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



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


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

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



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


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


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…


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.


“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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Collage of San Quentin mugshots, 1918-1919



Agricultural Committee Will Grapple With Delinquent Women Bill
Aim of Measure Is to Take Female Prisoners From Penitentiaries

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

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

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

– San Francisco Call, January 14 1911


Recently Released Political Prisoner From San Quentin Says Newcomers to Delinquent Women’s Farm Here Will Be “Classy” Janes

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

– Sonoma Index-Tribune, September 3, 1921

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

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

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

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

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

– Sotoyome Scimitar, December 9 1921


First Woman for Sonoma Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– San Bernardino Sun, April 11 1922


Read More


It began as the most ordinary of days. She saw her husband off to work and was expected to later stop by his downtown office. From her parlor window that morning she caught the eye of a neighbor walking past and they waved at each other. Not long afterwards she dragged the heavy hallway sofa into her kitchen. She made herself comfortable and resumed reading her novel after opening wide all four burners on her gas stove. Soon she was unconscious and soon after that, dead.

This is the story of terrible things that happened in Santa Rosa over the course of five autumn weeks in 1911. You may not want to read this story; I didn’t particularly want to write it because it involves suicide, and I made an early vow to avoid that topic in this journal – no one casually Googling for their Great-Great-Grandma should stumble upon a description of her sad and lonely death. This story will be my only exception to the rule, and that’s because there’s far more to this tale than personal tragedy. It reveals unquieting things about the fundamental character of Santa Rosa and likely many small towns in America at that time. But that’s getting ahead.

The deceased woman was Mrs. Minerva Leppo who went by her middle name, Belle. She was 34 years old and lived with her husband Frank at the big house on the corner of College and MacDonald Avenues.

Her suicide stunned Santa Rosa. She was from a prominent family; her grandfather was Tom Hopper, once the richest man around – he was past president of the Santa Rosa Bank and shareholder in other area banks, despite being completely illiterate (he was very adept at numbers, however). Now 91 years old, he spent his afternoons parked in front of the courthouse in his phaeton carriage greeting old friends. “Fearing that the shock might be too much for the old gentleman to bear John L. Walker got into the buggy with him and suggested that as it was getting cold he would ride home with him,” the PD noted. Mrs. Leppo was also a leader of the Irene Club. This group distinguished itself from the dozens of other women’s social clubs in Santa Rosa by its membership composed of the town’s society matrons.


Make no mistake, Black Hand letters were a real concern in the early 20th century. Italian-American immigrants were the first and most famous targets, preyed upon by criminals in their own community including the nascent Mafia. The letters – usually demands for a large sum of money to be left at a drop-off point – often included threatening doodles such as a skull or knife dripping in blood. It was the frequent silhouette of an upraised hand that led a New York paper to dub these anonymous threats “Black Hand Letters.”

Newspaper editors loved these tales because they provided opportunities to write lurid melodramatic stories. During the peak from 1908-1911, every year hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles thrilled and terrified readers with dark deeds of the Black Hand; four people were supposedly murdered every day in New York City alone, the shadowy assassins battled fearlessly by the NYPD “Italian Secret Police” and the Pinkerton “Italian Squad” (great example here). And not least of it being that the Black Hand genre fed racist bias of the time, smearing Italians and Sicilian immigrants as riffraff who were inclined to crime, despite Black Hand extortion also being found in the Greek, German and Polish immigrant communities, and probably others.

In our coarsened Age of Internet communications, unpleasant anonymous messages might not seem such a big deal. Web page comment sections and discussion forums abound with vicious attacks from people who conceal their names, and it’s a rare mailbox that hasn’t received ugly e-mail from a sender using a phony or temporary address. But more than a century ago such a thing had greater weight, both because it was uncommon and because it required a lot more work to be anonymous; there would have been few typewriters in private homes, and access to business typewriters probably was strictly controlled by the company typist (or typewritist – the job title was still in flux). Handwriting was usually the only option and that can be easier to identify, even when printed in block letters.

If you still think our ancestors were overreacting, consider this: Try to name a single recent movie in which an anonymous e-mail, text or tweet inspired terror; by contrast, at the time there were countless short stories, plays and silent films where the plot was driven by the fear triggered by receiving anonymous letters.

“Died from the effects of inhaling gas with suicidal intent” was the verdict of the Coroner’s jury. Death was certain because Santa Rosa provided coal gas (more commonly known in that era as “town gas”) which was primarily hydrogen and methane with about 15 percent carbon monoxide. It was nasty stuff which killed quickly; reports of accidental deaths and suicides were regular items in the San Francisco Bay Area papers.

Mrs. Leppo had been depressed for months, the Coroner’s jury was told, but she grew more despondent in her last month or so, losing 30-35 pounds. The main causes of her despair were the letters – dozens, maybe as many as a hundred letters that kept arriving and arriving. She wouldn’t let her husband or anyone else see them and destroyed them after reading. All she revealed was she did not know who was sending them.

During the inquest the Coroner’s jury veered away from Mrs. Leppo to discuss the matter of the letters, and revealed the astonishing fact that other people around Santa Rosa were also receiving disturbing anonymous notes. The Press Democrat reported:

…There was a little side discussion as to a number of anonymous letters that have been sent to other people in this city from time to time and an opinion was ventured by jurymen and others that something should be done to ascertain the identity of the writers if possible…Dr. Bogle said he wished the jury or some authority would take up the matter of attempting to discover the author of the anonymous letters sent to Mrs. Leppo and to other people in the community.

Some of them were probably thinking of a story in the PD a few days earlier concerning a young man who was slashed with a razor in Santa Rosa by mysterious attackers. Questioned by police and reporters, he said he had recently received a “Black Hand Letter” warning him to get out of town.

It was never suggested that actual criminals were behind the attack on the young man – rather, the Press Democrat hinted broadly it came from somebody who didn’t like him dating a particular girl. “Black Hand letter” was just shorthand at the time for any anonymous threatening message. And sad to say, around that time it became something of an ugly fad in American culture to send such letters with the intent of causing fear or distress. Another example was made public a year before, when witnesses who testified against Dr. Burke in the attempted murder trial received envelopes with just a sulphur match inside, which was understood to be a death threat.

One might presume the suicide of Mrs. Leppo ended – or at least, slowed – the flow of anonymous letters passing through the Santa Rosa Post Office. But if anything, the volume of hateful, unsigned mail increased. The target this time was the co-owner of Santa Rosa’s high-end drygoods store, and this time not all of the attackers were anonymous. The Irene Club wanted an employee named Doris Lincoln fired because they believed she played a role in Mrs. Leppo’s suicide.

“Mrs. Lincoln is charged by the members of the Irene club with having been on too intimate terms with Frank Leppo, the husband of Mrs. Leppo,” the newspaper reported. “The relations existing between Mrs. Lincoln and Leppo, these women say, were of such a nature as to cause Mrs. Leppo long suffering and eventually to lead her to end her life…members of the club have taken it upon themselves to avenge her death by making life in Santa Rosa impossible for the woman whom they charge with the indirect responsibility for the tragedy.”

