Sunday, February 19, 2017

DAY OF REMEMBRANCE 2017: The 75th Anniversary of the Executive Order that Authorized Japanese Internment

On behalf of the ACLU of Northern California and the California Historical Society, we join in honoring the Day of Remembrance. This year marks three-quarters of a century since President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 (EO9066) on February 19, 1942.

Under the guise of national security during wartime against enemy forces, President Roosevelt authorized the Secretary of War to declare arbitrary military zones. With scant Congressional debate, Roosevelt signed the Executive Order, which led to harsh and swift enforcement. The United States government forcibly evicted approximately 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ethnicity and ancestry and relocated them to internment camps scattered throughout the rural West.

Building on decades of racially-motivated hatred and fear that Japanese Americans and other Asians in the U.S. had long suffered, the Japanese American communities especially of California bore the brunt of this outright discrimination and unwarranted punishment. Astoundingly, roughly 70,000, or over two-thirds, of the internees were American citizens. Significantly, no Japanese American citizen or Japanese national residing in the United States was ever found guilty of sabotage or espionage.

This anniversary has a powerful place for both our organizations. The ACLU of Northern California represented brave resisters like Fred Korematsu, the Japanese-American draftsman who refused to leave his home in San Leandro. He was arrested, jailed and found guilty in federal court for his bold denial. Taking his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, the ACLU’s attorneys argued that the exclusion and detention laws violated basic constitutional rights that apply to citizens and non-citizens alike. The Supreme Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction and deemed the war measures constitutional in 1944. It was not until 1983 that Mr. Korematsu’s conviction was overturned, and finally in 1988, the United States government apologized and gave modest reparations to the impacted.

The ACLU-NC’s Korematsu case archives are housed at the California Historical Society. As historian Charles Wollenberg said: “Since its founding in the 1930s, the ACLU of Northern California has been involved in virtually every important struggle for social and economic justice, civil rights and civil liberties, and free speech and free expression in the Bay Area and northern California. Its archive at CHS is an irreplaceable resource, providing invaluable perspective and insight into the heart of the region's social and cultural history and its special regional character and identity.” Additional historical archives related to Japanese Internment can be found at the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco.

The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was a grave injustice, and the solemn marking of the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066 provides us an opportunity to say very clearly to our fellow Americans that we will never let this happen again. We will not forget, and we will remember and fight to preserve our Constitutional rights and liberties.

Abdi Soltani is the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California and Anthea M. Hartig, PhD is the Executive Director and CEO of the California Historical Society. 

On This Day: February 19, 1942

Executive Order 9066 and the Imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II

Toyo Miyatake (Photographer), Boys Behind Barbed Wire, 1944

In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt this day in 1942, we invited guest writer Alison Moore to explore the parallels between the creation of incarceration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II and the recent, controversial Muslim travel ban. Issued and signed by President Donald Trump on January 27, 2017, Executive Order 13769 provides "Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States."

“This, Our Legacy”
Executive Order 9066 

Dorothea Lange (Photographer), Exclusion order posted at First and Front Streets—
the first San Francisco section affected by evacuation—directing the removal of 
persons of Japanese ancestry, 1942
Courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

On February 19, 1942, upon the advice of Lt. General John L. De Witt, head of the Army’s Western Defense Command, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring the mass evacuation and incarceration of over 100,000 people from the West Coast of the United States. Although no cases of sabotage related to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor had emerged in California, Oregon, or Washington—nor, in fact, were any shown to have occurred in Hawaii—the Army stated that “military necessity” required removal and imprisonment due to the potential for such acts. “Racial affinities are not severed by migration,” wrote General De Witt. “The Japanese race is an enemy race,” and though many Japanese Americans had become “Americanized,” “the racial strains are undiluted.” “Along the Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today.” [Emphasis ours.]

As a result, over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry—two-thirds of them U.S. citizens—were forced to abandon their homes, businesses, farms, schools, universities, and places of work. They initially were transported to so-called “Assembly Centers” (in many cases the actual horse stalls of local racetracks) and later to hastily built “internment” camps in isolated areas of central and northern California, Utah, Colorado, Texas, and Arkansas, among other locations.

Dorothea Lange (Photographer), Children in front of the gardens and barracks, formerly horse stalls, where families from San Francisco lived at Tanforan Assembly Center, California, 1942
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Many remained in these camps for the duration of the war, losing homes, businesses, jobs, and years of formal education. Others were allowed to leave the camps and start new lives away from their former homes on the West Coast. And many, somewhat ironically, were called or volunteered for service for the remaining years of the war.

