A Rather Disappointing Sequel to the “Great Hawaiian Cat Massacre”

By June 25, 2018

Regular readers of JI may remember a post that I wrote a few years ago about Joseph F. Smith’s beheading of a cat.

It was a fun post to write and remains one of my favorite posts that I wrote during my time at JI. I recently discovered, however, that Joseph F.’s hatred of cats may have been a family trait.

I am currently researching the life and thought of Ina Coolbrith, who was a first cousin of Joseph F. Smith and California’s first poet laureate. She hid her connection to the Mormon community as an adult but was a frequent correspondent with the Smith family. One newspaper even suggested that Joseph F. Smith may have proposed marriage to her.

According to her biographer Aleta George, Ina was a lover of Angora cats. Love was not on Ina’s mind, however, when she wrote a letter to the Mayor of San Francisco and the city’s Board of Health in 1913.

According to the July 16th issue of the San Francisco Call, Ina was annoyed with the noise of the cats of her neighbor, the famous actress May Robson. Nightly, the cats would scream “Not n-e-e-a-o-w, not n-e-e-a-o-w.” The noise “seared…. Miss Coolbrith’s artistic soul.” In response, she “jabbed her quill into ink and penned a protest.” A sanitary inspector came to her house and investigated the situation. He found that Robson fed her cats in the yard but was no serious public health violation. As a result, Coolbrith was “doomed to listen to feline fantasies the rest of her days, or rather nights.”

The story isn’t quite as dramatic as Joseph F. Smith’s, but it does raise the question: What is the deal with the Smith family and cats?

Article filed under From the Archives


  1. Yes, what is it with the cats? It seems like both Ina Coolbrith and Joseph F. Smith (and others from the older post) placed their hatred, annoyance, and disgust of certain people onto the animals close by, particularly the cats. Did Coolbrith like May Robson for instance? This shows the possibilities there are for understanding how people thought of others through their pets.

    Comment by C Terry — June 25, 2018 @ 11:11 am

  2. I see that cat there at Ms. Coolbrith’s feet.

    Comment by The Other Clark — June 25, 2018 @ 11:27 am

  3. His name is Popcorn, and I like to think that she had a thing for Angoras but hated common tabby cats. I have no idea what May Robson’s cats looked like, though.

    Comment by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto — June 25, 2018 @ 11:52 am

  4. The simple answer, coming from a cat owner, is that cats are evil. Here’s evidence:


    Comment by Nate R. — June 25, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

  5. Well, Nate, that led me down a long rabbit hole on what happens if you have toxoplasmosis latent in your body. Also, what cat owner hasn’t been scratched by their cat? 50% seems low

    Comment by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto — June 25, 2018 @ 5:19 pm


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