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Monday, February 29, 2016

Henry Beecher Wesner
1853–1932 San Bernardino Photographer

By Richard D. Thompson

Henry B. Wesner (detail)
Courtesy Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois

Henry B. Wesner was a native of Pennsylvania, one of eight children born to parents Anthony and Julia Wesner of German ancestry. His birth date was September 27, 1853, according to the website Find-A-Grave. When he was eleven years old the family moved to Galesburg, Illinois.

At age 25 Henry married Josephine C. Biggerstaff and in May of 1878 their only child, daughter Georgia, was born. By the 1880 federal census he had made his way to California and lived in the Los Nietos (Whittier) area, where he was a farmer.

Friday, February 26, 2016

CHS Honors Black History Month

Delilah Beasley, Virginia Stephens, and San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair

Delilah L. Beasley, Miss Virginia Stephens:
Sponsor for the Name Jewel City for the Panama Pacific International Exposition,”
In The Negro Trail Blazers of California (Los Angeles: Time Mirror, 1919)
California Historical Society, VAULT 979.403N B385
Delilah Leontium Beasley’s book The Negro Trail-Blazers of California (1919) is a classic in the field of California black history. In it she featured notable achievements of the black men and women of California, from the 1840s to the late nineteenth century.

Beasley (1871–1934) combed the California Archives in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, to compile her book. The nine years she spent writing it soon paid off: she became California’s first black woman to write regularly for a newspaper. She reported for the Oakland Tribune and the Oakland Sunshine, the state’s leading black newspaper.

Delilah L. Beasley (1866–1934) and Her House in Oakland
Courtesy of the African American Museum and Library of Oakland
Beasley was a so-called “race women.” She and other black women sought to “lift as they climbed." Decades before the mid-twentieth-century civil rights movement, these women organized against and tried to change the prevailing racial climate in which black Americans lived.

San Francisco’s 1915 World Fair

In 1915, Beasley was working to counteract the negative stereotypes presented in the highly controversial and overtly racist film The Birth of a Nation, which was screening in Bay Area theaters. The same year, as one of the state’s most influential black reporters, she covered the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), San Francisco’s world fair. She interpreted for African Americans what the fair could mean for them in an era of racism and discrimination.

Racial Stereotyping in “Der’ll be Wahm Coons a Prancin,’” 1903
Sheet Music Collection, California Historical Society
Thomas Dixon, Jr., The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan
(New York: Grosset & Dunlop, 1915)
The African American community wanted to claim a space at the fair where they could represent themselves. There was debate about having a “Negro Day,” but it never materialized. Instead the Oakland Sunshine challenged readers to turn out for “Alameda County Day” to “show to our visitors that this is our Fair and our State.” 

African Americans at the San Francisco World’s Fair, 1915
Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
The community rallied, throwing themselves into planning the day and showing up in droves. The Day kicked off with a parade down Market Street and onto the main fairgrounds. Among the numerous floats were several filled with black children and decorated with cherry blossoms. Beasley wrote: “The mere fact that colored children marched through the streets of San Francisco, carrying the Stars and Stripes, showed a decided advance and change of feeling toward the colored race in these parts.” For Beasely and others, this display of beautiful, healthy black children had to have in some way countered the negative stereotypes prevalent during the era and at the fair.

Virginia Stephens and San Francisco’s World Fair

In her book, Beasley emphasized the role of black women in the state’s history. Among them was twelve-year-old Virginia Stephens (1903–1986). The Oakland schoolgirl won a contest sponsored by the San Francisco Call Newspaper to nickname the fair. Her winning submission, one of 1,300 entries, was The Jewel City—a reference to the skyscraping, jewel-encrusted tower at the center of the fairgrounds.