Siberius Y. Saito (1908–1980), Letter to William H. Irwin, June 22, 1942 
 California Historical Society

The 100th Infantry Battalion, composed primarily of American-born children of Japanese immigrants, called Nisei, receive grenade training in Hawaii, 1943
Courtesy U.S. Army

Years of racist sentiment against Japanese immigrants set the stage for these actions. Although evidence was suppressed at the time, no act of espionage or sabotage was ever found. Even if one had, the incarceration of many thousands of people “wholly ignored the fundamental principle that a free society judges by individual acts, not by ancestry,” noted Tom C. Clark, Retired Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. “The stubborn fact is, our fellow Japanese American citizens lost their liberty simply and only because of their ancestry.”

Americans All Booth, Pan-Pacific Industrial Exposition, Los Angeles, September 6, 1945
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; photograph by Hikaru Iwasaki

Last month’s executive order by President Trump barring entrance to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries has given new life to the concerns raised by Executive Order 9066. Once again—and again despite claims by the government—thousands of individuals are being denied rights afforded them by the U.S. government (by way of invalidating previously issued visas), based apparently on their heritage.

Although the government has denied that race or religion has played a role in the order, some believe otherwise. Despite carefully crafted wording in the order, according to media reports, statements made by President Trump in televised interviews and by advisers to the president about using the word “danger” rather than advocating an outright ban on Muslims led many to believe that the intent of this executive order was to ban people based on religious affiliation, rather than on specific concerns about violence. Media reports in early February stated that as many as 100,000 individuals from predominantly Muslim countries have been denied entrance into the United States since the order went into effect. These actions, along with random acts of racial and religiously-based violence, have raised concerns among many Muslims currently living in the United States about what may lie ahead for them.

 Protest against Executive Order 13769, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York City, January 28, 2017
Creative Commons

Speaking to a crowd of fellow employees gathered to protest the executive order in Sunnyvale, California, on February 2, 2017, Comcast engineer Mark Hashimoto, whose great grandmother was incarcerated during World War II said, “If we are all silent, it could happen again. We could have internment camps again.”

In the 1972 book Executive Order 9066, published by the California Historical Society on the occasion of its groundbreaking exhibition of the same name, Japanese American civil rights activist Edison Uno wrote this in the book’s introduction:
History must be written by those who lived it. We must give full recognition to the facts that were responsible for such an outrage against the United States Constitution. Racism, economic and political opportunism were the root causes of this crime that is now a part of our American heritage. This, our legacy, is a reminder to all Americans that it can happen again.

Alison Moore
Guest writer

Shelly Kale, photo editor
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager 


CHS and Wartime Civil Liberties
CHS’ collections include the records of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC), which document the organization’s legislative, legal, and educational efforts to protect and extend individual liberties in California, from 1934 to the present day. The records reveal the ACLU-NC’s consistent advocacy for civil liberties and social justice, particularly during times of civic stress in which these values were strenuously tested.

Outstanding among the cases represented by the ACLU-NC is its courageous intervention on behalf of Fred Korematsu—whose lawsuit declaring the unconstitutionality of his relocation and incarceration to an internment camp during World War II made it all the way to the Supreme Court—and against the detention and relocation of other Japanese Americans. Nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in camps, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens. The collection includes poignant correspondence between Mr. Korematsu and the indefatigable Ernest Besig, who served as the ACLU-NC’s Executive Director from 1935 to 1971.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California records are available for research at the California Historical Society’s North Baker Research Library. The Library is open to public, free of charge, Wednesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m.

Explore the Finding Aid for these records.


Don’t miss these CHS events commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066

Cover, Executive Order 9066, 1972
California Historical Society

Thursday, February 23, 2017, 6:00 pm
Celebrating the California Historical Society’s 1972 Landmark Exhibition and Book, Executive Order 9066
Free event

The first exhibition to fully and publicly explore the World War II incarceration of Japanese American citizens and people of Japanese descent, Executive Order 9066 premiered at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and UC Berkeley’s University Art Museum before traveling nationally. Our program, moderated by historian Charles Wollenberg, will include individuals and descendants of those who visited the exhibition, along with the curator of the Dorothea Lange collection at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). It is followed by an open house in our North Baker Research Library, where we will show collections related to Executive Order 9066, the CHS exhibition, and its companion publication, Executive Order 9066, copies of which will be available for sale at our Ten Lions Bookstore.