Under pressure from the club, the Rohrer & Einhorn clothing store fired Lincoln without cause. “[M]embers of the firm have admitted that the discharge was due solely to the demands of the members of the Irene club, from whom the firm draws much of its patronage,” the article continued. “Charles Rohrer and Joseph Einhorn, the members of the firm, were told that a boycott would be placed on their store if Mrs. Lincoln were allowed to remain, while several of their customers went so far as to ask to have their accounts closed…Numerous anonymous letters were added to the demands made upon Rohrer & Einhorn for Mrs. Lincoln’s discharge.”

Gentle Reader may have noticed that these last paragraphs do not identify whether the quotes came from the Press Democrat or Santa Rosa Republican. The answer is – neither. The story of the Irene club’s vendetta against Doris Lincoln appeared in the San Francisco Call, Chronicle, and likely other city papers as well. In the Call it was the featured front page story in the Dec. 5, 1911 Sunday edition, complete with the large portrait of Mrs. Lincoln shown at right.

The only mention of this mean-spirited business to appear in either Santa Rosa newspaper were portions of three oblique sentences in a Press Democrat article several days later (more about this below). There was never a mention of the Irene’s role in the “gossip” that dominated events in Santa Rosa during the weeks following Mrs. Leppo’s suicide. Anyone who only read the Santa Rosa papers wouldn’t have known what was going on it town. Of course, you can bet everybody knew about the alleged affair between Frank Leppo and Mrs. Lincoln (she was a widow with two children) and the campaign to drive her out of Santa Rosa.

For both hometown newspapers to completely ignore this story represents an extraordinary example of press censorship. Why did they blackout the news? It wasn’t fear of offending sensitive readers; both newspapers in that era routinely reported personal tragedy – including specifics of Mrs. Leppo’s death – in lurid detail. In the same weeks as these events, PD headlines announced a Napa minister had his head “crushed to a pulp” when his auto rolled over him, and a young man was “whirled to death” in a machinery accident.

No, the only possible reason for both papers to self-censor the story would have been to mollify the Irenes. It’s very likely the wives of both paper’s editor were members – or if not, they certainly ran in the same social circles.

Whether or not Frank Leppo was having a fling with Doris Lincoln is really the least part of our story – although it would be interesting to hear the Irenes explain why they weren’t dogging him with the zeal they pursued his supposed mistress. But at least the San Francisco paper gave him a chance to tell his side: He claimed he had danced with Lincoln twice, at an event three years before where he was floor manager. “Since that time I have had no peace,” he told the Call. Leppo, who was a partner in Leppo Realty with father, was introduced here earlier in a piece about Monte Cristo, the Russian River resort that he opened in 1910 and was an immediate hit because it offered live music for dancing.

The local papers also would have not liked to print what Mrs. Lincoln had to say about the matter. The SF Call gave her another front page story the following day where she delivered a blistering 900-word defense from her mother’s home in Berkeley. She insisted she was the “victim of a small town persecution” and “wagging tongues in idle hours caused the trouble.” She told the Call, “I tried to defend myself. I called personally on members of the Irene club to learn what they knew. In every case, when I pinned a woman down to the direct question of what she knew the reply was that she knew nothing as a matter of fact, but only what she had heard.” She told the Call she was soon returning to Santa Rosa to aggressively confront her accusers and clear her name.

The Leppo saga has a third act, but before continuing remember all these events were happening at the exact same time as the crazy drama described in the previous post, where a physician turned arsonist tried to burn down houses in Santa Rosa’s tenderloin district. Those were a wild and unsettling five weeks in the City of Roses.

Despite having achieved the firing and expulsion of Doris Lincoln, the chorus of whispering still did not quiet.

The new target was W. Thomas Hopper, assistant cashier (essentially, a bank’s day-to-day accountant) at the Santa Rosa Bank and the 29 year-old cousin of the late Mrs. Leppo. It was being said he wrote some of the anonymous letters she had received and also a letter sent to the Rohrer & Einhorn store urging the firing of Lincoln.

On learning he was the latest subject of gossip, the PD reported, he “appeared considerably annoyed that he should have been charged with something of which he declared himself innocent.” A meeting was called at the bank with bank officials, Frank Leppo’s attorney brother, and Mr. Einhorn. Hopper was surprised the only topic to be discussed was the anonymous letter sent to the store. Unlike the letters to Mrs. Leppo, it had not been destroyed. It also appeared to have been typed on the same stationery paper used by the bank.

The SF Call had earlier published the contents of the note: “For God’s sake, Joe, get next. Let that woman go or you will lose all your best trade.” Hopper was asked to use the bank’s typewriter to peck out the same message as it was being read to him. He misspelled “lose” as “loose” – the same mistake made by the writer of the anonymous note. The San Francisco newspaper had used the correct spelling in its article.

“When he went home to his lunch he told his wife of the meeting that morning and that he had been accused of writing the anonymous letter,” the Press Democrat reported. “He denied emphatically that he had done so. He was much exercised, and his wife sought to quiet him by telling him not to mind what was said, as it would prove that he had nothing to do with it.” Hopper returned to work but went home again in mid-afternoon and shot himself in the head.

His suicide was all the more poignant for his body being discovered by his nine year-old daughter and the mysterious note he left, now admitting he had written the letter to the store “but none other:”

Dearest Wife: Good-bye. I am no more. They have driven me to the last ditch. I wrote the Einhorn note but none other. I could vindicate myself for writing it if I could tell what I knew, but I can not tell for the sake of others who would suffer. I had to do it. Good-bye again.

The Press Democrat, which rarely covered local news on the front page, gave his death a banner headline. That was followed by a longer story the next day about the suicide note along with a defense of his honor written by his best friend, District Attorney Clarence Lea.

To explain all this the PD finally had to name Doris Lincoln and write about the smear campaign against her – even while being as vague as possible about why she was under attack (nor mentioning the Irenes as being the main grenade throwers). The San Francisco Call’s reporter asked a more interesting question: Now that Lincoln was back in Santa Rosa and determined to clear her name, did she have a run-in with Hopper? “Speculation is rife as to the probable connection between Mrs. Lincoln’s investigation and the bank employee’s tragic and sudden death.”

Defending Hopper, his friend explained he felt cornered: “Certain parties, including Frank Leppo, were accusing him of writing an anonymous letter to Mr. Einhorn and that if they could fix responsibility for that letter on him they would accuse him of writing the anonymous letter alleged to have been written Mrs. Belle Leppo.” District Attorney Lea emphasized several times “it is no crime to write an anonymous letter,” deftly ignoring the possibility both Doris Lincoln and Frank Leppo might have had solid grounds for a libel suit.

Hopper was, of course, another grandchild of 91 year-old Tom Hopper. Young Hopper went by his grandpa’s name, “Tom,” and worked at the bank his grandfather founded. It fell to Doctor Jesse this time to break the news to the old man that he had lost his favored grandson. “He told Dr. Jesse that ‘Tommy’ had not been well for over a week, and that he had driven him to his home at noon for several days just because he knew of his feeling badly,” the Press Democrat stated. Perhaps old Tom should be counted as another casualty of the gossip mill; when spring came around his phaeton was no longer seen at its usual spot by the courthouse. Maybe he was tired of the condolences, or maybe people avoided him, not knowing what to say to an old man who had lost two grandchildren to suicide within a month. He died in June, 1912 and more will be written about him later.

