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The lady with the cheerful disposition


If Jessie Worman had wanted to marry, it wouldn’t have been easy to find a husband.

Described as “refined and cultured,” she had spent over two years studying at the University of Oregon. When she returned to Medford, her father hired her as his business manager and accountant.

With barely 5,000 men, women and children in all of Jackson County, the husband “pickins,” as they say, weren’t very good — especially for a well educated woman.

In 1900, a newcomer arrived and moved into the house next door. The divorced father, Howard Coss, opened a music store where he sold pianos. He needed a business manager, and Jessie fit the bill.

In November 1901, Jessie Worman, 28, and Howard Coss, 39, married in the Jacksonville Courthouse. Their first child, a girl, died five months after birth. Still recovering, the couple focused their efforts on the piano store and began selling real estate. They quickly became some of the most successful people in the county.

In the summer of 1908, Jessie was pregnant again and needed help around the house. She hired 15-year-old Carrie Stagg as a live-in housekeeper. On Aug. 1, Carrie swore out a complaint against Howard.

Her statement said that beginning June 27, when she had been working in the Coss home for two months, “On two separate occasions, at a late hour of the night, Mr. Coss forcibly entered my room and attempted to commit the crime of rape.”

Because Carrie was under 16, Howard Coss was arrested and taken to Jacksonville, charged with a statutory crime, and put in jail to await a preliminary hearing. His wife, Jessie, posted $500 for his bail.

Barely a month later, in front of Judge Hiero Hanna, the man who had married Jessie and Howard, a jury took less than three hours to find Coss guilty.

Jessie was in tears for most of the three-day trial, yet, “She stood up well,” said a Jacksonville reporter, “until hearing the closing remarks of the defense attorney to the jury, when she broke down.”

On Oct. 19, 1908, Coss was sentenced to seven years at hard labor. The next day, the sheriff took Coss to the penitentiary in Salem. Before they could enter though the prison gate, they learned the Oregon Supreme Court had issued a two-week stay of execution, sending Coss back to the Jacksonville jail.

The court found a number of irregularities in the initial trial and ordered a new trial. The defense had won many of its objections, including that Judge Hanna allowed witnesses to hear testimony in court before testifying later, and the verdict of the jury was “the result of passion and prejudice.”

Coss and Jessie had to sell all of their pianos and borrow against some of their properties to secure the $5,000 bail now imposed.

In January 1909, while waiting for trial, Jessie gave birth to their second child, a girl named Izetta, after Jessie’s mother. The baby would die just before her first birthday.

There never was a second trial. In late February, just as it was scheduled to begin, word came from Grants Pass that Carrie Stagg was now accusing an optometrist of statutory rape.

Before the doctor came to trial, he married Carrie and was released from jail. The couple left for California, where they would divorce 20 years later.

Jessie finally divorced Howard Coss in 1918. He had deserted her nearly two years earlier. She moved back in with her father and never married again. Coss would marry at least three more times.

Jessie’s father, Edwin Worman, died at age 91 in November 1933.

Jessie died of pneumonia on New Year’s Day, 1935.

“She was,” said her obituary, “sweet and lovable with a wonderfully cheerful disposition. We will miss her dearly.”

She rests with her two daughters, mother and father in Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “Silent City on the Hill, Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery.” Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.