News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

Benevolent Societies

California Lodge No. 1, Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia

Fraternal organizations and benevolent societies were being organized in San Francisco as early as October 1849, when California Lodge, No. 1 was organized under charter.

Officers of the California Lodge were:

Levi Stowell, Esq., of Washington City, Worshipful Master
A. Bartol, Esq., of Columbus, Ohio, Senior Warden
Col. Jno. W. Geary, of Westmoreland Co., Pa., Junior Warden
Dr. John H. Gihon, of Philadelphia, Secretary
A. S. Selover, Esquire, of New York, Treasurer

Masonic Lodge Diploma.

The organization sought out destitute men whom they conveyed to private boarding houses or hospitals, and furnished with medical aid or other necessities, spending as much as $50 to $100 per week. For those that didn't survive, the Lodge covered funeral expenses, which were as much as $200 at that time.

In the summer of 1850, the San Francisco Royal Arch Chapter was established, under a charter from the Grand General Chapter of the United States, with Col. John W. Geary as first High Priest. By 1853, more than a dozen new lodges were formed, and membership reached 4,000 members who, in additional to carrying out their original good works, were involved in the education of orphans.

Chinese Benevolent Associations

Chinese Benevolent Association, San Francisco, 1881.

Chinese Benevolent Associations were established for the protection and help of the needy who arrived from China as strangers, poor and unprotected. They depend solely upon the Benevolent Associations for protection and support, until employment can be found or a stopping-place can be provided. Upon arrival, each Benevolent Association receives and welcomes strangers from that section of the Empire represented by the Association; hires conveyances for the persons and their baggage and attends to the safe transfer of the same; protects the immigrants from the violence of hoodlums; provides food and lodgings; secures places of employment in the interior of the State or in other States and Territories; puts the newcomers in communication with their friends by means of books of record and reference properly kept in San Francisco; offer rewards for and pays the expenses of the arrest of those who maltreat or murder any who are thus received; cares for the needy sick and buries the friendless dead; employs able lawyers to look after the interest of our people throughout the land; acts as a mediator and peacemaker in case of controversy or quarrels; and, so far as practicable, returns the remains of the dead to be buried beside those of the ancestors of the deceased.

Those who have been thus helped by our Benevolent Associations and who have accumulated some money and are about to return to China, usually consider it a privilege, as well as a duty, to contribute a few dollars toward defraying the expense of maintaining these Benevolent Organizations. There is no exaction; there is no levy of "head money."

~ October 21, 1881, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The Daughters of Charity

Between 1844 and 1850, due to the stories of gold found at Sutter's Mill, San Francisco experienced a growth of unprecedented proportions from 50 residents to 25,000. Overwhelmed and concerned with the swelling population, Bishop Joseph Alemany requested that the Daughters of Charity be sent from Maryland to serve San Francisco s youth. In 1852, seven sisters of the Daughters of Charity embarked upon their treacherous journey to the West Coast. Sadly, two of the sisters died from cholera in transit. When the remaining five sisters arrived in San Francisco, they established an orphanage and girls day school, later known as St. Vincent s, to serve the growing population of underprivileged youth. San Francisco s population continued to rise steadily each year. On June 22, 1853, Bishop Alemany estimated the Catholic population of San Francisco at 15,000, which included 4,000 French, 2,000 Spanish, and 800 German Catholics, all of whom are addressed from the pulpit in their own language.

Freemasons (Masonic Lodges)

Procession of Freemason's Orphans at Freemason's Hall


Freemasonry is considered the world's oldest and largest fraternity. Freemasonry began in medieval Europe as a guild for stonemasons, but lived on as a social organization. The first grand lodge was created in London in 1717.Its membership includes George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Mozart, Davy Crockett, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, Gerald Ford, Henry Ford, John Wayne, even Colonel Sanders. If you want to be a Mason, you can petition a local lodge for membership. You'll need to demonstrate good character and belief in some sort of Supreme Being. The Order of the Eastern Star is a Freemasonic appendant body open to both men and women. It was established in 1850 by lawyer and educator Rob Morris, a noted Freemason. Dr. Morris wanted the Female Relatives of Master Masons to have a fraternal organization that they could belong to and that the Master Masons could belong to also.

In 1892, at the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in San Francisco, The Grand Lodge by a vote appropriated $10,000 in aid of the home to be built for widows and orphans. That increased the fund to nearly $60,000.

