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THE DELINQUENT WOMEN OF SONOMA

Dear Valley of the Mooners: The state will soon build a lockup there for morons who are outcast women, which is to say they are really prostitutes. P.S. Most of them will probably have chronic cases of venereal disease. P.P.S. It will be your patriotic duty to cooperate fully to show your support for our troops.

This odd proposition came up during the winter of 1917-1918, as California fully ramped up home front efforts for fighting World War I. Under the so-called “American Plan,” it was decided our draftee soldiers in training camps needed to be protected against booze and sex workers, so the Navy established “dry zones” around Mare Island and other military bases. Liquor could not be sold within this five-mile radius and brothels were likewise closed under military order. President Wilson expanded this further by declaring areas around shipyards, munition factories, and schools with military prep programs to likewise be temptation-free.

As explained in part one, this led to tens of thousands of women accused of prostitution nationwide being swept up in vice raids and held under “quarantine” without due process. For such women of Northern California, the state was proposing to build a secured building at the Sonoma State Home at Eldridge big enough to imprison 300.

Why they pitched the “moron” angle is less clear. In the early 20th century “moron,” “imbecile” and “idiot” were accepted quasi-medical terms (although the methods used to classify people as such were complete and utter bullshit). As the institution near Glen Ellen was still widely known by its old name as the California Home for Feeble-Minded Children, maybe it was thought there would be fewer objections from locals if the women supposedly were of lower than average intelligence.1

There was plenty of local pushback against establishing such a “moron colony” at Eldridge even after the projected number of inmates was reduced by two-thirds. Nonetheless, by the summer of 1918, there were 110 “weak-minded girls and young women” from San Francisco quartered there.2

When the federal government abolished liquor in the Dry Zones, it helped pave the way for passage of Prohibition after the war ended. Similarly, the interest in keeping prostitutes locked up continued unabated – although the excuse was no longer protecting the troops from disease in order to keep men “fit to fight.” As also explained in part one, the new call was to abolish prostitution in California by reforming the women – even if it was against their will (and likely unconstitutional).

The loudest voices calling for enforced reform were the women’s clubs. In April, 1919, they succeeded in having the legislature pass an act establishing the “California Industrial Farm for Women” which was “to establish an institution for the confinement, care, and reformation of delinquent women.” Any court in the state could now commit a women there for six months to five years. But where would this “Industrial Farm” be located? The state only considered two locations – both in the Sonoma Valley.

One possibility was the big chicken ranch of J. K. Bigelow between Glen Ellen and Sonoma (today it’s the Sonoma Golf Club, and the sprawling clubhouse is the “cottage” the Bigelows built in 1910). The other option was the old Buena Vista winery, where Kate Johnson, a philanthropist and noted art collector, had built a 40-room mansion in the 1880s. The state chose Buena Vista and began bringing in women after winning a 1922 test court challenge over a single inmate.

A slightly different version of the colorized postcard shown in “THE MAKING OF A CRAZY CAT LADY.”
From the Bartholomew Park Winery

Battle lines formed. Women-based organizations – the clubs, League of Women Voters, the W. C. T. U. and other temperance groups – enthusiastically supported the “Industrial Farm” (it was also called the “Delinquent Women Home” and every variation in between; here I’ll simply refer to it as the “Home”). On the other side were politicians and bureaucrats (all male, of course) who thought the property could be put to better use, or just objected to the idea of spending taxpayer dollars trying to rehabilitate women of ill repute.

The attack on the Home locally was led by the Sonoma Index-Tribune, grasping at every opportunity to bash the place as a misguided experiment by do-gooders who foolishly believed they could domesticate feral humans. A scrapbook of clippings from the I-T during the 1920s can be found in the museum for the Bartholomew Park Winery (which traces its history back to Haraszthy’s original Buena Vista vineyards) and I am indebted to the winery – as well as the anonymous soul who originally assembled the scrapbook – for sharing that invaluable resource with me.3

The Index-Tribune’s bias was so unfettered we can never be certain how much of what they reported as fact was true – and alas, it was the only newspaper regularly covering doings at the Home. Sometimes the fake news is obvious; the I-T once claimed the monthly cost was $509.59 per inmate, but from later testimony and articles elsewhere we learn it was really in the $80-90 range, and was only that high because of building construction and other start-up costs.

A popular theme in the Sonoma paper was that the women were dangerous, depraved criminals. When the W. C. T. U. proposed incorporating some of the inmates from the women’s ward at San Quentin (almost all women at the prison were in for non-violent crimes, mainly check kiting and forgery), the Index-Tribune played up the “unthinkable” threat they would bring to the community:

…We have had ample opportunity to judge the farm already, and do not hesitate to say that as a penal institution it is a failure, because it is a menace to the community and a nuisance to local officers…to bring 50 San Quentin inmates here, unconfined, without guards and a prison wall, is unthinkable. Surely the people of the surrounding country are to be thought of, despite theorists of the W.C.T.U. Perhaps if these good women knew how the handful already at the farm have acted, they would hesitate to pass their sob-sister resolutions. Perhaps if they were informed that there has been leaks, escapades and communication with companions on the outside, they might understand something of the danger such an institution is in our midst…

That editorial appeared in September 1922, when the Home had been accepting women only about four months and had thirty inmates. The I-T rushed to declare it already a failure, although the only reported trouble had occurred the week before. The paper would still scream about that incident years later, and as with all other damning news from the Index-Tribune, their version should be presumed slanted.

Two women escaped, were caught and returned. They became belligerent and started a riot. The ringleader was arrested, handcuffed (a later rehash would say she was “hog tied”) and taken to the county jail in Santa Rosa. While enroute, “the prisoner, who is a drug fiend, hurled the vilest epithets at the officer.” Deputy Joe Ryan was immediately called back to the Home to arrest another riotous inmate, and the two women were sentenced to 40 days in the Sonoma county jail.

Six months later the Sonoma paper reprinted a Sacramento Bee report about another escape under the headline, “THREE WOMEN’S PRISON MILK MAIDS FLEE”:

…[the] aesthetic atmosphere, created to comfort the women jailed because of commission of the sin that has come down the ages, now includes “lowing herds winding slowly o’er the lea.” At least, a herd of milk cows recently was installed at the home, there to replace a herd of milk goats. Perhaps the break for liberty taken from them was actuated by resentment over the transfer of the lowly but picturesque milk goat for the more impressive bossy. Or mayhaps the duty of parking a cow on the farm and relieving her of her fluid treasure proved more arduous to the three “sisters of sin” than being maid to the goats. This is not officially explained. It is officially admitted, however, that the maids three have gone…Anyway, the first big break has been staged at the prison farm. As far as is known, this is the first break from jail in California by three women.

The Index-Tribune felt compelled to append an editor’s note: “The Bee was misinformed as to this being the first break. There is such a gap between the honor system and discipline at the prison farm that there is a jail break every week.”

As the I-T had not been reporting all those weekly “jail breaks,” the editor was either admitting such events weren’t newsworthy or didn’t happen. Either way, it opens the question: What was really going on at the Home?

Rarely mentioned was that a small hospital was built next door when the Home opened. The original 1919 Act specified that women only could be released “with reasonable safety and benefit to herself and the public at large,” which meant treating – and hopefully, curing – any venereal diseases. As discussed in part one, the best medical protocols in that era involved weeks of painful shots using solutions which had to be prepared under very precise conditions. Thus it’s safe to assume that the hospital’s (20? 30?) beds were filled at any given time.

The Act also called for the inmates to be given “industrial and other training and reformatory help,” but aside from milking those cows – and before that, goats – there was no mention of other work, aside from a later comment in the I-T about them “painting flower boxes and pots,” which could be just gratuitous snark from the editor. Nor was any formal education or training ever mentioned.

Before the place had a single inmate, Superintendent Blanche Morse was interviewed by the Press Democrat. “We are going to give the inmates work to do,” she said, “but we are not going to apply the institutional idea and make them do it to bells and march-time. Each woman will help around the house in some way.” To her and other women’s advocates at the time, the inmates would be transformed once they were lifted out of their abnormal environment. That meant placing these women – who came from San Francisco and other big cities –  in the countryside to learn farm chores along with traditional domestic skills like sewing, laundry and housecleaning in a communal women-only setting.

(RIGHT:) Blanche Morse portrait used in the San Francisco Call 1911-1912

Blanche Morse was the guiding force of the Home from the beginning. When the Home opened she was 52 years old, a former Berkeley librarian, middle school principal, and feminist with a decade of positions in several East Bay and state women’s groups. In 1911 she was a speaker and organizer on the historic suffrage campaign tour to gain the right to vote in California. Her complete lack of any background in penology or social work or administration might seem to make her unqualified to handle the unique problems of the women sentenced to the Home, but she still probably looked like the ideal person to many in 1920 – because of her activism with the Mobilized Women.