Letter from architect Siberius Saito, June 22 1942
California Historical Society

Thursday, April 27, 2017, 6:00 pm
Letters from the Camps: Voices of Dissent
Presidio’s Officers Club, Moraga Hall

Using original letters from the internment camps of World War II, now preserved at the California Historical Society, this interdisciplinary presentation focuses on Japanese Americans who spoke out during and after internment. Contemporary descendants, writers, and performers will read from the letters and share their responses, including Stan Yogi author of Wherever There's a Fight, and Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, John Crew of the ACLU, and Bonnie Akimoto, actress of 30 years and in the play, Beneath the Tall Tree.

In partnership with the Presidio Trust

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Early Los Angeles—An Afro-Latino Town

Detail, The Great Wall of California mural, conceived by Judy Baca, showing the 
1781 founding of Los Angeles primarily by people of mixed Spanish, African, 
and Native American descent 

Few may know that more than half of the men, women, and children who in 1781 settled and built the Pueblo of Los Angeles were blacks and mulattos (of African and Spanish heritage).

California at that time was under the rule of the Spanish Empire. These settlers, known as Los Pobladores, were blacks of African ancestry, mulattos, and mestizos (of Spanish and Indian heritage) who immigrated to California from present-day Sinaloa and Sonora in northwestern Mexico.

Eighteenth-century Mexico (then called New Spain) was a place of widespread diversity, a mingling of peoples of Spanish, African, and indigenous descent. The Spanish Empire, in fact, was based on an elaborate hierarchy of identities, the casta (caste) system. Characterized by racial mixing, family lineage, and economic position, among other factors, the Empire sought to continue the system in New Spain.

The image below is one of many casta paintings depicting the race-based social hierarchy that existed in colonial Latin America during the 17th and 18th centuries. It shows the complexity of diverse family units generated from intermarriage in 18th-century Mexico, illustrating male and female couples of varying ethnicities with their mixed-race children.

Artist unknown, Las castas, c. 1700s
Reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Antropologie e Historia

Such casta paintings—designed to glorify the superiority of the Spanish—typically began with a “pure” Spaniard and a “pure” African or Indian mate and their mulatto or mestizo child. The illustrations continued with children born of mulatto and mestiza couples. This image above begins with mestizo couples (top left) and ends with an undefined mixing of Black and Indian ancestry (bottom right).

Though the casta system was influential in Spain, in Alta California—California’s name at the time—it was replaced by a new hierarchy between the settlers and Native Californians. Due to the number of black and mulatto Pobladores, it is likely that the city’s subsequent black and mulatto residents would have established themselves at the top of the social order in colonial Los Angeles.

For example, Juan Francisco Reyes (c. 1749–c. 1800), a mulatto soldier also from Jalisco, arrived in Los Angeles shortly after the pueblo’s settlement and became both its first black and first Hispanic magistrate (alcalde), serving from 1793 to 1795.

Typical “leather-jacket” soldier on the northwest frontier of New Spain
Del-Prado Osprey, L’histoire de la cavalerie, la cavalerie de la Nouvelle-Espagne, 2008 reprint

Jose Manuel Nieto (1734–1804) was a mulatto “leather-jacket” soldier in Gaspar de Portola’s 1769 expedition from Mexico. He arrived in Alta California in 1769. By 1784 he was assigned to the Mission San Gabriel, situated along the road the Pobladores took to the Pueblo de Los Angeles. He received one of the largest Spanish land grants in Alta California from the Spanish Empire.

The Nieto Land Grant and 1834 Divisions in parts of present-day Los Angeles and Orange Counties
Courtesy National Park Service

Others are worth the reader’s exploration, such as Pio Pico, the last governor of Alta California prior to U.S. rule; Tiburcio Tapia, a wealthy businessman and recipient of a 13,045-acre Mexican land grant; and María Rita Valdez de Villa, who inherited the 4,539-acre Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, present-day Beverly Hills, upon her husband’s death.

Maria Rita Valdez Villa’s adobe home—present-day Alpine Drive and Sunset Boulevard—on her Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas

Los Angeles’s black and mulatto population were not legally discriminated against until after California was annexed to the United States in 1848. As Southerners came West with their slaves, and the country debated incorporating California into the Union, a contentious battle ensued as to whether California should be a slave or a slave-free state. Though abolitionists prevailed and blacks migrated to Los Angeles to escape slavery and racial violence, they would face discrimination—in voting, housing, and education, for example—in California and across the nation for over a century.

Family Portrait, 1907
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Shades of L.A. Collection

Unfortunately, the Pobladores’s multiracial ethnicity—particularly their African roots—would not be formally recognized until 1981, when a plaque was erected in commemoration of the city’s 200th anniversary that accurately depicted the settlers’ multiracial makeup.