Here the story ends; nothing more about the tragedies appeared in any paper. No speculation about what Hopper could not “tell for the sake of others who would suffer.” No hint as to whether he was simply helping out the Irenes by using the bank’s typewriter to send an anonymous note or whether he was responsible for the lot of them. The sort of relationship he had with his cousin, Mrs. Leppo, was never discussed. There was also this question: How could the Irenes have been certain the anonymous letters were “warning her against Mrs. Lincoln” if Mrs. Leppo destroyed them and never discussed their contents?

But life went on. Rohrer & Einhorn kept its doors open, having weathered the boycott by offering weeks of custom fittings for expensive corsets (which were shown by “an expert demonstrator”). Frank Leppo married a woman named Nina a few years later. Doris Lincoln – who was actually a German immigrant, despite her patriotic name – remained unmarried. Hopper’s widow eventually wed a man named Klink who worked in railroad dining cars. The daughter who found her father’s body had a brief marriage to a man named John Wesley Seuis and waited tables in restaurants. None of them have any surviving direct descendants.

And the Irene Club continued its weekly meetings (they pronounced the name E-Re-Nay, for some reason). What they did, exactly, was never mentioned in the papers; the organization was founded in New York City during the 1880s as the “Working Girls’ Society” for the betterment of poor and uneducated women, but if the local chapter did any good works they were darn quiet about them. It was presumably just another of the dozens of women’s social clubs in Santa Rosa whose appeal was allowing a certain clique an excuse to get together and play cards and gossip. A few years earlier the Press Democrat’s society columnist wrote a pair of light-hearted essays about the Santa Rosa women’s clubs which read today as a far more amusing takedown of the scene than was probably originally intended.

It all started with such good intentions and all went so wrong so fast. The friend whom the Irenes were trying to support was dead by suicide, as was a young man with a princely future. Along the way they had been exposed by a San Francisco newspaper as a cabal of vigilantes, using threats to demand the firing of a single mother from a job which was her family’s sole support. Events provided the town’s progressive element with indisputable proof that Santa Rosa’s newspaper editors were quite willing to censor news that might embarrass their well-connected friends. It was an enigma; in Santa Rosa, whispers could not be silenced. Newspapers, however, were an easier task.

Says He Was Cut by Two Unknown Assailants

Hints of a “Black Hand” are mingled in a mysterious attack made upon Grover Heintz, a young man who recently came here from Washington state, on lower Fourth street shortly before ten o’clock on Wednesday night.

Heintz claims that two men, each wearing overalls and jumpers and each with a cap pulled far down over his face, suddenly jumped out upon him as he was walking past the electrical depot and before he could defend himself, he was slashed across the left side of the stomach with a razor. He threw up his hand, he says, and grasped the blade and was severely cut across the fingers and wrist. Then his assailants ran off and he hurried to the Mary Jesse Hospital where Dr. J. W. Jesse dressed his wounds. The gash across his stomach fortunately was not serious but had it been deeper it would have probably cost the young man his life. After the wound was dressed he left the hospital and went down to his apartment house room.

Got Warning Letter

Heintz said he received a “Black Hand Letter” (he calls it this) which was written by an unknown hand. It warned him to leave town and gave him two weeks in which to do so. The time limit expired last Friday he says but he is still here. Be believes that the writer of the letter, with probably an assistant, attacked him Wednesday night. He could only give the police a very meager description of his assailants.

“They wore overalls and jumpers and had caps pulled well down over their eyes. I have only been here a few weeks. My aunt lives her. I have no enemies as far as I know. I did not get out when the letter ordered me to. Why should I?” said he.

He recounted the details of the attack he says was made upon him near the electric depot to Officer Andrew Miller and the latter at once began an investigation.

There is something about the case that sayors [sic] of jealousy on the part of some one. It is said that Heintz has been paying attention to a young woman and she is said to have other friends who are enamored of her, too. He is loath to believe at present that there is anything like a girl in the case. The police believe that he has not told all he knows, but the investigation will proceed. It’s “dollars to doughnuts” that there is something back of the attack last night. The officers believe so.

About two weeks ago Officer Miller met a young woman walking along the street and weeping. He asked her if she was in trouble and she replied that a young man friend of hers had receive a “Black Hand letter” ordering him to leave town, and that was the cause of her grief. The plot thickens.

Young Heintz can thank his lucky stars that if the wounds were inflicted in the manner he says they were, that they were not more serious. Dr. Jesse says they might have been worse.

– Press Democrat, October 11, 1911
Chief of Police Boyes Satisfied Heintz Could Tell More About That Hold Up Array

After investigating the alleged affray on lower Fourth street in which Grover Heintz claimed to have been attacked and cut with a razor by two unknown men. Chief of Police John M. Boyes announced Saturday that he was quite satisfied Heintz had not thrown all the light he could on the matter. In other words, the Chief thinks that Heintz “knows more about it than he has let on.”

The Chief’s opinion is shared by other members of the department and is strengthened by side remarks that have been overheard coming from other directions. There is reason to believe, they say, that Heintz knows more about why he received those wounds on his stomach and hand than anyone else save the razor wielders; and the latter is saying nothing.

Police Officer Andrew Miller spent a considerable portion of Saturday working upon the case. He shares the opinion of his Chief that Heintz has not told it all.

– Press Democrat, October 15, 1911
Found Asphyxiated at Home Saturday Afternoon
Santa Rosa Profoundly Shocked at the News–Lies Down on Sofa With Book in Hand After Turning on the Gas

Santa Rosa was profoundly shocked on Saturday afternoon by the tragic death of Mrs. Minerva Belle Leppo, wife of O. Frank Leppo, a well known real estate broker. Mrs. Leppo committed suicide at the family residence at Fourth street and McDonald avenue by inhaling gas. Her lifeless body was found on a lounge in the kitchen, the head resting in close proximity to the gas cooking range from the four open burners of which the deadly fumes were still pouring.

She met death alone. After pushing the lounge into the kitchen from [?its usual] place in the hall Mrs. Leppo closed the doors and windows, turned on the gas and then laid down with a book in her hand to await the end. On the shelf of the store, indicating that when unconciousness came on, it had dropped from her grasp, the book–“The Winning of Barbara Worth”– was found open at page 236. She had been loaned the volume by her friend, Mrs. C. A. Wright on Thursday afternoon.

Medical aid was immediately summoned, all the human agencies known to medical science were used but to no avail. There was no response to the infusion of oxygen in the hope it might recussitate [sic] the heart action.