The “Mobilized Women’s Army” was a coalition of Bay Area women’s groups that organized in Berkeley just after the U.S. entered WWI in 1917. Its objective was to locally enforce “Americanization,” which was another creepy project of the Wilson Administration akin to the American Plan – but instead of unconstitutionally locking up women accused of moral crimes, Americanization sought to encourage citizens to spy on their foreign-born neighbors and intimidate them into behaving more like “real Americans.”

It was Blanche Morse who organized efforts to compile a list of every single immigrant in the Bay Area via a house-to-house survey – a list which would have been invaluable to the government and industrialists after the war during the “Red Scare” years, when both sought to crush Bolshevism and labor activism dominated by first-generation immigrants.

And just as the American Plan gained more steam once the war was over, the Mobilized Women’s mission became a well-funded program to push cultural assimilation. It was the Mobilized Women’s “American House” in Berkeley that clearly became the model for the learn-by-osmosis rehabilitation efforts at the Delinquent Woman Home at Buena Vista. There foreign-born women were shown American-style houswifery, which, as one scholar put it, meant “in order to be better citizens, immigrant women should learn to dress, shop, cook and clean in new, better, and more ‘American’ ways.”4

It’s unknown whether Morse’s delinquent women similarly adopted “American ways” and became prostitutes no more. That is, if they were prostitutes to begin with; according to the Sacramento Bee, of the 54 inmates there at the end of 1922, only 17 were prostitutes and the rest were addicts/alcoholics. The law gave courts broad leeway to sentence any woman to the Home for having any connection at all with prostitution or merely being considered a “common drunkard.” One woman was reportedly 67 years old, and all were charged with simply vagrancy.5

Much was later made by critics about the 67 year-old; “When do ‘wild women’ cease being wild?” taunted the Index-Tribune, although she could well have been a bordello’s madam – and the law specifically mentioned, “any women…keeping a house of ill fame.” Others would accuse Morse of padding the rolls. A member of the State Board of Control shared with the I-T a letter where he made the unlikely charge that federal prisons were in cahoots with Morse, and wardens were lending her convicts in order to polish up her budget:

…The institution never had many of the class of women for which it was intended, namely prostitutes or street walkers. When criticism arose because the institution was costing about $1100 per capital per year, the superintendent ‘borrowed’ a number of narcotic addicts who were under federal conviction, thinking that by increasing the inmates the per capita rate would be decreased…

Hammered by critics, by the end of 1922 – when the Home had been active only about seven months – a bitter fight was already underway to keep it open for even another year.

The Sacramento Bee came out strongly against it, as did bureaucrats and politicians with influence and oversight responsibilities. Themes emerged: The women should be treated in regular state hospitals or imprisoned; the property should be used for a more deserving cause; if the women’s clubs wanted the Home so badly they should pay for it and make it their charity. On the other side, the state League of Women Voters vowed to fight closure and many women’s clubs demanded the project even needed to be expanded. Some clubs pledged to raise money.

Governor Richardson’s recommendations for its 1923 budget was chopped down to about twenty percent of what he asked, which clearly wasn’t enough to continue operations. Morse went to Sacramento ready to surrender. Then this happened:

Just after Miss Blanche Morse, superintendent of the Sonoma prison farm for Delinquent Women, had finished telling the joint legislative committee holding hearing upon the Richardson budget that she was about to recommend temporary suspension of the institution, word was flashed over the wires telling of the total destruction of the home by fire.

“Sonoma Valley’s beautiful landmark, The Castle, for 40 years nestled against the Buena Vista hills, is today a blackened ruins, for the building, since 1921 used to house women delinquents of the state of California, suddenly broke into flames Monday night at 6:15 and burned to the ground…” read the lede in the Sonoma Index-Tribune on March 17, 1923.

The fire began while the 65 inmates were starting supper and was well underway before a member of the Sebastiani family saw it from their house and called the fire department.

All managers were away that evening with Blanche Morse and the Home’s business manager in Sacramento and the farm manager off duty, leaving only a groundskeeper and attendants to cope with a life-threatening emergency. Everyone sought shelter in the hospital; even though it was made of brick, there must have been fear and panic as the immense building next to them blazed away for three hours. All of their clothing and personal items in their top floor dormitory were lost.

The Sonoma and Boyes Springs fire departments responded. The Index-Tribune wrote, “…When the fire departments arrived they found the farm water supply of little value owing to repairs which were being made to the reservoir, so the Sonoma engine therefore pulled water from a nearby creek. Despite four streams playing on the building it burned like tinder.”

A later view of the mansion at Buena Vista, probably c. 1920. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

The I-T rushed to suggest inmates had set the fire. A few years later the paper fleshed out the rumor in more detail: “It was common talk in Sonoma that an inmate boasted she had set the fire — the last of three conflagrations in the building — had locked the door where the flames were started and thrown the key out of the window…” Today it seems commonly believed that it was indeed arson.

But less than three weeks earlier there had been a major fire because of a “defective flue” (no details were ever provided). So serious was the incident that the Sonoma firemen had to chop several holes in the roof to get it under control. Repairs were ordered and the very day of the big fire, a local contractor was working on the problem flue. It seems far more likely the building was destroyed because a workman accidentally did something (knocked loose creosote buildup?) which caused a chimney fire the next time the fireplace was used.

Although the old mansion was destroyed, the state still owned the land and its valuable hospital. Led by indomitable Mrs. Aaron Schloss – the feminist who almost singlehanded turned California clubwomen into a formidable political bloc – the women’s club organizations immediately began to lobby hard for a new building so the Home could resume its purpose.

The pushback was fierce, critical of not only rebuilding any facility for women at Buena Vista but continuing the project at all. Gilbert B. Daniels, State Board of Control chairman said, “If it is the last thing I do, I’ll oppose that farm. It is a fad.” The director of the State Department of Institutions called it a boondoggle and a failed experiment. And as always, from the Index-Tribune’s columns plentiful sexism oozed: The law only passed originally because legislators were “stampeded by the petticoat brigade” and the only people who wanted the Home to reopen were “women theorists and job chasers.”

But even though the governor wanted to give it funding for another year at least, the California Industrial Farm for Women ceased to exist on June 30, 1923.

Over the next two years many ideas of what to do with the hospital were floated. The Sonoma County Federation of Women’s Clubs wanted it to be a children’s TB sanitarium. A veteran’s home was suggested as well as an orphanage for children of WWI vets run by the American Legion, which was proposed by Jack London’s sister Mrs. Eliza Shepard, state president of the women’s auxiliary. In 1924 it unofficially became sort of an annex of the nearby Sonoma State Home at Eldridge, when they housed 35 epileptic boys at the hospital.

The women’s club movement was split; some moved on to lobby for new female quarters at San Quentin (it was built in 1927).6 But in 1925, there was a last push by some clubwomen to revive a woman-only institution at Buena Vista.

A bill was introduced to construct an actual prison building for a “California Women’s Reformatory.” Housed there would be women felons, drug addicts, and “women committed under the provision of the act establishing the California Industrial Farm for Women.” A group from Sonoma county went to the capitol to lobby against it; some, like Eliza Shepard, thought such a place was a good idea, but just didn’t want it in our county. The party rehashed all the old horror stories about inmates escaping and causing havoc – until a legislator produced a letter from Sonoma City Marshal Albertson “denying that wild women had ever given anyone trouble.”

A test vote easily passed in the Assembly and according to the I-T, “Senators had apparently pledged support to not antagonize ‘the army of women lobbying for this bill’ and hoped the governor would veto it.” He obliged, and that was that.

Whatever anyone’s opinion of the Home’s purpose, its ending was tragic, particularly the terrible loss of that building, which was the largest and most palatial home ever built in Sonoma county. It’s also a shame we don’t know what really went on there, except through the spittle-flecked pages of the Sonoma Index-Tribune. Blanche Morse was required to keep detailed reports on all the inmates, so there are probably reams of data in the state archives. Maybe there’s a grad student out there looking for an interesting thesis topic.

Morse certainly thought it was successful; during her testimony on the day of the fire she said, “so far 60 per cent of those who had been freed had made good in the occupations to which they were sent.”

“…I believe that if a 15 per cent average of those who make good can be maintained in the future we will be doing extremely well…I do not think it reasonable to expect a woman who has lived the life of the streets for twenty years to completely reform in one year.”

For the 65 women who were at the Home following the big fire, however, there would be only incarceration – and worse. Before winding up this dismal coda to our story, remember the women were sent there for up to five years only on the fuzzy charge of vagrancy after having been denied their basic constitutional rights. Nor had a county “lunacy commission” been convened to determine whether any of them were mentally unfit.

