1919torontoprotestFB

THE ANTI-VAXXERS OF 1920

The past is just a story we keep telling ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


MR. TAYLOR’S DECEITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Undated cartoon, source unknown
Undated cartoon, source unknown

FIGHTING VACCINATION.

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

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

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

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

– Sacramento Union, September 24 1910

 

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, February 24 1911

 

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

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

– Oakland Tribune, January 31, 1913

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

HIGH DEATH RATE.

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

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

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

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

INCREASE OF EXPOSURES.

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

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

– Sacramento Union, March 15 1913

 

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, August 20 1913

 

MEDICAL FREEDOM AND VACCINATION

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

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

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

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

“Sample of Exemption Certificate…

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, August 21 1913

 

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

– Sacramento Union, July 19 1914

 

VACCINATION ORDER IS BEING RIGIDLY ENFORCED

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

– Press Democrat, September 15 1914

 

Dr. Gillihan Defendant in Battery Charges

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

– Press Democrat, March 1 1919

 

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

– Press Democrat, October 19 1919

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, October 13 1920

 

VACCINATION BILL VETOED BY SENATE

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

– Press Democrat, April 6 1921

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, August 18 1921

 

SMALLPOX CASE AT PENNGROVE

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

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

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

– Petaluma Argus, June 12, 1924

 

VACCINATION BANNED AT BURNSIDE SCHOOL

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

– Petaluma Argus, November 22, 1924

Read More

Ed Heald

SOMEONE YOU KNOW DIED TODAY, AND LIKEWISE TOMORROW

Forget the 1906 earthquake: The “Spanish Flu” which swept through Sonoma county in 1918 was the worst disaster to hit Sonoma county – or at least, since the smallpox epidemic  wiped out nearly everyone in the Pomo communities in 1837.

Our ancestors here were caught off-guard even though there was a month’s notice that it was remarkably deadly and would inevitably reach Santa Rosa. From mid-September onwards the Press Democrat and Argus-Courier printed bad news every day. There were seventy deaths a day in New England. It was spreading rapidly through the Army camps in the East and Midwest; the number of soldiers and sailors infected doubled every few days – 23 thousand total, 42 thousand, then 14 thousand new cases in a single day. The military reported 112 dead, then 377, then 653. By the beginning of October the killing disease was now in almost all states.

They had no defense against this influenza, which usually resulted in a severe case of pneumonia. Although this was before the discovery of antibiotics, they could treat pneumonia with an antiserum (or “syrum,” as the Press Democrat spelled it), but only if treated early. The patient also had to be in a hospital with a well-equipped lab, as a saliva sample had to be injected into a mouse to ID the type of bacteria. An effective vaccine was developed at this time, but only in limited quantities and after the peak of the pandemic.

The Spanish Flu reached Sonoma county around October 12. A highway crew working near modern-day Rohnert Park was rushed to hospitals in San Francisco. “There are already considerably more than one hundred cases receiving attention,” reported the PD, but it’s unknown if they were counting the 75 sick children at the Lytton Orphanage. Strike that; by the time the newspaper went to press there were 102 children ill. One of them was teenager Helen Grouel, who became the first person here to die because of it.

On October 18 Walter Reiman, a sailor on furlough to help his dad harvest grapes at their Windsor vineyard, died after being back only five days. As the incubation period for influenza is 2 to 7 days, he must have brought it home with him. Later that same evening his fiancée, Edith Olin, died as well.

While the PD and the A-C were trying to quell panic by reassuring readers this was a “mild” form of the flu, there was no denying that the crisis was now upon us. That same day all schools, churches, lodges and “places of amusements” were closed until further notice. By then there were 59 known influenza cases in Santa Rosa, with two more reported during the Santa Rosa Board of Health meeting. The Board further required on November 4 the wearing of gauze masks by everyone when in public – although the newspaper wryly noted that as the Supervisors voted to pass the ordinance, not one of them was wearing a mask.