February 15, 1893, San Francisco, Call, San Francisco, California

A Large Tract of Land Purchased Upon Which to Build.

Six months ago a committee of nine was appointed by the order- of Free and Accepted Masons to locate and purchase a tract of land upon which the Masonin order could erect a home for orphans and elderly indigent Masons. The committee received many tempting offers since that time, and in many instances the land was offered at a very low price and in some cases a good bonus was offered. Most of the land offered was not suited for a home, while some of It was too far away from this city, as the Grand Lodge of Masons meets here and this city is the leading Masonic rendezvous on the coast. It was not until a few days ago that a fine tract of land of 268 acres, known as the Bailey tract, was /obtained. The tract is situated at Decoto, Alameda County, between San Leandro and Niles, and it is only one hour's ride by rail from this city, being passed by daily trains from Sacramento, Stockton and San Jose. The price paid for the land was £33,500. The Masons will erect a fine building on the tract and cultivate olives, figs and different kinds of fruits so that in time the property will be made self-supporting.

The French Benevolent Society

Nowhere had Marshall's discovery of gold in 1845 at the race-mill at Colma, evoked greater interest than in France and particularly in and about Paris. Some 20,000 French settlers sailed to these shores between 1849 and 1851. They were encouraged to this land of gold not only by the possible rewards of fortune but also because conditions in France were greatly upset following the Revolution of 1848 and political exiles and the unemployed were numerous. It was designed to relieve the necessities of their sick and indigent countrymen. Among the newly arrived French settlers were many who had suffered from the hardships of the long journey and were unable to work.

Others returned from the placer mines in a state of physical exhaustion without funds or acquaintances, besides being unable to speak English. This distressful situation moved some of the more fortunate French residents of San Francisco under the leadership of Etienne Derbec, a journalist, to consider means of providing assistance to their compatriots. A meeting was held on December 21, 1851 for this purpose. Funds were raised and plans made to organize a Relief Society whose objectives would be as stated in their by-laws: "To provide for the needs of the sick, furnish assistance to Frenchmen as well as to citizens of other nationalities without resources, and to take care of their funeral expenses". A small wooden house was rented on the northeast cornier of Jackson and Mason Streets to provide temporary quarters for the Society's relief work. French Hospital has a rich heritage in the annals of both San Francisco and the state of California, with its roots deeply entrenched in the history of this city. On December 28, 1851 the Society's first permanent committee was elected and consisted of 16 members, one of them being the hospital physician.

The treasurer announced that the membership reached 300 and the subscriptions amounted to $2,600. Three days later the committee was solemnly installed by M. Patrice Dillon, the first Consul General of France in San Francisco, who announced that the modest 20-bed hospital was ready to receive its first patient. In August 1853, the committee decided that its growth warranted more substantial quarters and purchased a lot on the corners of Bush and Taylor Streets for $2,500. M. Huerne, a distinguished architect and engineer who had worked with de Lesseps on the Panama Canal, drew the plans, without charge, for a hospital to accommodate 60 patients. A subscription brought in $9,000 and the building was completed in December, 1853 at a cost of $7,195.

The German General Benevolent Society

Sigismund Herrman Obituary March 26, 1890.

To meet the need of helping their fellow countrymen, a broad based German Community banded together in 1854 to form the German General Benevolent Society (Allgemeine Deutsche Unterstuetzungs-Gesellschaft) for all German speaking residents of San Francisco. The Society was comprised of members of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths. The one common factor among them was speaking the German language. For the sake of rendering aid to their fellow Germans, families such as the Stadtmuellers and the Koehlers worked shoulder to shoulder with the Regensburgers and the Brandensteins to achieve this goal. In September 1870 the wives of the leaders of the German General Benevolent Society, who had worked for almost twenty years organizing elegant Charity Balls at the Palace Hotel and spectacular Fairs at the Mechanics’ Pavilion, decided to form their own organization. Specifically the organization’s mission was to render aid to needy German women and children.