Virginia Stephens (detail), photographed in the NAACP’s The Crisis, vol. 11, no. 1 (November 1915) 
Laura Ackley Collection
The Jewel City: Souvenir Views of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915
Laura Ackley Collection
Few people knew that Stephens was African American. As reported in The Crisis, published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), despite recognition in some local newspapers, “We regret to say that when it was discovered that Miss Stephens had colored blood there was a sudden silence on the part of the press and the only recognition ever given her was a season ticket to the grounds.”

California State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1915
Courtesy African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO)
Stephens might have remained anonymous but for the efforts of the black women’s club members who worked to influence prevailing attitudes of racial discrimination and inequality. At the fair’s Alameda County Day on June 10, 1915, they arranged for her to be crowned queen and to ride with fifty other African American children on a parade float described by the Oakland Sunshine as “a credit to the race.” Virginia Stephens went on to attend the University of California, Berkeley as an undergraduate and then BOALT law school. She was the first African American woman admitted to the bar in California and had a long career in the State Office of Legislative Counsel in Sacramento. 

Rho Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha, University of California, Berkeley, 1921
Courtesy AKA Far Western Region

Virginia Stephens (far left) and the founding members of the Rho Chapter (University of California, Berkeley) of the national Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Seated in front is the renowned education pioneer Ida Louise Jackson, who formed the idea of establishing the chapter and served as its first president.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
California Historical Society

Erin Garcia
Managing Curator of Exhibitions
California Historical Society


  • AKA Far Western Region,
  • Alameda County Day, Oakland Sunshine, June 12, 1915 
  • “Branches and Locals,” The Crisis 11, no. 1 (November 1915)
  • Lynn M. Hudson, “‘This Is Our Fair and Our State,’ African Americans and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition,” California History 87, no. 3 (2010) 

Portions of this blog are adapted from Erin Garcia and Shelly Kale, “Bravely Useful Part”: Five Women and San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair, posted on December 1, 2015 on, sponsored by the California Historical Society. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

El Nino for President!

El Nino for President Banner, Berkeley, 2015
Courtesy of Alison Moore
Even as wary Californians fear that the promised El Nino may be slipping away, the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for,” comes to mind. The water story in the settled West has often been one of feast or famine: punishing drought followed by often damaging and deadly floods.

Among California’s most notorious weather events was the “Great Flood” of 1861–62, then the largest in the recorded history of the West and, as the New York Times reported, the “most disastrous flood that has occurred since its settlement by white men.” Although it did not occur in an El Nino year, a perfect storm of conditions conspired to create . . . the perfect storm.

Type Tuesday - More ATF Alphabets

Today we offer more selections from the magical box of ATF (American Type Founders) Alphabets!


Lydian Bold Condensed Italic

Murray Hill Bold

Repro Script

Poster Gothic

Jaime Henderson

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates the National Park Service Centennial

At Mirror Lake, Yosemite Valley, 1911
California Historical Society, CHS2016_2088
This summer, on August 25, the National Park Service turns 100 years old. Over the course of this Centennial year, the California Historical Society will celebrate the state’s significant contribution to “America’s best idea” by digging into our collections and sharing what we find with you.

From Redwood National Park in the north to Joshua Tree in the south, California’s parks are as varied and diverse as the population of the Golden State itself. The oldest, Yosemite, was established in 1880; the youngest, Pinnacles, graduated from monument to park just three years ago, on January 10, 2013.  

Each California park has its own kind of beauty and all are a reflection of the society into which they were born.

In other words, both literally—as in the photo above—and figuratively, they are a mirror of us. We hope you enjoy the reflection.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Day of Remembrance

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

Civilian exclusion order #5, posted at First and Front streets, directing removal by April 7 of persons of Japanese ancestry, from the first San Francisco section to be affected by evacuation, April 1942.
Library of Congress

 Two notices in San Francisco, posted side by side, reflect the fear of Japanese invasion in the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The California Historical Society joins the nation in observing the annual Day of Remembrance on February 19, when in 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order paved the way for the removal of people of Japanese descent, citizens and noncitizens alike, from their homes and communities along the West Coast during World War II.