The County Health Board already required masks to be worn by anyone infected or nursing someone sick, and before the ordinance the PD did its civic duty with many little items mentioning clerks and shopkeepers wearing masks, noting that everyone on the train up from San Francisco was wearing them, and so on. Still, there was resistance; twenty people were fined $5 for not wearing them after Nov. 4 and the paper noted in San Rafael “a number of people were arrested and were compelled to decorate the mahogany with five-dollar pieces in the recorder’s court.” Some people wearing glasses were caught wearing the mask beneath their nose because their lenses fogged up (the PD printed tips on how to avoid this); others thought it was just unfashionable. District Attorney Hoyle said, “a mask may not add to your beauty, but a homely, living, useful citizen is better far than an unnecessarily sacrificed life, regardless of looks.”

Given the ferocity of that flu it seems incomprehensible the Health Board waited almost three weeks to require masks in public, but the general knowledge level of preventative hygiene at the time seems shockingly poor. Never once was the importance of frequent hand-washing mentioned, although it had been recognized as a critical method to stopping the spread of disease for over a half century. Instead, the Board offered a mishmash of advice, including:

*
  Avoid public gatherings of any kind and stay off the street

*
  Do not cough, spit or sneeze promiscuously

*
  Don’t attend funerals. Say it with flowers

*
  Don’t visit your sick friends unless you can be of some material advantage to them

*
  Don’t wait until in the night to call a physician. They are all being overworked and need all the regular rest they can get

*
  Avoid coal oil heaters, with their noxious fumes

Likewise the advice on what to eat while sick is mostly the reverse of what we believe today. Dr. Adelaide Brown (“eminent woman physician of San Francisco, and member of State Board of Health”) told the Press Democrat that the diet should be mostly milk, sugar and starch, no meat broth, no vegetables (unless pureed) and no fruit with fiber. “No other foods than those mentioned should be used. Do not experiment with the patient’s digestion during the critical period.” Notice there is no mention of the importance of keeping the patient well hydrated.

Lacking modern medicines, people turned to folk remedies and the Victorian-era pharmacopoeia. It appears they mostly nursed themselves as if it were just a really bad chest cold, but some treatments had antibacterial effects which might have saved lives – and others might have made their conditions worse, or even killed them.

Someone wrote to the PD to remark the late, esteemed Dr, William Finlaw said “there was no better remedy for those ailments” than camphor in a steam vaporizer. It was a sensible idea, but the correspondent added that “a smoker may crumble a piece of camphor gum the size of a pea, and mix it with the tobacco in a pipe, or cigarette,” which is really not a good idea if you’ve got pneumonia.

Newspaper ads promoted camphor-based Vick’s VapoRub to be used in a vaporizer, melted in a spoon and inhaled, or rubbed into the chest and back between the shoulder blades “until the skin is red…attracting the blood to the surface, and thus aids in relieving the congestion within.” Never mind that in years earlier, physicians used that same basic argument to promote leeches.

Some drug stores sold atomizers which were to be filled with abietene, a kind of turpentine made specifically from California’s native Gray Pine, and sprayed on the back of your throat and inhaled every ten minutes to prevent the flu (supposedly).

Dr. Bonar, the city health officer, specifically warned against quack cures and preventatives like that: “Don’t be taking drugs. If ill, consult a physician. Gargles and nasal douches are of doubtful value, if not a real danger…Avoid all advertised cures.” But that advice appeared only once in a Press Democrat article and not at all in the Petaluma newspapers – while local merchants bought large ads in every edition to peddle nostrums exactly like those.

In Petaluma, Schluckebier Hardware advertised Phenolene (caustic, poisonous carbolic acid) as a disinfectant to mop floors, pour down drains, spray under beds and then “put three drops in a tumbler of warm water, then gargle the throat and stuff it up the nose.” Towne’s Drug Store suggested “formaldehyde liberally yet judiciously used is most valuable,” but did not say how it should be used. Today formaldehyde’s recognized as causing bronchitis and pneumonia when inhaled with even small exposures, not to mention being a carcinogen.

