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Monday, May 27, 2019

Spotlight on Japanese American History

Brocade of Sacramento Valley, 1911; Vault 13061; California Historical Society. Translated Title: Japanese in California: A pictorial history. By Nichei Bei Times, 1911; California Historical Society

This special edition booklet , created in 1911 by the Nichei-Bei Shimbun (Japanese American Times), provides a pictorial history of Japanese American families in rural California. It both documents and celebrates the Japanese community in the Sacramento Valley region and the important contributions they made to California’s agricultural economy early in the early twentieth century.

Watch shop owned by Mr. Aokihaka, Sacramento County, Calif.; Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061; California Historical Society
In 1869, when the transcontinental railroad laid its last piece of track, Chinese workers, the labor force behind the building of the railroad, were left to seek employment elsewhere. At the same time, in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, Northern California’s farming and agriculture industry was fast-expanding to meet the needs of a growing State. It was in these areas that many displaced Chinese workers migrated. Despite the clear need for labor in the orchards, fields, and vineyards of these regions anti-Chinese sentiment, formalized in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, was rampant - forcing many to move to urban areas where Chinatowns offered some form of protection against racial violence.

Kaishundo Drug Store, Sacramento, Calif.; Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061
As Chinese workers were forced out, labor needs in these agriculture and farming areas started to be filled by newly arrived immigrants from Japan. Post 1900, immigration from Japan to Hawaii and the West Coast of America was fueled by people seeking economic security and many Japanese, particularly those from rural farming and fishing villages, took advantage of Japan’s loosening emigration laws to seek employment overseas. Communities were born all over rural California as people from the same prefecture in Japan often settled near each other, many making the transition over time from agricultural laborers to tenant farmers and even business owners. 

Mikado Fish Market with owner Mr. Fujita, Sacramento, Cal., Brocade of Sacramento Valley; Vault 13061
Valerie Matsumoto in her book, Farming the home place: a Japanese American community in California, 1919-1982, estimates that between 1891 and 1900, 27,440 Japanese came to the West Coast from Hawaii and Japan to work in agriculture, canneries, logging, mining, and other industries, and that within a relatively brief period agriculture became the leading enterprise of the Japanese. In some areas of central California all-Japanese communities developed, including Florin in Sacramento County (known in Japanese as Taishoku) and the Yamato Colony at Livingston in Merced County.

[K. Igarashi & Co. Brocade of Sacramento Valley], Brocade of Sacremento Valley, Nichi Bei Times, 1911. Vault 13061

By 1913, two years after Nichei-Bei Times published this pictorial of the Japanese American community in Sacramento Valley, as many as 6,000 Japanese had become tenant farmers. Despite this clear need for labor, increasing xenophobia paved the way for discriminatory laws targeting Japanese farmers. The Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited "aliens ineligible for citizenship" from owning agricultural land or possessing long-term leases over it.” In 1920, California made this law even stricter with amendments that prohibited even short-term leases of lands to non-US citizens. 

These communities, continually under threat, were ultimately decimated in 1942 when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcibly removing all Japanese residents and American citizens of Japanese ancestry and incarcerating them for the duration of WWII.

For many, after 1945, there was no home, no work, and no community to return to.

Nichei-Bei Shimbun [Japanese American news] 
Established in San Francisco in 1899, the Nichibei Shimbun was one of the most prominent ethnic newspapers in the continental United States. Reflective of its founder Kyutaro Abiko's vision, the newspaper called for assimilation and permanent settlement among Issei (“first generation”) as well as biculturalism and American patriotism among Nissei (“second generation”).

Throughout the prewar years, the Nichibei Shimbun remained one of the most important Japanese vernaculars in California, if not in the entire western United States. During the 1920s, its daily circulation peaked at over 25,000, which included the San Francisco and Los Angeles editions.


Waves of Immigration, by Emily Anderson, Densho Encyclopedia,

Terminology, Densho Encyclopedia,

National Park Service, A History of Japanese Americans in California: Patterns of Settlement and Occupational Characteristics, National Park Service,

The California Alien Land Law and the Fourteenth Amendment, Edwin E. Ferguson, Vol. 35, Issue 1, March 1947,

Matsumoto, V. J. (1993). Farming the home place: A Japanese American community in California, 1919-1982. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.


Written by Frances Kaplan, Research Librarian at California Historical Society

Monday, May 20, 2019

Behind the Scenes with Research Librarian Frances Kaplan

Recently we sat down with California Historical Society’s Research Librarian, Frances Kaplan, to discuss the rich stock of resources available to the public through the North Baker Research Library.

