Concurring Histories in Hawaii

Did you know that the Sutro Library has over 2,000 biographical dictionaries in its collection (such as Who’s Who publications) from all over the United States as well as internationally? These useful sources can help provide the historical context for your ancestor’s life.  In this blog post written by one of our volunteers, Ryan Dickson, Ryan explores the kinds of information found in these types of publications. If you are interested in finding these sources at the Sutro Library, try searching the catalog by combining your geographic area of interest (country or state) and the word “biography.” If you need help, feel free to contact us at or via the Ask a Librarian service on the California State Library website.

Browsing the book stacks here at Sutro Library I am struck by the plethora of biographical sketches from across the globe and time. As an English professor, these collections spark my interest because they show how print media concretizes the atmosphere of a given era.

One such collection, Men of Hawaii particularly stood out because of its bold black cover and golden embossed lettering shining outwardly. [1]

This reminded me that Edward Said, who coined the word orientalism and wrote a controversial book on the subject, defines it as the process of restructuring another’s land, especially when that reconstructing comes with the heavy hand of colonial bureaucracy. And it is in Men of Hawaii, where editor George F. Nellist focuses his attention on men who have made the Islands a career rather than promoting Hawaiians themselves.

Similar books, Who’s Who in the World for example (4th, 5th, and 7th Editions all in Sutro Library’s Reading Room), include selected individuals as well as those who paid to appear in the collection and wrote their own sketches too. Therefore this collection offers a glimpse into what some of the men of Hawaii thought of themselves, along with a look at who believes that appearing in such a collection is important.

These sketches are part of a longer series also published by Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Ltd., including The Story of Hawaii and Its Builders, which is also housed in the Sutro Library stacks. In its foreword, Riley H. Allen writes that these collections provide a “standard reference work and record of men who deservedly occupy a high place in the industrial and cultural history of the Hawaiian Islands.” [2] This reflects the dominant theme of books published during this time period to take indigenous culture and reframe it on how it relates to the incoming culture.

Further pulling on themes of the early twentieth century, namely the patriarchy, believing males are the only noteworthy gender negates indigenous Hawaiian culture. For example, traditional Hawaiian culture recognizes three genders. The third, mᾱhū, possessing both masculine and feminine qualities, or both kapu and noa behavior roles, and often has a higher spiritual position within the community. Furthermore, in traditional Hawaiian culture, like most traditional cultures pre-Western intervention, gender roles were divided, but none were less important than the other, as they all held importance in the community’s prosperity. [3]

Discounting the fact that this collection of biographical sketches rejects any other genders’ ability to reach achievement within the Islands, Nellist affirms throughout the collection that it is mainly Anglo-Americans, and some Japanese, that are noteworthy. Figuring out what is noteworthy about the men sketched here is perplexing by today’s standards. Without a description in the collection stating what the criteria was for notable achievement or inclusion, we end up with legislators next to printers and we are left wondering why. What does a lawmaker have to do with a person who can produce mass media?

Biographical sketches of two men in Men of Hawaii for a legislator and a printer.

This physical manifestation of those deemed men of achievement defines who has status as a real man in the 1930s. This in turn devalues those men and women who are not included in the collection, namely indigenous Hawaiians.

Since many of the men included are born and educated on mainland America, one wonders what precipitated such a move. Possible it is similar to our current need for housing and a job. Colonization of the Hawaiian Islands offered many opportunities to impose the newcomer’s will on the land and people, as is demonstrated by the professional positions held by the entries. It is particularly the inclusion of educators that catches the readers’ attention.

Much like printing, educators reinforce ideological beliefs for their students to follow, societies prescribed notions of right and wrong, as well as failure and achievement (think grading, for example). One entry, W. Harold Loper, notes that with one year at Harvard post-baccalaureate, Loper became a high school principal for 3 years, then instructed summer sessions at University of Hawaii for a few years in an undisclosed discipline. Although Loper’s achievements seem average by today’s standards, the reader can’t help but wonder why he is still included among the “notable.”

Even when native Hawaiians are included, they are couched in terms of their place in the newcomer’s history. For example, Curtis Piehu Iaukea is given the title Financial Trustee, even though he is “a distinguished survivor of the monarchical era” (emphasis mine). Some of his other achievements include acting as chamberlain for the Hawaiian royals to attend Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and a meeting with President Cleveland. No real mentions of his duties, relationships, or achievements outside the Anglo world is given.

Perhaps it is a misnomer that these are men of achievement. Perhaps these are just men of Hawaii as the title suggests. Or perhaps these are the men whose achievements are sanctified by a certain ideology. Whatever it is, Nellist and The Honolulu Star-Bulletin appear to have promoted achievement based on its proximity to Anglo-American society.

Being surprised that a collection of this sort maintains antiquated hierarchies is a bit naïve. In fact almost any collection that attempts to record achievements, whether they are of men, women, indigenous, or newcomer, will exclude someone. However more than being a record of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands in 1930, Nellist and Men of Hawaii define what achievement looks like…

Images of men of “achievement” in Men of Hawaii

…and what achievement is willing to encompass.


[1] Men of Hawaii: A biographical record of men of substantial achievement in the Hawaiian Islands, volume 4, edited by George F. Nellist and published by The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Ltd., in 1930 and first published in 1917.

Call Number: Sutro Library Reading Room DU624.9 M4.

[2] The Story of Hawaii and Its Builders: An historical outline of Hawaii with Biographical sketches of its men of note and substantial achievement, past and present, who have contributed to the progress of the Territory (1925) published by Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Ltd..

Call Number: Sutro Library Reading Room DU624.9 M41.

[3] “Māhū”. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.āhū

“There’s a snake in my book!”

Sewing is one of those domestic skills that has waned in popularity.  Bravo TV’s reality show Project Runway aside, I rarely if ever hear my peers talking about or engaging in the activity. During my formative years, however, sewing definitely played a role in our household. My mom made my clothes until I was in the 2nd grade. I have vivid memories of going with her to the fabric store, looking at patterns by Butterick and Simplicity, and watching her lay the very delicate tissue-like paper patterns on top of the fabric we picked out and cutting very, very slowly and carefully.

