory vaccination has been abolished by the California Legislature, and those who do not wish to have their children vaccinated have only to fill out a blank similar to the following, and the child is then not required to submit to vaccination.

“In case of a smallpox epidemic the school board have the power to exclude from school all un-vaccinated children coming from the district only in which the cases are found.

“Sample of Exemption Certificate…

“…I hereby declare that I am conscientiously opposed to the practice of vaccination and will not consent to the vaccination of ___________
Signed Parent or Guardian _____________.

“The following citations are from noted physicians and from records taken from the past experience where vaccination has not proven a preventive. These are only just a few of conclusions cited from a large number of physicians…

“…Sorry, but space will not permit, we could keep you reading all day on just such data that is against vaccination. A similar theory to that of vaccination is medical inspection of school children. Compulsory treatment will be next wanted by a great many of the M. D.’s.

“Just a hint to parents. In Winnetka, Illinois, girls in the new Trier High School were compelled to submit to complete physical examination. They were taken to the gymnasium and stripped of all their clothing. In the presence of other girls they were examined. A request from their parents to excuse them, and a physician’s certificate were ignored. The Inspector and the school authorities held themselves superior to both parents and family physician. The girls were led to the gymnasium and compelled to submit. When a protest was filed on the ground that the Schools were free and no physical examination could be required as a qualification of admission, the newspapers published the story. The board of education met, and decided that the physical examination was not required for admission to the high school, which was public and free.”

– Press Democrat, August 21 1913

 

VACCINATION MADE SAFE BY SCIENCE The anti-vaccinationists are about to lose their strongest argument. Their most telling objection against vaccination has long been that it was impossible to get absolutely pure vaccine matter; notwithstanding the greatest precautions, like the use of calves kept under specially sanitary conditions, the lymph obtained would not infrequently contain deleterious germs. According to the German Medical Weekly, however, a way has at last been found for sterilizing lymph so thoroughly that its purity can always be relied upon. This has been accomplished by Prof. E. Friedberger and Dr. B. Mlronescu, who have availed themselves of the well-known principle that the ultra-violet rays of light are destructive of bacterial life. The virus is put into small tubes of quartz-glass, which are then exposed to the ultra-violet rays from an electric lamp. In 20 or 30 minutes there is not a live germ left in them.

– Sacramento Union, July 19 1914

 

VACCINATION ORDER IS BEING RIGIDLY ENFORCED

The desks of the principals were piled high with vaccination certificates at the high school Monday after a campaign among the students, in which a certificate dated not earlier than 1907 was compulsory with the alternative of a note from the parent or guardian to the effect that they were opposed to the treatment. Dr. Jackson Temple, the health officer, was a busy man and in spite of the bruised arm which he sustained in Sunday’s accident and wore in a sling moved among the mass of students with a pleasant smile.

– Press Democrat, September 15 1914

 

Dr. Gillihan Defendant in Battery Charges

Dr. Allen F. Gillihan. an inspector for the State Board of Health, who was formerly stationed in Santa Rosa, is facing battery charges in Chico as the result of his activity in enforcing vaccination among school children during a smallpox epidemic in that vicinity. He denies having forced vaccination where there was objections, however.

– Press Democrat, March 1 1919

 

PARENTS CONVERTED TO SCIENCE Over 500 children have been vaccinated by Dr. Juell, the school doctor, so far this year. It has been discovered since the vaccinating is done in the school and without charge that the number of parents who are conscientiously opposed to vaccination has dwindled from an alarmingly large number to practically none at all.

– Press Democrat, October 19 1919

 

THREE AMENDMENTS GIVEN OPPOSITION, ONE FAVORED
Sonoma County Public Health Association Talks of New Laws at Meeting Here Yesterday in the City Hall.

“Don’t close the door of hope for cancer victims, now or in the future. Don’t undo all that has been done for the restriction of tuberculosis. Don’t deprive the choking child of the diphtheria serum, without which his gasping must be futile, without which be must be snatched by death. Don’t, please don’t tie the hands of the physicians. Don’t make futile all of their efforts for the alleviation of human misery. Don’t throttle education in the State of California. And above ail else, don’t make suffering little children the victims of a misplaced sympathy for mice, rabbits, guinea pigs and the like.”

This was the appeal of Celeste J. Sullivan, secretary of the California League for the Conservation of Public Health, to the audience assembled in the council chamber of the city hall Tuesday afternoon; an audience, by ths way, that entirely filled audience section of the room and overflowed into the section reserved for the council members. The meeting where Mr. Sullivan spoke was the annual assemblage of the Sonoma County Public Health Association, and it attracted representatives from various portions of the county…

“…That No. 5 promises the appointment of a special board of examiners for chiropractic physicians and thereby opens the way for the appointment of at least twenty-seven other special boards of examiners for the various other similar cults in the state, is the special argument advanced against it.

“No. 6 is a blow not at vaccination, which in this state is not compulsory, but it aims a death blow as well at inoculation and medication of every kind and would irrevocably tie the hands of the state board of health, making that board absolutely powerless. Further arguments advanced against it by Mr. Sullivan are that if passed it would jeopardize the lives and health of our children by permitting absolutely no disbarment from school or any other public place of persons afflicted with communicable disease, thereby giving no leverage in arresting any epidemic.

