Past Programs

Scroll down to see a list of California Historical Society’s past events. Many of our programs have been recorded and you can find links to videos here.

 March 9, 2021

Documenting Lesbian History: The June L. Mazer Archives

LGBT people, events, and issues are often invisible in mainstream accounts of history, but the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives is working to change that. The largest archive on the West Coast dedicated to preserving and promoting lesbian and feminist history and culture strives to guarantee that no one will ever think they “walk alone.” Celebrate Women’s History Month with this conversation between Frances Kaplan, CHS reference and outreach librarian, and Angela Brinskele, director of communications for the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives. Brinskele shares fascinating stories of women’s political activism in the twentieth century and collecting lesbian history.

Image courtesy of June L. Mazer Archives

February 16, 2021

Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era with authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts

In the 1940s and 1950s, the twenty-block area known as San Francisco’s Fillmore District was home to more than a dozen nightclubs where many legendary African American musicians performed. This multicultural neighborhood populated by African Americans, Japanese Americans, and Filipino Americans was one of few places where people of color could go for entertainment. In Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts chart the emergence of this exciting place and time with restored images and oral accounts from residents and musicians.

Photographer and filmmaker Elizabeth Pepin Silva has been writing about the Fillmore and its jazz scene since taking a job as historian and day manager of the Fillmore Auditorium by Bill Graham Presents in the late 1980s. Lewis Watts is a photographer, archivist, and professor emeritus at UC Santa Cruz with a long-standing interest in African American visual history.

February 9, 2021

In the Library: Chinatown’s Children through the Lens of Arnold Genthe

The Chinatown photographs by Arnold Genthe (1869–1942) are a remarkable record of Chinatown after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and before the 1906 earthquake and fires leveled the district. Genthe’s aestheticized views of the quarter and its inhabitants brought a new perspective to subject matter that previously had been portrayed in abject terms, and his photographs underscore the social hierarchies of the time. Genthe was particularly interested in Chinatown’s children. In this short online talk, Erin Garcia, CHS director of exhibitions, presents vintage Genthe photographs from the CHS collection.

January 19, 2021

Sex and Suffrage

A number of early twentieth-century suffragists’ sexual lives not only intersected with their political activities, but helped define them. Kimberly Hamlin’s account of Helen Hamilton Gardener tracks how Gardener’s scandalous affair with a married man shaped her determination to empower women through the vote and to exercise greater control over women’s and girls’ sexuality and bodies. Sherry Smith’s presentation on Sara Bard Field reveals how Field’s decades-long free-love affair with a married man coincided with her involvement in the suffrage movement. The latter, in turn, helped Field recalibrate her power relationship with her longtime lover. Wendy Rouse examines the significance of queer relationships among suffragists who challenged the heteronormative social conventions of their day.

October 15, 2020

This Is What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed Ballot

Ballots from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries offer insight into a period of tectonic shifts in the US electoral system—one fraught with fraud, disenfranchisement, scams, and skullduggery. Indeed, printed ballot design illuminates the noble but often flawed process at the heart of our democracy. Alicia Cheng, founding partner of MGMT. design in Brooklyn, takes us on an exploration and celebration of ballots—a visual history of unregulated, outlandish, and at times absurd designs that reflect the explosive growth and changing face of the voting public.

September 26, 2020

Revealing San Francisco’s Hidden 19th-Century Black History

Susan Anderson, history curator of the California African American Museum, tells the history of San Francisco’s nineteenth-century African American past, beginning with the Gold Rush. Using photographs and manuscripts from CHS collections, Anderson weaves California’s beginnings into the national narrative. This program was originally recorded as part of San Francisco History Days 2020 in partnership with the California African American Museum and the Institute for Historical Study.

August 18, 2020

American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford

American Disruptor is the untold story of Leland Stanford, from his birth in a backwoods bar to the founding of the world-class university that became and remains the nucleus of Silicon Valley. The life of this robber baron, politician, and historic influencer is an astonishing tale of how one supremely ambitious man became this country’s original “disruptor,” reshaping industry and engineering one of the biggest-ever raids on the public treasury to fund the transcontinental railroad, all while living more opulently than maharajas, kings, and emperors. It is also the saga of how Stanford, once a serial failure, overcame all obstacles to become one of the nation’s most powerful and wealthiest men, using his high elective office to enrich himself before losing the one thing that mattered most to him: his only child and son.

