CB Collins – Olympia Barber Embroiled in Early 1900s Controversy

olympia history
Bon Ton Baths, on 4th Avenue in Olympia, advertised the "best shave" in town.


seven inlets spaIt isn’t likely that by the end of February 1905, Governor Albert Mead could have made himself any more popular in Olympia. By single handedly keeping the city in its position as state capital, the clean shaven Bellingham Republican became one of Olympia’s favorite politicians.

Governor Albert Mead
Governor Albert Mead

But, just two short years later, the local opinion on Governor Mead had turned.

The axis of the local anger against the governor turned on the fact that he was the first clean shaven governor in the state’s history. The first chief executive to pay for a regular shave in the state capitol, he ended up in hot water over his personal barber.

Almost as soon as Meade took office, Tacoma politicians and their allies in the legislature made one of many runs at the state capitol. Like every other effort, Olympia civic leaders were able to fend off the assault, but not until a “removal bill” made it to the governor’s desk.

From Gordon Newell’s “Rogues, Buffoons and Statesmen”:

…Governor Mead returned the vetoed bill to the legislature with as stinging a rebuke as any governor had yet flung at the state’s assembled lawmakers.

…Governor Mead, needless to say, became one of Olympia’s favorite citizens after February 27, 1905. The local press treated him tenderly, even the Standard refraining from poking undue fun at him when, on a post-legislative tour of state institutions, he went hunting with the superintendent of the reform school and shot the prize cow of rancher Arthur Bennett near Chehalis.

While even shooting a Chehalis cow wasn’t enough to turn Olympia’s opinion against him, a political battle over barbers was.

Charles B. Collins was a young barber, 23 years old, working at the Bon Tons Baths on 4th Avenue, which advertised “the best shaves in town.” Apparently, when Gov. Mead came in, Collins typically gave him his shave and bent his ear.

In the spring of 1907 Meade appointed Collins to the state board of barber examiners. During his months on the board, Collins served as treasurer and accompanied two other board members across the state, inspecting barber shops. While now the licensing of barbers and cosmetologists is handled by the state Department of Licensing, back then three barbers enforced the laws governing their work.

olympia history
Bon Ton Baths, on 4th Avenue in Olympia, advertised the “best shave” in town.

This seemingly routine board was important to the barber industry, it maintained their reputation when not every man shaved everyday. It was also important enough for barbers statewide to chafe at an Olympian serving on the barber board.

By October 1907, barbers across the state were calling for Collins to be kicked off the board. The geographic balance was off, they argued. At the beginning of Collins’ term, he replaced a Seattle barber. Hair cutters in Seattle were apparently so powerful and popular, the Spokane representative on the board resigned, just so the previous Seattle barber could be reappointed. In the end, Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia were represented, leaving Spokane off the board.

By the fall, Gov. Mead traveled to Spokane, hearing the wrath of Spokane barbers and their local backers. He promptly sent Collins a telegram asking him to resign.

From the Daily Olympian on October 5, 1907:  “The governor’s telegram so implied and Mr. Collins, nor his friends know of any reason why his services as a member of the board have not been satisfactory. Mr. Collins is reported to be cogitating the matter and nursing his wrath, but while some of his friends have advised him to refuse to resign, he will probably comply with the governor’s request.”

Collins refused. From the Seattle Times, October 10, 1907: “The Olympian man sent back a message just as promptly and just as emphatically and declined absolutely to tender his resignation.”

For over a month Spokane barbers and politicians pushed on Mead until November 17, 1907 when he finally pushed Collins off the board. From the Seattle Times, November 17, 1907: “The governor and Collins have been having a regular battledoor and shuttlecock game for several weeks past.

When Gov. Mead returned to Olympia he took the matter up with Collins personally and urged him to file his resignation. Collins, acting on the advice of his friends and backers, particularly the labor unions of Olympia… still persisted in his refusal to resign. The governor assured him, he says, that the request made was not at all personal, but that political conditions made it necessary to give the three large cities of the state the membership of the board.  The two men were entirely friendly in their numerous conferences.”

olympia history
The Bon Ton barbershop was located next door to The Oxford in Olympia during the early 1900’s.

But, the governor still fired Collins. And, no word on where the governor got his shave from then on.

After that point, the same labor unions that had supported Collins  expressed their distaste for the governor, who only two years before had been the city’s favorite politician. The Shingle Weavers Union in particular passed “strong condemnatory” resolutions, accusing Mead of firing Collins for “political or other unjust reasons best known to himself.”

References and further reading

Washington Public Documents, Volume 2 (1909)

Collins asked to resign, Daily Olympia, October 5, 1907

Barber Board is cause of worry, Seattle Times, October 10, 1907

Collins Will Go, November 11, 1907

Union Labor Men Censure Gov. Mead, December 14, 1907


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