Discovery of Death

Frank Leppo left his home for his office shortly before eight o’clock Saturday morning. That was the last time he saw his wife alive. It seems that Mrs. Leppo was to come to her husband’s office during the day to acknowledge the assignment of a mortgage for $900 to be used in payment on a piece of property in Alaska from Sarah H. Perkins. As Mr. Leppo telephoned to the residence of his brother, Dr. Harry Leppo, and asked Mrs. Leppo to send Harrison Leppo to his home and to tell his wife to come down for the purpose stated there being no phone in the Frank Leppo residence. The boy went to the house, but failed to get any response to his alarm at the door, and so went home and told his mother. This was a few minutes after two o’clock Saturday afternoon, and then Mrs. Harry Leppo went herself. She found the front door locked and when she reached the back porch the strong odor of escaping gas alarmed her. She returned immediately to her residence, only a short block away, and summoned Frank Leppo over the telephone, also calling her brother-in-law, Attorney J. Rollo Leppo.

Death Chamber Entered

In a few moments Frank Leppo had arrived in his automobile and opened the front door with his pass key. He immediately detected the strong order of escaping gas. Mrs. T. R. Woodard and Mrs. W. E. Potter, on their way to attend a club meeting, were standing on the corner, waiting for the car, and Mr. Leppo appealed to them to enter the house with him as he feared something was wrong. They complied and together they all entered the house.

The kitchen door was closed tight, and when Mr. Leppo opened it the body of his wife was found as already described.

Dr. S. S. Bogle rushed to the Leppo residence in his automobile. Charles A. Wright, who was passing in his automobile, was hailed by a lady friend of the Leppo’s and turned and hurried to the Catherine Sanitarium further down the avenue and returned back with a trained nurse from that institution.

Dr. Bogle adopted heroic measures to restore animation and pumped oxygen into the lungs. The body was also talken into the open air on the porch. But it was too late. In the opinion of the physician Mrs. Leppo had been dead for some time before he arrived.

Mrs. E. F. Woodward, Mrs. W. A. Finley, Mrs. Harry Leppo, Mrs. J. H. Einhorn and other woman friends of the deceased soon arrived and later the news spread there were many other callers with proffers of any assistance. The fumes of gas in the room were so suffocating that it took some time to get the atmposphere clear, even after the windows had been thrown up.

Mrs. Leppo Despondent

Domestic unhappiness and accompanying ill health attendant thereon are said to have been the cause of the rash act. Many women friends of the deceased, in whom she confided, had known of her unhappiness for some time. From several of them it was ascertained Saturday afternoon that she had threatened to end her life in the manner in which she did.

She said upon a recent occasion to a woman friend: “If I were to commit suicide I would go into the bathroom and turn on the gas,” or words to that effect.

Other friends Saturday vouchsafed the information that the tragedy of the afternoon was but the realization of fears they had entertained for some time. To them Mrs. Leppo had on several occasions told of her unhappiness.

She said she supposed she was foolish to worry as she did, but she could not help it.

Death a Sad Shock

The news of Mrs. Leppo’s death sped quickly through the city and county, and on all hands were heard expressions of sincere regret. She was a kind, big-hearted woman, generous to a fault, who made firm friends and remained true to them in adversity. She was always willing to contribute to charitable affairs. The members of the Irene Club testify tenderly to the generous assistance she gave their enterprises in behalf of sweet charity. She belong to the Irene Club for many years, as well as to other club organizations in this city. As late as Friday afternoon Mrs. Leppo was down town. She spent that afternoon at the home of a lady friend. She appeared cheery. When Paul T. Hahman passed the Leppo residence shortly before eight o’clock on Saturday morning he noticed Mrs. Leppo at the parlor window and she waved “good morning” at him.

Coroner’s Jury Views Remains

…The jurors viewed the remains and inspect the kitchen and had the position in which the body was found explained to them. The inquest then adjourned until ten o’clock on Monday morning at H. H. Moke’s undertaking apartments on Fourth street. The Acting Coroner gave permission for the funeral arrangements to proceed, but definite plans were not made Saturday night.

A Favorite Granddaughter

Mrs. Leppo was a little over thirty years of age and was married to Frank Leppo in this city a number of years ago. Her father resides in Potter Valley, Mendocino county. Thomas H. Spottswood is her brother and the family connection is a very large one in this county and section of the state. Mrs. Leppo was the favorite granddaughter of Thomas Hopper, the well known pioneer and former President of the Santa Rosa Bank. She was fond of him, too, and on many occasions Mr. Hopper has been heard to speak very affectionately of her and of the attention she showed him from time to time. He gave her considerable property years ago, and at different times as a token of his regard. Mr. Hopper was sitting in his buggy down town at the time the shocking news of his granddaughter’s death was first told. Fearing that the shock might be too much for the old gentleman to bear John L. Walker got into the buggy with him and suggested that as it was getting cold he would ride home with him. Mr. Hopper feels the death very acutely. Another regrettable incident in connection with Mrs. Leppo’s death at this time is the fact that Mr. Leppo’s father is seriously ill at his home on Third street.

– Press Democrat, October 22, 1911
Inquest on Remains of Mrs. O. Frank Leppo Monday Morning

Anonymous letters played an important part in the death of Mrs. O. Frank Leppo, according to testimony given at the inquest held by Acting Coroner A. J. Atchinson on Monday morning.

Mr. Leppo stated that recently his wife had been decidedly despondent because of the receipt  of these communications which had been coming to her for six months or more, and that his wife stated to him that she had received something like a hundred of these communications.

Dr. S. S. Bogle, testifying before the jury, stated that he knew of the receipt of these letters from being told of them by friends of the deceased and gave his opinion that they undoubtedly caused her despondency and had been almost directly responsible for her death. Without them, the physician stated, Mrs. Leppo would have nerver reached the stage of despondency where she would have become desperate.

O. Frank Leppo, husband of the deceased, was the first witness, and he testified to his departure from home Saturday morning, with his wife in a despondent mood, but he had never dreamed that she contemplated any rash act. He narrated having endeavored to reach her through the telephone at Dr. Harry Leppo’s residence, to have her sign some papers to which her signature was necessary, and how he had learned of the odor of gas and gone home to investigate. He described the conditions which prevailed when he entered the gas filled apartment where his wife’s remains were found and the efforts to resuscitate her.

Continuing his testimony the husband stated that frequently his wife had said when despondent: “I wish I was dead,” but he had never heard her make any threats of taking her life. During the last month Mrs. Leppo had been ill and lost considerable weight and had become acutely nervous.

Mr. Leppo stated that he had never seen any of the anonymous letters his wife had received, as she always destroyed the letters immediately after receiving them. They greatly disturbed her peace of mind at all times. Mrs. Leppo said that she had no use for any one who would stoop so low as to write an anonymous letter, and had no confidence in any statements contained in such epistles, but she seemed unable to throw off the despondency which their receipt occasioned.

Mrs. W. R. Potter and Miss Bertha Yost, who were at the Leppo residence just after O. Frank Leppo entered the place, testified to what they had done to bring back the vital spark.

Dr. Bogle told the jury that Mrs. Leppo had been dead at least two hours when found, according to scientific deductions. He gave the jury an account of how he had endeavored to restore life through artificial respiration and with the use of oxygen. Dr. Bogle stated that death would come to a person in the small kitchen where Mrs. Leppo’s body was found with the gas turned on, in ten minutes’ time, and that there would be no struggle.