As they couldn’t remain confined in the small hospital for long, the plan was to gradually resettle them at Eldridge. Two days after the disaster, four of the inmates sent there escaped and had to be recaptured by long-suffering Deputy Ryan. The same day he was called to the hospital, where the women were said (by the Index-Tribune) to be rioting. Five of them were carted to the Napa State Hospital. A five year commitment to an asylum would be no fun, but it was the women taken to Eldridge who most deserve pity.

By 1923, the Sonoma State Home had become virtually a factory operation of forced sterilization under superintendent Dr. Fred O. Butler, a firm believer in eugenics (see, “SONOMA COUNTY AND EUGENICS“). Between 1919 and 1949 about 5,400 were sterilized there – “We are not sterilizing, in my opinion, fast enough,” Butler said. And in his early years there was also a marked shift in the types of patients arriving at Eldridge: Instead of the “feeble-minded children” of the old days, a large proportion of the inmates were now female “sexual delinquents.”7

Just as the legislature in 1919 gave the state broad powers over delinquent women, they also authorized forced sterilization of inmates, including any “recidivist has been twice convicted for sexual offenses, or three times for any other crime in any state or country” (emphasis mine). A later amendment extended it to include, “…those suffering from perversion or marked departures from normal mentality, or from diseases of a syphilitic nature.” In other words, there can be no doubt that all of the Buena Vista women were sterilized – the only question is whether Butler also performed some of the other horrific experimental genital surgeries which were described in part one.

There’s never been a book written about the Home, or even an article (well, until now). Was it was successful rehab program far ahead of its time or just a misguided social experiment by do-gooders? Or something in between?

What’s certain, however, is it ended up badly for almost all of the women. Picked off the streets on some misdemeanor – soliciting, drunkenness, homelessness – they expected a fine and a few days in county jail. Instead they were sent to state prison (albeit a beautiful prison) indefinitely. And then after a few weeks or months a few found themselves confined to the madhouse, while most of them discovered the punishment for their minor crimes would be going under Dr. Butler’s eager knives.

 

1 This era was the start of America’s faith that an “IQ test” objectively measured intelligence with scientific precision, although we now recognize the exam was filled with cultural and racial bias – see my discussion here. Using such quack methodology, a 1917 study by the San Francisco Dept. of Health claimed about 2 out of 3 prostitutes examined were “feeble-minded” or “borderline.”

2 Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom by Wendy Kline; University of California Press 2005, pg. 47. Although I could find no newspaper articles mentioning the 110 women arrived, Kline is the authority on Eldridge for that era and had access to the institution’s records.

3 Sonoma Index-Tribune clippings in the scrapbook sometimes were reprints of articles from the Sacramento Bee and Bay Area newspapers, but all clips are consistently negative about the Home. An op/ed in the January 13, 1923 I-T suggests the other regional newspaper, the Sonoma Valley Expositor, was in support of the Home, but nothing from that paper was included in the scrapbook. Scattered issues of the Expositor from the early 1920s only can be found at the state library in Sacramento.

4 Gender and the Business of Americanization: A Study of the Mobilized Women of Berkeley by Rana Razek; Ex Post Facto/SFSU; 2013 (PDF)

5 From the March 17, 1923 Sonoma Index-Tribune: “Senator Walter McDonald of San Francisco declared that he did not believe the women were being treated fairly in that they can be sentence to the home for a term not to exceed five years, while men charged with vagrancy, the charge under which all commitments have been made to the home, can receive only six months in the county jails of the state.”

6 A Germ of Goodness: The California State Prison System, 1851-1944 by Shelley Bookspan, University of Nebraska Press, 1991; pg. 81

7 op. cit. Building a Better Race, pg. 54

Collage of Sonoma Index-Tribune headlines, 1922-1925

 

 

MANAGERS ASKED TO COOPERATE
Would Establish an Institution for High Grade Morons at the Estate of the Sonoma State Home.

Representatives of the Probation Committee of San Francisco appeared before the board of managers of the Sonoma State Home at their meeting at Eldridge on Wednesday and asked the board for co-operation in the providing of cottages and a place for about three hundred delinquent women from the bay cities. They belong to a class designated as morons.

This step is said to be in the nature of an emergency measure on account of the unusual conditions that have arisen incident to the health protection of soldiers in camp in and around San Francisco. But long before the recent conditions that have arisen this matters was discussed at Eldridge.

The board of managers took no definite action in the premises other than promising whatever co-operation th«y could give. The delegation appearing before the board of managers wanted cottages built on the home grounds in some suitable location. There is no fund available for such buildings in the hands of the state at the present time and even though there was an available fund it is doubtful if the home estate is the proper place for an additional institution as that suggested.

– Press Democrat, November 16 1917

 

MUCH BUILDING AT STATE HOME
New Cottages for Female Delinquents to Be Rushed to Completion at an Early Date: New Laundry Building and Bakeshop Are Also to Be Built Right Away.

The Sonoma State Home at Eldridge will be the scene of much building for several months for there are a large cottage and the new laundry and the bake shop to he erected.

Work on the new cottage, which will house one hundred, has been commenced and it will be rushed to completion. As stated it will be used, for the present at any rate, as a moron colony, to which young women delinquents, will be committed from San Francisco and the other big centers. The matter was explained in these columns several days ago. From Manager Rolfe L. Thompson it was learned Wednesday that the work ot this building is to be rushed to completion right away.

The board of managers on Wednesday selected the sites for the laundry building and the bake shop. The two latter buildings will supply a long felt need at the home. They are very necessary buildings.

The State Board of Control has placed Business Manager William T Suttenfleld in charge of the construction work on the buildings. He is a splendidly capable man and is always so busy working for the interests of the institution and the state that one more little burden makes little difference to him. “Bill” has been at the Sonoma State Home for almost a score of years.

– Press Democrat, March 14 1918


OPPOSITION TO MORON COLONY
Many People in Sonoma Valley and the Town Object to Having the Colony Located With the Sonoma State Home for the Feeble Minded.

The people of the Sonoma valley and the old Mission Town of Sonoma are not taking very kindly to the idea of locating the “Moron Colony” at the Sonoma State Home for the Feeble Minded. Many protests are being heard and it is likely that a largely signed petition will be presented to the authorities, asking that the plan be not carried out.

In last Saturday’s Sonoma “Index-Tribune,” editorially, there was a strong protest against the additional institution being located in the Sonoma valley.

As stated in the Press Democrat some days ago the board of managers literally had the location of the colony at the home thrust upon them is an emergency measure, backed by the state and national administration, it was said.

There is considerable objection to having the moron colony established in connection with the feeble minded home, in addition to having it in the valley at all. The late medical superintendent. Dr. William J. G. Dawson, was bitterly opposed to having an institution for the care of socially outcast young women at Eldridge and shortly before his death again expressed his views.

There is said to be one ray of hope for the objectors and that is the one cottage that is to be built will only provide temporary relief for a very few of the young women who are to be removed from the big centres, particularly from the borders of army cantonments, as one building will afford only little room for conditions that are said to exist. It is knowm that the board of managers were reluctant to take in the new institution the grounds of the home, even as an emergency measure, but the showing made by the state authorities was so strong as a necessary war emergency measure that they withdrew their opposition.

– Press Democrat, March 19 1918

 

OBJECT TO LOCATION OF STATE HOME

The Sonoma Valley is still seething in protest against the establishment of the home for moron women and girls at Eldridge. Dr. A. M. Thompson, president of the commerce chamber, voices his protest in the following words:

“My protest not only goes against the location of the new institution in the Sonoma Valley, but particularly having it at the home for the feeble-minded. The late Dr. Dawson, the medical superintendent for many years, held the same views as I do–that the feeble-minded home had its problems to take care of without having any new ones.”

– Petaluma Courier, March 22, 1918

 

MAKES PLEA FOR FEEBLEMINDED
Senator Slater Leads Opposition to Proposed New Penal Institution or Farm For Delinquent Women and Urges More Room for Unfortunates

“Before we take on a horde of other dependents I believe the State should take care of those who are already dependent and must and should have attention first.” said Senator Slater before the Finance and Ways and Means Committee last night, when the proposed new penal institution or farm for delinquent women was discussed.

“At the Sonoma State Home for the Feeble Minded we have a waiting list of 447, and many of these cases are deserving in the fullest sense. In fact many of them heart-breaking in their need right now. Take the $250,000 you are asking for this women’s farm vision and build more cottages to house the dependents waiting, and who have been waiting for years to get the help and protection the State should offer.

“If the finances were available the new project, over which I have no quarrel as to its probable good, might be considered. But the State must stop somewhere when we are at our wits ends over taxes and finances, and particularly when we have hundreds of feeble-minded and other dependents who are crying for aid. Let’s care for these first. That is my idea, and I am sincere in my expression on this subject,” said Slater. Senators Ingram. Sharkey and others, and Assemblymen Salahnn. Stanley Brown, Stevens,. Madison and others agreed with Slater.

