In my recent foray into the federal archives, I began to notice that the reference info on many of the most interesting photos indicated they came from San Francisco. Many of these San Francisco images were tagged “glamour photographs”: an irresistible combination!

I’m excited to share my findings here, but first I need to issue a warning that you may need to adjust your ideas around what glamour is. In some cases, what qualified as glamorous and exciting in 1900, may not be enough to land you in the next issue of Vogue in 2019. Also, Victorian San Francisco was a little less sensitive to language, as evidenced by some of the photograph titles.


Now, let’s take a look at these glamorous San Francisco residents! First, we’ll look at the telephone photographs. Continually changing technology is a feature of our modern existence, and an iPhone 4 is practically an antique. It may be difficult to understand what could motivate someone to pull out their Sunday best and have a formal, professional photograph made as they pose with a telephone.

But if we put it in context, it’s more comprehensible. In 1900, the telephone represented a huge leap in technology. The last major comparable invention was the telegraph, which had come out in the 1840s. The idea that you could press your ear against an odd-looking gadget and listen to the voice of someone who was miles away must have seemed close to magic.

Young woman with telephone, circa 1909

 

At the telephone, 1907

 

Good News 1909.

 

Then, there are the flower girls. These very feminine young ladies were not about to stop with a flower or two. Or even a bouquet or two. These ladies brought the whole garden with them. Think of them as the original Flowerbombs.

Woman, “Flora,” posing in studio, three-quarter length, standing, facing right, holding flowers by E.J. McCullagh, circa 1900

 

Lillies, 1902. The pearls for her hair are an interesting touch!

 

Many people were interested in athleticism. You’ll notice most of the photos in this post feature women, but we do have some male representation in this category. The Strongman was postcard-worthy in 1901, but we live in an age of steroids and Monday Night Raw. I’m not sure this fellow would fare against Triple H or John Cena.

Miss Swim, 1904. It seems like it would be hazardous to go into the water wearing this. Just the sheer weight of the clothing would be enough to sink you.

 

Strongman, 1901.

 

Next, we turn to the modern woman. The important thing here is to note the variety of what a woman can be: anything! A gun-totin’ moonshiner’s daughter, a football fan… the possibilities were endless!

On the question of all the upkeep women do, my initial thought was that there would be less work. Women weren’t having their eyebrows threaded or wearing Spanx or getting Botox injections back then. But I was wrong on that one. As you’ll see, the lack of modern conveniences only caused women to have to work that much harder.

The moonshiner’s daughter, 1901. I’m guessing this was a costume that was meant to be humorous, and you.wouldn’t have bumped into this gal in San Francisco, even in 1901. I can’t imagine how she would be received in Haight Ashbury, circa 2019, but this might actually fly in the Tenderloin.

 

Football girl, 1906

 

 

Woman draped in sheer fabric, standing, full-length, facing left, holding up her hair over heating vessel, 1908. This picture and the next were in all likelihood meant to be.an American, more straight-laced version of French postcards. I’d like to know more about the heating vessel and if this was a common way for women to dry their hair.

 

Woman wearing corset, brushing her hair, 1899. I’ve read that corsets caused all kinds of health issues for women. In attempting to achieve an hour-glass figure, they frequently resorted to crushing their internal organs with corsets. Of all the photos, this is the only one that made me cringe. Can you imagine how uncomfortable she must have been?

 

Finally, there are the vamps.

In the Harem, 1900. This was at the beginning of an era that romanticized eastern cultures, which eventually came to its peak in the 1920s.
Woman in belly-dancing costume smoking and holding package of cigarettes, 1900. Another example of the fascination with all things eastern. In 1900, the cigarettes and clothing would have been considered to be far too much for polite society.

 

Lastly, I just want to remind everyone in the Bay Area to please join me at Burlingame Library on December 10 at 7 p.m. I’ll be there to talk about my book, The Poisoned Glass, and I hope to see you there, too!

April 9, 1901. Catherine Coarum had been drinking whiskey and beer with Charles Daniels at her home on Clay Street. They started to argue and she seized a gun and shot the victim three times, killing him. After she shot him, she dragged his body to the cellar. A short time later, her neighbors heard her hysterical screams and summoned the police.

Initially, Mrs. Coarum blocked the door and only opened it after Officers Rodiger and Ward threatened to break it down. When the door swung open, it revealed a woman in what the officers later called “a state of hysterical intoxication.” She sat down at her kitchen table and resumed her drinking, but immediately told the officers she had killed a man and his body was in the basement. There was no doubt about any of this; Catherine admitted it all.

Her defense was that she had killed the victim in self-defense. At her trial, Catherine contended that Charles Daniels was a stranger who had been stalking and menacing her for months. He taunted her about her marriage to a black man, and that night, he showed up with a razor in his hand. “I had to kill him,” she told the court emphatically.

The San Francisco Chronicle obtained pictures of the defendant and the victim

The story she told the police the night of her arrest was quite different. She said she had been having an affair with Charlie Daniels for four years, and her husband, who was a cook on a steamship knew nothing about it.