The verdict returned was that the deceased came to her death from inhalation of illuminating gas with suicidal intent.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 23, 1911
Verdict Is Given in Accordance with the Testimony

“Died from the effects of inhaling gas with suicidal intent.”

Such was the verdict of the Coroner’s jury at the inquest held touching the sad death of Mrs. Minerva Belle Leppo, wife of Frank Leppo…

…O. Frank Leppo was the first witness…he left the house shortly before 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, going down a little earlier than usual, having a business engagement with a Sonoma man. It had been understood, he said, that his wife would come down to the office of the Leppo Realty Company some time during the day to sign a document dealing with some property on Davis street belonging to Mrs. Perkins.

About 12:30 or 1 o’clock, he count not be positive as to the exact time, he said he telephoned the residence of his brother, Dr. Harry Leppo, and asked Mrs. Leppo to send Harrison Leppo to his home to tell his wife to come down to the office and sign the paper referred to…

…Mr. Leppo testified that he had never heard his wife threaten to commit suicide, and he never dreamed that she would do so, he said.

“At different times for years I heard my wife say “I wish I was dead” but she said it in a general way…I paid little attention to them.”

The witness was asked whether he knew any reason for the despondency from which his wife suffered. In reply he stated that she had received a number of anonymous letters that seemed to make her very unhappy. She would not tell him what the letters were about, he said. During the past month or two, the witness related, Mrs. Leppo had been taking treatments from Dr. A. Meg. Stuart. She had become very nervous and during the last month or so of her life she had lost between thirty and thirty-five pounds of flesh. There was no mistaking the fact, Mr. Leppo said, that Mrs. Leppo was very nervous.

Justice Atchinson, the acting coroner, asked Mr. Leppo as to the nature of the anonymous letters sent his wife. He replied that he did not know anything about them as far as seeing them was concerned, as his wife told him she always destroyed them and had no confidence in them.

“She said she did not place any confidence in the letters and have no use for anyone who writes anonymous letters. She did not tell me how many letters she received, but she might have received a hundred or fifty letters….

…There was a little side discussion as to a number of anonymous letters that have been sent to other people in this city from time to time and an opinion was ventured by jurymen and others that something should be done to ascertain the identity of the writers if possible…

…Dr. Bogle said he wished the jury or some authority would take up the matter of attempting to discover the author of the anonymous letters sent to Mrs. Leppo and to other people in the community. He said there was no doubt in his mind, from what he had been informed by friends of the dead woman, that the anonymous letters were the main cause of Mrs. Leppo’s despondency and the worry attendant upon ill health…

–  Press Democrat, October 24, 1911

Owing to the death of Mrs. Frank O. Leppo, the Irene Club,of which she was a prominent member, will not meet this week. Strange to say, Mrs. Leppo had planned to have the meeting scheduled for Wednesday next, saying to the President, Mrs. Charles D. Barnett, “I will [? illegible microfilm] if I am here.” The club members attended the funeral of Mrs. Leppo Monday and complied with a request she made some time ago when she said: “When I die, girls, I want flowers–just loads. Cover me up with them.” So when all that was mortal of her had been lowered into the grave, one by one the Irene Club members gently threw in to the coffin wreaths of La France roses and [?]. In truth, they covered her with the flowers she loved.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, October 29, 1911
Clubwomen Blame Intrigue for Suicide
Frank Leppo of Santa Rosa Declares Rumors and Attacks Unfounded
Discharge of Employee Due to Anonymous Letters and Requests

SANTA ROSA, Nov. 4.–Charged with being one of the principals in an intrigue that resulted indirectly in the suicide of Mrs. Frank Leppo, a well known society woman of this city, on the morning of Saturday, October 21. Mrs. Doris Lincoln, a beautiful widow of about 35 years, possessing the utmost grace and personal charm, has been discharged from a position which she held here for three years, has been ostracized and socially and practically driven out of Santa Rosa.

Mrs. Lincoln’s accusers, who also constitute themselves her judges, are the women of the Irene club, the most exclusive woman’s organization in Santa Rosa. It was directly due to their threat of boycotting Mrs. Lincoln’s employers that the latter was discharged from her position, and behind their action in demanding her dismissal are whispered accusations that have stirred Santa Rosa society to its depths.

Leppo’s Denials Indignant

Mrs. Lincoln is charged by the members of the Irene club with having been on too intimate terms with Frank Leppo, the husband of Mrs. Doris Leppo [sic]. The relations existing between Mrs. Lincoln and Leppo, these women say, were of such a nature as to cause Mrs. Leppo long suffering and eventually to lead her to end her life. Mrs. Leppo was a prominent leader in Santa Rosa social life and an active member of the Irene club. The other members of the club have taken it upon themselves to avenge her death by making life in Santa Rosa impossible for the woman whom they charge with the indirect responsibility for the tragedy.

Leppo has made indignant and repeated denial of the whisperings which have linked his name with that of Mrs. Lincoln, and declares that the assertions which have been made against them both are without foundation. Yet Leppo’s denials have not deterred the members of the Irene club from carrying out their purpose and Mrs. Lincoln has left the town.

Discharge Due to Women

For three years Mrs. Lincoln has been employed as a saleswoman by the drygoods firm of Rohrer & Einhorn, but within the last few days has lost her position, and the members of the firm have admitted that he discharge was due solely to the demands of the members of the Irene club, from whom the firm draws much of its patronage. Charles Rohrer and Joseph Einhorn, the members of the firm, were told that a boycott would be placed on their store if Mrs. Lincoln were allowed to remain, while several of their customers went so far as to ask to have their accounts closed.

Not only did the members of the Irene club approach Mrs. Lincoln’s employers, but some of the most intimate friends and relatives of Mrs. Leppo advised Mrs. Lincoln personally that it would be best for every body concerned if she were to leave Santa Rosa permanently.

Numerous anonymous letters were added to the demands made upon Rohrer & Einhorn for Mrs. Lincoln’s discharge. Most of these predicted business ruin for Mrs. Lincoln’s employers unless she were forced to leave. One of the notes, typewritten and addressed to Joseph Einhorn, read:

“For God’s sake, Joe, get next! Let that woman go, or you will lose all your best trade.”

Mrs. Leppo was a charter member of the Irene club, and although the organization has taken no official action in the matter, which has stirred all of Santa Rosa, the protest of individual members has been general. At its last meeting, however, the club adjourned out of respect to Mrs. Leppo’s memory and for the purpose of permitting its members to visit Mrs. Leppo’s grave at Petaluma and cover it with flowers.

Husband Alleges Jealousy

Leppo’s version of his wife’s death is different from that given by the members of the Irene club. He declares that his wife was insanely jealous of him and suspected things that were without foundation. He says that he first met Mrs. Lincoln about three years ago at a dance, where he was floor manager, danced with her once early in the evening and again, later, when a “grab” dance was called for and he happened to be standing near her.

Their friendship, he says, never went beyond this nor at any time overstepped the bounds of propriety, yet he asserts that from the time of that dance. Mrs. Leppo became suspicious of all his actions and made false accusations against him.