When I grew older, my mom sent me to a sewing class where I learned the basics of the craft; however, I never mastered it like my mother or my grandmother (who was a seamstress for Catalina swimwear). Still, I am relatively comfortable around a sewing machine and can sew a button on or hem a pair of pants.

When it became evident that the Sutro Library needed heavier book weights (or snakes as they are called) for our large, folio books, I thought, “Hey, I can make those!”  For readers not familiar with the handy reading room tool known as the book snake, they are “…designed to help hold open books, freeing up a researcher’s hands to take notes, take a picture, or hold a magnifying glass.” (Readers of this article are encouraged to learn more about how snakes are used with rare materials by reading the Folger Library’s excellent post on the matter found here: ).

Professionally made book snakes for sale by

What I didn’t know is if I could find the specialized supplies needed to make them at a cheaper cost than what the traditional library vendors offered. We asked a few of our colleagues in the rare book and conservation professions for some advice and learned where to acquire the specialized lint-free cotton tubing needed for the outside of the snake. Next, we needed to find a “filler” that was not cost prohibitive for us. Our colleagues’ advice ranged from lead shot, to beans, to aquarium rocks. Lead is common in book snakes, but it poses a serious challenge to cleaning the snakes in the future. Dried beans are cheap and easy to find, but I was not comfortable with introducing organic matter that could break down over time around our books.

We settled on aquarium rock as our snake filler. It is a natural product, easy to clean, affordable, doesn’t off-gas or break down, and has enough “give” to gently curve over the book’s boards without being too stiff and unyielding.

Aquarium rock found at a local pet store proved to be the ideal filler for our book snakes.

The next step was to fire up my sewing machine, measure and cut the stockings into uniform lengths, and then sew up one side of the snake.

Idle for more than a decade, my sewing machine was up to the task of making snakes.
Careful measuring of the snake lining to ensure as much uniformity as possible.
Sewing up one side of a snake.

Next, I used a small scale to evenly distribute the aquarium rock into plastic bags. This accuracy made sure that all the completed snakes weighed the same and would not be under or overstuffed.

Aquarium rock measured and soon to be used as snake filler.

Once the bags were assembled, I needed an easy way to get the rocks into my limp snakes which proved harder than one would think.  I poured each bag into a measuring cup and then transferred the rocks into a funnel that I held inside the opening of the snake.

Funnel and wooden skewer helped fill the empty snakes with rock.

The rocks were not uniform in size so the funnel opening frequently got blocked slowing the process significantly. To clear the blockages, I used a wooden skewer to keep the rocks flowing into the snake. Once the snakes were filled, I sewed up the open end which made the snakes look like sausages.

Snakes right after filling with rock.

The cotton lining became too thin after stretching to absorb the rocks and I worried they would burst open if they snagged on something sharp in the future. To solve this problem, I “double bagged” them by cutting another sock for the sausages to go into.

Each book snake is “double bagged” in the cotton lining for durability.

The tricky part at this stage was to make each end have a nice seam since, once filled, the snakes became too thick to put through my sewing machine. This last step had to be done by hand which also took some time to complete. Having never made snakes before, I notice that there are some slight variations in length but generally speaking, I believe the finished product turned out fairly well.

Completed Sutro Library book snakes ready for use in our reading room.

Now when readers come into our reading room and need a book snake for one of our large books, these handmade weights are available for their use. While I am confident that my mom did not have book snakes in mind when she sent me to that sewing class all those years ago, I’m grateful to her all the same.

Special thanks to our former student volunteer, Allie Mariotta, and our former Library Technical Assistant, Elise Hochhalter, for their research assistance.

For more information:

If you wish to buy commercially produced book snakes, the following vendors are worth investigating:

This post and all of the images (except image 1) are by Mattie Taormina, Director, Sutro Library.

Crossing the Line on the S.S. Adolph Sutro

[The following entry is from guest blogger and SF State University undergraduate, Carolina Basave, who worked on a small research project at the Sutro Library last semester. She supplied all of the text and images that follow.]

The Line Crossing Ceremony certificate earned by army private “L.Gray” in 1943 on board the Liberty ship, SS Adolph Sutro.

The Crossing the Line Ceremony certificate from above reads:


June 4, 1943 the SS Adolph Sutro was completed and launched from Richmond, California. [1]

The S.S. Adolph Sutro was a cargo ship built during World War II, and according to the National Museum of the United States Navy, the liberty ships “were built on a mass-production scale in order to save supplies…[as] the war progressed, the ships were also utilized as troop transports in the convoys.”[2]  Thus the liberty ships were created to help supply and fuel the World War II efforts, and then used to transport soldiers overseas.

Awarded to “L. Gray,” the mimeographed (a duplication process that predates modern photocopier) Crossing the Line certificate represented a long maritime tradition. According to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, “L. Gray” was Leonard Ray Gray, an army private and 27 years old when he crossed the equator on the Pacific.[3] The Navy Times mentioned that the Crossing the Line ceremony is a traditional initiation ceremony where sailors who have not crossed the equator before and then do for the first time transition “from a slimy pollywog to a trusty shellback during an equator line-crossing.” [4]  A ceremony performed by sailors who have already crossed the equator, the shellbacks, initiate the pollywogs in order to test their ability to, “with[stand] long voyages at sea.” [4] The ceremony is a an all-day performance and hazing ritual that represents the pollywogs initiation into King Neptune’s realm.