Press Democrat, October 26, 1918

 

Press Democrat readers were assured the disease had “run its course in most Army camps” – hopefully showing not everyone would croak – but there was considerable fear in the days following the closures. The PD quoted a “well-known physician” saying “there is a lot of hysteria about now as well as influenza.” While this doctor and others interviewed were not named, they agreed this was a mild form of the flu. This was all propaganda; there were still 300+ deaths daily in the camps and not everyone here was taking the situation seriously. A few days later Earle E. Jamison died; he was the ticket agent of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in Santa Rosa and had constant contact with the public, yet once Earle caught the flu he had to remain on duty a “day or two” until replacement was found.

At the end of October – before the Board of Health made gauze masks mandatory – the District Attorney’s office announced the situation was so dire they were considering a quarantine of the entire county. It seems many of those urban dwellers who had summer cabins around the Russian River and elsewhere were fleeing up here to escape the epidemic raging in the cities:


…I have been informed that persons from the bay cities, fearful of the disease there, are rushing to the country resorts and are occupying cottages, built many of them in cool, damp places, and saturated with a two weeks’ rain, which must necessarily endanger them to cold, and frequently to resulting pneumonia, whether they in fact have Spanish influenza or not. This should he stopped at once.

The news did not get better as October faded into November. There were 310 reported sick in Santa Rosa with deaths almost every day. The married daughters of Serafino Piezzi died four days apart and a double funeral was planned as soon as the rest of the family recovered themselves. Rocco Poncetta of the Hotel Italia de Unita (5 West Sixth st.) died at age 31; the PD commented he was “a man of strong and robust constitution,” reinforcing the popular notion that the young and strong were most likely to die.

Then on November 5 came the most shocking news of all: There were 400 influenza cases at the Sonoma State Home – almost one-third of the institution’s patients. A few days later it shot up to 500.

Now the Sonoma Developmental Center (at least, as of this writing), the Press Democrat still called it by its old name: The Sonoma State Home for the Care of the Feeble-Minded at Eldridge. The 1,400 patients there ranged from people needing custodial care because of severe cognitive issues to those suffering epilepsy; criminals deemed “feeble-minded” by someone in authority were sent there for indeterminate sentences as were some accused of anti-social behavior – see “SONOMA COUNTY AND EUGENICS“ for more background on the place in those days.

“Medical Superintendent Fred O. Butler M. D., and his staff of assistant physicians and the nurses and attendants are doing everything in their power for the stricken inmates,” the PD reported, but they clearly were not following best medical practices for dealing with an epidemic. The next day 25 were reported dead. Four days later, another 24. Five days after that, the death toll was over 70. By the end of the month there were 85 dead.

It is maddening to read the day-to-day coverage of this crisis at Eldridge. Complete management of the situation was ceded to Dr. Butler; additional medical help was neither requested nor demanded. There was no talk of evacuation. There was no charitable outreach from the community. By contrast, a month earlier Santa Rosa and other towns had mobilized to help the Lytton Springs orphanage, with nurses rushing there to help, department stores donating blankets and bedding and businesses collecting donations to buy medicines. 

Petaluma Morning Courier, October 27, 1918

 

Aside from their appalling indifference to the Sonoma State Home situation, citizens of Santa Rosa rallied together to fight the epidemic as if it was just another part of their patriotic duty in those last months of WWI. The Red Cross Shop became like a command HQ, distributing food, medicine and many hundreds of masks sown by volunteers; nurses were dispatched; babies and small children with sick parents were placed in temporary homes. The elite Saturday Afternoon Club clubhouse on 10th st became a critical care hospital, handling 53 patients (“some of them the worst cases near Santa Rosa” – PD).