Mrs. Leppo’s friends, on the contrary, declare that Leppo’s actions with Mrs. Lincoln have been notorious and say that Mrs. Lincoln made many of her women friends her confidants long before her death and many times told them she would end her life because of the affair.


Mrs. Leppo told Mrs. Newton Cook, her cousin by marriage, that she knew of the relations between her husband and Mrs. Lincoln and that she had followed them and secured positive proof to substantiate her assertions. She also told some of her friends that Mrs. Lincoln was in a San Francisco hospital last May and that Leppo went to San Francisco and called upon her repeatedly while she was ill.

Leppo denies all these charges, together with the general accusations made against him. One of the things upon which Mrs. Lincoln’s accusers have relied to strengthen their suspicions is the fact that Mrs. Lincoln had a lot in the Monte Cristo tract on the Russian river, which is a part of a resort owned by Leppo. They refer to her many visits to Monte Cristo, but Leppo says that she secured the lot by purchase from his father and paid for it in installments. Mrs. Lincoln has two children living at Fulton in the direction of Monte Cristo, and many of her visits, Leppo says, have been to see them.


Members of the Irene club say that Mrs. Leppo received 30 or more anonymous letters during the last year, warning her against Mrs. Lincoln. They also say that, while she had large property holdings at the time of her marriage to Leppo, these were dissipated by the latter. Leppo denies this, saying that her estate was larger at the time of her death than when they were married. Since her death he has filed a will which she drew at the time of her marriage, leaving her entire estate to him.

The Leppos were married in 1900. Prior to that time Mrs. Leppo [was] Miss Belle Spottswood. She was a granddaughter of Thomas Hopper, one of the wealthiest men in northern California. Leppo is well known as a real estate man. He is a brother of J. Rollo Leppo, an attorney, and Dr. Henry Leppo, who married Miss Clara McNear, daughter of George P. McNear of Petaluma.


Since her discharge from the store where she was employed Mrs. Lincoln has been in Santa Rosa until today, but she left this afternoon for Berkeley, where she is staying with relatives. She is said to have told her acquaintances here that she would return Monday and that she expected to make her future home here.


Referring to the charges that have been made, Leppo said today:

“Mrs. Lincoln is innocent of any wrong. I have known her for three years, but have never met her but a few times. We were introduced at a dance. I was floor manager and danced with her twice. One of the dances was a ‘grab dance.’ Since that time I have had no peace.”

– San Francisco Call, November 5, 1911
Mrs. Doris Lincoln Says She Will Return to Santa Rosa and Live There
“Small Town Gossip” Caused Tragedy and Her Discharge, Charges Widow
Lawyer Consulted and Action Against Club Members Is Discussed

Berkeley, Nov. 5–Mrs. Doris Lincoln…is a widow with two children to support. Her husband died eight years ago, and four years ago she went to Santa Rosa, getting employment with Rohrer & Einhorn. She lived there until the storm broke and she was dismissed from the store on the demand of the members of the Irene club, to which Mrs. Leppo had belonged.

Deprived of her means of livelihood by what she calls persecution, Mrs. Lincoln’s attitude is one of indignant defiance.

“I will not run away from them, for I am guilty of nothing and have no consequences to fear,” she declared today at her mother’s home. “I expect to return to Santa Rosa and to live down the accusations made against me.”

Her Version Told

“My husband died eight years ago, and I went to Santa Rosa four years ago to get work, that I might support my two children. I am dependent on what I earn.

“In Santa Rosa I became acquainted with all the principals in this affair. It is one of those occurrences that can happen only in a small town, where gossip, however idle, is easily carried on. I met Mr. Leppo only in a social way a few times. I was introduced to him at dances and parties, and our acquaintance was only casual. Charges or suggestions of more intimacy than that are false and malicious.

“About two weeks ago I learned for the first time that I was being the victim of gossip and of anonymous letters to Mrs. Leppo and to my employers, which linked my name with Mr. Leppo’s  and demanded my dismissal from the place where I was earning my living.

“I tried to defend myself. I called personally on members of the Irene club to learn what they knew. In every case, when I pinned a woman down to the direct question of what she knew the reply was that she knew nothing as a matter of fact, but only what she had heard. And I believe it was on such hearsay proof that I was made the victim of a small town persecution and was discharged from the employment on which my bread and that of my children depended.

Unsigned Letters Sent

“M. Einhorn was receiving anonymous letters for some time before I knew a thing about it. Trying to defend my reputation, I asked him what made me personally objectionable, and he answered, ‘nothing.’

“‘I could not say anything against you if I wanted to,’ he said.

“I blame him for the extend to which the affair has gone. I know he was protecting his business, but I think he should have paid some regard to principle. If he were as good a friend of Mrs. Leppo and of the others as it seemed, why did he not tell me something about the anonymous letters when he first got them? Why did not he or somebody let me know in time, if it were true, that Mrs. Leppo thought her husband was infatuated with me?

“If she had asked, I would willingly have left town rather than be suspected of improper relations with her husband. But I knew nothing of such rumors until she had ended her life and the attacks were being made on me by gossiping tongues and anonymous letters.

“Now it is too late. The woman is dead and those who by saying a word might have prevented such a thing are injuring my character by these charges. I feel helpless, but I will not be driven out. Though I would have left Santa Rosa months ago rather than be subject to suspicion, I will not leave now and give an impression of truth to the charges. My reputation demands that I fact the future right in Santa Rosa and live down the charges.

Search Is Vain

“But the fight is only made the harder by the difficulty of finding the base for the rumors and the slanders. Nobody whom I interviewed could give  me proof of my guilt, or even good grounds for suspecting me, and with rumors so baseless floating one does not know how to defend one’s self.

“What was the motive for such stories, if they are untrue? The only one I can give is small town jealousy. I went to Santa Rosa to work, but I was received in the best homes. I have been a guest at many affairs and entertained at times by the best people. The result was a kind of jealousy. People talked and wagging tongues in idle hours caused the trouble.

“Some of the charges are absurd. All are untrue. It is said that Mr. Leppo had flowers sent to me when I was in a hospital–that he had a standing order at a certain store. I do not know if that be true or not. I can say merely  that I think it foolish. Mr. Leppo never made me a present of any kind, for we were never even close friends. Another charge is that he gave me property at Monte Cristo. That is absurd. I bought some property from Mr. Leppo’s parents through one of my friends. I have the receipts and can produce them. Mr. Leppo had nothing to do with the transaction and I knew his parents much better than I knew him.

Action is Problematical

“I am here now to confer with my mother and seek legal advice. I do not know if I will go into court; I cannot now see the good of it. My mother advised me to do just what I intended, which is to remain in Santa Rosa until my reputation has been vindicated. For I believe those who have been most bitter will at last come to see the absurdity and the cruelty of their charges. They did not stop to think that they were injuring somebody’s reputation, perhaps forever.

“Of course Mr. Leppo denied the charges. He could do nothing else. A man can’t admit what isn’t true. I believe that the lies which lost me my position and may turn away my friends caused Mrs. Leppo’s death. I believe what doctors in Santa Rosa have told me–that anonymous letters murdered her–made her take her own life. Her health was poor and the letters drove her to her act.”