 The equator represents the home of the Neptunus Rex or King Neptune, ruler of the deep and guardian of the mysteries of the sea. According to Thomas Wildenberg from the Naval History Magazine, the night before the ship crosses the equator, Davy Jones (a member of King Neptune’s royal court) appears in front of the Captain with a message on behalf of King Neptune, “stating at what time he wanted the ship to hove to receive the royal party.” [5] That same night, all of the pollywogs are subpoenaed from Davy Jones, “to appear before the royal court on the morrow to be initiated in the mysteries of King Neptune’s Royal Domain. Usually, the subpoenas would include a long list of fake offenses the pollywogs were charged with like, “too many captain’s masts, excessive liberty, or seasickness.” [5]

Accompanying the Crossing the Line certificate, is a name card with the same name of the sailor who is featured on the certificate

The rest of King Neptune’s royal court includes:

Her Highness Amphitrite, often a young seaman in a costume of seaweed and rope; the scribe; the doctor; and the barber. Other members often include the royal baby, usually the fattest man in the crew wearing only a diaper; the navigator; the chief bear and his assistants, the latter of whom perform the dunkings; the chaplain; jesters; and the devil. The royals also have a secretary, sometimes known as a clerk, notary, or chancellor, whose job is to enter the names of the candidates to be sentenced by the court.[5]

Once King Neptune and his royal court appeared on deck, his flag known as the “Jolly Roger” appears, and the ceremony would begin. [5] The hazing would then take place and according to the U.S Navy it involves, “embarrassing tasks, gags, obstacles, physical hardships, and generally good-humored mischief”—all of which were meant to entertain the shellbacks and degrade the pollywog.”  It is estimated that the hazing rituals could last for up to 12 hours or more. Once the hazing rituals were completed, the pollywogs would then become a shellback, and a worthy member of King Neptune’s realm. According to research, every ship practiced their own version of the hazing rituals, therefore every shellback’s experience would be unique to them, and according to U.S Navy, the Crossing the Line (or equator) Ceremonies are completely voluntary, and not every ship and crew participates or practices the ceremony.

Image of United States Liberty Ship: SS Adolph Sutro from 1946

After completing the ceremony and hazing rituals, the newly transitioned shellbacks would then receive their Crossing the Line certificates that commemorated their experience.   I discovered most of the Line Crossing Ceremony certificates issued during World War II were incredibly detailed, vibrant in colors, and often had phrases written in Latin with a description of what the certificate signified. Many of them included drawings of mermaids, the ocean, a globe, King Neptune, Dolphins, and various marine life, and other mythical creatures depending on which equator crossing a pollywog passed through. While Leonard Gray’s certificate was a mimeographed copy of a quickly assembled sketch, it nevertheless included significant details like: mermaids, clam shells, a map of the world including the ocean, and even King Neptune’strident. According to the U.S Navy, there are handful of different certificates that all represent different equator crossings based on a specific Ocean or Sea.

The Line Crossing Ceremony certificate earned by army private “L.Gray” in 1943 on board Liberty ship SS Adolph Sutro.

Despite the certificate not being in color like a virtually all other certificates probably due to the fact that Leonard Gray was on board a liberty ship, in the middle of a war, they probably were not equipped with an artisan who could draw out the certificates. Regardless of the lack of color and detail, the certificates are equally as significant as the ceremony themselves. They showed that even during a war, the ships still exercised King Neptune’s long tradition of initiating pollywogs into this brotherhood of men who crossed the equator and earned their rightful place in King Neptune’s world. In 1953, the United States Navy begun to issue incredibly detailed certificates that were made — and continue to be — by the Tiffany Publishing Company in Norfolk, Virginia.[6]

Example of a 1943 Crossing the Equator certificate awarded to a U.S sailor, Harry F. Revers on board U.S.S. Chenango. [7]

Leonard Gray was one of these men who back in 1943 went through the ceremony and joined the brotherhood of shellbacks even during war time proved his loyalty and worthiness to King Neptune. Today that tradition is upheld as countless pollywogs are currently being initiated into that same brotherhood, all connected by their experiences crossing the equator.

Here are examples of recent Crossing the Line Certificates earned by my older brother’s friend, a current submariner YNSN Scotty H.[8]

If you would like to see the Crossing the Equator/Line certificate of “L.Gray” please email the Sutro Library ( two days in advance of your visit and mention the following item and call number:

SS Adolph Sutro Equator Crossing Certificate, July, 7, 1943. Place of publication not identified: [S.S. Adolph Sutro Liberty Ship], 1943, call number MISC000346


[1] Photograph of the liberty ship Adolph Sutro at Launching, 1943, Richmond Public Library: Richmond Local History Photograph Collection, Richmond, California.

[2] “WWII: Battle of the Atlantic: Liberty Ships,” National Museum of the United States Navy, Accessed. 08 Oct 2019.

[3] “Display Full Records,” The U.S National Archives and Records Administration, Accessed: 10 Oct 2019.

[4] J.D Simkins, “This color footage of hazing during a World War II Line-crossing ceremony does not disappoint,” Navy Times, Aug 21, 2018. Accessed 08 Oct 2019.

[5] Thomas Wildenberg, “Neptune’s Band of Brothers,” U.S Naval Institute, December 2014. Accessed 19 Oct 2019.

[6] “Ceremonial Certificates: Proudly Serving the U.S Armed Froces Since 1953,” Tiffany Publishing Co, Accessed 17 October 2019.

[7] “Harry F. Revers Short Snorter,” The Short Snorter Project, Accessed 20 October 2019.

[8] The last name has been omitted due to privacy reasons.

Golden Gate Park: 150 Years of Recreation, Green Space, Entertainment, and Culture.

 On a list of what to do while in San Francisco, at the top is most certainly a visit to Golden Gate Park. This year marks the 150th anniversary with 100 institutions throughout San Francisco participating in some way to celebrate Golden Gate Park’s past, present, and future. One of the largest parks in the world at 1017 acres (New York’s Central Park is 843), its origins and that of San Francisco’s rise to prominence are parallel tales.  

‘Squatter’ camp

The first urban parks- ones that were open to the general public as recreational, cultural, and free green spaces — in the United States and Great Britain weren’t established until after the mid-nineteenth century and before the real effects of the Industrial Revolution’s mass urbanization were felt. Open spaces were still within walking distance.  The new industrial labor opportunities caused a massive population shift from the countryside to jobs in urban centers, causing major cities to burst at the seams.