“No. 7 aims to make illegal all experiments on live animals. It would absolutely check ail advance in surgical and biological experimentation, stop laboratory work in our universities and colleges, our medical schools and even our high schools, do away with the possiblity of manufacturing not alone preventative serums of all character, but as well strike a death blow to anesthesia and through this to human surgery. Not alone that, but it would put an absolute stop to all experimentation made in the interest of our farm animals, hogs, chickens and cattle.”

“Does California want that?” asks Mr. Sullivan. If we overlook entirely the human element and put the lives of guinea pigs before those of little children, are we willing to go back to the loss of millions of hogs annually? And in reference to the charges of cruelty, the speaker made it plain that the laws of this state are in absolute accord with the requirements of the humane societies, which demand the administration of an anaesthetic in every instance before experimentation. Furthermore, all experimentation laboratories within the state are at all times open to the public.

In connection with this amendment. Mr. Sulivan drew attention to the fact that it will prohibit the killing of tubercular infected cattle, except in the course of a regulation meat supply. ”Do we want this in California?” he further asked of his audience.

No. 8 deals with the curbing of of the drug menace. The last legislature passed the measure and the governor placed his signature to it, showing how our lawmakers feel in the matter. On this measure a “yes” is urged….

– Press Democrat, October 13 1920

 

VACCINATION BILL VETOED BY SENATE

Despite opposition and the absence of ten members, the Senate late today passed. 23 to 7, Senator Crowley’s bill to repeal the compulsory vaccination act and to place control of small pox in the hands of the state board of health. Nelson and others objected to the section of the bill stating that “the control of small pox shall be under the direction of the state board of health, and no rule or regulation on the subject of vaccination shall be adopted by school or local health authorities.”

– Press Democrat, April 6 1921

 

Dr. H. F. True Tells of New State Vaccination Law

Dr. Herbert F. True. Director of the Los Angeles School Health Department, in explaining the new state vaccination law which went into effect in California on July 23. makes the following statement for the guidance of parents, teachers and school officers:

“In event that a case of smallpox develops in a school district, the only persons who will be excluded from school will be the patient and other residents in his home. Persons who have been exposed by these other residents who have not been vaccinated will not be excluded as heretofore. This will mean a great saving to the schools, in that the attendance will not be cut down every time a remote exposure occurs in a school.

“If, however, smallpox becomes very prevalent in the district, the Public Health Officer may order the entire closing of the school to all persons, no distinction being made between vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

“Teachers will not be under the necessity of filing vaccination cards with the schools, nor will they have to require vaccination or opposed-to-vaccination cards from the pupils.”

The law which Dr. True refers to, and which, as he says, removes the distinction formerly drawn between vaccinated and unvaccinated children, so that the unvaccinated now have the same freedom in attending school that the vaccinated enjoy, was enacted by the California legislature at its last session, and reads as follows:

“The control of smallpox shall be under the direction of the State Board of Health, and no rule or regulation on the subject of vaccination shall be adopted by school or local health authorities,”

– Press Democrat, August 18 1921

 

SMALLPOX CASE AT PENNGROVE

Norman Johnson, the seven year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Johnson, is ill at his home at that place with a pronounced case of smallpox. The home has been quarantined by the county health authorities and the school was closed Thursday and will reopen on Monday morning.

The county health authorities announced formally today that the school children who are not vaccinated between now and Monday morning will not be allowed to attend school on that day or until they are vaccinated…It is thought that there will be more cases as many children have been exposed to the disease…

This is the first case of smallpox in this vicinity for some years and it is causing a scare because smallpox is rapidly gaining in the state owing to carelessness in vaccination and it is serious in several parts of California. There is more smallpox now than for many years and it is increasing at an alarming rate while the illnes is more severe than it has been for years and there have been numerous deaths.

– Petaluma Argus, June 12, 1924

 

VACCINATION BANNED AT BURNSIDE SCHOOL

Parents of the Burnside district have refused to allow their children to be vaccinated in the drive being made by Sonoma county health authorities. Not one student in the school was vaccinated, the parents having declined to have the children undergo the treatment. – Press Democrat

– Petaluma Argus, November 22, 1924

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UPDATE ON CAUSE OF 1921 SRHS FIRE

Normally I don’t update an item with an entire new article, but more has come to light about the 1921 Santa Rosa High School fire than can squeeze into a footnote. Plus, there’s a really good story here that deserves to be widely shared.

In writing “THE FALL AND RISE OF SANTA ROSA HIGH, PT. 1,” I overlooked a lengthy sidebar about the fire in the November 16, 1921 Press Democrat which contained several important details, such as: “The bursting of a water pipe in the upper part of the building sent a geyser of water into the air. This continued to shoot upward, entirely surrounded by flames.” What a sight that must have been!

Also, the PD reported “several work benches and chairs and a static machine used in the physics laboratory were saved by those who reached the scene during the early stages of the blaze.” That electrostatic generator was probably the most expensive piece of equipment in the school, and the “work benches” were likely experiments setup on the tabletops – but then again, it’s mystifying that they saved chairs, so maybe the kids did lug heavy furniture out of the burning building.