The North Baker Research library is a “special collections library,” can you explain what that means?
A special collections library is different from a lending library which would cover a vast range of topics. Ours is a research library where people come to do more in-depth research on collections that we have in our archives. Our focus is only California, which is bigger than a lot of places but smaller in scale than what many other libraries may cover. We house diverse collections that people can view and study to help them draw their own perspectives of the history of California.

What’s the difference between CHS’s library and a regular public library?
At a public library you generally don’t have rare materials and it’s usually a lending library, meaning they let you take the books home with you. We don’t loan out our materials because they are rare and unique. We are similar to some universities which will have a library for student use but also have special collections that focus on one area, for example the labor archives at SF State.

What does the public have access to through the North Baker Research Library?
We have more than half a million photographs as well as 35,000 books and 4,000 manuscript collections, plus maps, ephemera, posters, broadsides, periodicals, newspapers, and the Kemble Collection on Western Printing and Publishing. The bulk of our collections date from the 1860’s through the 1970’s, but we do have some very early manuscript material from when California was still part of Mexico. The public has access to everything in our vaults if they come visit during the library’s open hours. Anyone can visit the library and request to see a collection, which we will then take out of the vault for you to explore. People can also access our collection through the digital library, where we are rapidly digitizing material, and we have an online catalog which lets you see what we have and what you might want to look at when you come for an in person visit.

Can you talk a little more about the work you and the rest of the library and collections staff are doing to make our collections accessible to people who might not be able to physically visit our space?
We realize that it’s getting harder to get to San Francisco and difficult to stay here a long time, especially if you are a researcher exploring a specific topic. We want to, and are in the process of, digitizing as much of our collection as possible. The library is an intermediary between someone wanting to find information and the vaults below us where the information might be and so we want to make accessing those amazing resources as easy as possible. We do have to uphold a very deliberate process though, because the moment that we digitize something it becomes its own object that needs to be preserved and cataloged. There are also sometimes copyright and third-party rights that need to be addressed before a digital image is displayed online. Also some things you just can’t digitize, they’re too fragile, they’re oversized, or they might be thousands of pages long. So what we try to do is prioritize our digitization needs. Things that are older or more fragile need to be digitized sooner rather than later so they are handled and worn less. One example of a collection we recently digitized is the Peoples Temple collection. In this instance we felt it was necessary to digitize the photographs in the collection first, allowing people access to them immediately for research and learning purposes. That became a priority over the manuscripts materials, of which there are over one hundred boxes. The entire Peoples Temple collection is, however, open to researchers who visit our library.

Who comes to the library?
We get researchers from all over the world, we get people who are interested in their family genealogy, we get people from SF and the Bay Area who are interested in their neighborhood or their building history. We also get a lot of people from out of state or country who have a research topic in mind. We recently had a researcher from South Africa and spend a few days in our library looking over plans, drawings, and manuscripts related to water projects by a Californian who worked for a period of time in South Africa. There was also a professor from New Zealand who flew here to go through records we hold by the American Civil Liberties Union-Northern California. We also see a number of students, predominantly at the college and graduate level, but we welcome elementary and high school students as well! CHS is the source of material for lots of research that turns into books. So many of the books on our library shelves are by authors who came to the library seeking material from our collections in order to write their book. We also see a lot of documentary film makers here, as well as architectural historians, and journalists who are usually covering some aspect of local history.

How do we get our collection material?
Our original collection came from C. Templeton Crocker who, in 1922, donated his collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, and periodicals emphasizing overland travel, California’s transition from a Mexican province to statehood, and the Gold Rush. CHS has continued collecting with a focus on the documenting the diverse history of California.

When we acquire material to be added to our collection, it goes through a very stringent process because we want to make sure that we can take care of it, preserve it, and that it fits into our collection scope and policy.  Unfortunately, we can’t take everything and that means we do have very specific criteria for accepting things.

What is your role at the library?
I see my role as one of public service. I am part of the public face of the library and the first person people come across if they have a question they need to find an answer to, whether in person or by phone or email. I am the person that they can talk about their project with and discuss what they are hoping to find. I am able to show them how to use our catalogs or let them know more about the items they are interested in, and if we don’t have anything that meets their needs, I can let them know about what other institutions and archives might be able to help them. So it is my job to connect people to the right institution and the best place in order to find what they are looking for – whether that be the history center at San Francisco Public Library, the archives at UCSF, or one of the many wonderful special collections held at the University of California libraries or the California State University libraries. For many people, they need to go to more than one place if they want a variety of information because much of it is scattered across different archives.

Can you highlight something interesting from our archives that you’ve been working with recently?
We are constantly digitizing and cataloging and finding items in our collection that we didn’t necessarily know were there. The goal is that everything that we keep here ultimately has a description that people can see through the catalog on our website. We have a rare book cataloger, we have a manuscripts archivist, someone who works exclusively with photographs, etc.