– Press Democrat, March 2 1919

 

Club Women From Various Parts Of County Assemble At Interesting Petaluma Session

The other speakers from abroad were Miss Blanche Morse of Berkeley, former corresponding secretary of the State Federation, and at present executive secretary of the State Industrial Farm Commission…Miss Morse, who will be the superintendent of the Industrial Farm which is to be situated in this county at “The Castle” the Kate Johnson estate near Sonoma, told of the needs for the home and the plans of the commission in reference to it. She met the objections raised in connection with the project and asked the cooperation or at least the interest of the Sonoma county women in the scheme when once it is under way.

– Press Democrat, October 3, 1920

 

S. F. POLICE HEAD AT NEW STATE HOME
Industrial Farm For Women, Near Sonoma, Not to Be Like a Prison; There Will Be No Bars.

The following article about the new industrial farm for women located near Sonoma appeared in Monday’s San Francisco Bulletin. It was written by Dolores Waldorf:

A prison that is not a prison, a jail without bars, an institution that spurns the stigma of the name, stands in the hills of Sonoma county today, waiting for its first inmate. It is to be known as the California industrial farm for women, a place where delinquent women over 18 years of age may make a fight to regain a normal view of life and where they may prepare themselves to face the world after their term ha* been served. The sentences will vary from six months to five years.

The house and surroundings were inspected Saturday hy Police Judges Sylvain Lazarus and Lile T. Jacks, Chief of Police Daniel O’Brlen and Captain of Detectives Duncan Matheson. They expressed their approval in emphatic terms and seemed to think that it offered the solution to one of the greatest problems before the criminal courts today.

In 1919 the legislature passed a bill providing for such a place and appropriated $150,000 to start work. Nothing could be done until the board was chosen, however. and in 1920 the governor appointed…

680 ACRES IN FARM

Since then men have been steady at work carrying out the plans. The Kate Johnson home, two miles east of Sonoma was purchased for $50,000. This included 680 acres of land mostly under cultivation. The house itself is a huge, rambling mansion with spacious rooms and great hallways. Though the whole place has been completely renovated new plumbing installed and modern conveniences added in the laundry, there is an air of ancient and settled serenity about it. The house will accommodate about seventy women.

Captain of Detectives Duncan Matheson, who attended to the purchasing and remodeling of the home, said of it during the inspection Saturday: “In choosing, a place, we had to think of two things Isolation and cheerfulness. Who couldn’t he cheerful with these hills around them?”

Miss Blanche Morse, recently ot Berkeley, and an active worker in all suffrage and reform movements, has been appointed superintendent of the farm.

SANS THE LOCKSTEP

“We are going to give the inmates work to do,” she said, “but we are not going to apply the institutional idea and make them do it to bells and march-time. Each woman will help around the house in some way.” Miss Jessie Wheelan of the Southern California hospital for the insane, is to have charge ot the indoor work.

– Press Democrat, December 20, 1921

 

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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

 

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THE BATTLE FOR SANTA ROSA HIGH

After its old high school burned down, Santa Rosa had the will to quickly rebuild a fine modern school and soon was ready to break ground. Then suddenly the project was stopped indefinitely, thanks to a rich old crackpot with a lawyer, a famous name and a big chip on his shoulder.

This is the second part of the story of Santa Rosa High School’s rebirth; see part one for details about the terrible 1921 fire and the threat it posed to the town. But this is also the tale of Sampson B. Wright, who filed a series of lawsuits to block the new school. The stalemate led to community leaders calling an unprecedented town meeting to fight back.


Despite the loss of their school, it seems that a spirit of optimism energized Santa Rosa teenagers in the months right after the November 15, 1921 fire. Yeah, classes were scattered in halls and churches all over town, but it was only temporary and heck, was probably kind of an adventure to many.

But after a winter of dashing through the rain, Roy Heyward, the 1922 student body president, wrote in the yearbook that kids were becoming demoralized: “The classes are so broken up that there is no unity. Some students do not see their friends for days at a time and under these conditions they are bound to lose interests in school activities.”

Now flash forward to the next winter as the children were still making their 20 minute dashes to classes. In January, 1923 – the height of a bad flu season – the Press Democrat reported, “The exposure and trying conditions to which the teachers of the Santa Rosa high school are being subjected is proving a heavy tax to their health and strength.” The PD continued:


The study hall and five recitation rooms are located in the Congregational church with poor light, ventilation and accommodations for drying out wet clothing. Two other classes are located in the Methodist Episcopal church where the conditions are not much better. Four classes are housed in the old Mailer hall on Fourth street and five in the old Mailer warehouse at Fifth and Mendocino avenue. This is made of corrugated iron and is not warm or comfortable in such weather as is prevailing at present.

And if that wasn’t depressing enough, everyone knew that during the following 1923-1924 winter the faculty and students would either still be slogging through downtown puddles or shivering in temporary canvas tents. It was as if they had been woefully transported into the bleak world of Scrooge’s Christmas Yet to Come.

How had this happened? The path forward had seemed so certain, so safe; the day right after the fire, members of the board of education and chamber of commerce began to negotiate with Rush and Bertha Todd, who owned a large spread on the north end of town. They had recently sold part of it to be the future home of the Junior College. Except for keeping a few acres around the baronial “old Ridgway mansion” on the corner, they agreed to sell the town all the land it wanted for the future high school. An option deal – no money involved – was announced two weeks later (for more, see “RIDGWAY’S CHILDREN“).

The stars were also aligned to make the new high school the crown of our public education system. Just that summer, the state legislature finally recognized that an education beyond grade school was essential and a local high school had to be part of the school system. Grammar school districts now could be annexed under a local high school district, and that’s what also happened here immediately after the fire; a meeting brought together supervisors of the 25 rural school districts around Santa Rosa and along the Russian River. It was agreed their kids would come to Santa Rosa for high school and the little districts would have a voice on the new school board – as well as contributing some of the district tax money to pay for the education and upkeep of the buildings. So far, so good.

All that remained was to raise enough money to build the school. For reasons never explained, Santa Rosa first asked voters to approve bonds for two new elementary schools – as noted in part one, the Lincoln and Fremont schools were considered firetraps. Early in April 1922, Santa Rosa voted in favor of those bonds by an astonishing majority of 27 to 1. Again, good news – it showed the pubic enthusiastically supported new schools.

Now came the high school vote a few weeks later, in mid-May. On top of the $241,000 just approved for the grade schools, voters of the City of Santa Rosa high school district were being asked to approve another $375,000 to pay for the property and new building. Taken together, the bonds were worth about $9 million in today’s money – a steep commitment, given that the population of 1922 Santa Rosa was as small as modern Cloverdale.

Even though it looked like the bond would easily pass, the town campaigned hard. There was a big Chamber of Commerce dinner and gushy articles can be found in almost every edition of the Press Democrat. “High School Is To Have Museum Worth Thousands,” read one PD headline, promising that Jesse Peter, a respected amateur archeologist, would donate his collection of artifacts to the school for a “museum of anthropology devoted to the Sonoma county Indians.” (The collection went to the Junior College instead.)

There was a big parade with floats and over 2,000 students from fourth grade through junior college marching downtown on the eve of the vote. From the descriptions in the paper, it was one of those heart-tugging moments worthy of a visit the next time you take the time machine out for a spin.

The various clubs and classes were represented; as reported by the PD, “The cooking classes of the high school with their aprons and working utensils added an interesting touch to the parade and showed that the growing generation was assured of some good cooks, to say the least.” They were followed by the ag students, some carrying a fruit tree while others wore “spraying outfits” to fend off their classmates “dressed to represent large destructive insects hovering about.” The event ended in front of the courthouse, where everyone watched girls from the elementary schools dance around three May poles.

The next day, the bonds passed 16 to 1.

A week later, Sam Wright announced his first lawsuit.

The nicest thing anyone can say about Sampson B. Wright is that he was a fool. You can bet residents of Santa Rosa called him worse things between 1922-1923. Far, far worse.

Besides approving the bonds, the same ballot asked voters to pick a location for the future high school and the Todd property was the overwhelming favorite, 20 to 1. The other option was the Leddy tract, about 2½ west of Santa Rosa, close to Highway 12 and just east of Fulton/South Wright Road (there’s still a Leddy avenue there). There originally was a third choice offered by the Wright family on the west side of Fulton/South Wright Road – probably the current location of the Wright Charter School – but it was withdrawn from the running by Sampson before the election, with no reason given.*

In his lawsuit to block the high school’s construction, Wright’s attorneys crafted a legal roadblock made from top quality bullshit. It was argued that the new state law allowing elementary school districts to be annexed by a high school district was unconstitutional. Why? Because it ceded some decision-making powers to a county’s superintendent of schools rather than its board of supervisors. At its core, this was a classic nuisance suit, coyly intended to harass the school district and/or bollix everything up for months, years, maybe decades, as appeal followed appeal in the court system’s higher echelons.

