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Monday, December 17, 2018

“To pore it out to you in silence”: the Gold Rush correspondence of William and Mary Monroe

The California Historical Society (CHS) is honored to announce the recent acquisition of fourteen Gold Rush letters, exchanged by William Monroe, a Wisconsin doctor who journeyed to the California gold fields in 1850, and his wife Mary Monroe in Wisconsin. Generously donated to CHS by descendants of the Monroe family, this collection is extraordinary, not only for its well-written and observed documentation of Gold Rush life, but also and especially for its poignant insight into the struggles of a woman left behind to manage the family farm and household while grieving the death of her young child, and for its sad illumination of the emotional and financial hardships Gold Rush-Era family separations inflicted on women as well as men.

William Monroe (1818-1908) was a doctor in Fayette, Wisconsin, who had engaged in lead mining near Mineral Point, Wisconsin, while reading for the medical profession. In 1850, he went to California with a party from Mineral Point, leaving behind his wife Mary Jane Monroe née Beebe (1822-1903) and their two children, John and Harriet. Between 1850 and 1851, William worked as a gold miner and physician in California, while Mary ran the family farm and household in Fayette. The correspondence exchanged by William and Mary between April 1850 and December 1851 reveals two different yet stark realities: the hardships of the overland journey and mining life in California, and William’s deep sense of helplessness and grief upon learning of the death of his son John; and Mary’s struggles to raise a family and manage the farm while enduring illness, loneliness, and unimaginable loss. The medium itself—letters delivered months after they were written and often “miscarried”—is another source of the collection’s poignancy, as William wrote tenderly and hopefully about the couple’s children only a few weeks after Mary penned the heartbreaking letter informing him of John’s death.

The letters speak powerfully for themselves. Below are transcripts from two letters of bereavement: Mary’s letter of May 1, 1851, and William’s reply of September 15, 1851, written in a black letter book.

Mary Monroe letter to William Monroe, 1851 May 1; William and Mary Monroe Correspondence, MS Vault 173; California Historical Society.

Fayette, May the 1, 1851 

Beloved husband, 

I received your kind letter dated Feb 23 on the 22 April, how anxiously I perused those lines written by you, it is the 2 letter I have received from you since your arrival in California, you can imagine the pleasure and consolation your letter was to me, when I relate to you the state of my health and bereavement, I was not able to sit up in bed without assistance when I received it, Dear husband my heart is filled with the deepest emotions of sorrow when I attempt to write that our little son is numbered with the dead, on the 22 of March his spirit left this earth, for that bright home beyond the skies, which he often talked about, I never wanted to see you more in my life, but as the intervening distance will not permit, let us live so as to meet with our little ones in heaven, when I reflect on the Multiplied favours we are constantly receiving from God, my prayer is thy will be done (and not mine) I feel willing to submit to him, who is willing to sustain all those who put their trust in him. I have written 5 letters to you and one to George, I received your letter last Nov dated Sept 20 and answered it immediately about a month after, I wrote to George, John L. had just recovered from an attack of the lung fever in Galena we came home in January I wrote to you again in Feb or March, I then wrote that John had a cough but was in hopes he would be better when warm weather came he was taken with a chill, Tuesday morning, and died on Saturday morning, with inflammation of his lungs, on Sunday he was taken to your Fathers and buried by the side of his little Brother. 
William Monroe letter to Mary Monroe, 1851 Sept 15; William and Mary Monroe Correspondence, MS Vault 173; California Historical Society.

Hopkins Creek, California, Sept 15, 1851

Dear and Affectionate Wife. It is only about six weeks since I wrote to you last a few days after receiving a letter from Father containing the heartrending news of our dear child’s death; when I wrote I could think of nothing but him I said nothing about what I was doing. I am sometimes sorry that I wrote in the state of mind to again fetch up all those tender feelings that probably had been [?] and burned in your bosom but My Dear how could I help it I had no other source to relieve my [?] distracted mind but to pore it out to you in silence even yet the thought of returning and him absent from our happy little circle seems more than I can reconcile or bear to think of all my blasted hopes only makes me realize to what a high I had allowed them to carry me but pardon me for I am now filling this one with that that will only disturb your mind that might otherwise remain at rest but his image is so impressed on my mind that I cannot keep him out of my mind for a moment do not neglect to have your and little Sissy’s Likeness I have received two letters from you one written before his death and one after….