Finally, after three weeks of emergency measures, the tide began to turn shortly before Thanksgiving. The public library reopened and the mask order was lifted. All schools reopened.

But the good news was short lived. Influenza came roaring back after Christmas, with 243 new cases in San Francisco with 35 deaths. While there had been ongoing cases of flu in rural areas, in Santa Rosa masks were ordered on again because it had “returned to the towns.”

This second wave proved just as severe and heart-breaking. In one week a toddler, mother and grandmother all died; Adeline Gray on January 9, 1919, her mother Julia Marsh two days later, and then 3 year-old Alice Gray on Jan. 16. They are buried together at the Calvary Cemetery.

Some schools reopened in the middle of January, with students and teachers wearing masks. On the 26th the mask ordinance was dropped again, although “it is highly advisable that masks be worn whenever one person approaches within ten feet of another.” Theaters, pool rooms and lodges remained closed.

The epidemic was never declared over and lingered in Santa Rosa until the end of April. Obituaries as late as November of that year mentioned the person had contracted the Spanish flu and never recovered.

The official report of the Board of Health stated there were 67 deaths from influenza in Santa Rosa and 1,145 cases, although “many more cases were unreported or unrecognized.” There were 87 flu deaths at the Sonoma State Home.

It’s now understood that 9 out of 10 Spanish influenza victims died from pneumonia – that the flu stripped the inner lining from the bronchial tubes and lungs, which left the patient susceptible to infections. “In essence, the virus landed the first blow while bacteria delivered the knockout punch,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, when the definitive study was published in 2008.

Even factoring in pneumonia, a final tally proves elusive; remember Edith Olin, the young woman who died within hours of her fiance? She had tuberculosis and her cause of death was listed as such, even though there’s little doubt that her death was hastened by his return to the area carrying the flu.

About 85 people are known to have died in Santa Rosa during the 1906 earthquake with another handful killed elsewhere in the county, but those numbers are also squishy; some remains were probably totally consumed by the fire and some people who were mortally wounded probably died elsewhere. Throw in a fudge factor and guesstimate the earthquake killed 120 in Sonoma county. But even without counting the pneumonia cases, the total influenza deaths in Santa Rosa combined with the Sonoma State Home remains higher. Even with the joy of the war ending, those were very dark days.

Ed Heald wearing influenza mask. Photo: Sonoma County Library

INFLUENZA CONTINUES TO SPREAD
Malady Has Now Reached Practically All Parts of Country, and Is Epidemic in Western and Pacific Coast States — Movie Releases Stopped.

Washington, Oct. 9 – Spanish influenza now has spread to practically every part of the country. Reports today to the Federal Health Service shows the disease is epidemic in many western and Pacific Coast states as well as in almost all regions east of the Mississippi river. Its spread also continues in army camps. The number of new cases reported being greater than on the day before.

 The disease is reported from many parts of California, while in Texas the malady has been reported from 77 counties, with a number of cases varying from one to 4,000 in each county…

…The National Association of Motion Picture Industries decided at a meeting here tonight to discontinue all motion picture releases after October 16, because of the epidemic of Spanish Influenza. The embargro will remain in force until further notice, it was announced by Wm. A. Brady, president of the association.

– Press Democrat, October 10 1918

DOCTORS OF THREE STATES ARE MOBILIZED

Mobilization of all the doctors of California, Nevada and Arizona to combat the epidemic of Spanish influenza were ordered today by the U. S. Public Health Service, It was announced here by Dr. W. G. Billings, sanitary officer of the service for California and Nevada. The public was warned by Dr. Billings to avoid picture shows, churches and all other places of assemblage until the epidemic was passed.

– Press Democrat, October 10 1918

SPREADS IN CALIFORNIA

The total number of Spanish influenza cases in California has reached the four thousand mark, according to the State Board of Health.

– Argus-Courier, October 12 1918

INFLUENZA HAS APPEARED HERE

More Than a Dozen Cases Reported in Santa Rosa and the Immediate Vicinity Monday Night—State Highway Camp Near Wilfred Station Suffers: Spray Your Throat and Nostrils and Keep Away From Crowds.