The crazy thing about his Quixotic war was that Wright didn’t seem to care about that trivial constitutional issue; nor did he have objections to kids receiving high school educations (all his children did) and he wasn’t opposed to selling bonds to build the school. The thing that really, really ticked him off was that it was to be on the Todd property.

The first we heard on the issue from Sampson B. Wright came just before the bond election, when a lengthy letter rant appeared in the Press Democrat. Alas, he was responding to something from Hilliard Comstock, president of the board of education, which appeared in the Santa Rosa Republican and that edition of the newspaper has not survived.

Wright insisted that the Leddy property was the only good option, waving off the many obstacles to the project because it was out in the unincorporated countryside. No matter that kids would have to take the electric train to school (“railroad officials well know how to transport children”) or that there was no city water or sewer hookups (“an abundance of water can be had on the Leddy tract by pumping”). All that mattered to him was that (A) the land was cheaper and (B) it wasn’t in Santa Rosa.

His particular obsession about the Santa Rosa location concerned the Noonan stockyard and slaughterhouse four blocks to the west (about where highway 101 crosses West College). The smell from there would be so awful, he wrote, that the city would have to condemn the property and reimburse Noonan $250,000, paid for by a huge tax increase. At the same time, he argued – with remarkable mental agility – that runoff from the school would damage the meat packing plant. Wright was “reliably informed that Mr. Noonan is not going to tamely submit to present drainage conditions,” he stated.

The next day, a letter from the Noonan Meat Company appeared in the PD denying all of Wright’s claims. If there was to be any runoff from the Todd property they would welcome it: “we could use the water on our pasture.” Neighbors closer to the slaughterhouse than the proposed school had never complained about odors, and they closed with an endorsement for the bond and the Mendocino ave location.

Even after his lawsuit stopped construction plans, Sampson B. Wright would not shut up about the awful, terrible, no-good high school plan approved by the voters. He handed out a printed circular filled with his nutso ideas, because that’s what unhinged people did before Twitter was invented.

Printed in full by the Press Democrat on May 27, the transcript appeared after the graduating class of 1922 was reduced to holding ceremonies at the blocked off Humboldt street between Benton and College. Wright’s handout still charged there was a plot afoot to funnel public money to the Noonans: “As soon as the high school is located on the Todd site there will, I expect, be complaint against a certain property and then we shall be asked to contribute $250,000 on that score.”

His screed filled a full column in the Press Democrat, printed in the smallest type. It was crammed with numbers – distances, valuations, projected expenses down to the penny. It was a spittle-flecked manifesto dripping with his rage to prevent the “saddling upon us of a young university under the disguise of a high school.”

The only reason Wright had any credibility was because the Wright name was still widely known and respected in the early 20th century. His father, Winfield had been one of the richest men in the county, owning great swaths of land between the coast and Santa Rosa; Winfield’s 1892 obituary says he had about 4,500 acres but in the preceding years he was spotted regularly selling hundreds of acres to his only son, Sampson. It would be a safe guesstimate to say the Wrights owned 6,000 acres of prime Sonoma county farmland. Everywhere you find the Wright name on some place today is because of Winfield, and until it was torn down in 1923, the enormous Wright dairy barn at the corner of Stony Point and Sebastopol Road was a county landmark known to everyone.

The Wrights were an intriguing family; Winfield’s first wife, Sarah, was the granddaughter of mythic American hero Daniel Boone. Anyone who has toured the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery has probably noticed the unusual tombstone for Davis Wright, a “Colored Boy” – although the child was probably never a slave, he was a member of Winfield’s father household. That man (also named Sampson) was a slave owner in Missouri just prior to joining his son in California, when Davis would have been about a year old. Indefatigable researcher Ray Owen has more background on that story.

Our antihero, Sampson Boone Wright, was born in Santa Rosa in 1854, a silver spoon tucked into his little baby mouth. According to his profile in the Honoria Tuomey county history, he was in his early twenties when he “conceived the notion that it would be profitable to drive a flock of sheep through to the grazing lands of Texas,” which is such a ridiculous idea it suggests he was dropped on his head during infancy. “This he did amid difficulties that may better be imagined than described.” I’ll bet.

If you asked Sampson who he was, he would have told you he was a dairy rancher and a stockman, a respected breeder of prize hogs and a horseman with a stable of race-winning trotters. All true – but from 1876 until his death, it appears he was always party to some lawsuit or another. Most were apparently run-of-the-mill disputes related to the vast amount of property he inherited, but some reveal him as a quarrelsome man who was quick to file lawsuits out of spite.  Here are just a few of the lowlights:

*
1903: After the county drilled a well on the side of a road to supply water to sprinkler trucks, Wright presented the road commissioner with a demand to be paid $50/day – over $1,500 today – because they were using “his” groundwater. The suit went to the state supreme court twice before the county won six years later.
*
1908: Four years after a court settlement allowed the electric railroad line a right-of-way across Wright family land near their famous dairy barn on Stony Point, the railroad sued because workers for the Wrights were throwing manure from the barn over their fence. The Wrights contended the tracks were in the wrong place all along.
*
1909: Wright sued to stop the phone company from erecting telephone poles along the road next to his property.
*
1916: Years earlier, Wright’s stepmother hired a girl to live with her as a helper. Jarena Wright came to regard the young woman as if she were her own daughter and gifted her 140 acres. Immediately after his stepmother died – even before the funeral – Wright sued to recover title to the land.
*
1926: Wright sued to stop the dredging of the sandspit at the mouth of Russian River, claiming that the river bar was needed for him to drive cattle back and forth across the river. He did not own any land on the north bank and had no right to move his cows there. Bonus: He also sued to block the highway 1 bridge across the Russian River.

Starting around 1919, however, Sampson B. Wright began devoting his energies to a new project: Being the angry taxpayer fighting the Board of Supervisors. He formed first the “Tax Payers Protective Association” and then the “Sonoma County Economy League.” In truth, he was the president of the League of Grumpy Old Men.

In a memorable 1923 showdown, Wright and his anti-tax buddies stormed the Supervisors meeting to insist the county shut down its auto garage and fire all the mechanics. “When asked to name a way in which the county cars can be cared for they had nothing to offer.”

Just like his verbose rant against the high school location, he wrote many other lengthy letters to the local papers demanding decisive action on whatever injustice happened to offend him at the moment. One of the Healdsburg newspapers commented,


It would be comical, were it not somewhat pathetic, the way newspaper offices are besieged every day by their friends, urging them to “roast” this and that: to see to it that and that is done in the city or county: to start this and that kind of movement to correct evils in the state government. These friends actually believe that it is the newspaper’s business to handle all these affairs.

A final Wright lawsuit worthy to note: In 1924, his second wife filed for divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty – particularly because he refused to allow electricity in their house.

By that year electricity was no longer a luxury; besides lighting, electric kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, space heaters and radios were common. Nor was power unavailable because the Wrights were far out in the country; they were then living in a cottage on Garden street off of West Third.

Add that to his opposition of the county owning cars and trucks, telephone poles along “his” road and a bridge over the Russian River; a picture emerges of a man who is not merely a skinflint, but someone held in the grips of fogeyism – disliking anything that didn’t exist in his Victorian-era youth.

An early 1920s “school auto-bus” (image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

 

His fight against the high school shows this anti-modernism clearly. Key to shuttling kids from the rural districts to the centralized Santa Rosa high school were these new things called a “school auto-bus.” That circular Wright was handing out fixated almost entirely upon the transportation costs of operating a schoolbus fleet. His solution was to first build a high school on the Leddy tract, which Santa Rosa kids could reach by the electric trolley line. For the others, his plan was outlined in the circular’s title: “Build High Schools in Rural Districts.” Wright wanted to construct “three or more schools in the outlying districts,” which children could reach by foot, bicycle or horse. Building more local high schools would be much cheaper in his mind simply because it eliminated all transport costs. Never did he consider that more teachers would be needed in that scheme – or maybe he did, because, you know, teachers work for free. (Snark aside, teachers did almost work for free at the time, earning an average of $2.50/day.)

Press Democrat cartoon, March 20, 1923

 

We pick up again the Battle of Santa Rosa High in February 1923, about nine months after Wright filed suit and threw everything in limbo – the bond offering was suspended, talks with architects were canceled and even contingency plans to cobble together some temporary buildings were stalled. As expected, Wright lost in court here and everyone was awaiting a decision from the state supreme court.