The community-wide effort was led by pioneer librarian Miriam Matthews, Los Angeles’s and the state’s first black librarian. In an oral history, she explained: “That was my top priority: a proper founders monument to be erected in the plaza, in the State Historic Park, which is near Olvera Street.” The plaque honors the founders of Los Angeles, listing them by name, race, sex, and age. Twenty-six of the 44 founders are of black and mulatto descent.

Miriam Matthews with Plaque at El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1981
Courtesy Charles H. Matthews, Jr.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


Monday, February 6, 2017

Buying a Bride, a complex California history

By Marcia Zug

Every Californian knows about the forty-niners, the daring fortune seekers who helped settle California. However, few people have heard of the brave young women who followed them out west. These women also came to seek their fortunes, but they didn’t come to mine for gold; they came to marry the miners.

Shortly after the forty-niners arrived in California, the first California mail-order bride expedition was proposed. Eastern reformers believed women would be a calming influence on the lawless, male mining towns and they enthusiastically supported plans to bring brides west. California’s many bachelor politicians also supported these plans both for themselves, and for their numerous single, male constituents. In fact, California was so eager for female immigrants that the state government quickly passed some of the most female friendly laws in the country.

California was the first western state to consider importing brides, but many other male heavy states quickly followed and by the end of the 19th century, thousands of eastern women had traveled west to seek their fortunes as mail-order brides. Unfortunately, finding wives for miners was not California’s only involvement with mail-order marriage. California pioneered the idea of bringing mail-order brides out west, but it was also at the forefront of a later movement to bar mail-order brides.  As the race of the arriving brides changed, California’s support for mail-order marriage quickly evaporated.

When mail-order brides were eastern white women, Californians lauded them as heroes and patriots. However, when Japanese mail-order brides began arriving in California, barely a generation after the forty-niners, these women were quickly branded as criminals, prostitutes and threats to America’s racial hierarchy. Eventually, the outcry against the Japanese picture brides lead to their complete exclusion from the United States. Moreover, the nativist arguments honed in the picture bride fight were soon echoed in other exclusionary immigration laws including The 1921 Quota Act, and The National Origins Act.

            Treatment of mail-order brides reflects America’s complicated and contradictory immigration history. America has both welcomed and encouraged immigration, but it has also restricted and even barred certain immigrant groups. California’s history with mail-order marriage reflects this history. Depending on the shifting politics of the time, California both welcomed and excluded mail-order brides. Nonetheless, for the women, the benefits of mail-order marriage have been surprisingly consistent. Throughout American history, mail-order marriage has been a way for women to change their circumstances and, like the men they followed and married, a way to seek their fortunes and improve their lives.

Marcia Zug is an Associate Professor of law at the University of South Carolina. She specializes in family law, immigration law and Federal Indian Law. She is the author of Buying A Bride: An Engaging History of mail-Order Matches


Marcia Zug’s Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches is the first book-length treatment of the history of mail-order marriage, and it makes a powerful case for the reexamination of a practice that remains poorly understood. Mail-order brides have been part of American life since the founding of the first English colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Nevertheless, how they have been perceived has changed drastically over time. There were “Tobacco Wives,” in colonial Virginia, mail-order brides during the California gold rush, Japanese picture brides during the early twentieth century, and even same-sex mail-order grooms today.

She will talk about her book at the California Historical Society on Thursday, February 9th. To register, click HERE.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

California Vintage: Wine and Spirits in the Golden State

The Great Depression—Reclaiming the Good Life 

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Wine Label, 1930s 
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing
Among the widespread struggles in Depression-era California during the 1930s—unemployment, poverty, deportations, strikes—there were some bright spots. Building the Golden Gate and Oakland–San Francisco Bay Bridges (1933–37) and Hoover Dam (1931–36) brought jobs and commerce, power and water to the state. The Los Angeles Olympics (1932) and the Bay Area’s Golden Gate International Exposition (1939) at Treasure Island boosted morale and buffered state and local economies. Cooperative organizations—some of which began in encampments for the poor known as Hoovervilles—demonstrated American ingenuity and provided a way to keep people out of poverty until federal and state relief programs were established.

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Co., 400-430 4th Street, San Francisco, c. 1937 
California Historical Society
Reflecting, perhaps, the same spirit of opportunity and optimism as these events were the wine labels produced by the now-forgotten Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company of San Francisco. Lehmann’s labels graced hundreds of thousands of bottles of mass-manufactured and highly alcoholic wines, invoking deliciously unrealistic fantasies of peace, plenty, and the high-class life.

In their design, the labels—with recurring motifs such as parted curtains, heavy vines, and peaceful fields—combined Art Deco elements with romanticized references to the Middle Ages, the Mission Era, and the Gold Rush. Mythologizing both California’s past and present, they illustrated a vision of social and industrial harmony from which the bitter realities of history were excluded.