(Image above from The Daily Alta California, March 26, 1890: 
The Pioneers' Society Loses a Highly Respected Member)

January 13, 1858, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

OFFICERS OF THE SAN FRANCISCO TERMAN BENEVOLENT SOCIETY -- The following are the officers elected by this Society January 9th: President, G. W. Beckh; 1st Vice President, Daniel Karsch; 2d Vice President, Fred. Franck,; Recording Secretary, John Fischer; Financial Secretary, O. Cipriani; Treasurer, H. Nielsen; General Committee, J. N. Rausch, A. Himmelmann, J. Luetgens, Ed. Kruse, F. Mebius, S. Hartmann, L. Braverman.

German Freemen's Union

The Staats Zeitung contains the following communication on the subject of the formation of a new German Union for amusement and instruction and the cultivation of friendly relations of the members.

The main features of the proposed plan are that the Association shall furnish every member with ample opportunities for social enjoyment; furnish means for mental cultivation; further and protect the interests of the Germans generally; and furnish all the members of the Association with information on subjects of general political interest.

We, the Germans of this city, have formed several Unions, but as their names indicate, principally for the purpose of imparting instruction in the fine arts, or of the development of the physical powers or tor benevolent purposes; and therefore they include among their members only such as take an interest in this or that object. But an Association, having for its principal object a general union for the general welfare, an association that may enable us to accomplish more easily our proper objects; that may protect the rights of isolated Germans so liable to be treated as aliens; that may enlighten those unacquainted with the English language in their rights and duties; that may make all acquainted with those social, political and commercial questions, to understand which is necessary for the proper performance of the duties of a citizen; and that may furnish information of the character and conduct of political leaders. Such an Association does not yet exist.

Such institutions, however, do exist in the eastern cities of the United States, where, founded on purely Democratic principles by German freemen, they are considered as a want of the time and have already bad much influence for good.

German Lutheran Church

Benevolent.St. Mark's Square.It is expected that the new German Lutheran church on Filbert street, near Seventh, will be dedicated during the first week in August. This church, which will be known as St. Marcus' German Lutheran Church, has formed a synod with St. Marcus' Church in San Francisco, as well as with the German Lutheran Church in Sacramento. The structure has been built by capital advanced by Herman Althoff, one of Oakland's wealthy and benevolent German citizens. The cost is about $8000, and the money is allowed to stand at interest for any time that may be required, the congregation having pledged themselves to pay the interest.

First Hebrew Benevolent Society

Founded on June 25, 1784 and is the oldest Jewish Charitable Society in the United States; the California group was founded prior to 1855.

Benevolent.First Hebrew Benevolent Society.

The object of this Society is Charity. Its purpose is to extend aid and comfort to co-religionists in need; the indigent sick, the widow, the orphan, the aged, destitute families and children, and those who seek means of helping themselves." Excerpt from the Hebrew Benevolent Society's booklet from 225th Anniversary, 1965 
(The Constitution And By-laws Of The First Hebrew Benevolent Society Of San Francisco, California )

Greek-Russian Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society

The Greek-Russian Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society held its annual meeting at 10 California Street on January 20, 1891. The society proceeded to the election of officers, and the following were chosen to serve for the ensuing term : L. C. Jancovich, President; J. P. Angius, Vice President; E. P. Alexine, Treasurer; G. E. Dabovich, Recording Secretary; W. P. Kashevaroff, Financial Secretary; W. P. Kashevaroff, Financial Secretary; Trustees — John Abramovich, John Radovich, M. Dalovich, E. Strathopulos, M. Kedrolivansky and M. Kossatch; S. Vincosaghivich, Conductor; Peter Papovich, Assistant Conductors.

The society indorsed Bishop Vladimir of tne Greek Church in all his actions, which led to his suspension but subsequent reinstatement.

Irish-American Benevolent Society

The Irish-American Benevolent Society was organized in May, 1860, and two years afterward in August 1862 filed articles of incorporation, with T. Mulcahy, J. H. Dillon, E. Kelly, Charles O'Neill, T. Campion, M. O'Connell, M. Corcoran, J. M. Ahern and J. L. Hayden as a Board of Trustees and Directors.

