For Mattie and James Wyatt Oates, 1907 was filled with truly halcyon days, both of them busy in the swirl of things they loved best – even though they were now at ages when most of their generation began slowing down. Mattie turned 48, and her husband was roughly ten years north of that.

Hardly a week went by that without a mention of one or both Oates’ in the Santa Rosa newspapers They took auto trips around the county (a few uneventful ones not mentioned below), and Wyatt apparently learned to drive; he also took the train to visit his old haunts in Arizona. He again played the broker in a big financial deal, and she entertained friends and Santa Rosa’s society swells in a grand manner; besides the party with a string orchestra in May, there were at least three other notable shindigs at their home that year.

The most significant event will be discussed at length in a future post, and that was the role of both Oates in the creation of the Saturday Afternoon Club clubhouse. In 1907 the women’s group was incorporated (attorney Oates doing the paperwork, natch) and they purchased land on 10th street where their meeting hall would be built the following year, to a custom design by Mattie’s architect, Brainerd Jones.

There was also a 1907 item that mentioned a young woman “who in years past visited frequently at the home of Colonel and Mrs. J. W. Oates,” suggesting that the couple may have had a mentoring relationship with a debutante before Anna May Bell, who was treated like the Oates’ godchild. The other woman was Adelaide Murphy, daughter of Samuel Murphy, president of the First National Bank in San Francisco. A society item from 1899 noted Mrs. Oates was the guest of Mrs. Murphy at their posh digs in Pacific Heights, just as Mattie occasionally visited Mrs. Bell in southern California. (Several newspaper stories about Adelaide can be found in the San Francisco papers. In 1902, the millionaire’s daughter married John Breckenridge, the sickly and idle scion of another San Francisco banking dynasty. Her father disowned her for three years and the couple fled to Paris.)

(RIGHT: Adelaide Murphy Breckenridge. SF Call, July 18, 1902)

Most interesting to the history of Comstock House, though, is a transcript of a speech by Mattie Oates to the Saturday Afternoon Club. As we have few artifacts about her except for a scrawled name in a cookbook and a fuzzy picture, the speech gives us a tiny bit of insight to her personality.

Her presentation was on “The Laws of California as related to Women and Children,” and is roughly in two sections, the first being a school book rehash of marital rights under old English law, and the latter part bearing the legalistic thumbprints of her lawyer husband (“…the reciprocal rights, duties, and privileges of women and children have been receiving more and more attention from lawmakers”). Most interesting is that she speaks approvingly of outlawing child labor and sweatshops but doesn’t mention sufferage or temperance, the two legal issues concerning women that were most discussed at that time. The transcript isn’t provided here because it’s somewhat of a struggle to read, both because of mundane prose and the lack of proofreading by the newspaper, which leaves many a sentence bereft of subject, object, or worse (you can find the whole thing in the Oct. 13, 1907 Press Democrat “Society Gossip” section). Still, there are a few passages that reveal flashes of character and wit:

* [In olden times the husband] might chastise her if he used a rod ‘no longer than a thumb.’ Whether this led to preferring a husband with small hands we do not know, as there is no recorded instance on the point.

* [The husband] is the head of the family today, even as in the long ago in the eyes of the law, at least, but how much so in fact is frequently debatable. It always strikes me [he] has much the worst of it in spite of his ‘lordship.’ He may choose the place of abode, but if he does not like it and stays away and seeks a divorce and he forgets it, everyone says of him, ‘The mean thing.’

* In California the wife has much the best of it, in face of the law. She is [no] longer what they dubbed her two hundred years ago, ‘the weaker vessel.’ She is now the ‘Ocean Greyhound,’ [yet] as compared to her husband is but a ‘Tramp Freighter.’


Judge James W. Oates has planned a trip to the southern part of the state and will also visit Arizona, where he resided at one time. Judge Oates has been suffering from a severe cold recently and will take the trip to recuperate. Some time will be spent by the talented Santa Rosan at Santa Barbara by the sea and Los Angeles and San Diego will also divide his time. Many friends expect him to return in robust health after his outing.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 11, 1907

Judge and Mrs. James W. Oates took an automobile trip to the historic city of Sonoma Monday afternoon and enjoyed their outing greatly. They found the sport exhilarating and the roads in pretty fair condition for the trip. Shirley D. Burris handled the throttle and steering gear and the trip afforded the party much pleasure.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 9, 1907

Colonel Oates and C. A. Wright “Catch the Limit” in Porter creek

Last week Colonel James W. Oates and C. A. Wright, following an annual custom of eighteen years past, enjoyed a day’s fishing. They fished in Porter creek and they caught “the limit.” Before the gray streaks of light hearalded the dawn of day the bold fishermen left town for the scene of operations with a plentiful supply of bait and lunch. Both lunch and bait were disposed of and in the evening the gentlemen returned to town well pleased with their eighteenth yearly pilgrimage to Izaak Walton’s shrine.