– San Francisco Call, November 6, 1911

Sting of Accusations That He Might Be Anonymous Letter Writer Said to Have Been Reason for Self-Destruction
Well Known Young Bank Cashier Sends Bullet Into His Brain in the Yard of His Home–Writes Farewell note to Wife–Little Daughter Finds Body

Santa Rosa was [?profoundly] stirred yesterday afternoon when the news spread that William Thomas Hopper, the well-known assistant cashier of the Santa Rosa Bank and a son of Wesley T. Hopper, had committed suicide by shooting himself through the head. The suicide occurred in the back yard of the Hopper residence on Olive street in Ludwig’s additions, death being almost instantaneous.

The unexpected tragedy became all the more startling when it flashed upon the public mind that Mr. Hopper was an own cousin [sic] of the late Mrs. Frank Leppo, who committed suicide three weeks ago at her home in this city by turning on the gas, and that she and young Hopper were favorite grandchildren of Thomas Hopper, the well-known pioneer and former president of the Santa Rosa Bank.

Another startling link connecting the two tragedies developed as a result of investigation later in the evening, when the fact was brought out that young “Tom” Hopper, as he was familiarly known, went to his death as the result of the suspicion and charge.–unfounded, as he claimed–that he had written certain of the alleged anonymous letter mentioned prior to and after the death of Mrs. Leppo.

Unable to bear the sting of the implied accusation charging him with having written one of these letters, which charge he had earlier in the day vehemently resented, young Hopper sought the seclusion of his home, and there put a bullet through his brain, leaving a note to say that he could not stand up under such an unholy suspicion.

Child Finds Body

Smiling and apparently as blithe as ever, the young man left the bank at the close of business hours yesterday afternoon shortly after three o’clock. There is no reading what is wrapt up [sic] in the human heart, and his companions in the counting house little dreamed what he had in contemplation as he walked briskly out of the institution with which he had been connected for some ten years.

On his way to his home on Olive street he transacted some business. Upon arrival at his home he greeted his little nine-year-old daughter Portia with a kiss and then asked her to take a note to Mrs. Hopper at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lynchberg Adams, where she usually spent some time each day. The child ran off merrily to do her father’s bidding. Mrs. Hopper chanced to be out walking with her sister at the time, and so Mrs. Adams, thinking that possibly something [?important] she opened the note. When she read the opening words, “Dear wife, ‘goodbye.'”—- she at once surmised something was wrong and without reading further she at once started for the Hopper residence. Her little granddaughter Portia, in childish glee outran her grandmother and arrived first at the cosy little home. The child ran into the yard and there saw her father lying in a pool of blood. Her cries startled the girl’s grandmother as she hurried faster to the scene.

Mrs. Adams at once summoned aid. Mrs. Samuel J. Gilliam, who chanced to be riding by and at Mrs. Adams’ request he summoned medical assistance. A man coming along was asked to call Lynchberg Adams and did so. Dr. James W. Clark and Dr. Jackson Temple quickly responded to the call sent them, and Dr. J. W. Jesse came shortly afterward. The physicians could do nothing. Death had arrived before them, coming instantly with the crashing of the bullet through the head. In order to make the aim more certain the young man had hung up a small mirror at the rear of the house and took aim with its assistance.

Describes the Scene

Mrs. Lynchberg Adams, in speaking of the tragedy last night, said:

“It was shortly before 4 o’clock when my granddaughter, Portia, came over and calling me said, ‘Here grandma, is a note papa wrote to mamma.’

“I was at the next door neighbor’s and came over home to get the note. Portia started running home on handing the note to me and I opened it. The first words startled me as they read:

“Dear wife; goodbye.”

“I did not read further, but instinctively knew that something was wrong. Realizing that Portia was returning home alone, I ran after her. As I entered the back yard I heard Portia crying with each breath:

“Oh, Papa! Papa! Papa!

“Rushing to the back of the house I saw Tom lying on his face with blood about his head. I screamed for help and tried to do something for the boy. Mrs. Gilliam was passing through the alley on horseback, and hearing me, asked what was wrong. I told her to called a physician, as Tom had killed himself.

“I turned Tom over and saw the revolver lying on the ground and the bullet holes in his temple. I wiped the blood off his face and tried to give hims some water as he appeared to be breathing slightly. I then ran out and asked some one who was passing to let Berg, my husband, know Tom had shot himself, and called to a neighbor to telephone for physicians.

“Mrs. Hopper and her sister with the baby and Mrs. Warboys were just entering our house when the man I had sent for Berg arrived there. Mrs. Hopper was going to stop for a little while before going home but the man told her to go home as Tom was hurt. She and her sister ran over immediately, and were just coming into the yar when Dr. Clark and Dr. Temple arrived. They took Mary into the house, while Mattie came and took me in. The physician then went to Tom but he was dead. Dr. and Mrs. Jesse arrived about this time and every one seemed to come at once.”

The Inquest Held

Deputy Sheriff Don McIntosh, who resides on Davis street almost in the rear of the Hopper home, was informed by his wife, and took charge of the place pending the arrival of Coroner Blackburn was summoned from Petaluma. He also summoned half a dozen men to serve as a Coroner’s jury and when Mr. Blackburn arrived on the six o’clock train the inquest was held at once, with the following as jurors…The facts were related concerning the discovery of the body and the jury of which Mr. Rushmore was foreman, returned a verdict that the deceased came to his death as the result of a self-inflicted revolver wound.

As intimated the young bank cashier went to his death under the sting of suspicion which he maintained was misplaced, implied accusations that he had written certain of the anonymous letters to the later Mrs. Leppo, which letters had connected her husband’s name with that of another woman and further that he had written a particular letter to the firm where the woman was employed, suggesting that her employers “get onto themselves for God’s sake and let her go” or else they might “lose their trade.”

As is well known, since the death of Mrs. Leppo considerable publicity has been given the alleged anonymous letter-writing referred to and the woman whose name had been prominently mentioned in connectioned with the same, and others representing Mr. Leppo have been conducting an investigation.

It seems that several days ago the deceased heard whispered gossip that he had been mentioned as one who might have written some of the letters to Mrs. Leppo. He kept his counsel until Monday, when he told one of his associates in the bank that he was not only suspected of having written some of the letters to Mrs. Leppo, but also of being the person suggesting to Joseph H. Einhorn that Mrs. Doris Lincoln should be dismissed from his firm’s employment. He announced then his determination of going to see Attorney J. Rollo Leppo, brother of Frank Leppo, at once and appeared considerably annoyed that he should have been charged with something of which he declared himself innocent.

It is said that the anonymous letter sent to Mr. Einhorn was written on a piece of paper something like that used in the bank with a typewriter similar to the one in the banking institution.

Conference Held Yesterday

Young Hopper was considerably worried yesterday morning, and after he had talked with bank officials it was decided that the matter should be cleared up one way or another, inasmuch as Mr. Hopper had expressed himself as desiring an interview with Attorney Leppo as the representative of his brother, Frank Leppo.