With industrialization, its attendant pollution, crowded tenements, poor sanitation, and the physical dislocation from nature, Victorians responded with the firm belief that creating open urban green spaces was essential to combat the material ills of the time. Civic leaders and politicians alike understood the psychological and physical needs of the citizens, and large urban parks were their anodyne.

In the late eighteenth century and into the first part of the nineteenth century, rather than there being public parks, “pleasure gardens” existed as urban escapes, and were to be found all over Europe and the United states. These were privately owned spaces that were open to the public and provided opportunities for different social classes to dress up in their finest and to see and be seen.

Vauxhall Gardens in Kensington, London is the most notable pleasure garden and the most famous. Its popularity drew visitors from around the globe. Europeans often came back so enamored they introduced pleasure gardens into their home countries. In fact, the word Vauxhall became synonymous with the concept, so much so that it entered into the lexicons of France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Russia. And many of the attributes associated with pleasure gardens, ranging from balloon rides, to theater, dances, refreshments, concerts, artwork, scientific demonstrations, as well as exotic elements, such as masquerades, vaudeville, and even volcanic eruptions, created a dynamic social space where individuals from all walks of life intermixed.

It was also a place where the middling classes could become “elevated” by interacting with those of a higher rank. Although the cost was relatively low – Vauxhall charged one shilling – it was prohibitive for the lowest classes. Dress attire was of upmost importance, another facet that excluded the extremely poor. In fact, some gardens would allow free entry, but only to those who were dressed “in a genteel manner.”

These pleasure gardens were precursors to the large urban parks that were to follow, in that large urban parks were meant to provide an idyll rural setting within a city and were meant to provide individuals a place of recreation, entertainment, and sanctuary from the pollution and concrete of cities.  Indeed, local entrepreneur and philanthropist – and our library’s founder Adolph Sutro – opened his own property in San Francisco to the city as a public park on certain days of the week, free of charge.  

San Francisco’s meteoric rise in population did not account for the planning of green spaces. Starting with the Gold Rush, San Francisco became a major international metropolis, exploding from a town of around 1000 in 1848 to over 25,000 by 1849. Other factors like California’s entry into the Union in 1850, the Comstock discovery of 1859, the completion of the trans-continental railroad in 1869, followed by cable car service in 1873 – which allowed people to move further away from the city center – all served to boost the city’s prosperity and population. 

As the city became more sophisticated and more densely populated, civic leaders like William Chapman Ralston helped to garner support for building a large urban park like New York City’s Central Park. In 1868 Governor Henry Haight signed a bill establishing the Golden Gate Park Commissioners Board.  On April 4, 1870, the state legislature set the park’s boundaries and shortly after that the governor appointed the Board of Park Commissioners. That same year engineer William Hammond Hall surveyed and was then hired to design the park, serving as its first Superintendent. William Hammond Hall had worked for the Army Corp of Engineers and was an expert in soil management. He along with highly respected and accomplished horticulturist, John McLaren, transformed the barren desert into green space.

The initial task of the Park Commission was to sell $225,000 worth of municipal bonds for immediate park improvements as well as to oversee its development. Municipal bonds for those of you who don’t know (like me), are securities issued by governmental entities to fund public projects, like highways, schools, and parks. The buyer is basically loaning money to the city in exchange for regular interest payments later on.

John McLaren and John Muir at McCloud River, California — Calisphere
John Mclaren and John Muir

John McLaren is the person in history most associated with the park because of his long tenure. Over the years he continued to improve and develop the park and his condition for serving as Superintendent was the stipulation that the city provide $30,000 a year for improvements, and so began his 53 years as Superintendent and caretaker of Golden Gate Park. The city even passed a charter amendment that exempted him from forced retirement. On his 92nd birthday San Francisco honored him as its number one citizen. He lived in McLaren Lodge until his death in 1943 at the age of 96. The lodge is located next to the Conservatory of Flowers and in the Northeastern corner of Golden Gate Park on Stanyan. It now serves as the administrative headquarters for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department.

In 1900 a city charter reform transferred administrative power for the park from the three-person governor-appointed board, to the city and county of San Francisco. They then created a five-member Park Commission, providing closer contact with the park’s development and the needs of San Francisco. Prior to 1950 the Park Commission and the Recreation Commission were parallel entities with the latter operating and managing playgrounds, athletic fields, and recreational facilities across the city. In 1950 the two commissions merged under the auspices of the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department and today is responsible for overseeing and managing the organization and maintenance of over 220 parks, playgrounds and open spaces in San Francisco, as well as some outlying areas like Camp Mather in Yosemite.

Over the years Golden Gate Park has been host to numerous fairs, festivals, events, and concerts. The 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition attracted 2.5 million visitors. The park has also been used to help in emergencies. During the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake/’Great Fire,’ around 250,000 were left homeless with 80% of the city destroyed. Across San Francisco, refugee camps sprung up, with Golden Gate Park hosting somewhere close to 40,000 refugees. John McLaren quickly organized the chaos, and designed “Earthquake Shacks” as wells as tents, setting up makeshift towns in regimented rows. Even after two years some of those ’towns’ were still in operation.

Today, the park is home to other attractions and recreation: tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, the California Academy of Sciences, a bison herd, picnic areas, fly fishing pools – the list goes on.

San Francisco Recreation and Parks is excited to celebrate the 150th anniversary. The California State Library – Sutro Library is also participating in this celebration and has an exhibit in our reading room featuring images, maps, and ephemera from Sutro’s collection as well as the State Library’s California History collections. Events are scheduled to begin April 4th nd, 2020, but due to the coronavirus, this start is uncertain.  For the latest updates, visit their website at 

Bibliographic notes

Most of the images in this post are from the California State Library – California History Room and the California State Library -Sutro Library. The Pleasure Garden images and the industrial city image are from the British Museum. And the image of John Muir and John Mclaren is from Calisphere.