– Press Democrat, May 7, 1907

Mr. and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates entertained the Married Ladies’ Card Club and a number of invited guests in a pleasing manner at their beautiful home on Mendocino avenue Tuesday evening. Choice blossoms and dainty greenery were blended together most artistically in decorating the spacious rooms for the occasion; and they certainly presented a brilliant scene, when brightly lighted and filled with a large crowd of our society folks. The dainty, pretty gounds worn by the ladies, added a touch of beauty to the whole effect of the affair. Progressive euchre was the game of the evening and was played with keen interest for several hours. At its close delicious refreshments were served and another hour spent in general sociability are [sic] the guests took leave of the charming hostess and jovial host and turned their steps homeward, delighted with the pleasures of the evening and the generous hospitality extended to them…Mrs. Oates was assisted in entertaining her guests by Mrs. Soloman [sic] and Mrs. Blitz W. Paxton.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 22, 1907

The beautiful home of Col. and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates was the scene of a brilliant party Friday night, upon which occasion they entertained the Married Ladies’ Card Club and few invited guests. The large hall shone resplendent in bright canvas, pink roses cast their soft radiance over the living room, while in the dining room red geraniums constituted the decorative feature…

– Press Democrat, June 23, 1907

Will be Late

Attorney J. W. Oates has been called to San Jose by a subpoena requiring his appearance as a witness in a civil suit before the Superior Court. Ten o’clock this forenoon is the hour set for Colonel Oates’ presence in the court room, and he has not yet ascertained whether it will be possible for him to reach there in time. At eleven o’clock last night he quit studying the time tables, and began working upon a plea of mitigation of sentence for contempt of court.

– Press Democrat, July 26, 1907

The Insider of the Call says: Mrs. Adelaide Breckenridge, who has written a pantomime, which, the dispatches tell us, will have a London production, was never suspected possess a desire to hine as a dramatic writer in the old days when she was one of the most popular of our society girls. She was always known to be clever. Since Addie Murphey Breckenridge took up her permanent residence in Paris I hear that she has become so French that her old friends would not know her. She has a near approach to a “salon,” which so many of our clever women have tried to esablish here with disasterous results. Mrs. Breckenridge’s salon is said to be alomst Recamier-like in its scope. Nobody is permitted to speak anything but the Parisian tongue within the confines of her drawing rom, and that must be rather a hard ordeal for San Francisco girls who call upon their one-time chum in her French home.” Mrs. Breckenridge will be remembered well in our social circles as Miss Adelaide Murphey, daughter of Banker Murphey of San Francisco, and who in years past visited frequently at the home of Colonel and Mrs. J. W. Oates.

– Press Democrat, August 4, 1907

Col. and Mrs. James W. Oates, accompanied by Miss Anna May Bell, visited the Paxton ranch, this side of Healdsburg, Monday. The trip was made by automobile.

– Press Democrat, September 4, 1907

Mrs. David C. Farnham and Miss Myrtle Harell were the guests of honor at a most brilliant luncheon given Wednesday afternoon by Mrs. James Wyatt Oates. The beautiful Oates home had been artistically decorated for the occasion with great bunches of pink and white chrysanthemums intermingled wwith autumn foliage. Covers were laid for eighteen around a table that sparkled and flashed with its beautiful glass and silver conventionally placed under a huge bunch of white chrysanthemums that graced the center of the table. Mrs. Oates’ guests were:


– Press Democrat, October 27, 1907

Altogether informal, but none the less entertaining and enjoyable, was the afternoon given by Mrs. James Wyatt Oates in honor of Miss Katherine Rockwell of Kansas City, Thursday. Social conversation, interspersed with music, passed the afternoon delightfully after which a dainty collation was served. Mrs. Oates was assisted during the afternoon by Mrs. James R. Edwards and by her mother, Mrs. M. S. Solomon.

– Press Democrat, December 22, 1907

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Nothing screams elegance more than a string orchestra tucked behind the potted palms in the library.

The year 1907 was probably the last that Mattie Oates was so active in Santa Rosa’s elite society circle, hosting at least four gatherings at (what would become known as) Comstock House. The first was the grandest of all; a reception for two young women where a “stringed orchestra conceal from view by palms and other greenery, discoursed sweet music all afternoon, as the guests crowded the spacious rooms to be welcomed.” The “orchestra” was most likely a string quartet, given the size of the library, but it was a big step up from a record on the Victrola or a local girl whistling, which was the musical entertainment during the Oates’ 1905 housewarming.