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Wine Label, 1930s 
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Wine Label, 1930s 
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Wine Label, 1930s
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

The Lehmann art department flourished in the fast pace of mass production, finding in their daily grind opportunities for seemingly inexhaustible creative invention. The firm’s inventive talent continued to shine in its extraordinary output of individualized labels. Yet even custom labels shared standard colors, backgrounds, and lettering.

Lehmann Printing Presses, c. 1937
California Historical Society

None of the labels is attributed to an identified artist; we do not know the size of Lehmann’s art department or the names of the individual artists who constituted it. Yet each custom label order was treated individually, not as “cheap work,” in owner Adolph Lehmann’s words, but as a unique problem with a design solution to be worked out artistically.

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Wine Label, 1930s
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

Owner Adolph Lehmann believed that a good label was the expression of an idea, conceived and executed with a specific purpose. In his labels, these ideas were expressed in motifs—such as the theater curtain and top hat; the chivalric knight and kindly friar; the heavy vine, peaceful field, and magnificent chateau; the race horse and yacht—whose purpose might be understood as the marketing of the California myth.

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Wine Label, 1930s
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

A beautiful and unsettling example is the Varsity Brand California Tokay label designed for Los Angeles’ Hollenbeck Beverage Co. Two framed vignettes show a padre blessing a kneeling Indian and an oddly modern-looking mission complex. These appear against a classic Lehmann manuscript background, decorated with orderly fields and a plump cluster of grapes, on which the incongruously collegiate brand name, Varsity, is printed in ornate Gothic lettering:

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Wine Label, 1930s
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

In the mid-1930s Lehmann pioneered a stock label service, creating catalogs of generic labels with stock vignettes that could be applied to a wide variety of products. As his contemporaries observed, Lehmann’s labels were
“. . . labels of distinction, of artistic quality, created individually for the containers of products for which they are to be used. Fruit and vegetable packers of California and other states of the country recognize the Lehmann labels as being of superior grade, giving to their products an advertising value before the public which only an attractive label could insure; a label which impresses the buyer as having been conceived and executed for the particular food or delicacy which it names. . . . His labels have sold themselves; they have carried their own recommendation without the aid of extensive advertising or numerous salesmen.”
Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Stock Label, 1930s
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company Stock Label, 1930s
California Historical Society, Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

In 1934 alone, orders from three large wineries totaled over $100,000 (nearly enough to cover the firm’s annual payroll). Even earlier, in 1931, the business community observed:
“A convincing estimate of the status of the Lehmann Printing & Lithograph Company is indicated in the splendid business reports during the days of so called depression of 1931. Among other figures, it may be mentioned that overtime in some weeks at present amounts to over one thousand dollars per week in wages, and the plant is operating every hour of the day. As a business it is one of the most notable achievements in San Francisco and on the Pacific coast.”
Boxing Labels, Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Co., 1937
California Historical Society

As one journalist began his observations in a 1935 issue of The Inland Printer:
“This is the story of a printer who hasn’t heard about the depression. He started in business in San Francisco in 1911, five years after the ‘fire,’ with a total investment of $190. His plant consisted of a 10 by 15 platen press and a few fonts of type. His rent was $10 a month; his staff, one boy.
“However, this printer had ideas. Today, twenty-four years after that small start, Adolph Lehmann is still the sole owner of Lehmann Printing and Lithograph Company. The first is worth $600,000 and an additional $100,000 is to be spent in the next few months on enlarging the plant and adding new offset and bronzing machines, and other equipment.”
Putting On Labels, Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Co., 1937
California Historical Society

As the wine industry slowly recovered following the repeal of Prohibition and during the Depression, Adolph Lehmann’s business rapidly progressed. Indeed, The Inland Printer saw Lehmann as a model for others:
“Sole owner of printshop says he wasn’t bothered by depression; his ideas, standards can guide you.”
Marie Silva
Acting Director of Library and Archives

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


  • Lewis Francis Byington and Oscar Lewis, The History of San Francisco, California (Chicago/San Francisco: The S. J. Clark Publishing Company, 1931)
  • D. H. De Michaels, “Builds $190 Shop into $600,000 Plant; Tells Methods,” The Inland Printer (January 1935)
  • Hillel Aron, The Story of Los Angeles/ 1932 Olympics, When Everyone Was Poor; 
  • Jonathan Rowe, Cooperative Economy in the Great Depression; 
  • Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2007


Love California Wine and Spirits? Don’t Miss Our New Exhibition!
Vintage: Wine, Beer, and Spirits Labels from the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing

December 10, 2016–April 16, 2017
California Historical Society, 678 Mission, San Francisco