However, Joseph Coarum would be returning home Tuesday, and his wife was anxious that he would not learn about her indiscretions. Catherine said she had been trying to break it off with Daniels but her lover did not take the news well. After trying unsuccessfully to persuade her to run away with him, he threatened her. She was frightened. She seized his gun and shot him. “I carried him down to the basement,” Catherine said. “I told him, ‘Charlie, talk to me! I wouldn’t kill you.’ He was trying to talk to me and I was so scared I didn’t know what to do.”

Police Detective Crockett confirmed that Catherine had been having an affair with Daniels, a German immigrant known for his frugality. The neighbors said Daniels came over a few times every week, and the victim’s landlord said Catherine came to Daniels’ boarding house three or four times a week. The only reason for that, Catherine assured the detective, was to persuade Daniels to end their affair and discourage him from coming to her home. “I did all I could to keep that man away from me,” she added earnestly.

Detective Crockett learned Catherine had not shot Charles with his own gun, as she claimed. In fact, she had purchased the weapon herself from a pawnshop the same day she murdered Daniels. The clerk who sold it to her gave her five bullets, for free.

 

Read the conclusion to this story!

This is the conclusion of Catherine’s story. Click here if you haven’t yet read Part 1.

December 1901. Catherine’s trial began in early December, and the proceedings lasted four days. Her attorney, Robert Ash, had done his best to defend her, but he was not sanguine about the outcome. The story was salacious enough to attract attention, but Mrs. Coarum was not a defendant who excited much sympathy. The newspapers described her as a large, powerful woman, with coarse features. She was known to be an incorrigible drinker. Ash had tried to portray her in the best light, a task Catherine made nearly impossible with her frequent outbursts in the courtroom.

The defendant’s husband, Joseph Coarum, had testified in Catherine’s defense. He said when he returned home and heard his wife was in the City Jail, he did his own investigation and turned up some evidence the police had overlooked, including the razor Catherine claimed Daniels had wielded, a bullet that was consistent with the ones that had killed Daniels, and a bullet hole in the steps that proved the victim had shot at his wife.

Greany, the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted the case, scarcely had to work for the conviction. He raised questions about the nature of Catherine’s relationship with Daniels and referenced her contradictory statements.

On the last day of the Coarum murder trial, the jury began its deliberations shortly after noon and returned with a manslaughter verdict at 4 p.m.

“Catherine Coarum, charged with the murder of Watchman Charles Daniels, was yesterday found guilty of manslaughter,” ran a front-page article in the December 12 edition of TheSan Francisco Examiner. “The prisoner heard the announcement of the verdict without the slightest display of emotion.”

Robert Ash privately thought his client was fortunate to receive a manslaughter verdict. A conviction was practically a forgone conclusion, and Ash was only surprised that his client was convicted of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder. She would still go to prison, but her sentence would be lighter.


On December 21, 1901, Catherine was back in Judge Dunne’s courtroom to be sentenced. She was dressed neatly in a dark suit but her face looked like a thunder cloud.

She listened as her attorney attempted to plead with the judge for a new trial. When she saw Judge Dunne shake his head, Catherine stood up. “Can I say something?” There was a surprised silence but no objections.

“I had to kill him, Judge,” Catherine protested. “If I had not, he would have killed me.” It was similar to what she had said throughout the trial and Judge Dunne looked unimpressed.

“I never troubled him, and I wouldn’t have killed him if he had not forced me to it,” Catherine said rapidly. “He’d been threatening me for months. He had a razor in his hand and he would’ve killed me. What could I do? What would any woman do?” She looked around the courtroom, seeking a sympathetic face in the crowd. Finding none, she turned back to the judge. “If I had not done it, my husband would have come in and found me murdered!”

Ash stood up. There was little he could do for his client at this point, apart from possibly influence the judge to soften his sentence. “Your Honor,” he said. “I would remind you that this woman is unfamiliar with our ways and customs. An American woman would have gone to the authorities, but she did not know enough for that– and she took the law into her own hands– ”

Catherine Coarum, incensed by what she saw as an inadequate defense, interrupted him. “A man would arm himself!” she shrieked. “He could go hunt up other men and shoot them down. And the law lets them off! But I am a poor woman, compelled to act in defense of my home and I am convicted. Where’s the justice, Judge? No, it’s most unjust!”

Judge Dunne stared her to silence and Catherine sat back down. The judge said, “It is the judgement of this court, Catherine Coarum, that you be confined in the State Prison at San Quentin for the term of 10 years.”

Two days later, Catherine was booked at San Quentin prison. Female prisoners were a rarity, but the prison would be her home for many years.

Mug shots were still in their infancy, and the custom at San Quentin was to take a front-facing photo of the prisoner wearing his or her hat. The profile picture was taken without the hat.

Catherine was released six-and-a-half years later, in June 1908. Her release went unremarked in the newspapers.


If you enjoyed this true crime story about Catherine Coarum, you might enjoy my book, The Poisoned Glass. It’s available for pre-order on the publisher’s website. If you order before August 8, you’ll get 15% off with the promo code PREORDER2019. Reserve your copy today!