This afternoon reception in mid May was to welcome two young women in town to visit relatives. The accounts of the party mention that Mattie had the help of a number of young women (a “bevy of pretty girls will also assist in the dining room,” wrote the Press Democrat’s society columnist), which were mostly the same 10-12 unmarried ladies that were regulars at parties for Anna May Bell, who was something of a godchild to the Oates.

Both of the young women honored at the party had families that were much in the newspapers at the time. Nineteen year-old Helen Chaffee was the daughter of Major General Adna Chaffee, who had retired the year before as Army Chief of Staff, having led troops in every U.S. military campaign in the latter half of the 19th century. A few years after the party, Helen became active in the Christian Science church, becoming President of The Mother Church for a year in 1947. She married at least twice, her last husband being Captain Alcott Farrar Elwell, son of renowned American sculptor Francis Edwin Elwell. (Her husband’s unusual first name was in tribute to his grandmother, Louisa May Alcott.)

Just a few days after this party, the other woman would be newsworthy for a more sordid reason, as her family landed center stage of one of the great scandals of that year. Dorothy (“Dot”) Pond was 31 and had married into a prestigious San Francisco family; her father-in-law was mayor of the city from 1887 to 1891 and ran for governor. But even while Dot was listening to the “sweet music all afternoon” at Comstock House, her brother-in-law, Edward – invariably described by the newspapers as a “prominent clubman” – had just gone missing, leaving $75,000 in debts (about $2 million today). Dot’s husband, a realtor, was left responsible to sort out the mess. “My brother is not a strong man,” he told the San Francisco Call in a front-page story a couple of weeks after the Santa Rosa party, vowing all creditors would be paid “although it may take a little time.” Edward was not heard from again (as far as I can tell), although there was a report that he later committed suicide in Los Angeles, which the family denied.

Thanks to Kurt Morris, researcher at The Mary Baker Eddy Library for details on Helen Chaffee’s role in The First Church of Christ, Scientist

Mrs. James Wyatt Oates will entertain at her pretty home on Healdsburg avenue next Wednesday afternoon in honor of Mrs. Samuel Pond and Miss Helen Chaffee. The latter is the daughter of General Adna R. Chaffee, and is visiting her relatives, Mr. and Mrs. James R. Edwards. Mrs. Pond was formerly Miss Dot Ames.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 8, 1907

… Mrs. James Wyatt Oates has issued cards for a large reception to be given Wednesday afternoon between the hours of three and six, in honor of Mrs. Samuel Pond (nee Dorothy Ames) of San Francisco and Miss Chaffee of Los Angeles…A bevy of pretty girls will also assist in the dining room.

– Society Gossip by Dorothy Anne, Press Democrat, May 12, 1907

…The beautiful Oates residence was the scene of a brilliant reception last Wednesday afternoon upon which occasion Mrs. James Wyatt Oates charmingly entertained in honor of Mrs. Samuel Pond of San Francisco and Miss Helen Chaffee of Los Angeles. Under the supervision of Miss Blanche Hoffer the reception room had been effectively decorated with great bunches of pink hawthorne for the occasion, which made an artistic setting for the receiving party. In the library La France roses combined with delicate greenery formed the pretty decorative features, while in the dining room old-fashioned single yellow roses, used in great profusion, added to the splendor of the scene. The spacious hall, lighted by the soft colors cast by the sunshine though the large stained glass cathedral window, and had beautifully decorated with Shasta daisies, delicate bamboo, and large, red amaryllis lilies. After having met the guest of honor and spent an enjoyable time in social conversation and in listening to the music of a stringed orchestra, the guests were invited to the spacious dining room where elaborate refreshments were served. Receiving with Mrs. Oates were Mrs. S. S. Pond of San Francisco, Miss Helen Chaffee of Los Angeles, Mrs. S. S. Solomon, Mrs. James R. Edwards, Mrs. M. L. McDonald Jr., Mrs. Henry G. Hahman, Mrs. S. K. Dougherty, Mrs. William Martin, Mrs. Mary B. Marshall, Mrs. Charles Dwinell, Mrs. John P. Overton, Mrs. B. W. Paxton, Mrs. Julia Jordan, Mrs. Leslie Johnson, Mrs. Park Cunningham, Miss Helen Overton. Assisting Mrs. Oates were Miss Edith McDonald, Miss Bessie Woodward, Miss Irma Woodward, Miss Beatrice Overton, Miss Rena Edwards, Miss Zana Taylor, Miss Adelaide Parsons, Miss Nelly Hall, Miss Blanche Hoffer and Miss Jean Geary.

