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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Asa Merrill Fairfield

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Asa Fairfield in front of Roop’s Fort around 1914

by Susan Couso

Asa Merrill Fairfield is undoubtedly Lassen County’s most important historian. He lived and wrote at a time when many of the early pioneers were still alive to tell their stories. These tales of early settlers in Honey lake Valley and their escapades were compiled into Fairfield’s Pioneer History of Lassen County, California, which was first published in 1916.

Fairfield’s love for the area and the people who lived here is evident in his work. His book, usually just simply called ‘Fairfield’s History’, is a bit dry and uninspiring at times, but it is a treasure of information, and Fairfield’s unbiased approach to history is refreshing.

He used his own money to finance the publication, and most likely never saw one penny of profit from it, but it was necessary for him to get the facts written down. Many years were spent interviewing the old pioneers and their families and friends, and then compiling the book.

Fairfield’s Peak, in Lassen national Park, is named to honor this man who has done so much to record our local history.

Fairfield was a teacher by trade, and by most accounts a stern taskmaster. Perhaps his approach was a bit rough by today’s standards, but the educational field seemed to have a more singular approach near the turn of the 20th century. Children were expected to learn with no excuses.

Asa Fairfield was born in Massachusetts in 1854, and finally settled in this area in 1873. He moved with his parents to a place about 3/4 of a mile southeast of Janesville, and he began teaching at the Janesville School in 1875. He also taught in other schools in the valley including Soldier Bridge, Richmond, Johnstonville and Lake.

Asa Fairfield was a very well-known man in Honey Lake Valley. He was well respected, and by all accounts a proper gentleman of his time. Many people named their children in his honor. But Fairfield was also a ‘free-thinker.’

There are records showing that he was married in 1888 to a Sara Lura, but no one seems to know much about that event. If it is true, it must have been a marriage of short duration, as by the 1890 U. S. Census, he was listed as “single.”

In January of 1917, he promoted the idea that women should be allowed to run around naked!

The Lima Sunday News, from Lima, Ohio, reported that Fairfield wrote the following letter to Assemblyman, A. J. Masters:

“Women of known respectability, should be allowed to appear in public naked or as nearly so as they pleased without being molested by officers of the law. This is a new century, the nude in art and dress is now accepted. The women with their greater taste for the beautiful have seized upon this, but in their endeavor to carry out their ideas are prevented by the slower and more conservative males. Women with their purer minds are misjudged by men who are coarser in their natures. Women have been under the tyranny of men long enough. They should be allowed to carry out their own ideas of beauty in dress.”

The newspaper pointed out that, “Fairfield is a modernist.”

So, when we think of the stern, studious, gentlemen of the turn of the 20th century, we need to remember that, as we all are, he was too, a human. And although Fairfield’s ideas about women’s attire did not seem to catch on, his vision certainly must have been entertaining.

Asa Merrill Fairfield

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