As its name implies, the Irish-American Benevolent Society had for its objects the proper care of its sick and the interment of deceased members. The qualification necessary to an applicant for membership was that he should be of Irish descent on either his father's or mother's side. In the case of a life member, however, the qualification was limited to Irish descent, going no further back than the parents. With the capital at their command the society bought the present Irish-American Hall, which cost $45,000, in which they have been accustomed to hold their regular meetings, while deriving a nice sum from the other halls, which are let to labor organizations and other societies. In 1890, the Society disincorporated.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, California Lodge No. 1

Established in 1849. Like the Masons above, they extended their aid to the suffering members of their own Order. By 1855, the Order had grown to 21 lodges, five of which were located in San Francisco, and one of which was composed principally of German residents. On the 17th of May, the R.W. Grand Lodge of California was organized with the following officers:

Samuel H. Parker, M. W. Grand Master
J. F. Morse, R. W. D. Grand Master
E. W. Colt, R. W. Grand Warden
T. R. Johnson, R. W. Grand Secretary
John M. Coughlin, R. W. Grand Treasurer
Matthew Purden, R. W. Grand Representative
J. Zacariah, W. Grand Marshal
A. J. Lucas, W. Grand Guardian
L. F. Zantzinger, W. Grand Conductor

Early in 1849, Rev. T. D. Hunt organized a Temperance Society in San Francisco, which was followed by the established of various branches, including the Daughters of Temperance.

January 27, 1884, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

To be Erected by the Odd Fellows of San Francisco.

The new temple to be erected by the Odd Fellows of this city, on their lot corner of Market and Seventh streets, will be a handsome structure of four stories with basement, and a tower 165 feet high. The style of architecture is called a modernized Gothic. In the basement are the kitchen and supper-room, capable of seating 1,500, guests. On the ground-floor will be the public hall, 63 by 100 feet, with a stage 35x16 feet, and galleries.

Benevolent.Odd Fellows Hall, San Francsico.The seating capacity will be not less than 1,500, and the entrances and exits will be ample to insure safety. The library-room will be 27x80 feet, with reading-rooms for gentlemen 30x27 feet and for ladies 27x20 feet. The room on the corner will be used by the Grand Secretary for an office. In the third story are to be four lodge-rooms facing Market street, and in the fourth story are to be four more lodge-rooms, occupying the entire floor. The lower story will have an iron front, and the others will be of pressed brick with stone trimmings. Throughout the building the girders will be of steel, and this will be the first use of them on this coast. The building will cost, finished, about $250,000.

The New England Society of San Francisco

Established in September 1850. During a meeting at the American House on Clay Street, the following officers were chosen:

President: Charles Gilman, New Hampshire
Vice Presidents: J. C. Derby, Massachusetts; W. H. Clark, Maine; John A. Collins, Vermont; G. V. S. Gibbs, Rhode Island; Theodore Dimond, Connecticut
Treasurer: George W. Gibbs
Auditor: H. K. W. Clark
Librarian: William A. Dana (This may be William Henry Dana)
Corresponding Secretary: Louis R. Luss
Recording Secretary: Henry L. Dodge
Executive Committee: J. P. Treadwell, Lucien Skinnett, J. Satterlee, C. D. Cushman, Robert Hopkins, O.N. Bush

The Roman Catholic Church of San Francisco 
Order of the Sisters of Mercy

BenevolentRincon Point from Rincon Hill, 1851.

St. Mary's Hospital was constructed on the south side of Rincon Hill in 1861 by the Order of the Sisters of Mercy, an Irish order established in 1831 for the sick. This new building replaced the Order's original hospital facility on Stockton Street. St. Mary's Hospital was the leading charitable institution in the South of Market until its destruction in the 1906 fire. It was a vitally important community resource given the entrenched poverty in many of the South of Market neighborhoods, specifically designed to serve working-class communities of Tar Flat, Mission Bay and South of Market. The Hospital opened with 27 patients, and was divided by floors according to gender and ability to pay. Fees ranged from $10 a week for patients in open wards, to up to $20 a week for those in private rooms.

St. Mary's Hospital became the nexus of a group of Catholic social institutions that served the predominantly Irish immigrant community in the South of Market. It included a much-needed refuge for widows and destitute older women from Tar Flat. The House of Mercy, constructed in 1873 as part of the St. Mary's complex, provided shelter for up to 24 unemployed younger women with the goal of keeping them from falling into prostitution as a means of support. The girls and women who found shelter there, some as young as 13, earned their keep sewing clothes.

In connection with St. Patrick's Catholic Church and school, since 1852, 50 orphans were housed in Happy Valley and watched over by five Sisters of Charity.

April 21, 1862, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Mooney's Express gives the following estimate of the cost of certain Catholic buildings in the State. It is to be remembered in this connection that nearly the whole of the following sum has been the free gift of the people of California.