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Centennial of the 1917 San Francisco Sex Worker Rights March

San Francisco Prostitutes 1917

Bv Anderson and Devon Angus

In 1917, San Franciscans faced a full plate of political drama and struggle. The Preparedness Day Bombing in the city the previous year, an event that extreme elements of the Chamber of Commerce exploited to attack organized labor, had been both a premonition of the coming Great War and the death knell of radical labor in the city. Within the greater struggle, a courageous and desperate political action was staged by a group of women who were considered to be voiceless and worthless of consideration: the sex workers of San Francisco’s vice districts. Women had been in the vanguard of  political action in the state of California for decades; amongst the first to win the right to vote in the nation in 1911, women’s political groups in the Golden State had a considerable voice in the politics of the era. While club women, often from the middle to upper middle classes, sought to purge the urban landscape of the city’s riotous gold rush past, working class women and sex workers struggled to exist in a world that built wall after wall against any protest they hoped to present.

Long illegal and yet long sanctioned, prostitution and the brothel system were foundational pieces of the mythic West. Tidal in nature, waves of reform and vigilantism dashed against the bulwarks of the vice districts of San Francisco with only temporary successes. The passage of the Red Light Abatement Act in 1913, fully enacted in 1917, broke that stormwall, closing down the infamous vice districts of San Francisco that had grown up with the gold rush city. Anti-vice organizers mounted a rally in January 1917 that they dubbed “Purity Sunday”, weeks before the mass evictions of the vice districts on Valentine’s Day, focused on the moral questions surrounding sex work. “Victims” of the brothel system were to be “saved”, if possible. But what eluded these varied reformers in their campaign was the labor aspect of sex work. 

Reggie Gamble and Maude Spencer, two madams from the Uptown Tenderloin district, aimed to confront “Purity Sunday” by storming the church of one of its main prothesizers, the Rev. Paul Smith. Seeking organizational support from Fremont Older, the editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, a rival to the anti-vice Examiner, Gamble and Spencer planned what would become the first major organized sex worker protest in U.S. history. In 1913, Older had published the memoirs of a sex worker who went by “Alice Smith” as a serial in the Bulletin. The response to the memoir was extraordinary; over 4,000 letters flooded into the paper, many by sex workers themselves. In all, 114 letters to the editor were published by sex workers, speaking candidly about issues they faced that had long went unheard. By 1917 Older, alarmed by the attacks on organized labor in the aftermath of the 1916 Preparedness Day Bombing, had turned the energy of his editor’s pen against the city’s rightward turn. Likewise, with the planned march organized by Gamble and Spencer, Older sought to tie in the sex worker movement with the beleaguered labor movement.

Reggie Gamble stormed the pulpit of the Rev. Smith after leading over 200 sex workers into the church; her speech focused on the economic conditions that surrounded sex workers. The ongoing wage that a working class woman could expect at the time was six dollars a week, which was little more than starvation wages. Needless to say, working class men made considerably more. Facing such economic disparity, especially with children, out of work husbands, or parents to support, many women turned to prostitution simply in order to survive. Others chose sex work as a valid economic choice in a city with few options. Anti-vice reformers, claimed Gamble, entirely missed the point, as she told the congregation:
            “You want the city cleaned up around your church--but where do you want the women to   go? Have you made any arrangement by which they can make their living elsewhere? …            Why don’t you go to the big business houses? Why don’t you go to the legislature and change the conditions? Men here in San Francisco say they want to eradicate vice. If they do, they better give up something of their dividends and pay the girls’ wages so they can live.            You won’t do anything to stop vice by driving us women out of the city to some other city. Has your city and your church a different God, that you drive evil away from your city and your church to other cities and other churches?            If you want to stop prostitution, stop the new girls from coming in here. They are coming into it every day. They will always be coming into it as long as conditions, wages and education are as they are. You don’t do any good by attacking us. Why don’t you attack those conditions?”

Come join in the celebration of the 100 year anniversary of this important piece of feminist and labor history at the Tenderloin Museum on January 25th, followed by a march to the site of the original 1917 demonstration.  You can find out more here: 

Anderson and Devon Angus are the authors of Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute

Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute is the winner of the California Historical Society 2015 Book Award. For more information about upcoming events, where to purchase the book, and to read more exclusive content, you can visit

Previous blog posts related to the book can be found at:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Right Out of California, by Kathryn Olmsted

By Kathryn Olmsted

On the surface, the 1930s might seem very distant from the California political scene today.  But if we look deeper, we can see that the decade of the Great Depression shares many similarities with our own time.  There was tension over immigrants and migrants; a polarized society; conservatives who believed that the government supported aliens and agitators; and savvy right-wing businessmen who discovered they could get mass support for their policies if they marketed themselves as populists.  The problems, and the solutions, of the 1930s can teach us important lessons today.