Spanish Influenza secured a hold in Sonoma county over Sunday and according to reports made to the county health officer there are already considerably more than one hundred cases receiving attention.

The Golden Gate Industrial Farm and Orphanage at Lyttons reported 75 children in bed with the malady Monday morning. By night the number of cases there had increased to 102, as stated in another column.

Half a dozen or more men working in the State highway camp on the Cotati boulevard near Wilfred were also reported down with the disease. Some of these have been removed to Santa Rosa hospitals, while others were rushed to San Francisco for treatment. By prompt isolation of every case and early detection of the malady in schools throughout the county it is hoped to keep it within bounds; but every family should take unusual care to prevent exposure. Children should he kept off the streets as much as possible. Avoid crowds wherever you can.

Physicians state that best thing to do after possible exposure is to spray the throat and nostrils with a solution of 10 per cent argyrol, or some other good disinfectant.

According to reports by local physicians Monday evening more than a dozen cases of the malady exist in Santa Rosa and the immediate vicinity.

– Press Democrat, October 15 1918

132 CASES OF INFLUENZA AT LYTTONS; HELEN GROUL DIES
Public Responds With Needed Assistance When Informed
Orphanage Now Transformed Into a Hospital – Urgent Need Exists for More Nurses, Bed Clothing, and Money With Which to Buy Medicines — Local Branch of Red Cross Interests Itself in the Matter

Death invaded the Lytton Springs Orphanage yesterday, when Helen Groul, whose critical illness was reported in these columns Tuesday morning, closed her eyes in the long last sleep. She is the first victim to be claimed in this county by the dreaded Spanish influenza, which is now raging everywhere and has the Lytton Orphanage tightly within its grasp.

“Thirty-one new cases developed here today,” said Captain S. Charles Isaacs, now in charge of the orphanage at Lytton, when interviewed by a Press Democrat representative last night over the long-distance phone. “One hundred and thirty-two of our children are now down with the scourge. We have two hundred and twenty-three children here at the present time.” Yesterday there were two hundred and twenty-four; today there are only two hundred and twenty-three!

What will it be tomorrow?

Public Responds to Call

The sad news from Lyttons published in these columns Tuesday morning met with an instant response in the hearts of the thousands of Santa Rosans, and offers of assistance soon began to come in. The first report of money being collected came from the employees of the Santa Rosa Poultry Association and Egg Exchange, where a hurried collection was taken and the sum of $11 sent to this office. The Press Democrat added $5 to the above amount, and last night Manager J. J. Fitzgerald of the Poultry Association walked into the office with another bunch of coin and left it here to be forwarded to the orphanage today. The list of donors is as follows…

– Press Democrat, October 16 1918

PLEDGED PAIR NEAR IN DEATH
Well Known Young Auditor for Proctor Bros. Succumbs to White Plague Last Night, Following Death of Her Fiance a Few Hours Earlier.

Miss Edith Olin, for the past six years auditor for the Proctor Bros., died at the home of Mrs. Jane M. Emperor. 421 College avenue, last night about 9:30, after a few weeks’ illness. Death was due to consumption.

Miss Olin came here seven years ago from Orfino, Idaho, where she had been residing with an aunt since the death of her parents. The aunt is her only living relative…

…Walter Reiman, who enlisted in the U. S. Navy some time ago. died Friday at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Reiman, near Windsor, after a brief illness with influenza. The young man secured a furlough and came home last Sunday to assist his father gather the grape crop, and was taken ill a few days later.

Mr. Reiman was the fiance of Miss Edith Olin, who died later in the evening, and news of his death, coming a few hours before that of his fiance, is an occurrence as remarkable as it is sad.