Most intriguing was a mention that “people are finding it more than a coincidence that there have been several school fires in this county in the past year. Roseland, Cotati and Petaluma have been visited by blazes which destroyed schools.” Although it may seem like the PD was hinting there were suspicions of a serial arsonist, one of the other incidents was a grass fire at a Petaluma country school, and the almost-new Cotati grammar school (designed by Brainerd Jones) burned during the middle of a schoolday in a furnace mishap. I found nothing on a Roseland incident.

After the fire was discovered by the boys and girls, critical time was lost because they did not know how to turn in a fire alarm. The next day, a letter to the Press Democrat said we shouldn’t be too hard on the kids – 2 in 5 people questioned on the street didn’t know how to do it either. It was a three-step process: Break the glass, turn the key to open the little door inside and then pull down the lever within.

The earlier article repeated an twice-told tale about the fire possibly being started by teens sneaking a smoke during the halftime of a basketball game that evening. Further research shows there were no high school sporting events after school that Tuesday except for the football team holding evening practice games that week at the “Recreation Field” to prep for an upcoming weekend game against Eureka. And that afternoon the high school “120 pound” basketball team held its first practice before its opening game of Dec. 2, presumably in the annex gym.

There is another unlikely sports-related theory which is well worth reading despite its shaky legs. It comes from a letter by Raymond Clar (SRHS class of 1922) shared by Mike Daniels, historian for the SRHS Foundation.

Clar – who also penned the yearbook poem and sketch of the school ruins seen in the original article – was quite a gifted writer. His letters read like the best of Mark Twain; he takes awhile to get around to his point, but the scenery is so nice along the way you don’t mind the detours at all. I took to reading the letters aloud to my long-suffering wife in my best Sam Clemens imitation (which is to say, imitating Hal Holbrook imitating Clemens). This story related to the fire – and the distress of his poor, poor friend, John Parmeter – is among his best:

…To the best of my knowledge, no authority has ever set forth even a good guess as to why that fire occurred. What I write here is very probably the first time a very likely cause has ever been set down in writing.

John Parmeter didn’t do it. He probably never heard the little story I have to tell. But his very painful experience one day in the Fall of 1921 helps set the stage for the Fire Cause Theory.

I “went out” only one season for football and I roomed in Santa Rosa to do that. The fact that my lack of ability did no good for the undermanned team is of no consequence. John Parmeter was undoubtedly a much better athlete, and that is not important either. Our being with the team allows me to now be the scribe and John the victim, and it primarily points to “The Cause.”

As I remember, the basement of the Old School on Humboldt Street was at ground level. Its principal use was for lockers and dressing rooms for athletic teams and gym classes. On rainy noon hours it was a madhouse of male students staying out of the rain. Oh yes, there, too, were toilets. Now I remember that a line of toilets and urinals was flushed at regular intervals by a tipping bucket system. Running water from a faucet overhead filled up a scoop-shovel-shaped galvanized iron tank. When the water load reached some 50 gallons the pivoted tank slopped over and delivered a cascade of water all along the line. And that had nothing to do with The Fire and relatively little to do with John Parmeter.

The important point is that when a team had suited up and was ready to go out to a game on practice, someone, probably the coach or team manager, lit a substantial gas water heater in the locker room to assure water for showers later. It should be remembered that we then had to travel from Humboldt Street to the site of the present high school for football events. And the field was hard, bare ground with numerous surface pebbles. In fact, on days preceding a Saturday or regular season game some gym classes of boys were transported there to pick up pebbles. (And I personally still bear a scar where my chin was split open when the chubby Elsworth Barnett fell on my head in scrimmage one day.)

In my several diversions herein let us not forget the unwatched gas water heater in the locker room back in the basement. So, one day the boys returned from the practice field–dirty, sweaty and bruised. But several lads still possessed enough energy to engage in a towel slapping fray. Here were there or four naked youths snapping at each other with bath towels used as bullwhips. I remember the event very vividly but I suspect that I considered that I lacked the social status, even as a senior, to become involved in such horseplay. I was still an outlander in this essentially closed society of Santa Rosa students.

Anyway, John was maneuvered close to a burning water heater when he entangled his gangly legs one with another and a snapping towel. John fell backward into the very hot cylindrical, iron heater. What a yelping and howling with pain! The horseplay ended and John was on the floor. Some of us rolled him over and viewed, I solemnly swear, the letters DETROIT MICH –in reverse — branded on John’s posterior.

But, as I herein above declare, John Parmeter did not cause the old high school to burn. What I have done thus far, I do hope, is establish beyond question the matter of the gas fueled water heaters.

Somewhere, a dozen or so years later I was talking with a relatively young man. I do not remember his name, or why, or where. I do remember that he told me that he had been a member of some team from San Rafael Military Academy. (I feel that was the school). That team had “borrowed” the SRHS locker room, apparently aside from any contest with Santa Rosa, as I remember. Then, very snidely, he told me, “We were the team that forgot to turn off the gas water heaters on the day Santa Rosa High School burned.”

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