The years of the Great Depression were tumultuous across the nation, but especially in California. The unemployment rate approached 25 percent, while more than one in five Californians survived only because of public relief.  The state’s farm workers were among its most destitute residents.  Whole families picked fruits, vegetables, and cotton; children as young as seven worked alongside their parents for 12-hour days during the harvest season.  Families earned just enough to feed themselves and buy gas to drive their old car to the next picking job.  Some of these workers had lived in California their whole lives, but others had come to the state in hopes of finding a better life.  Mexican immigrants joined Southwestern refugees from the Dust Bowl – the so-called Okies – in searching for jobs in California’s fields.

Mexican farm worker picking melons in Imperial Valley, 1937.
Photograph by Dorothea Lange. Library of Congress, prints and Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection

In 1933, many Americans hoped that things were about to change. Franklin Roosevelt had won the presidency and began to implement his bold policies designed to stimulate economic recovery. Roosevelt’s New Deal guaranteed the right to join a union and bargain collectively for better conditions and wages.

 The new laws inspired California farm workers to form unions and demand higher wages – even though, ironically, the unionization protections did not apply to them. The New Dealers excluded agricultural laborers because they did not want to antagonize powerful Southern plantation owners.  But California’s farm workers did not understand at first that they had been left out of these protections. And so they went on strike.

The largest farm strike in U.S. history hit the San Joaquin Valley in 1933 when growers refused to pay cotton pickers the national minimum wage of 25 cents an hour.  Almost 20,000 workers walked out of the fields in protest. Over the course of 1933, 50,000 California farm workers went on strike. 

            Roosevelt administration officials did not support the strikers, but neither did they support the growers’ violent efforts to break the strike. They threatened to withhold New Deal subsidies from the growers unless they agreed to mediation in the labor dispute. The growers saw the administration’s centrist position – support for mediation – as a great betrayal.  Although in the past these agricultural businessmen had supported a strong, expansive federal government, they now believed that the government, by declining to back them in breaking the strike, was encouraging workers to revolt.  The New Deal’s labor policies pushed many agribusiness leaders to embrace a new kind of conservatism: a conservatism that opposed, rather than supported, big government.

            For the state’s business leaders, the situation went from bad to worse in 1934 when socialist author Upton Sinclair won the Democratic nomination for governor with the slogan that he would “End Poverty in California” (EPIC).  For his own part, Roosevelt did not support Sinclair’s candidacy: the president never endorsed him, and his administration made a secret pact to support the Republican candidate near the end of the campaign. But Sinclair’s victory in the primary seemed to prove the conservatives’ greatest fears about Roosevelt’s programs: the EPIC campaign showed, they said, that the New Deal was nothing more than socialism in liberal clothing.

 To defeat Sinclair, the business leaders of California created new strategies we would recognize in the politics of our own time. They hired the nation’s first political consultants to run a campaign of mis-attributed quotations, faked newsreels, and outright untruths about Sinclairs proposals. Sinclair called the effort against him “the lie factory.” It was the advent of fake news. The consultants had figured out how to equate liberalism with socialism, and socialism with treason.

We think of California as one of the most liberal states in the nation. But it was also the birthplace of some of the most successful ideas and political strategies now used by conservatives.
Wallace Stegner famously said that California is like America, only more so.  The struggles in the California fields were similar to struggles that would take place elsewhere around the country, but they were ahead of their time, as well as more intense. The states multi-racial, multi-ethnic work force foreshadowed the coming transformation of American labor.  The battles over these changes would transform American politics and policy.

Additional articles about Right out of California by Kathryn Olmsted: 

Upcoming Event with Kathryn Olmsted

Katrryn Olmsted will visit the California Historical Society on January 31st to discuss her new book, Right Out of California. To learn more about this event, click HERE

Saturday, January 14, 2017

This Day in History:
Precedent for a Muslim Registry? Presidential Proclamation No. 2537

Notice to Aliens of Enemy Nationalities
February 9, 1942
Courtesy National Archives Catalog
This U. S. Department of Justice notice directed aliens of German, Italian, and Japanese nationalities to apply for a Certificate of Identification by February 28, 1942

Soon to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, President Elect Donald Trump has advocated establishing a registry for Muslim residents in the United States and a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants to United States—components of a war on terror.

On this day, January 14, we look at the alien registry of 1942, a precursor to events across the nation during World War II, which had significant impact on our state’s Japanese American citizens during the war.