– Press Democrat, October 19 1918

DON’T GET SCARED IS THE ADVICE OF LOCAL PHYSICIAN
Statement Last Night That the Cases of Influenza Here So Far Are of a Mild Form—People Advised to Be Careful, But Not to Become Hysterical.

‘Tell the people not to get hysterical,” said a well-known physician last night to a Press Democrat representative. “It’s good advice to give people, believe me, for there is a lot of hysteria about now as well as influenza.”

Another physician stated that out of all the cases he has under his care, all of them are light, with the exception of a single pneumonia case.

Other physicians were seen and they agreed that the influenza here is of a mild form to date. They agreed that people should take care of themselves, but there is no occasion for alarm if care is taken.

– Press Democrat, October 23 1918

INFLUENZA WORSE OUTSIDE OF CITY
More New Cases Reported From the Rural Section Than Within City Limits — Epidemic at Standstill Within City at the Present, According to Reports

While the number of cases of Spanish influenza reported to the city health office shows no increase for the previous 24 hours, the number of cases reported to local physicians increased and from all accounts the country surrounding town is suffering worse now than the city.

Only 12 new cases were reported to the city health office up to 5 o’clock last night, although it is known other cases have developed in town which will he reported this morning. The total to date at the same hour was 396 for the city with only two deaths known to be directly caused from pneumonia caused by influenza.

The most of the deaths resulting from the disease are from out-of-town and it is believed this is due to the fact that those residing in town are being more prompt in calling in a physician and take no chances, while the country people try to wear it off, a very serious matter in the case of influenza, and almost sure to result seriously, if not fatally.

– Press Democrat, October 30 1918

MAY QUARANTINE COUNTY AGAINST THE INFLUENZA
District Attorney Issues Appeal to Residents to Take Necessary Precautions to Protect Themselves and Others From Dreaded Epidemic.

The District Attorney’s office has been aroused by the large number of fatal cases of Spanish influenza and pneumonia throughout the rural section of Sonoma county and will take steps to protect the residents unless they take the necessary precautions for themselves voluntarily. In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Hoyle suggested the possibility of a general quarantine of the county against outside districts pending an improvement of conditions in other parts of the state. He said:

For more than three weeks last past so-called Spanish influenza has been prevalent in Sonoma county. During that time many of our valuable citizens have suffered from the malady, and several have passed to the Great Beyond, as a direct result of the dread disease, from resulting pneumonia or otherwise. It is the nature of the disease to leave one in a weakened condition, thereby making the patient susceptible to any disease for which the weakened condition makes an opening. A cold creates just such an opening and pneumonia results. Other diseases follow instead of pneumonia as the condition of the patient may make one susceptible…

…I have been informed that persons from the bay cities, fearful of the disease there, are rushing to the country resorts and are occupying cottages, built many of them in cool, damp places, and saturated with a two weeks’ rain, which must necessarily endanger them to cold, and frequently to resulting pneumonia, whether they in fact have Spanish influenza or not. This should he stopped at once.

Unless the public takes the necessary and proper steps immediately for stamping out the disease, I shall call upon the state health officers for a strict general quarantine of the county.

If you are afflicted, stay inside until you have fully recovered, exercising every precaution to prevent the spread of the disease. If you have thus far escaped, use every precaution to avoid it. A mask may not add to your beauty, but a homely, living, useful citizen is better far than an unnecessarily sacrificed life, regardless of looks.

Yours for the public welfare, G. W. Hoyle, District Attorney.

– Press Democrat, October 31 1918

25 INFLUENZA DEATHS AT SONOMA STATE HOME

Inquiry over the long distance telephone to the Sonoma State Home at Eldridge last night as to the influenza cases in the institution elicited the information that since the epidemic broke out there had been twenty-four deaths among inmates and Mrs. Markee, one of the attendants, died yesterday. A number of the cases had developed into pneumonia.

 Among those who are suffering from influenza are the woman physician, Dr. Thorne, and Supervisor Johnson. Both their cases are slight. Secretary R. Q. Wickham stated last night.