Wright stayed uncharacteristically mum until the Supervisors decided to put the bonds up for sale anyway. As he was at that meeting (naturally) the cranky bear awoke and began defending his cause. They couldn’t sell the bonds until the supreme court weighed in, he protested, so their vote that afternoon was illegal, the bond election was fraudulent, and so the purchase of the Todd property was also a crime.

With that outburst, Sampson B. Wright had accused the top officials of Sonoma county of breaking multiple state laws, including criminal conspiracy, election fraud and felony misappropriation of public funds. Given that the guy had such a history of filing frivolous lawsuits and had such deep pockets he always refused to settle, you can bet that there was a moment of silent contemplation as everyone wondered: How far is this lunatic willing to go with this?

Board of education president Hilliard Comstock finally spoke up and “…expressed his resentment on behalf of the board against the insinuation that they had been guilty of fraud,” as reported in the PD. Comstock also diplomatically jabbed him by making the point that  if the bonds couldn’t be sold, Mr. tax-hater would force them to raise taxes to build temporary buildings.

The crisis came a month later, in mid-March 1923.

Two things happened almost simultaneously: The supreme court threw out Wright’s lawsuit on the grounds he had no standing in the case – at the time he was living at the family ranch within the Analy school district, which was not annexed under Santa Rosa.

Wright was clearly expecting that decision and was ready to immediately fire back with a new and more ambitious lawsuit. This second action was filed under the name of his adult son, Girault, who did live in the Santa Rosa school district, and this time he wasn’t suing over a dry point of order about the state constitution. The new suit charged the bond election was “unlawful and fraudulent” and the board of trustees – which he saw as a bogus group invented via “said pretended election” – conspired to break the law by using public money to buy the Todd property. In other words, he indeed pulled the trigger and accused county officials of crimes that could send them to jail.

The next day the Press Democrat blasted Wright with the front page cartoon shown above and an emotional editorial, “Stand Out of the Way!” It had been over a dozen years since editor Ernest Finley took such a hard personal swipe at anyone local, much less a man of such great wealth:


…Unless the people follow his plan, they will never have a new high school if he can prevent it. In wintry weather our children can continue to plow back and forth between improvised quarters and in summer they can sweat and swelter in draughty fire-traps. Families can decline to locate here and continue to move away, disgusted at what appears to be our lack of public spirit and want of appreciation regarding educational necessities. All these things mean nothing to Sampson B. Wright, if he can only have his way…

Finley’s editorial was dead on; Santa Rosa was facing the possibility that no high school could ever be built as long as Sampson B. Wright lived. There would always be another suit to come, another appeal after that, particularly now that there were complex criminal charges and not merely constitutional minutiae.

A meeting for the entire community was called for March 20, the first – and to the best of my knowledge, only – town meeting to discuss a public crisis in Santa Rosa. Interest was such that the location was moved to the largest auditorium in town, the Cline movie theater (corner of 5th and B streets).

Fury at Wright was so great that the citizen’s committee organizing the townhall warned “the meeting will not be of a radical nature, and that no suggestion of violent measures will be countenanced.”

That night the movie house was packed; on stage was a lineup of men who would speak. The meeting began with everyone rising to their feet and singing “America the Beautiful.”

“The school condition in Santa Rosa is intolerable. The people are incensed and they have a cause to be,” began William F. Cowan, the attorney who chaired the meeting. He recapped the purpose of the state law and the vote on the bonds. From the Press Democrat we learn he went on for “considerable of an address” before coming to the point:

“In the series of conferences held this afternoon and this morning,” Cowan said, “everyone concerned met in a spirit of harmony, with the result that a method was suggested whereby the bonds may be sold and the work of construction begun without further delay.”

Suddenly it was over. Three hours earlier, Wright had agreed to drop his new lawsuit in principle. “Then a burst of applause broke out. It was realized that the fight had been won,” the PD reported.

Wright did not attend but his attorney was there and told the crowd he was unapolgetic. His client did not seek to delay construction of the high school, but felt he had “certain rights in this manner.” Okay, sure, whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

Because of the unexpected settlement, the meeting ending early, so they lowered the house lights and everyone enjoyed a silent movie. The next morning’s Press Democrat offered a screamer headline: “NEW HIGH SCHOOL ASSURED.”

Wright said a few weeks later he was filing yet another lawsuit against the bond sale, but apparently nothing came of it. Hilliard Comstock later estimated all the delays from Wright’s first suit cost the district $65,000.

And now, the happy ending: On November 21, 1923 the cornerstone was laid, complete with a copper box time capsule, and on December 29, 1924 the doors were opened to students for the first time. After all the chasing over town to make classes during the previous three years I’m sure the kids had an appreciation for the building we can’t grasp today. Even a basic service like a school cafeteria must have seemed a joy to them and 300 crowded in for the first lunch, where they could choose swiss steak for a dime or “weenies and hot rolls” for 7¢ – dessert was apple pie, brick ice cream or “Arctic Cakes” for 6¢. Chocolate cake was just a penny more.

 

* It was later said that another possibile high school building site was at/near the current location of the Santa Rosa Plaza, which would have blocked development of the mall and/or highway 101. That location was never under consideration.

 

TOP: 1926 photo (Sonoma County Library) BOTTOM: 1925 photo (SRHS Foundation)
CO-OPERATION FOR HI SCHOOL IS PROMISED
Grammar School Districts Annexed For High School Purposes – Promised Representation on School Board

Hearty co-operation of the outlying grammar school districts in the extension of the high school system and enlargement of its work was assured as the result of the conference between the directors of the Santa Rosa chamber of commerce, the Santa Rosa board of education and trustees of the rural school districts held at the rooms of the chamber of commerce last night. It had been shown that both the local school authorities and the chamber of commerce were on record to provide for district representation on the high school board of education as quickly as the necessary steps could be taken.

The meeting was well attended and a thorough discussion of the problems was held, in which the outsiders showed their kindly spirit and willingness to do their part in providing for suitable school system centering in Santa Rosa if given their rights of representation and assurance that there was no intention of forcing them to be taxed without representation.

LAW OUTLINED

President Wallace Ware presided at the meeting, which lasted two hours. District Attorney Geo. W. Hoyle was present and gave a resume of the law and steps leading up to the recent act of the supervisors in adding 25 rural school districts to the Santa Rosa districts for high school purposes and the steps which remained to give them their proper representation on the board of education.

DIRECTORS MEETING

After the conference the directors of the chamber held a session in which the matter was again gone over, and Hilliard Comstock was named a committee of one to see that the work of clearing up the school problem is pushed forward as rapidly as possible.

District Attorney Hoyle is at present engaged in a thorough search of conditions, law and decisions bearing on the case in answer to queries propounded by the school authorities, and as soon as this is ready it will be submitted, together with the opinion of the attorney general. It is hoped this will open the way for immediate action in securing a union high school board…

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 23, 1921

 

 
SCHOOL PARADE FOR BONDS WILL BE ON MONDAY

At 2 o’clock Monday afternoon a parade boosting school bonds consisting of the high school, Junior College and the elementary students will start from the Congregational church and march west on 4th street to Davis street. Superintendent Jerome Cross has appointed Miss Alice Koford as grand marshal of the parade as a reward for her work in making it possible.

The students will carry large banners on which are printed slogans for boosting the bonds. A number of cheers have been worked up by the students and will be given every alternating block.

The formation of the parade will be as follows…

– Press Democrat, April 2, 1922

 

SCHOOL BONDS VOTE BETTER THAN 27 TO 1

Santa Rosa’s $241,000 school bond issue was carried in the election yesterday by 3,082 to 113.

This is believed to be the largest majority ever accorded any issue in Sonoma county, and speaks eloquently of the overwhelming sentiment for new schools here…This is a remarkable growth in sentiment over the figures of two years ago, when the bonds carried by approximately 4 to 1. At that time, however, there was by no means the elaborate organization working for the bonds that was built up for the campaign ended yesterday…

– Press Democrat, April 5, 1922

 

SCHOOL BONDS TO BE PUT UP FOR SALE NEXT WEEK

No time is to be lost by the board of education in replacing the ramshackle Fremont and Lincoln school buildings with the moder structures Santa Rosa proved it wanted at the election Tuesday…It is the tentative plan of the board to begin the tearing down of the old schools the day following the end of the term. Time will be made the essence of the contracts and the new buildings ready for occupancy, completely appointed when the September term begins…

– Press Democrat, April 6, 1922
 
 $375,000 BOND ISSUE FOR HIGH SCHOOL ON MAY 18TH
 District to Vote at Same Time on Choice of Three Proposed Sites; Wright Property and Leddy Tract on Sebastopol Avenue Offered in Addition to 30-Acre Todd Property

The voters of the City of Santa Rosa high school district, which includes the Santa Rosa grammar school districts surrounding the city, at a special election May 18, will be asked to authorized a $375,000 bond issue for the purchase of a site and the erection and equipment of a high school building and improvement of the grounds.