January 14, 1942: Only five and a half weeks after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor triggering U.S. entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamation No. 2537. The proclamation required non-citizens of enemy nationality—Italians, Germans, and Japanese—aged 14 and older to register with the United States Department of Justice. These individuals then would be issued a Certificate of Identification for Aliens of Enemy Nationality.

Friedrich Roetter’s Application for Certificate of Identification, 1942

Proclamation No. 2537 also sanctioned measures of control over the travel and conduct of aliens, including property ownership rights, and allowed the arrest, detention, and internment of aliens who were in violation of federally designated restricted areas.

The proclamation, in fact, was a follow-up—a second registration as it were—for those aliens who had registered earlier with the 1940 Alien Registration Act, a national security measure. Preliminary tabulations from this Act identified the enemy alien population in the United States as at least 315,000 Germans, nearly 700,000 Italians, and 92,000 Japanese.

Heigoro Endo’s Alien Registration Card, 1940 
Courtesy The Endo Family
As U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle noted in a broadcast, the certificate was to be used “at all times and in all places, for the duration of the war.” Explaining his position he said, “I describe the identification programs as another part of the job of making America safe—safety for the nation against the small minority of alien enemies who may be contemplating trouble, and safety for the great majority of aliens who are above suspicion.” A little over a million aliens of German, Italian, and Japanese origin registered.

Toyo Miyatake, Boys Behind Barbed Wire, 1944
Courtesy of Alan Miyatake
Proclamation No. 2537 ushered in an era of what today is considered a national shame: the relocation and incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans and residents of Japanese descent living in the Pacific Coast region. A month after its issue, on February 19, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the War Department to set aside military areas from which Japanese Americans were excluded, thus paving away for the establishment of “internment” camps to which they were forcibly removed. For the duration of the war these men, women, and children—most of them U.S. citizens—lived in prison camps in California, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.

Also sent to camps throughout the country were approximately 11,507 German Americans, an estimated 4,500 ethnic Germans and Italians from Latin America, and non-citizen Italian-born individuals, especially Italian diplomats, businessmen, and international students. These camps were operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

German and Italian migrants leaving Philadelphia for a camp in Butte, Montana, August 1941
Associated Press; courtesy of
Despite his advocacy of the Enemy Alien Certificate of Identification, U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle offered a measure of caution. “Let us not be hasty in our judgment of them. Let us not deprive them of their jobs,” he said. “Let us not be suspicious of them unless we have grounds for suspicion. Let us not persecute these people as an outlet of our emotions against the bandits who are at the moment in control of the nations where they were born.”

As the United States revisits its foreign policy and protocols in a war against terror, and as President Elect Trump’s position continues to invite controversy, Biddle’s words are frighteningly relevant.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager

Francis Biddle, Identification of Alien Enemies, an address by the Honorable Francis Biddle, Attorney General of the United States, on Sunday February 1, 1942, 7:15 to 7:30 pm, E.S.T. over the Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington, D. C.;

Karen E. Ebel, Timeline, German American Internees in the United States during WWII;

Lynn Goodsell, “World War II Enemy Aliens Program: Notice to Aliens of Enemy Nationalities,” Oct. 13, 15, 2009, National Archives, Washington, DC;

Abby Phillip and Abigail Hauslohner, “Trump on the future of proposed Muslim ban, registry,” Washington Post, December 12, 2016;

United States Department of Justice, “Regulations Controlling Travel and Other Conduct of Aliens of Enemy Nationalities,” February 5, 1942 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942);


Don’t miss this CHS event commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066:
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 6:00pm
Celebrating the California Historical Society’s 1972 Landmark Exhibition and Book,
Executive Order 9066
Please join the California Historical Society as we celebrate our landmark 1972 exhibition and book of historic photographs, Executive Order 9066. The first to exclusively explore the World War II incarceration of Japanese American citizens and people of Japanese descent, the exhibition premiered at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and UC Berkeley’s University Art Museum before it traveled nationally. Our program will include individuals and descendants of those who visited the exhibition along with the curator of the Dorothea Lange collection at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). The program will be moderated by historian Charles Wollenberg.

Read More about Executive Order 9066 and Japanese American incarceration on the CHS Blog:

It Can’t Happen Here - Executive Order 9066 Revisited

Day of Remembrance: Executive Order 9066 and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II

This Day in History: California Celebrates Fred Korematsu

This Day in History - August 10: The U.S. Rights a Wrong

70 Years Ago Today: World War II Incarceration Camp at Manzanar Closes

Uncovering History through Art and Artifacts: Japanese Internment

 Presidential Proclamation No. 2537