A few items recently came to me through our rare book and printed material cataloger. He stumbled upon this pamphlet of Camp Curry in Yosemite from 1912. This is so timely, because right now we have an exhibition up about the Transcontinental Railroad, which made Yosemite easier to get to and more accessible that it is now in many ways. In the pamphlet they have a bit about how you can go by rail and then by stagecoach - “people may obtain stopover privileges on their transcontinental tickets at Merced. Then they changed to Yosemite Valley Railway or take a Pullman Car directly from either San Francisco or L.A.” So that’s how they got there in the olden days which makes it a lot more accessible in some ways than it is now.

Other things we might have had in our collection for a long time but because we have so many items, I don’t know them all. Sometimes when a researcher requests something, it’s the first time I’ve seen it. This is occurred recently and I was surprised to discover the original drawings by Donald Graham Kelley of the official California Bear design for the CA state flag. These are the original illustrations from 1952. It’s so cool because it allows you to follow the design process. You see that Kelley was commissioned by the government to create this and then you see scientific feedback on the bear figure from Tracy Storer, professor of zoology at UC Davis, based on the initial sketches that were sent over. 

Every now and then we discover material within our vaults that we didn’t realize even existed because it was hidden inside another collection. Thus was the case with this one last item I am intrigued with – it is a photographic album of images of Clark’s Waterworks from 1890-1891. This company existed before all of the other waterworks systems in San Francisco. It was a private enterprise from really early on. Clark owned a bunch of Eureka Valley and Glen Park and started his own waterworks business, damning and pumping water from that area and supplying it to the people around him, before the city owned the water systems.

We invite you to visit us at the North Baker Research Library at 678 Mission Street in San Francisco, Wednesday through Friday, 1PM to 5PM. You can access our digital library here and our online catalog here. The University of Southern California has also digitized and maintains images from our collection which can be found here.

Monday, May 13, 2019

California Historical Society's 2019 Gala, Featuring the Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr.

The California Historical Society celebrated forty years as the State’s official historical society at its annual Gala, with more than 200 guests coming together to honor the person responsible for its official designation, the Honorable Edmond G. Brown, Jr.

The Gala took place exactly 40 years to the day, when on May 9, 1979, then Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 63, authored by Senator Jim Mills, which established the California Historical Society as the official state historical society.  It is just one example of the exemplary leadership, vision and fortitude demonstrated by Governor Brown throughout his more than forty years of public service.

“Time and again, regardless of his title, governor, mayor, or attorney general, Governor Brown demonstrated his unique his ability to work alongside Democrats and Republicans in the legislature to be an important steward of California, its people and policies to build a brighter, lasting future,” said Michael Sangiocomo, Board Chair, California Historical Society.  “We are honored to pay tribute to Governor Brown’s life-long accomplishments and applaud the legacy he has left the Golden State.”

The highlight of the evening was an intimate conversation with Governor Brown that was moderated by Professor Bill Deverell, Director, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, and Miriam Pawel, Author, The Browns of California: The Family Dynasty that Transformed a State and Shaped a Nation. Professor Deverell and Ms. Pawel engaged the Governor about a myriad of issues, including his insights about his legacy, his favorite California past times, personal reflections and his outlook for the future.

The Governor was given a standing ovation and presented a special gift on behalf of the Historical Society that was a special book made for him about the history of his maternal grandfather, Evan Brown, that included rare photos and never-before-known biographical information unearthed by archivists.

“We are here tonight trying to see the relationship between the past and how that past informs the present,” Governor Brown said.  “The past is a very rich source of ideas, values, our whole existence, our whole identity. How do we both begrudge the past but be open and resilient and ready to the changes that are occurring at a very accelerating rate.”

A distinguished group of leaders in business, education, government, and philanthropy came together to plan and support the Gala in honoring the Governor and one of California’s true civic legends, in one of the West’s most significant historic buildings, the Old U.S. Mint.

The Honorary co-chairs for the event were George P. and Charlotte M. Shultz, Mayor London Breed, John Laird, Greg Lucas, Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris, Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mrs. Kevin Starr, Richard C. Blum, the Honorable Dianne Feinstein and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. The Chair of the Host Committee was CHS Trustee Linda Elliott.

Sponsors of the Gala include Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Annenberg Foundation, Diane B. Wilsey, Recology, Anthea M. Hartig and Family, AT&T, Ralph Walter and Dorothy Fleisher.  Proceeds from the Gala support California Historical Society programming and youth history education. 
Enjoy the following photographs from our Gala evening at the Old U.S. Mint.