At the conference there were present President W. D. Reynolds and Cashier Frank M. Burris of the Santa Rosa Bank, Cashier Jesse Burris of the Sonoma Valley Bank, Attorney Rollo Leppo, Mr. Hopper and Joseph H. Einhorn. The matter discussed was the letter already mentioned received by Mr. Einhorn. While Attorney Leppo did not, according to statements made last night by some of those present at the conference in the bank, make a direct accusation that Hopper wrote the letter in question, sufficient was said to make it plain to Hopper that he was strongly suspected. For when he went home to his lunch he told his wife of the meeting that morning and that he had been accused of writing the anonymous letter. He denied emphatically that he had done so. He was much exercised, and his wife sought to quiet him by telling him not to mind what was said, as it would prove that he had nothing to do with it. After lunch he returned to work at the bank as usual.

A Competent Man

The deceased had been an employee at the bank for many years, and was held in the highest regard by the officials and his fellow employees. He was an expert accountant and was industrious at all times and always did his work well. He married Miss Marie Adams about ten years ago in this city. She and her little daughter are prostrated with grief. Mrs. Hopper’s condition last night was considered very serious, and Dr. Clark was constantly in attendance. The shock was a terrible one for her. She could not be questioned concerning the exact contents of her husband’s farewell missive but it is understood to have stated that he could not bear the sting of the accusation that he had written the anonymous letters to the firm, or any others, and asked his wife’s forgiveness for his acts of self-destruction.

Mr. Hopper had not been in the best of health of late, and several days ago was quite seriously indisposed. Only Monday he wrote to a relative, George Ott, of Petaluma, and told him that he was not feeling well, but never mentioned anything about the suspicion that had been directed towards him. He was of a nervous temperament and friends stated last night that even a suspicion of wrong-doing, if misplaced, would have worried him greatly.

The deceased’s father and other relatives were greatly shocked at the sudden end of one whom they thought much. With Mrs. Hopper and her little daughter and the other members of the family everybody joins in sincerest sympathy. Among the close friends of Mr. and Mrs. Hopper, who were early callers at the scene of death were District Attorney and Mrs. Clarence F. Lea. Mr. and Mrs. Lea and Mr. and Mrs. Hopper motored through the Yosemite together and made other trips during the summer.

The funeral arrangements were not made last night, but will probably be made today.

Bank Officials Meet

The shocking death of Mr. Hopper was a stumping blow for his bank associates. President W. D. Reynolds was much affected and stated last night that he and other officials and attaches of the bank felt the death of Mr. Hopper very keenly. His accounts were kept strictly up to date, and everything was straight as a string as far as his business relations with the bank were concerned. Mr. Hopper carried an insurance for $6,000 in the Banker’s Life Insurance Company in favor of his wife. He was also under bonds to the bank, a well-know surety company being his sponsor.

– Press Democrat, November 15, 1911
Reason for His Rash Act Disclosed by Letter

“Dearest Wife: Good-bye. I am no more. They have driven me to the last ditch. I wrote the Einhorn note but none other. I could vindicate myself for writing it if I could tell what I knew, but I can not tell for the sake of others who would suffer. I had to do it. Good-bye again.”

This was William Thomas Hopper’s farewell to his wife mentioned in the Press Democrat Wednesday morning as having been carried by little Portia Hopper at her father’s request to the home of her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Lynchberg Adams. Just before he fired the fatal shot that send his soul into the presence of its Maker.

Here is a copy of the anonymous letter that Hopper’s last note states he wrote Joseph H. Einhorn, of the firm of Rohrer, Einhorn & Co., advising the dismissal of Mrs. Doris Lincoln from the firm’s employ. No names are mentioned, but gossip following the death of Mrs. Frank Leppo had [? connected the name?] of Mrs. Lincoln with that of Frank Leppo, and it is generally understood that Mrs. Lincoln was the woman that the writer had in mind.

“For God’s sake, Joe, get next. Let that woman go or you will loose [sic] all your best trade.

“A true friend to you and your business.”

It will be seen from the last words written by Tom Hopper that he denied having written any of the anonymous letters claimed to have been received by Mrs. Leppo. At the conference at the Santa Rosa bank on Tuesday morning referred to at length in Wednesday morning’s paper, the Einhorn letter only was discussed. Prior to the conference Mr. Hopper had stated that he had been accused of having written certain other letters to Mrs. Leppo and it seemed to be his impression at the outset of the conference that the investigation included letters addressed to her.

In view of its trivial character, much speculation has been occasioned by the fact that young Hopper appears to have taken his life as a result of being suspected of writing the so-called “Einhorn letter.” It consisted of two or three lines written on a typewriter, no names were mentioned, and the communication is anything but criminal in its nature. Nobody could be prosecuted under the law for having written such a communication.

Vindication Only Wanted

Speaking of the conference held in the bank Tuesday morning Attorney J. R. Leppo stated Wednesday that he was asked to attend it, and when he learned that Tom Hopper wanted to see him, he went. Prior to this meeting the investigation previously made had led to the suspicion that the young assistant cashier had written the note to Mr. Einhorn. Mr. Leppo stated that he had a distinct understanding that if it developed that Tom Hopper had written the letter, all that was wanted was a vindication and there would be no further action on account of his (attorney Leppo’s) friendship for young Hopper’s father Wesley T. Hopper. Mr. Leppo says he stated at the conference that there was no intention of pressing any criminal prosecution if any could have been maintained against the young man. But Hopper denied having written the letter. At the conclusion of the meeting Tuesday morning, Tom Hopper told Mr. Leppo in the presence of others that he did not blame him for the part he had taken in the endeavor to ascertain the authorship of the anonymous letter.

Tuesday morning at the request of Attorney Leppo, Hopper wrote from dictation on the typewriter he had been accused [? of using to write the ?] letter sent Mr. Einhorn. In the original the word “lose” had been spelt [sic] “loose.” In the letter he wrote from dictation Hopper spelt the word “loose.”

Widespread Sympathy

The sad and unexpected death of young Hopper has created widespread sympathy in this community and elsewhere for the young wife and child who are left behind. He was a young man who was well thought of and many of his friends were offering their sincere condolences and any assistance they could rendered to those bereaved. It was a terrible shock to everybody.

News Broken to Grandfather

To Dr. J. W. Jesse was given the task on Wednesday morning of breaking the news of the terrible happening to the deceased’s grandfather, the venerable pioneer. Thomas Hopper. The doctor broke the news as gently as possible and the result was most pathetic. The old gentleman was deeply interested at all things in the welfare of this particular grandson. He told Dr. Jesse that “Tommy” had not been well for over a week, and that he had driven him to his home at noon for several days just because he knew of his feeling badly. Tuesday noon he was not able to do so and now he regrets he did not see “Tommy” then. “If I had,” he said, “he would never have done what he did.”

Revolver Purchased Tuesday

It was ascertained Wednesday that the young man bought the revolver with which he ended his life at Dan Behmer’s gunstore. He went in the direction of home immediately after the purchase. It is also known that he came back up town again, but his object in so doing is only a matter of conjecture. He evidently had the revolver with him at the time.


– Press Democrat, November 16, 1911

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