As the Japanese American Citizens League explains, “Every February, the Japanese American community commemorates Executive Order 9066 as a reminder of the impact the incarceration experience has had on our families, our community, and our country.”

We remember this day with an essay by the noted historian Charles Wollenberg on the precedence of discrimination and racism in our state’s history and its legacy today.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Type Tuesday - ATF Alphabets

A recent acquisition of type specimen catalogs included this fun wooden box from American Type Founders. Holding a set of 10.5 x 7.5 index cards printed with selections of ATF type fonts, the box carries plenty of wonderful specimens to share with our Type Tuesday fans!

ATF Alphabets box at Archivist's desk


Dom Casual

Grayda Swash Characters

Lydian Bold Condensed

Kaufmann Bold

Jaime Henderson

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Anna Halprin: “Jews Are a Dancing People”

Anna Halprin: “Jews Are a Dancing People”

Anna Halprin Leading a Women’s Peace Walk on the Rhoda Goldman Promenade, Israel, 2014
Courtesy of Sue Heinemann
Anna Halprin (front row, center) leads a peace procession on the Rhoda Goldman Promenade designed by her late husband, the renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. Next to her (our left) is Susie Gelman, daughter of Richard Goldman, who commissioned the promenade.
Photographer Sue Heinemann remembers traveling to Israel with the postmodern dance legend Anna Halprin in the fall of 2014: “There she completed her trilogy Remembering Lawrence, honoring her late husband, who helped found an early kibbutz and designed several Jerusalem landmarks. Anna led over a hundred Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze women on a silent peace walk along the Goldman Promenade, designed by Larry, situated between East and West Jerusalem.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cycles of Drought and Flood

“And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and when the wet years returned, they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”
—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Alongside its promise of idyllic weather, California delivers cycles of floods and droughts. Our climate history demonstrates stretches of drought interspersed with heavy—and sometimes catastrophic—rains.

As our state struggles through a five-year drought and an El Nino winter, we find ourselves in the seemingly paradoxical period of simultaneous flooding and drought. And, as B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam write in The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow, “Climatologists now speak in terms of even deeper droughts, and larger and more frequent floods, for the future.”

Two images in the California Historical Society’s collection exemplify these two climatic events.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

This Day in History February 2, 1848: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Ends the Mexican-American War

Cover of the Exchange Copy and Seal of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848
National Archives and Records Administration
On February 2, 1848, in the village of Guadupe Hidalgo, Mexico, the Mexican-American War officially ended. What began as border dispute between Mexico and the United States along the Rio Grande resulted in historic territorial gains and losses.

Historically Speaking: Land Ownership in California

The recent debate over federal ownership of land in Utah brings into sharp focus the ownership and use of land in states where the federal government is a predominant or majority owner.

In California today, according to a 2004 U.S. Geological Survey and a 2012 review by the Congressional Research Service, about 45 percent of state land is owned and administered by the federal government.

BLM: Bureau of Land Management; DOD: Department of Defense; FS: Forest Service;
FWS: Fish and Wildlife Service; NPS: National Park Service
Western Federal Lands Managed by Five Agencies (detail), 2014
Congressional Research Service 
California’s early history sheds light on how land ownership significantly influenced both the development of the state and the lives of its inhabitants.

Type Tuesday - Manuscript and Inscription Letters from Edward Johnston

Today we take a look at Edward Johnston's Manuscript and Inscription Letters for School and Classes and for the use of Craftsmen. Johnston (1872-1944) is considered, along with his contemporary Rudolf Koch, to be the father of modern calligraphy. After studying manuscripts at the British Museum, Johnston took up his distinctive style of creating letters using a broad edged pen. 

Johnston began teaching lettering at London's Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1899. Typeface designer and calligrapher, Eric Gill, was among his students. Gill contributed plates to this 1911 publication of Johnston's Manuscript and Inscription Letters for School and Classes and for the use of Craftsmen. 

Jaime Henderson