The Books of Women’s Convents in Colonial Mexico

Among Sutro Library’s collections of books from colonial Mexican libraries are several that were kept and used by women’s convents. Though women were largely excluded from intellectual pursuits, these books account for some of the activities of “mujeres letradas” (lettered women), who were writers, printers, and readers. As Nuria Salazar Simarro writes in her article “Los libros del noviciado del convento de Jesus Maria de Mexico” (The Books of the Novitiate of the Convento de Jesus Maria de Mexico), the marks of ownership left in books that circulated within (and sometimes between) convents contest “la idea de falta de acceso de la mujer a una formacion intellectual” (the idea that women lacked access to intellectual development).[1]

You can click on the italicized sub-headings to view Sutro’s catalog records for materials so far identified has having been owned by that convent. As the number of identified items grows, so will the records viewable at these links. To inquire about any of these materials, or request them for use in our reading room, please email us at

Convento de Churubusco[2]


Churubusco_InkThe top edge of this book is branded, but the symbol has been made using an ink pen on the bottom edge. The symbol is a monogram that uses the letters C, H, V, R, B, S, and O, the letters needed to spell Churubusco.

Convento de Santa Clara de Mexico[3]

A copy of Santa Teresa de Avila’s Avisos espirituales bears the firebrand of the Convento de Santa Clara de Mexico. The book is inscribed by Francisca Maria de San Antonio, and beneath is another inscription which begins: “es libro ya no me acuerdo si me lo dieron o prestaron” (I no longer remember if this book was given or loaned to me). Vows of poverty prevented ownership of property, and books changed hands readily. Sometimes they were kept in a communal space, other times reserved by one or a few sisters for a prolonged period. “Los libros no contaban con un lugar fijo” (Books did not have fixed locations), Salazar Simarro notes.

Convento de Jesus Maria Mexico

On the edges of El religioso en soledad is written the name of a previous owner, Sor Maria Josefa de San Ignacio, a prominent member of the Convento de Jesus Maria in Mexico City who paid for the reprinting of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s Protesta de la fe in 1763. [4] A second mark of ownership, an inscription on the front free endpaper, states it is for her use. At the very end of the second volume is a third, longer inscription that gives a brief custodial history. First, it notes that San Ignacio was not just the former owner of this book, but solicited it as a donation from another sister. It asks “those who use it to pray for both” the donor and the solicitor, thus inviting multiple users, a sense of communal ownership, and a net positive from its increased circulation.

Painted Book Cover

This book’s original covers have been ensconced in decorative paper painted blue, orange, black and white. Look closely at the lower right-hand corner and you’ll see a two-color fabric tie sticking through the covering material. The paint used on the cover must have still been wet because some of it has transferred onto the front end paper. A previous owner has written a note begging whoever takes this book from her library to not hold on to it for too long.

As this blog post comes to an end, we should also reflect on the demise of these libraries. Many were dispersed in the 19th century as anticlericalism grew in Mexico. The separation of church and state came with the sale and nationalization of church property. Salazar Simarro outlines the complex afterlives of these books as convents tried to place them in sympathetic hands. She details a harrowing story in which the library of the Convento de Jesus Maria Mexico survived for many decades in a bath tub.

In Sutro Library’s copy of Arco iris de paz (Seville: Viuda de Francisco Lorenzo de Hermosilla, 1729), previously held by the Convento de Santa Clara, are a couple of small, printed forms summoning choir singers to a funeral service. Only one is dated, but they appear contemporary and so are likely from around the same time: 1857. That year, a new constitution took effect which led to severe rifts between the Mexican state and Catholic Church, with the archbishop of Mexico City threatening to excommunicate any Mexican Catholics who pledged allegiance to the new constitution. (Note that the images below represent one item, showing front and back.)

—Jose Guerrero is Cataloging and Metadata Librarian at Sutro Library.

[1] For a study of annotated books at women’s convents, see Nuria Salazar Simarro, “Los libros del noviciado del conveto de Jesus Maria de Mexico. Sus anotaciones manuscritas.” Boletin de Monumentos Historicos (Tercera Epoca), No. 40, May-August 201, pages 116-142.



[4] Asuncion Lavrin, “Unlike Sor Juana?” In Feminist Perspectives on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Ed. By Stephanie Merrim. Detoit: Wayne State University Press, 1999, page 65, footnote 61.

Without Rhyme, or Reason…or Author?

[The following entry is from guest blogger and SF State University undergraduate, Giselle H., who worked on a small research project at the Sutro Library last semester. She supplied all the text and images that follow.]

This semester I had the opportunity to research at Sutro Library, which provided me with experience in handling and analyzing rare and historical materials. The decision to pick just one item to further research was more challenging than I anticipated because there were various books, booklets, and other documents catching my attention. I ultimately chose a nursery rhyme called Good Morning.

Good Morn cover

Good Morning is a collection of seven short nursery rhymes bound with thread in a style called the saddle stitch. This type of bookbinding is most commonly used for smaller books and can be done by most commercial print shops. Nowadays, a saddle stitch is done with metal staples rather than thread. While it’s a simple and inexpensive method, it’s not the best long-term because books can easily be damaged, especially when compared to other types of binding like leather. Because Good Morning was bound in this way, it leads me to believe it was not widely published and was meant for short term keeping. This might not be all that unusual for nursery rhyme books published in the past, when children had shorter childhoods than compared to those in present times. The reason why this book seems to have endured over the years is due to the careful preservation effort of the Sutro Library staff. Credit may also go to the donor, Miss Lottie G. Woods, who donated several other rare books to the Sutro Library.

To begin the exciting process of unraveling the mysteries behind this children’s book, I decided to start with the author. Curiously enough, this little book possesses neither an author’s name nor the date or location of its publication in the front pages as expected. I searched through each rhyme, but I could not find any sort of evidence that pointed to the creator. That is until I took a closer look at the back cover. First, I noticed the almost faded handwritten inscription in the upper right corner of the cover which would have struck me as daring vandalism had I not recognized a name inscribed in it. Second, there was a very small, almost invisible scraggly black line at the bottom of the frame surrounding the nursery rhyme that I found to be a little odd. Could it be what I was looking for all this time? Why yes indeed! I have found the author’s signature at last!