Catholic Buildings in San Francisco 1862
St. Mary's Cathedral
St. Francis Church
St. Patrick's Church
St. Patrick's Orphanage, schools and grounds
St. Joseph's Church
Presentation Convent
Sisters of Mercy Hospital, Rincon Point
Church and School in Brannan street
Magdalene Asylum
St. Rose's Church and Pastor's residence, Sacramento
Marsyville Church
Convent and College in Marysville
Grass Valley Church
Nevada Church
Downieville Church
Forest Hill Church
Stockton Church
Columbia Church
Placerville, Folsom, and Georgetown Churches
Auburn Church
San Jose Church
San Jose Convent
Santa Clara Church and College
Benicia Convent
Napa Church

Russian Orthodox

Russian Orthodox Church, San Francisco.

The first Orthodox Society founded in San Francisco was on December 2, 1857. On September 2, 1867, it was incorporated as the Greek Russian Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society. During these years, the Orthodox population of the Bay Area was spiritually and sacramentally served by chaplains from Russian Navy ships that frequented San Francisco Bay. During the Holy Week of 1868, an Orthodox Priest was sent to the City from Alaska to conduct the Paschal services here. That priest, Father Nicholas Kovrigin, became the first permanent Orthodox minister in San Francisco (until his return to Russia in 1879). Another Alaskan missionary, Archpriest Paul Kedrolivansky, became the first Rector of the San Francisco parish. (Image: Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Richmond District, San Francisco.)

The San Francisco Ladies' Protection and Relief Society

Established on August 4, 1853 by the wives of numerous influential citizens for the purpose of affording protection and assistance to women in need or distress, whether they were residents or strangers. The ladies arranged for comfortable homes and work situations with respectable families.

Medical, Law, Library and Literary Associations and Religious Societies were numerous by 1855.

The San Francisco Orphan Asylum

In response to the need of those few children who had lost their parents, was established in February 1853 by ladies of the different congregations in San Francisco. Officers included:

President: Mrs. Williams
Vice President: Mrs. Wiley
Treasurer: Mrs. Boring
Secretary: Mrs. Warren
Managers: Mesdames Waller, Taylor, Wheeler, E. V. Gillespie, Joyce and Dubbs
Trustees: Messrs. Chas. Gilman, Stephan Franklin and Daniel L. Ross
Matron: Mrs. Wilson.

The society initially had eight orphans and soon grew to 30, who were housed rent free in a cottage on Folsom Street owned by Mr. Halleck. Within months, $24,000 was spent to build a home for the children near Yerba Buena Cemetery.

The Sisters of Charity

Some thirty of the Sisters of Charity left New York June 13, 1863 on the America, crossed the Isthmus in Nicaragua, and boarded the steamship St. Louis for San Francisco, arriving July 1863.

Sister Catharine
Sister de Arimathie
Benevolent.Catholics of San Francisco.Sister del Enfant Jesus
Sister Emerentienne
Sister Enerancienine
Sister Euphemie
Sister Fredrich
Sister Hyacinth
Sister Isadore
Sister Kate Kirrs
Sister Lajove
Sister Marie Catharine
Sister Marie de Assize
Sister Marie de Sacre Coeur
Sister Marie Delacroix
Sister Marie des Auges Gardieres
Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World. Elizabeth Rapley.Sister Marie des Sept Douleurs
Sister Marie Heduidge
Sister Marie Helene
Sister Marie Justine
Sister Marie Louis
Sister Marie Marie Praxede
Sister Marie Patrick
Sister Marie Romuald
Sister Marie Virginie
Sister Olivier
Sister Paul Miki
Sister Terese de Jesus
Sister Veronique du Crucifix

The Society of California Pioneers

BenevolentSociety of California Pioneers.Instituted in August 1850. Their charge was to bind together in social union the original founders of the City of San Francisco, and to collect and preserve early records of California history. In 1854, the objects of the Society of California Pioneers were declared, in the words of the constitution, "to cultivate the social virtues of its members, to collect and preserve information connected with the early settlement and conquest of the country, and to perpetuate the memory of those who sagacity, enterprise, and love of independence induced them to settle in the wilderness, and forge the germ of a new State."

Officers and Members of the Society of California Pioneers: 1854

The Naval Order of the United States has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.




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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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