 “There are over four hundred cases of influenza here and we have had twenty-four deaths to date among the inmates, and, this afternoon one of the attendants, Mrs. Markee, died. Otherwise the other sick ones seem to be getting better,” stated Mr. Wickham over the phone.

 Medical Superintendent Fred O. Butler, M. D., and his first assistant, Dr Whittington, have been working night and day with the patients, and prior to her sickness Dr. Thorne was constantly in attendance day and night. The physicians and the nurses and attendants have been doing loyal and efficient work for main hours day and night since influenza became epidemic. Everything possible is being done for the sick and to safeguard the inmates and protect those as yet not stricken with the illness. There are nearly fourteen hundred inmates in the Sonoma State Home.

– Press Democrat, November 6 1918

EMPHATIC DONTS FOR INFLUENZA
City Health Officer Makes Suggestions to General Public for Prevention of Infection and to Aid in Restricting Epidemic.

“There ia no doubt but that we are in the midst of a very interesting epidemic which will have extended and far reaching results. The climatic conditions here are ideal for its spread,” declared R. M. Bonar, the new city health officer, yesterday, after having heard from most of the physicians of the city and getting reports of 25 new cases of influenza for the day. This brings the total cases to date to over 355.

With the view of giving as much assistance as possible in preventing the further spread of the malady. Dr. Bonar makes suggestions and urges upon the general public adaption of the following rules:

Don’t attend funerals. Say it with flowers.

Don’t travel. If you must, use your own conveyance. The closed railway coach is the best place In the world to become infected as many sick are traveling, spreading the disease.

 Don’t visit your sick friends unless you can be of some material advantage to them, and then wear a gauze mask.

  Don’t be taking drugs. If ill, consult a physician. Gargles and nasal douches are of doubtful value, if not a real danger. The wash is on the throat or nose only a few moments being quickly carried away by the natural secretions. If used too strong or frequently they may impair the delicate membranes, making the person more susceptible to infection. Avoid all advertised cures.

Do not allow children to associate with those having the malady in the house. Under no clrcumstances allow a well person to sleop with one ill with influenza.

Keep in the open air. Avoid unusual fatigue and over eating and wear a mask of six layers. Bacteria cannot penetrate gauze. Don’t use antiseptic of any kind on mask, and wash dally, boiling it.

Don’t wait until in the night to call a physician. They are all being overworked and need all the regular rest they can get.

– Press Democrat, November 6 1918

MALADY TAKES ON NEW LEASE

Despite the precautions being taken, there has been an increase of Spanish Influenza cases this week in Santa Rosa, with eight new cases reported Monday and ten yesterday. The new eases in many instances are in families where it had prevailed previously.

 One mother was reported down with her four children yesterday, but they are all doing as well as could be expected and are being given the best of care.

 The city health officer urges all to comply with the mask ordinance and take all necessary precaution against spreading the malady and hold it in check. There can be no release from masks while there is so many new cases being reported.

– Press Democrat, November 13 1918

INFLUENZA NOW IS DECREASING
Santa Rosa Has Had 462 Cases Since October 18, When First Case Was Reported, While Total Deaths in Entire Suburban District Totals 37 for Period.

With six new cases of Spanish influenza reported Saturday, the total in Santa Rosa since the first outbreak, October 18, has reached 462. In the same period there has been 37 deaths in the district which includes Russian River township and the country to the east as far as Glen Ellen, but not the Sonoma Home at Eldrldge.

 While all indications point to a gradual falling-off in the epidemic in Santa Rosa, there has been a flare-up owing, it is believed, to carelessness resulting from the patriotic demonstration Monday. It is hoped the improvement will continue during the coming week, and if so some of the more stringent regulations can be released.

 The San Francisco theaters were all opened Saturday and each played to standing room. The churches will be open today, but the mask is still retained and insisted upon for all attending gatherings. The San Jose State Normal will resume November 25, when the San Francisco schools will reopen, by which time masks will be discarded.