Roland De Wolk is a UC Berkeley–educated historian who left academia for a career in journalism, then returned to teach at a Bay Area university as an adjunct while retaining his prizewinning investigative reporting work.

July 24, 2020

Stories from the Collection: Japanese in Sacramento Valley

Explore a special-edition photo book created in 1911 by the Nichi-Bei Shimbun (Japanese American Times). The book is a pictorial history of Japanese American families in the Sacramento Valley region, documenting and celebrating their important contributions to California’s agricultural economy in the early twentieth century. This installment of CHS’s “In the Library” program series is presented by Frances Kaplan, CHS reference and outreach librarian.

May 14, 2020

Stories from the Collection: Del Valle family

Reginaldo del Valle was a prominent Mexican American politician and civil servant who served in both the California State Assembly and the Senate and was instrumental in the construction of the Owens River aqueduct. CHS holds a collection of del Valle’s business, political, family, and personal papers dating from 1829 to 1932, including portraits of the extended del Valle family at their ranch, Rancho Camulos, in Ventura County. Join Frances Kaplan, CHS reference and outreach librarian, for a virtual “In the Library” program on the del Valle collections.

May 12, 2020

Emboldened Women: The First Suffrage March in the United States

The year 2020 marks one hundred years since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteeing women’s right to vote, but California women gained that right a few years earlier by state election in 1911. Evelyn Rose, director and founder of San Francisco’s Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, uncovers an often overlooked, historic event in California—what is believed to be the nation’s first women’s suffrage march. On August 27, 1908, in Oakland, representatives of the California Equal Suffrage Association, including Johanna and Jeanette Pinther of San Francisco and Lillian Harris Coffin of Mill Valley, marched to the California State Republican Convention to demand suffrage be added to the party’s platform.

February 20, 2020

Culture for Community: Free Community Day and Docent Tours

Culture for Community is a unique group of Yerba Buena district arts and culture institutions who have joined together to open their doors for free on selected days. Each Free Day focuses on a theme that resonates with the unique perspectives of the Bay Area community. Join us on February 20 for Culture for Black History.

February 20, 2020

Call and Response: Curator Swap

In celebration of Black History Month and Culture for Community, CHS, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Museum of the African Diaspora present a magical night in which they swap curators and examine work in one another’s exhibitions.

Curator Swap with Museum of African Diaspora and Contemporary Jewish Museum

February 18, 2020

In the Library: Hidden History of African Americans in the Bay Area

An intimate viewing of unique and rarely seen collections documenting the history of African Americans in California, presented by Susan Anderson, CHS director of collections, library, and programs.

Curator Swap with Museum of African Diaspora and Contemporary Jewish Museum

February 11, 2020

Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era

Author Alison Rose Jefferson discusses how African Americans spent leisure time between 1910 and 1960, and how their fight for equal access to then-segregated recreational spaces contributed to the broader civil rights struggle. Cohosted with the San Francisco Public Library, and featuring a conversation with Shawna Sherman from the library’s African American Center.

January 21, 2020

The Redwoods, Women Who Fought to Protect Them, and the Red Woods League with Heyday Books and Save the Redwoods League

The authors of The Once and Future Forest: California’s Iconic Redwoods and Who Saved the Redwoods: The Unsung Heroines of the 1920s Who Fought for Our Redwood Forests (both published by Heyday Press) discuss the history of the Save the Redwoods organization and the role women played in fighting for and protecting trees throughout California.

Peter Palmquist Collection of Humboldt County, California, Male Photographers. Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

January 14, 2020

Soldiers Unknown: Graphic Novel Talk with Author Chag Lowry

Author and historian Chag Lowry presents his newest book, Soldiers Unknown, a graphic novel that tells the previously untold story of Native Yurok men who fought and died in World War I.