– Society Gossip by Dorothy Anne, Press Democrat, May 19, 1907

The reception given by Mrs. James Wyatt Oates at her beautiful home on Mendocino avenue last Wednesday afternoon between the hours of three to six, in honor of Miss Helen Chaffee of Los Angeles, and Mrs. Samuel Pond of San Francisco, was a large and brilliant social affair. The rooms were made to look very attractive by being beautifully decorated for the occasion, and noticeable among the flowers used in carrying out the decorative scheme were a number of Burbank’s most exquisite creations, that had been sent as gifts to Miss Chaffee, one of the fair guests of honor. A stringed orchestra conceal from view by palms and other greenery, discoursed sweet music all afternoon, as the guests crowded the spacious rooms to be welcomed by the receiving party, given an opportunity of meeting the guests of honor, and later being served to delicious refreshments in the dining room by a bevy of charming young ladies. The gowns of the hostess, guests of honor and the ladies assisting in receiving were elegant in texture, color and design, and the most elaborate to be worn here at any social function given this season. Mrs. Oates, who is one of our most charming society women, was assisted in receiving by the following ladies…

– Our Social Affairs by Madame Trice, Santa Rosa Republican, May 18, 1907

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It was a grand housewarming for the grandest new house in Santa Rosa, as Wyatt and Mattie Oates threw the first of many parties at the home that would later become known as Comstock House. Not so grand was the weather that July 7th; it was the peak of a murderous heat wave, with the temperature that day reaching 109 degrees, just shy of Santa Rosa’s all-time high of 110 that would be recorded in 1972.

Newspaper descriptions of house parties at the time often mentioned card games with prizes awarded to best players, and Mr. Oates was frequently reported as a winner. Thus it’s no surprise that visitors to the first event at his home were greeted by no fewer than 18 card tables. Played here is Euchre, a very popular team-against-team game like Bridge, and specifically Railroad Euchre, a faster-paced version that was popular among train passengers.


The Misses Anna May Bell and Margaret Harrell the Guests of Honor – Cards and Music

The handsome new Colonial home of Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates on Healdsburg avenue last night was ablaze with light and daintily decorated for the large party given by them in honor of their guests, Miss Anna May Bell of Visalia and Miss Margaret Harrell of Fresno.

Additional significance was lent the function inasmuch as it was the first social gathering given in the new home and might also have been termed the housewarming.

The elaborate furnishings and the finishings architecturally of the interior left practically little for the decorators to do to enhance the appearance of things and there was nothing lacking to make the party a delightful success. From the nature of the decorations, the dainty prizes awarded, at cards and other features it was a Dutch Colonial party given in a Colonial home.

The guests were mostly young people invited to meet Miss Bell and Miss Harrell. Railroad euchre was played during a portion of the evening and the prizes were won by John Tyler Campbell, gentlemen’s first prize; Mrs. H. G. Hahman, ladies’ first prize and Mrs. Ralph Belden, lone hand. The remainder of the evening was devoted to social converse and music. Miss Frances Woolsey gave a whistling solo, Miss Blanche Hoffer a piano number and the Misses Bell and Harrell a duet. The last named young ladies were awarded prizes as guests of honor. There were eighteen tables for cards and some of them were placed on the spacious verandah which was transformed into a pretty bower. Refreshments were served. Mrs. Oates was assisted in receiving by her mother, Mrs. M. S. Solomon.

– Press Democrat, July 8, 1905

The Oates’ Card Party An Enjoyable Affair

Miss Anna May Bell of Visalia and Miss Margaret Harrell of Fresno were guests of honor at a charming party given last evening by Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates, with whom they are spending the summer. Southern hospitality was manifest in the cordial welcome Colonel and Mrs. Oates gave their guests, who enjoyed the evening thoroughly. The handsome new colonial home was thrown open for entertaining last evening for the first time and its spacious rooms, arranged in such artistic fashion, were very much admired.

Euchre was played in the drawing room and on the wide veranda which was enclosed with canvas. The scorecards were decorated with tiny Dutch Colonial figures and the prizes were also in quaint Dutch design. These were won by Judge John Tyler Campbell, Mrs. A. G. Hahman and Mrs. Ralph Belden.

Mrs. Oates’ mother, Mrs. M. S. Solomon, assisted her in receiving and also assisting were Miss Blanche Hoffer, Miss Bell and Miss Harrell, who gave piano selections and Miss Frances Woolsey, whose whistling solos with piano accompaniment were exquisite. Supper was daintily served at the card tables.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 8, 1905

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