– Press Democrat, November 13 1918

STRONG TAKEN – THE WEAK LEFT
Epidemic Is Still in Force at the Sonoma State Home, Where Over Fifty Deaths Have Occurred to Date — Most Fatalities Among High Grade Inmates.

They are battling with the epidemic of influenza at the Sonoma State Home for the Feeble-Minded. So far over fifty deaths have occurred to date and there are scores of inmates still down with the disease. The physicians and nurses and other attendants have had a hard task to perform for several weeks in ministering to so many of the sick.

A singular feature of conditions at the State Home is that the deaths have occurred among the strongest and highest grade inmates, both as regard boys and girls and the low grades have suffered little. Among those who have died were many boys and girls who were able to help about the institution and in the grounds.

– Press Democrat, November 14 1918

THE QUARANTINE IS ENFORCED

The quarantine for influenza has been put in force in this city by the Health Board and the yellow signs with the word “influenza” prominently displayed, are already noticed on a number of homes here.

– Argus-Courier, November 25 1918

85 DEATHS TOLL AT STATE HOME
Epidemic Is Subsiding and New Cases Are Among Girls — Eighty of the Dead Were Males – Secretary Wickham Visitor Here.

Secretary R. Q. Wickham was in town from the Sonoma State Home on Monday.

From Secretary Wickham it was learned that the epidemic had carried off by death eighty-five inmates.

He says there have been over five hundred cases of influenza at the institution and of the eighty-five deaths about five were girls, all the others being boys, youths and men.

At the present time, Mr. Wickham states, there are a number of cases, the illness having crossed to the quarters occupied by the girls, but no serious conditions are expected now.

Mr. Wickham paid a high compliment to the untiring labors of Medical Superintendent Fred O. Butler, Physician Whittington and Dr. Thoren, the woman physician, and the nurses and attendants who worked night and day in nursing and administering to the sick. “I tell you they ail stood up nobly “under the strain,” said Mr. Wickham.

– Press Democrat, November 26 1918

BAN PLACED ON DANCIN6 HERE UNTIL FURTHER ORDER

In an effort to check any further outbreaks of influenza the City Health Officer Thursday evening issued an order forbidding all public and private dances until further notice in Santa Rosa.

The Health Officer said it is generally recognized that dancing is one of the most successful ways of spreading influenza owing to the dancers being in such close contact that they cannot help inhaling each other’s breath and passing the germs.

Already eight cases, it is said, have been traced to two young men who visited a dance here recently from an outside town while ill and spread the malady.

– Press Democrat, December 20 1918

Clubhouse Opened as Emergency Hospital

The good women of the Red Cross made another noble response on Saturday to the demands of care for sick women and children and by night Saturday the Saturday Afternoon Club’s clubhouse on Tenth street was opened as an emergency hospital. Mention has been made of the shortage of nurses and it was with the idea of caring for many of those who are sick that the clubhouse was opened as a hospital. The clubhouse during the day was fitted up with cots and all other arrangements were made for the reception of the patients. It is a nice, cosy place, and it is mighty fortunate for some of the sick women and children of the town and neighborhood that such a place and such excellent care was available. Several patients were taken to the emergency hospital Saturday night.

– Press Democrat, December 29 1918

STRANGER ARRIVES IN TOWN WITH INFLUENZA

The county health officer was called to a local hotel yesterday to see a man who was ill. An examination showed that he was suffering from influenza, having arrived Thursday night, circulated about the hotel during the even[ing] and had been out during the morning for breakfast and about the street before giving up and going to bed.

The man was removed to a hospital and last night he had developed pneumonia and his fever was 104 degrees and his condition was considered critical. How many were exposed to the influenza through contact with this man is unknown, but it is such cases which has caused the necessity for holding the masks as a protective measure.

– Press Democrat, January 25 1919

Read More

dwheadlines

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

 

Read More