Marie Silva

Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian

Friday, December 14, 2018

In Your Travels: California Historical Society Collections on the Road

CHS on the Road is a series of posts by registrar Cheryl Maslin highlighting CHS collections on loan to other institutions. In your travels, we hope you will be able to visit these exhibitions.

Drawing of Achilles and accompanying Alvord Award Medal with Brooch are on view through February 17, 2019, in Artful Liaisons: Connecting Painters Grace Carpenter, Edward Espey, and Grafton Tyler Brown, Grace Hudson Museum, 431 South Main Street, Ukiah, California.

Grace Carpenter (1865–1937), with twin brother Grant, was born to Helen McCowen, a writer, civic leader, and early educator in Potter Valley, Mendocino County, California. McCowen and her husband, Aurelius Ormando Carpenter, known for his photographs of the early Mendocino railroad, lumber, and shipping industries, operated a portrait photography studio in nearby Ukiah. After showing promise as a child for her drawing skills, Grace began attending the San Francisco School of Design at age fourteen. When she returned home for summer break after her first year, instructor Oscar Kunath (1830–1909, American, b. Germany) wrote her mother, imploring, “I take the liberty as well as pleasure in stating, that she has been one of my best pupils. . . . If she intends choosing Art for her occupation, it is indeed necessary to devote all her time & talent to this high aim in life. . . . Your daughter . . . will soon rise above her classmates by studying very earnestly.”

Portrait of Grace Carpenter. See Footnote 4: Portrait of Grace Carpenter, ca. 1882, is courtesy of the Grace Hudson Museum, City of Ukiah; Acc. # 18361d. 
During her second year at art school, Carpenter won an annual student contest for best classical drawing. The subject for all entrants was a plaster cast of Ares Borghese (ca. 1–2 CE), a Roman marble sculpture in the collection of the Museum of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge, England, considered very difficult to portray in two dimensions. The prize was a medallion named after William Alvord, mayor of San Francisco from 1871 to 1873, and engraved with the contest winner’s name. Carpenter’s medallion was at some point affixed to a brooch with a cat’s-eye shell as a centerpiece, flanked with a leaf motif and a turquoise bead at either end of the pin bar. The drawing and medallion remained in her possession, later passing to her nephew, Mark Carpenter, who, with his wife, gave them to CHS in 1963. They have returned to the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah for this exhibition.
The photograph of Achilles is believed to have been taken prior to the drawing and Alvord Award being given to CHS, with the photographer unknown. The image was used in Searles R. Boynton’s book, The Painter Lady: Grace Carpenter Hudson. Eureka: Interface California Corp., 1978. 

   Courtesy of California Historical Society. Alvord Award, 1881. Maker unknown. Medallion 1 -1/2 inches, diameter; overall dimensions: 3 inches height x 2 -9/16 inches width. Gold, cat’s eye shell, turquoise beads. California Historical Society, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Carpenter.       
In 1890, Carpenter married John Wilz Napier Hudson, who had trained in medicine in Nashville and come to Ukiah to work as a physician. He later became a scholar of Pomo culture and an important collector of their baskets. Grace Carpenter Hudson occupies a significant place in California history due to her lifetime of art production, which includes more than 680 paintings, mostly of Pomo peoples in the region. For more information, please visit

Additional Notes

1. Quotes from Oscar Kunath’s letter are courtesy the Grace Hudson Museum, City of Ukiah; Acc. #2018-1-2. While the letter is not dated, Karen Holmes, curator of collections and exhibitions, believes it was written in the spring of 1880. A Daily Alta newspaper clipping, dated December 24, 1881, and held in the museum’s archives, states that Carpenter had been a student for eighteen months when she received the award. For a brief history of the formation of the San Francisco Art Association and its evolution into today’s San Francisco Art Institute see Betty Hoag McGlynn, “The San Francisco Art Association,” in Plein Air Painters of California, The North, ed. Ruth Lilly Westphal (Irvine, CA: Westphal, 1986), 16–19.

2. The marble Ares Borghese may itself be a copy of an earlier bronze (now lost) from the fifth century BCE. The statue was among 344 antiquities that entered the collections of the Louvre in 1807, via purchase by Emperor Napoleon from Camillo Borghese, Sixth Prince of Sulmona and husband of Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister. In 1884 it transferred to Cambridge University by sale, and its record in the Museum of Classical Archaeology Databases notes that “it may represent Achilles” [the title of Carpenter’s drawing], and that it “has also been recently proposed that the sculpture was a Roman original created through Augustan propaganda to cast Augustus’s heir and grandson, Gaius, as ‘the New Ares.’” The statue’s height is 211 cm, or slightly under seven feet. Hudson’s drawing’s subject has remained identified as Achilles since the contest, although recent research conducted by Marcus and Rosalie Wardell confirms the actual source of the plaster cast.