At the same time the question of a sight will be submitted to a decision of the voters. On the same ballot with the bond proposition, but as separate and distinct proposals, will be listed three sites from which the voters will be asked to select the one wanted for the new high school building…

…It is felt by the board that the Todd property is the most acceptable owing to its being so centrally located to all the main arteries of travel from the surrounding country and as convenient, if not more so, for the town people than any other site which could be secured for school purposes.

The Leddy tract and the Wright property are both within a very short distance of the west line of the district which separates the Analy high school district from the Santa Rosa district and are off the main traffic highways through the country.

THE PRICES

The trustees have been offered each of the various Wright properties at various prices raging from $350 to $1250 an acre. This includes the Esther Wright, the Sampson Wright and the Girault Wright tracts. The Leddy tract is offered at approximately $1,000 an acre…[The Todd] property is held by the trustees under an option at $1000 an acre or a total of $30,000. The option expires June 1.

– Press Democrat, April 23, 1922

 

 
 WRIGHT TRACT IS WITHDRAWN

Sampson B. Wright has withdrawn his property facing the Sebastopol highway from the list of possible sites for the new district high school.

Announcement to this effect was made Wednesday. It leaves only the Leddy tract, alson on the Sebastopol highway, and the Todd property facing Mendocino avenue, for the people to vote on at the election May 18.

– Press Democrat, April 27, 1922
 DRIVE FOR HI SCHOOL IS ON
 Committee Dispels Confusion About Location of Todd Site; Many Bodies Represented

Two meetings were held here yesterday for the purpose of planning active campaign work in behalf of the high school bond issue…At both meetings it was brought out that some confusion had arisen over the name “Rush B. Todd site,” some believing that this referred to the Todd district. The committee and school authorities are anxious to have it understood that the proposed site is the old Ridgeway [sic] property at the northern edge of the city on Healdsburg avenue…

– Press Democrat, May 10, 1922

 

RURAL SCHOOL TRUSTEES FOR HIGH SCHOOL BOND
Representatives of 16 Districts Attend Chamber of Commerce Dinner, and All Are Enthusiastic in Approval of $375,000 Issue to Be Voted on May 19.

Representatives and trustees of 16 school districts, both in and near Santa Rosa, voiced unanimous approval Thursday night for the high school bond election to be held May 19 and for the Rush B. Todd site in Healdsburg avenue for the location of the proposed school…

…A great number of the most prominent architects in the state have been interviewed by the school board in regard to the construction and price of the proposed school buildings. [City Superintendent Jerome O.] Cross stated, and in ever instance the architects recommended a class “C” type building. This is very plain in architecture, it was stated, but one that gives the best of service for a school building.

Regarding the proposed location of the school on the present Todd property, or what is known as the former Ridgeway property, and the conflict that is arising over this location due to the Leddy tract on the Sebastopol highway being offered at a lower figure, Cross explained that not only is the Todd property the exact geographical center of the district, but it has the advantages of city water, electricity and gas, fire protection and sewage system. The price of this land as offered to the board is $1000 an acre, a price that is cheaper than many unimproved tracts of land in other communities.

The Leddy tract was offered at a much lower figure, but being so far out of the city limits, some two and one-half miles, it would mean a large expense to bring the necessary water, light, gas, sewage, and so forth to this location. Another bad feature, it was pointed out, was the fact that it would cost several thousand dollars to level the Leddy tract sufficiently to build on it…

– Press Democrat, May 12, 1922

Editor Press Democrat:

Major Comstock quotes me incorrectly. I said: “Major Comstock told me that unless the deal for the Todd property could be closed by June 1st, 1922, the chamber of commerce would lose $500 cash bond put up.”

That statement surprised me because it was apparent that the chamber of commerce would find a way to protect the option. But if I be given false premises my conclusions are likewise apt to look a bit unreasonable. He told me the option would expire on June 1st, 1922, and that as to a renewal, Mr. Todd would be difficult. The signing of the $4000 note seems of minor importance.

The major first denies that he ever signed any such note and then seems to qualify that statement by saying: “I have no individual responsibility whatever in connection with the Todd property.” Mr. Walter Price attended a meeting between certain members of the chambers of commerce and representatives of the Santa Rosa realty board. He states that at this meeting certain gentlemen from the chamber of commerce wanted the real estate board to underwrite absolutely 34 acres of the Todd property and to agree to take over the other 29.65 acres in case the voters refused to accept the latter as a site for the new high school.

Mr. Price has verified his former statement to the effect that at that meeting it was freely stated that three members of the chamber of commerce — one of whom being Major Comstock had acted as a committee for that body and had signed the note referred to for $4000. He also says that while Major Comstock did not attend that meeting the other two (2) members of that committee were present. So it may be that technically Major Comstock is not personally liable in this matter.

There is one objection to the Todd property as a high school site which should eliminate it from consideration. It is the fact that it lies within the lines of the southwest winds which sweep over the Noonan slaughter house and corrals during almost every day during the summer and fall. It is incomprehensible to me that sponsors for the Todd property, especially the high school trustees, should have failed to note and direct attention to this objection.

Again if the school be located there about the next move will be a condemnation proceeding against the Noonan plant to compel its removal and then $250,000 or more will have to be provided by the tax payers with which to pay damages to the Noonan company.

This will mean a tax of $1.92 on every $100 on the 26 school districts and if the 25 outside districts withdraw from Santa Rosa it will mean a tax of $3.84 on every $100 inside Santa Rosa. Moreover the Noonan plant to be destroyed might be appraised at $030,000. [sic]

Drainage from the Todd lands is over the Noonan property and I am reliably informed that Mr. Noonan is not going to tamely submit to present drainage conditions.

An abundance of water can be had on the Leddy tract by pumping. The City of Santa Rosa pumps water. Why not pump on the Leddy tract?

The railroad officials well know how to transport children and they will have guaranteed in writing that they will transport them. An objection to the Leddy park on that score seems puerile.

Major Comstock declares that transportation to the Todd property will be refused to the 383 students living inside the limits of Santa Rosa and that it must be allowed if Leddy park be selected, Then parents generally in town should vote for Leddy park in order to let their children ride.

The major says that in order to transport 383 school children a year on cars at 12 cents each day the cost will be $13,788. According to my calendar there are 52 Saturdays and 52 Sundays in a year. Usually there are 60 days summer vacation, 14 days around Christmas and other holidays to interfere with school attendance might amount to six days and institute week five days, a total probably of 189 days. Deduct these from 365 and there are 176 days left. At 12 cents the cost of transporting one student 176 days would be $21.12 and 383 would cost $8,088 — 5,700 less than Major Comstock figures. Major did you cause this statement, $13,788 as the cost to appear, two times in the Santa Rosa Republican through error or was that done advisedly?

It is well to note that the present high school trustees may not live always and admitting that they will so live they are not going to be able to control the situation. If Santa Rosa is to make a city a growth of two miles along the electric car line is not much of a growth.

I am urging all voters to support the Leddy park tract for a high school site and to oppose the bond issue as submitted. In submitting a bond proposal for a high school the trustees should be those who can function for the entire 26 districts sufficient time should be allowed for people to be registered 30 days before election and every schoolhouse should be a voting place. It is claimed that these trustees want to be fair and yet a large percentage of the people living in outside districts are disfranchised so far as this bond election goes.

A new call should be made and in asking for that amount of money should be stated which is to be spent in improvement of the grounds, the amount to be spent on insurance, the amount to be spent on furniture and apparatus, the amount to be spent in the purchase of a lot and the amount to be spent in the construction of buildings. A statement upon these points outside the proclamation does not bind any one nor is that the law.

– Press Democrat, May 13, 1922 [paragraphing added for clarity]
High School Is To Have Museum Worth Thousands
STATE UNIVERSITY TO AID IN ESTABLISHMENT OF FINE EDUCATIONAL FEATURE HERE
By HERBERT W. SLATER

When the Santa Rosa High School District acquires its new, strictly up-to-date school building, we are promised a very valuable accessory in the form of a museum, rich and complete in anthropology.

The acquisition of the museum has been made possible largely through the effort of Jesse Peter, graduate of the Santa Rosa high school of some years since, who is a recognized anthropologist and is by profession a civil and mining engineer. He returned from Alaska a short time ago to again take up his residence here…

…Here is what Mr. Peter has to say:

“Santa Rosa and Sonoma county have long felt the need for an historical museum and from time to time a museum of one kind or another has been talked of. One of the features of the new high school and junior college will be a museum of anthropology devoted to the Sonoma county Indians. This is a unique educational feature in California schools and is capable of far-reaching scientific results…The faculty of the department of anthropology of the University of California has generously offered and assistance within their power to make the Santa Rosa high school museum a success…

 – Press Democrat, May 13, 1922

 

 
 
 High School Site Offered Free Would Permit Pupils To Travel On Li’l Gondola

Not to be outdone by others who have high school sites on hand, Messrs. Gray and Gremott Saturday came forward with the offer of a site absolutely free of charge!