Good night
Figure 2. The very faint and seemingly forgettable line above the candle elves might keep the secret of the book!

To the naked eye, it is easy to dismiss as nothing more than being part of the illustration. Upon closer inspection with assistance from a camera, the traces of a name could be read. Perhaps the name of the book’s author? Even though the letters are very faint and almost completely faded in some parts, I was able to read it as  NEELEY BWS WELLE.DEL  Sadly, my delight at discovering the author’s mark was cut short when I could not find any information relating to the name. Whether it’s the name of a person or publishing house remains to be discovered.

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Figure 3. Oh, the wonders of technology!


Taking the lack of a creator’s name and the binding style into consideration, I reached the conclusion that perhaps this rhyme book was a single and privately published copy not intended for the market. Other conclusions I reached were that this book might not have been as popular as others during its publishing, hence the reason for a lack of records, implying that its creator was not well-known, if at all. This then, would explain the reason behind the insufficient information about this particular piece of work. Yet another potential and possibly stronger conclusion I came to was that this book might have been created as a gift for a family member with the means for private publication.

Perhaps a gift to the donor, Miss Lottie G. Woods? Her name is written in cursive on the upper right corner of the back cover as previously mentioned, along with a date. What I initially thought was vandalism could be a clue linking back to Miss Woods. The blue ink spot was already there when the book was donated to the Sutro Library sadly, as did the two white orbs on the book’s front cover, which serve as a good reminder to always take better care of delicate books like this.

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Figure 4. The handwriting says, “Lottie G. Woods. December 13, 1880, CAL.”

Most of my research on Miss Woods found her in city and county records. I was not able to find much information regarding her life as it seems she did not leave personal written records of any kind, besides the little inscriptions on her donations.

What I did discover was that Miss Woods was quite generous in her donations. Not only did she donate various items to the Sutro Library, but she also donated other collections to the California Historical Society as well.

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Figure 5. Miss Woods’ name was recorded as a donor on certain publications of the California Historical Society Quarterly.

I also found out that she was a member of the Sorosis Club chapter in San Francisco. The Sorosis Club was a club originally founded in New York City around 1886, by the female reporter Jane Cunningham Croly. The club was in the words of Jone Johnson Lewis; a women’s movement activist; “…a professional women’s association, created in 1868 by Jane Cunningham Croly, because women were usually shut out of membership in the organizations of many professions. Croly, for example, was prohibited from joining the male-only New York Press Club… Croly and others hoped that the club would inspire confidence in women and bring ‘womanly self-respect and self-knowledge’ ” (Sorosis: Professional Women’s Club,

In addition to being one of the first clubs that promoted intellect and reasoning among women, the Sorosis Club was also responsible for the creation of the General Federation of Women’s clubs (GFWC), which essentially helped with the organization and encouraging of other women’s clubs in the United States. Sadly, the Sorosis club in San Francisco is no longer active however, the GFWC is both still active and strong and continues to be involved in the social and political environment.*Evidence of Miss Woods presence has been certainly recorded in the club’s roster as evident by the 32nd edition of the Blue Book and Club Directory (see below).

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If Miss Woods was then a member of the Sorosis Club which encouraged intellect and social integration, then it should come as no surprise as to how and why she came to possess quite the large collection of interesting and historically important documents and sources including this nursery rhyme book. I would like to think that possibly inspired by the club’s ideals or as a way to keep important documents well taken care of, Miss Woods contributed to the further preservation of historical primary sources through her gracious donations to various libraries and institutions, and for that we are thankful.


-Written by Giselle H.

*For more  information about the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, please visit their website at:

If you are interested in seeing this nursery rhyme fragment, please email two business days in advance of your visit. Make sure to mention this information in your email:

Halswelle, Keeley. [Nursery Rhymes…] [fragment]. London?: [publisher not stated], 1851

Call number MISC000364

Power and the People

The U.S. Census and Who Counts

One of the major go-to resources for conducting genealogical research is the census. It’s often the best place for beginning genealogists to start. Depending on the year of the census, a researcher can find information on their ancestor’s birth place and year, immigration year and status, age at first marriage, birth place of ancestor’s parents, occupation and much more. In honor of this invaluable resource and the upcoming 2020 census, we hosted an event on Wednesday, January 22nd, with curators from the UC Berkeley Library’s Census Exhibit, Ann Glusker and Jesse Silva, who spoke about the importance of the census and its historical context.

Jesse Silva and Ann Glusker speaking about the UC Berkeley Library’s Census exhibit at Sutro Library’s first event of 2020.

The Basics

A decennial population count is required by the Constitution (Article 1, Section 2). The main purpose for the census is to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is also used to distribute federal funds to local communities.

The census began in 1790 and has occurred ever since. Back then, marshals rode around on horseback to record: names of head of house; free white males of 16 years and upward; free white males under 16 years; free white females; all other free persons; and slaves. The upcoming 2020 Census will be conducted almost entirely online. Respondents are given the option to complete the form in paper, over the phone or on the census site.

Snippet from the 1790 Census. Why was the age cut-off for males 16? Answer: This was the age they could join the military

One page from the 2020 Census questionnaire. Some major differences include more ways to express relation to head of house (Person 1) and race. Snapshot from


While aggregate data and statistics are available from 1790-2010, individual census records (known as census schedules) which are valuable to genealogists are released after 72 years from the date of the census due to privacy laws. From 1790 – 1940 the census schedules are available on microfilm at the National Archives and its branches or online through sites like You can access all of these at the Sutro Library. Unfortunately, there is one census that is no longer available: most of the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire in 1921. If your ancestor isn’t one of the lucky ones found on the few surviving fragments, then you’re left turning to supplementary resources from this time period like voter rolls. Genealogists and other researchers anxiously await the release of the 1950 census in two years! The first digital census was in 2000 which means we won’t get to see the first computerized census again until it’s released in 2072! This also means you still need to hone in on your ability to read handwriting.