3. Although unconfirmed at this time, it is possible that the numeral 3, shaped by erasure and located in the lower-right corner of the drawing, may be Carpenter’s entry number. Additionally, while Carpenter was not a trained jeweler, it is highly likely she chose the centerpiece for her brooch and approved its design.

4. The original Portrait of Grace Carpenter may have been taken at her parents’ studio in Ukiah, though the actual photographer is unknown and the tintype does not carry the “Carpenter” mount. The photograph of Achilles is believed to have been taken prior to the drawing and Alvord Award being given to CHS, with the photographer also unknown. The latter was used in Searles R. Boynton, The Painter Lady: Grace Carpenter Hudson (Eureka, CA: Interface California, 1978), 18.

5. Fellow artist and San Francisco–born Henry Percy Gray (1869–1952), also attended the San Francisco School of Design and participated in the contest in 1886. His submission is also in the collection of the California Historical Society, a gift of Dr. and Mrs. W. Scott Polland, 1970.

Art and object collections are available for researchers by inquiry and prearranged appointment through CHS’s North Baker Research Library.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Kicking Off the Holidays With Our 10th Annual Historic Libations

On November 27th, the California Historical Society hosted its 10th annual Historic Libations event at the Old U.S. Mint in San Francisco. This year’s theme was Back to the Future: History of Bay Area Food and Drink Innovation, and focused on local food and drink makers who are building on historic traditions to innovate in their various crafts.

Guests gathered inside the Old Mint’s elegant rooms and corridors, amidst the twinkle of tea lights, to toast and taste, listen to shorty tasty talks from food and drink makers, and enjoy pop-up tours of the Mint’s vaults and historic spaces.

Culinary Historian Erica Peters told stories of innovative tastes from throughout San Francisco history, exploring flavors originating in the Bay Area from cioppino and sourdough bread, to Rice-A-Roni and Pisco punch.


Father and daughter team Amy and Gary Guittard of Guittard Chocolates discussed how, over the last 150 years, their company has made high quality chocolate by melding old world small-batch processing with modern techniques.

Bob Klein of Oliveto and Community Grains spoke on the history of California as a wheat state and how modern wheat production is a blend of innovation in farming, milling, and science with older, more traditional techniques.


Lance Winters of Saint George Spirits explored the ethos of the distillery, which has been at the vanguard of artisan distillation since its founding in 1982.

Susan Coss of Mezcalistas talked about the complicated relationship between California and Mexico as told through agave distillates.


The Buena Vista was on hand to serve up their famous Irish Coffees.

Banda Sin Nombre, a five-piece street band from San Francisco’s Mission District provided an epic evening of folk music from around the world.


The Museum of Craft and Design guided guests to design handmade wooden coasters.

We are grateful to all of our supporters to gathered with us kickstart the holiday season and celebrate the deep history of local food and drink culture at this year’s Historic Libations. We’re already looking forward to next year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

CHS Names Susan D. Anderson Director of Library, Collections, Exhibitions, and Programs

The California Historical Society has appointed Susan D. Anderson as its new Director of Library, Collections, Exhibitions, and Programs. Anderson comes to CHS from the African American Museum & Library in Oakland, where she has served as Interim Chief Curator for the past year.

Anderson is a third generation Californian who was born at the Presidio in San Francisco, and has studied, lived, and worked throughout the state to increase public understanding of history. She is an expert in American and African American history with focused interest on ethnic, literary, and social justice communities in California.

“We are grateful to have found Susan, whose experience and expertise stood out among a group of exceptional candidates. As a historian, Susan has explored deeply a wide range of diverse communities and social justice movements,” said CHS Executive Director and CEO, Anthea Hartig. “That experience will be invaluable to her future work in acquisition, the development of CHS’s permanent collection, and guidance of our public history programming, with the goal of reflecting the diversity of California and documenting contemporary movements.”