The property is a tract of 20 acres, described as being “only 20 minutes from the court house by Duesenberg Special or 70 minutes on a bicycle.”

Having sold all the balance of their sub-division, the two public-spirited citizens have no ulterior motive in offering this site, it is said. The property is on the Petaluma-Sebastopol highway and only a quarter of a mile from the electric line.

There is a beautiful lake on one end of the property, which could be used for bathing in the summer and boating in the winter. During the latter season this lake is said to become somewhat enlarged, so that the high school on that site might present the appearance of a Venetian villa, or something like that.

The generosity of the owners of this property is to be commended, and doubtless some adequate expression of thanks will be prepared by the women’s auxiliary of the chamber of commerce.

– Press Democrat, May 14, 1922

 

HIGH SCHOOL PUPILS TO MARCH DOWN 4TH TODAY TO URGE BONDS

The schools of Santa Rosa assisted by several from outlying districts who are in the high school district will stage a demonstration this afternoon at 3 o’clock in favor of the high school bonds. A parade will be held with the pupils from the fourth grade up participating and there will be a number of interesting features in the way of floats and various displays…

– Press Democrat, May 18, 1922
 WRIGHT ATTACKS SECTION OF NEW HIGH SCHOOL LAW

Considerable interest was aroused yesterday morning by the announcement that Sampson B. Wright plans to attempt, through litigation, to delay the construction of a new high school here.

It is understood that in Wright’s opinion Section 1734b of the political code, under which elementary districts may be annexed to high school districts, is unconstitutional. Wright’s contention is reported to be that the State legislature erred in attempting to delegate certain power to county superintendent of schools together with a single supervisor, rather than to the board of supervisors as a whole… [section of 1921 law cited]

– Press Democrat, May 26, 1922
TWO CITY HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS ILL; CLASS ARRANGEMENTS CAUSE EXPOSURE

Miss Ellen F. Deruchie and Miss Edith Troxell of the high school facility were laid up Wednesday by illness and it is not expected the former will be able to return to work for several days at the best. The exposure and trying conditions to which the teachers of the Santa Rosa high school are being subjected is proving a heavy tax to their health and strength.

A visit to the high school Wednesday showed under what difficulty both teachers and pupils are working since the destruction of the old building the night of November 15, 1921. At the present time the school is divided among more than half a dozen buildings scattered over many blocks which must be traveled between each class during the day either by the teacher or pupils.

The study hall and five recitation rooms are located in the Congregational church with poor light, ventilation and accommodations for drying out wet clothing. Two other classes are located in the Methodist Episcopal church where the conditions are not much better. Four classes are housed in the old Mailer hall on Fourth street and five in the old Mailer warehouse at Fifth and Mendocino avenue. This is made of corrugated iron and is not warm or comfortable in such weather as is prevailing at present.

The Junior College with eight recitation rooms in the Masonic Temple is the most comfortably provided of any of the schools with one class in the Labor Temple adjoining. Two bungalows are being used and several class rooms at the Annex in conjunction with the junior high school classes which overcrowds that building making good work exceedingly difficult.

“I can truthfully say that the teaching corps has proven highly efficient and loyal under all the handicaps,” said Principal E. H. Barker in commenting on school conditions in Santa Rosa. “The school is maintaining a high standard despite the great lack of accommodations and proper equipment and both teachers and pupils are showing the right kind of spirit. It will not be to our advantage, however, if a number of the best teachers accept positions another year where they can have better accommodations, but we must expect to meet such conditions, as there is a demand for teachers in places having the best of facilities.”

– Press Democrat, January 25, 1923

 

Stand Out of the Way!

After having failed in one attempt to set aside the will of the people as expressed at the polls, Sampson B. Wright again brings suit to prevent the construction of a new high school here. The present suit is not brought in his name, but it is his, nevertheless.

The question of building a new high school to replace the one destroyed by fire was submitted to public vote and the bonds carried by a tremendous majority, but Mr. Wright steps in and says, “No.” Unless the people follow his plan, they will never have a new high school if he can prevent it.

In wintry weather our children can continue to plow back and forth between improvised quarters and in summer they can sweat and swelter in draughty fire-traps.

Families can decline to locate here and continue to move away, disgusted at what appears to be our lack of public spirit and want of appreciation regarding educational necessities.

All these things mean nothing to Sampson B. Wright, if he can only have his way…

…It is probably Sampson’s Wright’s contention that outlying districts should not be taxed to keep up a hight school in Santa Rosa. He favored the construction of a new building under the consolidated district plan as long as he though it could be located out of his way. He fought hard for it, and even made public tender of part of his property as a site–at a price.

Then when the people voted on the question and decided to build the structure in Santa Rosa, the central point, he recanted and became a bitter opponent of the whole idea. The thing looks bad, but let that pass. Let’s consider the point he now raises.

Should the outlying districts be taxed to build and maintain a new high school, or should Santa Rosa build it and pay for it and maintain it for the benefit of the outside districts? That is all there possibly can be to the question back of Wright’s suit…

..The people have said what they want, so let Sam Wright stand out of the way!

– Press Democrat editorial, March 16, 1923
Now For a New High School

Sampson Wright’s suit questioning the validity of the bonds vote a year or more ago for the construction of a new high school has been withdrawn, and the probability now is that within the next few weeks actual construction of the much-needed building will be under way. This is good news, and the outcome of recent efforts will be welcomed by the community generally.

Any citizen has the right to bring suit in our courts where he believes his interests are jeopardized. Nobody questioned the right of Sampson B. Wright to test the law on this high school question, or object if he believed the law was not being followed properly. The trouble with Mr. Wright’s suit was that under the procedure employed, a necessary and vital improvement was retarded. Nothing could ben done to replace a high school that had been destroyed by fire, although its speedy reconstruction was absolutely necessary. Under the terms of the agreement just reached, the work of rebuilding will begin at once and the legal points raised by Mr. Wright will be fought out later. This method of procedure should have been adopted in the first place. It might have been induced long ago, if the community had united and made its demand to that effect sooner. The outcome of this matter affords a striking example of the power of united public sentiment when properly and intelligently directed. Nothing can withstand it.

– Press Democrat editorial, March 27, 1923

 

WRIGHT TO SUE AGAIN

A new suit, directed against the sale of $375,000 worth of bonds for the construction of the Santa Rosa high school building, is to he filed by Sampson B. Wright, a rancher residing west of Santa Rosa, he announced Wednesday.

“It is the only feasible plan right now,” Wright, plaintiff in the former case, declared. Nor will a bill, passed hy the legislature, validating the existence of a Santa Rosa high school district, block the way to bring such a suit, Wright explained, “The legislature,” he continued, has no right to pass any retroactive measure. The suit, brought previously, questions the constitutionality of the law creating such high school districts.

“When I signed the stipulation in the dismissal of the last suit, it was on the understanding that I should sacrifice none of my rights in the case.”

The necessity of re-advertising for bids is set up by Wright as the reason for the latest attack on the construction of the high school building.

– Healdsburg Tribune, May 3 1923

 

2,500 TURN OUT FOR RECEPTION AT NEW SCHOOL
New Educational Building Proves Delight to Visitors

Santa Rosa appeared to have turned out en masse last night for inspection of the new half million dollars High School building erected on the Redwood highway at the northern city limits on a 30-acre campus and occupied for the first time yesterday.

Despite the storm, filly 2500 patrons of the school with the children gathered at the new building and spent several hours inspecting the rooms and facilities provided for the care and education of the children of the community.

Members of the high school faculty and board of education with their wives acted as a reception committee. Each room was decorated in some manner and all contained potted flowers. Miss Helen G. Cochrane, supervisor of music in the high school rendered an impromptu musical program in the music room during the evening with some of her pupils. The program consisted of choral work duets, trios and solos as well as instrumental number and proved quite an attraction to many. This was the only attempt at entertainment during the evening…

…Judges, lawyers, bankers, business and professional men and women, ranchers, laborers and retired men and women and even whole families of Chinese mingled and exchanged felicitations over the possession of such a wonderful plant for the district work. All were delighted with the convenience, the adaptability and compactness of the structure. One visitor here from the East, who took a great interest in examination of the structure on leaving remarked to the writer, “Never before in all my life have I seen such a magnificent school for a city of this size. It is simply wonderful.”

– Press Democrat, December 30, 1924

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