Long Form and American Community Survey

By 1940, the census began to ask a select population (1 in 6 respondents) additional questions. This paper form was longer than the actual census form which earned it its name “long form.” Some questions on this form included: income, education, where respondent lived 5 years ago, ancestry, etc. The year 2000, was the last decennial census for which the long form was used. The decision was made that the long form questions needed to be answered more frequently than every ten years.  As of 2005, the American Community Survey has gathered information that was previously asked on the long form every year from a sample of the population. Not every part of U.S. is included in their survey, however; American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and US Virgin Islands are excluded from ACS. Aggregate data from the ACS can be accessed via the census site or through proprietary sources like Social Explorer. Similar to previous censuses, the individual responses will be released in 72 years.

Race and Ethnicity

The representation of race/ethnicity in the official census has changed over the decades and are products of the time in which they were created. Some of the terms still used can be seen as anachronistic and insensitive, e.g. Black, African American or Negro. The reason the latter term is still used is because it was found that older members of this community preferred to refer to themselves in this way over the former terms. Prior to 1960, race was subjective and the census taker chose the race for the respondent based on what they saw. For instance, if a person of color had lighter skin, then it was common for them to be mistakenly described as white. In 1970, the population began to fill out the entire form by themselves, but even then, the options for race were limited. For example, respondents were only able to choose one race until the 2000 census.

The following categories are currently used according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB): White; Black or African American; American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. This definition on race has not changed since the 1990s. Hispanic/Latino is considered an ethnicity not a race by the OMB as they believe that Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

UC Berkeley Library Census Exhibit case on Race and Civil Rights.

Exhibit: Power and the People – The U.S. Census and Who Counts

Other topics covered in the UC Berkeley Library Census exhibit include gender and sexual orientation, immigration, poverty and income, and controversies.

Exhibit case on Japanese Americans and World War II. In 2007, it was discovered that the Census Bureau aided military by giving individual as well as aggregate data in the Japanese internment process.

The exhibit will be up for another month until March 1, 2020. It is located in the Doe Library on the UC Berkeley campus. For more information, please visit: and check out this article written by Berkeley Library News. The next event in relation to this exhibit will be a panel featuring renowned experts on race/ethnicity and the census: Cristina Mora, Michael Omi, Taeku Lee and Tina Sacks. The event is on March 19, 2020 at 5pm in the Morrison Library (which is located inside the Doe Library). For more information on the UC Berkeley Library’s exhibit events, visit here.

Special thank you to Ann Glusker and Jesse Silva for coming to Sutro Library and doing such an amazing and engaging talk.

Today’s blog post was written by Sutro Library’s Genealogy Librarian, Dvorah Lewis.

Other Resources

Shakespeare on Page and Stage: Using cultural artifacts to enhance outreach and student success


Sutro Library has many truly amazing treasures; rare books, archival manuscripts, antiquarian maps, but not the least is the 1623 first printing of Shakespeare’s plays, commonly referred to as the First Folio. It is not only one of the most important books in the English language, along with the King James Bible (of which Sutro Library has a first edition), but as Kurt Daw, Professor of Theatre Arts, San Francisco State University (SFSU) says, it is legitimately “one of the most valuable material and cultural properties ever printed.” Only around 235 are known to exist, and Sutro Library has two.

first folio

Shakespeare’s plays have endured and continue to fascinate. The stories are universal, infinitely complex and nuanced, and have remained culturally relevant 400 years after they were first performed. The First Folio is the reason the world has the complete authoritative versions of his plays. Without this first printing, the world would be bereft of masterpieces such as Macbeth and Julius Caesar.


To celebrate Shakespeare and to highlight the Sutro Library it seemed fitting to reach out to SFSU’s theatre department to come up with an innovative way to present Shakespeare and the Sutro to the the larger community.

performance 1

And to that end, on the evening of October 23, 2019 the Sutro Library, in collaboration with Professor Kurt Daw, and Curator and Senior Librarian, Meredith Eliasson, of SFSU Special Collections and Archives, hosted our first ever: “Shakespeare on Page and Stage.” The event consisted of a workshop followed by live performances of scenes selected and performed by six advanced SFSU theatre students, with the First Folio on display during the performance.

performance 2

Kurt Daw worked with the department chair to offer students one credit toward their degrees to perform Shakespeare at our event. He held auditions and chose Felix Bishop, Diego Cazares, Michael Pinedo, James Schott, Thomas Scott, and Olivia Weeks-Kristie. One of the cast identifies as gender fluid, while another cast member identifies as a Trans man, each exploring gender through performance.

all female

At the workshop, Professor Daw spoke about what it would have been like for actors on the stage during Shakespeare’s lifetime. For example, wealthy patrons could buy seats on the Globe’s stage just feet away from where the actors performed. Furthermore, actors never received the entire play, rather they received only their own part, rolled up in a scroll – hence our modern parlance with reference to actor’s roles and their parts.


In Shakespeare’s company, actors were required to listen for a couple of words or lines to prompt them to act out their part.  Playing with this idea of distance both temporally and physically, Daw provided students with single parts, with prompt lines. He then had each student stand up when they heard the prompt indicating it was their time to read. This provided insight into the experience of theatre during the Elizabethan era with the challenges it must have presented for the performers.

performance 6

Professor Daw also spoke to the scholarship regarding the historicity of young boys playing the parts of women during Shakespeare’s time – because of their high voice, among other things. Rather, the reality was that there were just 12 actors, highly trained, and well-seasoned. It took years to be able to perform all the plays by memory, and be able to play more than one part in each play – which with only 12 actors in the company would have been necessary. To wit, the actors were journeymen craftsmen. In addition, actors would have been wearing contemporary clothing, and so it makes sense for modern performances to consider this when it comes to costuming.


