Biography of Hon. Frank L. Coombs

While the disposition to do honor to those who have served well their race or their nation is prevalent among all enlightened people and is of great value everywhere and under all forms of government, it is particularly appropriate to and to be fostered in this country, where no man is born to public office or to public honor or comes to either by inheritance, but where all men are equal before the law, where the race for distinction is over the road for public usefulness and is open to everyone who chooses to enter, however humble and obscure he may be, and where the advantageous circumstances of family and wealth count, in the vast majority of cases, for but little or nothing. In an enumeration of the men of the present generations who have won honor for themselves and at the same time have honored the state to which they belonged it is imperative that distinct recognition be accorded Hon. Frank L. Coombs, for he is one of the distinguished citizens of California and has figured prominently not only in the state but also in national and international affairs. He is a native son of California and among those who have known him from his youth up he has won the recognition which is only accorded to sterling worth and upright American manhood.

Mr. Coombs was born in Napa on the 27th of December, 1853. His father, Nathan Coombs, was a native of Massachusetts and crossed the plains to Oregon in 1842, several years before the discovery of gold on the Pacific slope was attracting thousands to this section of the country. In 1843 he came to California and identified with early framing interests in Napa county. He married Miss Isabel Gordon, a native of New Mexico, and a daughter of William Gordon, who in 1823 crossed the Rocky Mountains into New Mexico, where he married into one of the old Spanish families; later he came to California, and it was here that his daughter became the wife of Nathan Coombs. The surviving children of this marriage are Frank L., of this review; Levy, who is a resident farmer of Napa county; and Eva, the wife of John M. Coghlan, congressman from the third district of California in 1871.

The early boyhood days of Frank L. Coombs passed somewhat uneventfully in the usual manner of lads of the period. At the age of ten he entered the public schools of Napa and subsequently was a student in the Dorchester high school of Boston, Massachusetts, which he entered in 1871, pursuing his studies there for two years. He prepared for the practice of law as a student in the Columbian Law College at Washington, D.C., where he was graduated on the completion of a two years’ course with the class of 1875. Being this well equipped for the practice of law, he returned to California locating in his native city of Napa, and since that time, when not engaged with official duties, has given his time and energies to the practice of his profession. Upon the Republican ticket he was elected district attorney of Napa county for two terms and filled the office in a most acceptable manner from 1879 until 1885. In 1877 he was chosen to represent his district in the California legislature and was re-elected in 1889, 1891 and 1897. During the assembly sessions of 1891 and 1897 he was speaker of the house, and presided over its deliberations with marked impartiality, showing a comprehensive knowledge of parliamentary law and a fearlessness in defense of his position that accorded well with the dignity of the place and the power that was conferred upon him. He won the respect of the leaders of both parties, and his fair and impartial rulings during his first terms caused his re-election on the second occasion. In May, 1892, Mr. Coombs was appointed minister to Japan and served until August, 1893, filling out the unexpired term of John F. Swift. In April, 1899, he became United States attorney for California and served until March, 1901. In 1890 he was elected to Congress, and in the national halls of legislation proved a capable working member, showing thorough familiarity with many of the leading questions which came up for discussion and giving his support in unfaltering manner to every measure which he believed would contribute to the welfare of his country.

On the 27th of September, 1879, Mr. Coombs was united in marriage to Miss Isabel Roper, of Boston, a daughter of Foster H. Roper, of that city. Three children have been born of this marriage: Nathan Coombs, now twenty-two years of age, left college in 1902 and at present is connected with a commercial enterprise in Washington, D. C. Amy Louise and Dorothy May Coombs are at home with their parents.

The great social prominence which always comes in recognition of individual worth, culture and refinement has come to the Coombs household, which is noted for its hospitality, and it is the scene of many a delightful social function. Mr. Coombs is an enthusiastic member of the order of the Native Sons of the Golden West, and is also a prominent representative of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He has made for himself an enviable reputation as a representative of the legal profession and in public office. Well prepared for his profession he at once entered upon the practice of law, and from the beginning has been unusually prosperous in every respect. The success which he has attained is due to his own efforts and merits. The possession of advantages is no guarantee whatever for professional advancement, which comes only through hard labor, integrity and ability. These qualities Mr. Coombs possesses to an eminent degree, and he is faithful to every case committed to his charge. Throughout his whole life whatever his hand finds to do, whether in his profession or in his official duties, or in any other sphere, he does with all his might and with a deep sense of conscientious obligation.

Source: Leigh H. Irvine; A History of the New California Its Resources and People, 2 Volumes; New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903.

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