A “Frail Little Woman” Who Tamed a Town, part 1

Miss Fern Hobbs, 1914

Miss Fern Hobbs, 1914

The newspapers of Oregon in January 1914 were full of excitement over the exploits of one “little woman.”

Saloonkeepers in the town of Copperfield, Oregon, were at war among themselves. Many of them were on the town council, granting themselves licenses and refusing them to other saloonkeepers. Events came to a head after the city election, with saloons burning to the ground, accusations flying. A captured horse thief was tied under a horse and dragged back to the town, nearly dead. More saloons burned, and the “all-muscle” sheriff could do nothing to stop the warring factions.

A petition was sent to Governor West, asking that the town council be deposed. It was a tricky situation, and the sheriff and county prosecutor could find no way to resolve it.

Governor West sent Fern Hobbs, his private secretary.

Described as “a frail little woman, not out of her twenties” and “five feet tall,” Fern Hobbs was not new to high-profile assignments. She was sent by the governor in November 1913 to Washington, D.C. as the “authorized lobbyist of the state of Oregon,” as “many land affairs” in which Oregon was interested were “before congress.” The governor’s trust in her was evident, as “usually a high-priced attorney receives such an assignment, and it is considered altogether unusual for a woman to be trusted with work of this nature,” according to one newspaper. The Washington Post said she was “one of the first women ever sent to the Capital as the official representative of a State.”

A newspaper account in Pennsylvania recounts that “this slip of a girl” went to the town of Copperfield, “declared martial law, walked off with all the liquors and left soldiers on guard and left the town dry.” According to another account, she was “dressed plainly in blue with a neat little hat covering her wealth of blond hair.” The account went on, “A pretty smile was in her blue eyes and a womanly gentleness was about her.” She asked for a platform from which to address them all, and delivered the message that the councilmen must resign all offices or get out of the saloon business. Martial law was declared, and gambling devices and liquor destroyed.

Fern Hobbs, her duty completed, returned to Governor West and said, “I have done what you wished.”

Next week: Who was this “frail little woman”?


“Woman Brought Gamblers and Saloon Men to Their Knees,” The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh, North Carolina), 27 January 1914, p.1; The Commoner (Lincoln, Nebraska), 1 November 1913, p22; “She’s Here for Oregon,” The Washington Post (Washington, District of Columbia), 23 October 1913, p.14; “For Governor of Oregon, Fern Hobbs,” The Daily Notes (Canonsburg, Pennsylvania), 24 January 1914, p.4; “Woman’s Brave Accomplishment of Task for State Causes Oregon to Talk of Her for Next Governor,” The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana), 17 January 1914, p.16.

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