After the workshop, refreshments were provided thanks to the generosity of SFSU University Librarian Debbie Masters. Afterwards, everyone gathered in SFSU’s Special Collections to see the performances. The actors chose scenes from Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, King John, Henry VI, Part One, Julius Caesar, and of course Macbeth. Like in Hamlet, when the actors Rosencrantz and Gildentstern profess that every play consists of three essentials which audiences want: “blood, love, and rhetoric.” To that end, the actors explored themes of gender, betrayal, friendship, courtship, murder, and war.


One performance was especially insightful, in terms of notions of gender and our cultural perception of it. The scenes involved Viola from Twelfth Night, played by trans male actor, James Schott. Viola is disguised as a man and has attracted the love and attention of her employer Countess Olivia. The same actor portrays Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, who is at a loss to explain why he is the object of desire of Countess Olivia. The fact that only men would have performed this in Shakespeare’s time, gives indication that gender may have been more fluid in the past than we are given to understand.



We hope to hold this event every year, with slight variations on themes. This year the event coincided with the closing of our exhibit, “All the World is a Stage.” It also served to bring the Sutro Library to a wider audience, while at the same time illustrating the timeliness and importance of William Shakespeare’s plays, the relevance of artifacts, and some insight into Elizabethan notions of gender.

Feeling the Love

For over 50 years, genealogists have made the Sutro Library a research destination, consulting our materials both on-site and through interlibrary loan. A long standing Sutro staff member once told me that when the Sutro Library was located at 480 Winston Drive, people would line up to use the microfilm readers and every seat in the reading room would be occupied.

There is tangible evidence to support this story by looking at the condition of some of our reading room books. For many titles, we have several copies both in physical and microfilm/fiche forms. In one case, I saw 9 copies of the same book on the founding families of Virginia. With that many copies, it is undeniable how popular this book was with our patrons. This reminds me of how public libraries order many copies of an anxiously awaited title in order to meet the public’s demand.

Another way to prove heavy usage of our library is in the condition of some of our reading room books. For example, The Women of the American Revolution by Elizabeth F. Ellet is a classic text for our patrons researching their American Revolution ancestors. Ellet’s 2 volume set recounted in detail the stories of over 120 women who assisted in the fight for America’s freedom from Britain. After consulting diaries, biographies, manuscript letters, and conducting oral interviews, Ellet created one of the very first historic records of Revolutionary women.


Our copy of this seminal work has been read, consulted, and loved over the years and is now showing signs of serious wear. This book is in need of repair as the top and the bottom parts of its spine are fraying from years of patrons pulling the book off the shelf:


Given the importance and historic nature of this first edition, we are very interested in securing conservation treatment for it through the California State Library Foundation.

Another book, The Histories and Genealogies of Ancient Windsor Connecticut, has sustained much more damage.  First, the part that covers the spine is detached completely from the book’s covers (also known as boards):


This means that the book will soon fall apart once the glue and stitching holding it together start to weaken from repeated use with no spine protection:


Unfortunately, the spine is not the only part of this book that has seen damage from too much use. The title page for the book sustained several tears and shows signs of past “repairs” that were made with scotch tape:


The liberal use of tape is unfortunate. Removing tape can easily take off a layer of paper, and adhesives from old tape can sink into paper, staining it an unsightly yellow or brown. In order to remove the harmful tape, a conservator would have to employ very time consuming—and possibly expensive–treatment strategies such as a stream of hot air to soften the adhesive or using solvents to dissolve it.

The most extreme example we found in the reading room was this copy of Vital record of Rehoboth, 1642-1896:


The text block of this book is in pieces, the spine and covers are completely detached, and many pages are torn and ripped. Sadly, this book is in such disrepair that it would be too costly to send it to conservation. Luckily, we have another copy so patrons can still come to the library and get the information they need.

As a librarian, it warms my heart that the Sutro Library’s genealogy collection has been so well used—and loved—over the years. Evidence of wear is a strong testament to the role we have played in generations of genealogists’ work and we look forward to continuing to be a resource for the community. We want to thank all the donors who give funds to the CA State Library Foundation each year for the maintenance of our collection, especially Richard Larson.

If you wish to donate to the California State Library Foundation, please contact the CA State Library Foundation directly.

Happy Holidays!

This post and all of the images are by Mattie Taormina, Director, Sutro Library.


Treasure Boxes

As I have gotten to know more about the Sutro Library’s collection during my time volunteering here, I am repeatedly amazed at the breadth and diversity of the holdings.  Some great examples of surprising things that can be found at the library came to my attention recently, when I was given the enviable task of working with Sutro’s Orientalia collection.  The library staff wants to make the collection available to researchers, but before that can happen, the materials need to safely housed, carefully identified, and painstakingly cataloged. Hence my job, to measure and give a preliminary assessment of the condition of the books, prints, and other items.  Armed with dimensions and descriptions, library staff will be able to determine what supplies they need in order to preserve and protect the materials.  Meanwhile, I had the great fun of opening boxes of materials and finding all kinds of treasures inside.

For instance, I came across a slim book from 1830, which was a translation into Chinese of a new method of vaccinating, complete with diagrams and illustrations of the technique:



I also found a roughly printed English-Cantonese dictionary written for traders and merchants, which contained the phrases for virtuous and foolish wives, disobedient and filial sons, and faithful friends:


In another box I discovered folded sheets of tissue-thin paper, with tracings of papyrus scrolls from the British Museum Collection:


You can imagine how delighted I was to page through a 17th or 18th century sketchbook with original brush paintings.  The paintings have such delicacy of color and line, and, at the same time, winningly capture the gestures and postures of the people depicted: the crouching servant mixing ink at the feet of his master; the small man trudging along with his comically large sack; the happy boy and his even happier dog; and a rather weary looking monster:



The Sutro Library collection reaches out in so many directions, encompassing medical texts, documents for businesses, archaeological records, original art works and so much more.  Managing such a diversity of materials is a formidable task, especially as many of the items in the collection require special care.  But the Sutro librarians are committed to maintaining the collection and making it available to as many people as possible.  Thanks to their efforts, all of the treasures in the Orientalia collection will one day be available for study, research, and appreciation.

This post and all of the images are by Isabel Breskin, Sutro Volunteer.