Anderson’s additional professional experience includes working as curator and managing director at UCLA and USC libraries’ special collections, as well as curating a statewide, touring exhibition commemorating the centennial of Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park alongside the California African American Museum. Anderson has one published book of poetry and is working on another book to be published through Heyday Books entitled, “African Americans and the California Dream.” Throughout her decade of experience working in the public history realm, she has lectured at the California State Capitol Museum, the California State Railroad Museum, the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley, the San Francisco Presidio, Richmond Museum of History, and the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, among others.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the talented, committed staff at the California Historical Society to expand its vision, reach, activities, and success to continue to make history a meaningful part of everyday experience,” Susan Anderson said. “This is truly an honor to be associated with such an esteemed organization that has been a trailblazer in terms of its exhibitions, historical significance and mission.”

In her new role at CHS, Anderson will serve as a key leader to the organization, providing guidance and vision to the North Baker Research Library and the CHS collection, as well as its rotating exhibitions and public programming, in alignment with CHS’s mission and strategic objectives. Critically, she will drive the fulfillment of two primary initiatives in the near future: The assessment of the collection’s needs and future in San Francisco’s Old U.S. Mint as part of an intensive study of that property as CHS’s new home, and the completion of Teaching California, a collaborative project funded by the State of California, designed to offer California K-12 teachers and their students an innovative online collection of teaching resources.

About the California Historical Society: The California Historical Society (CHS) is a non-profit organization with a mission to inspire and empower people to make the state’s richly diverse past a meaningful part of their contemporary lives in order to create a more just and informed future. Founded in 1871, CHS maintains a premier collection of original materials documenting the history of California from the Spanish conquest to the present day. The CHS Collection represents the environmental, economic, social, political, and cultural heritage of the entire state, including materials from outside California that contribute to a greater understanding of the state and its people. Beginning with its founding, and especially since establishing its Yerba Buena District headquarters on Mission Street in 1995, CHS has served residents of the Bay Area, the state, and beyond with its research library, exhibitions, publications, and public educational programs that draw on its important and wide-ranging collections of California history. Today, CHS is embarking on a four-pronged effort to increase its public accessibility, relevance, and impact through innovative and thought-provoking exhibitions; impactful educational programs for youth and adults; expanded programming in Southern California where CHS holds significant collections in partnerships with the Autry National Center and the University of Southern California; and a major digital preservation, management, and access initiative. Importantly, CHS has received a major grant from the State of California to evaluate a relocation to the Old U.S. Mint via a partnership with the City and County of San Francisco. For more information, please visit

Monday, December 3, 2018

In Your Travels: California Historical Society Collections on the Road

CHS on the Road is a series of posts by registrar Cheryl Maslin highlighting CHS collections on loan to other institutions. In your travels, we hope you will be able to visit these exhibitions.

Artifacts from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition are on view in WWI America, currently showing at the Museum of History and Industry, 860 Terry Ave N., Seattle, through February 10, 2019, and coming soon to the Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 Congress Ave., Austin, March 16–August 11, 2019.

Throughout much of 2015 our many visitors at CHS were treated to the exhibition City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair, in commemoration of the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal. The exhibition, which opened February 20 with a grand gala at the Palace of Fine Arts and concluded January 10, 2016, featured numerous images and artifacts from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, some generously provided by lenders, and many sourced from CHS’s own collections.

In 2017, the Minnesota Historical Society borrowed several of these artifacts from CHS for its traveling exhibition WWI America, now installed at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. These include the engraved silver spade made by Shreve & Co. (founded 1852 in San Francisco) used by President William Howard Taft in the groundbreaking ceremony on October 14, 1911, at the Golden Gate Park Polo Fields; a set of five Novagems, a gift of Maria Shoppe Bartee, two of which were on display in the conjunction exhibition at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts in 2015; and opening- and closing-day badges, the latter of which once belonged to five-year-old Albert Couderc, a gift of Marie Couderc.

Image courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, WA
Also featured in WWI America are four candlestick-style telephones that CHS borrowed for its show from the AT&T Archives and History Center. The phones were used in the first transcontinental conference call on January 25, 1915, between Alexander Graham Bell in New York; his former assistant, Thomas Watson, located at 333 Grant Avenue in San Francisco; Theodore Vail, president of AT&T, seated inside the Jekyll Island Club off the coast of Georgia; and President Woodrow Wilson, at the White House in Washington, DC.

Following its successful exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society (now the Virginia Museum of History and Culture) in Richmond, which saw some thirty-five thousand visitors, WWI America is now on view at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle through February 10, 2019. For more information, visit The show will then travel to the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, where it will be on view March 16 through August 11, 2019. See