Greetings, From Sutro Library!

She also spoke of puzzling over artifacts “until their language became clear.” All artifacts can be read, once their language is learned, for what they have to tell about their own production and about the place they held in the lives of those who previously possessed them.[1]

My name is Jose Guerrero, and I have just joined the California State Library as the Cataloging and Metadata Librarian for their San Francisco branch known as the Sutro Library. My job is to make sure that the magnificent holdings of the Sutro Library are accurately described so that researchers from near and far know what we have and can request to view it in our reading room! I moved here from central Pennsylvania, but I was born and raised in East Los Angeles and graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz. I also worked for antiquarian booksellers in San Francisco for several years. It’s been wonderful getting to know my new colleagues at the California State Library and San Francisco State University, as well as getting reacquainted with this city!

In the above quote, G. Thomas Tanselle is referencing Ana Somers Cocks, formerly a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I first read “Libraries, Museums and Reading,” from which this passage is taken, many years ago and the words “puzzling over artifacts” never left me. As a cataloger, I am not necessarily supposed to assemble the puzzle, but I do make sure that all the pieces are there. Author names are like corner-pieces, subject headings are like the picture on the box that give you an idea of what it looks like put together, and physical descriptions make sure that pieces from different puzzles aren’t mixed together.[2]

I am excited to work with the Sutro Library’s antiquarian collection because there is much for our users—students of San Francisco State University, the people of California at large, and visiting scholars—to read and discover. Books held an important place in the life of Adolph Sutro, and the people who owned his books before him. “A book must be opened,” Tanselle writes, “simply to look at it fully as an object, for without examining the paper that makes up its bulk, and the inked markings on that paper, one has seen only a small fraction of the object.” I hope to facilitate this kind of interactive experience—of opening, examining, and interpreting texts—among our readers and visitors. If you don’t think of books as interactive technology, here are some reasons to reconsider:

“Scraps of Booksellers’ Catalogues” is a book made entirely of advertisements for books taken from other 17th and 18th century British books. The volume’s disbound leaves create an entirely new object reflecting, perhaps, interest in certain printers or eras of printing.  Sutro had a voracious appetite for books from this period, as the thousands of 17th and 18th century English pamphlets he amassed can attest to.

Legal printing, though often overlooked, is charged with meaning as this 1901 Mexican legal brief demonstrates. It looks like a book, but the pages are perpendicular to the spine. It may have been a mock-up, or galley proof, used by an editor to make corrections. Or, it could be a temporary binding  meant to get the text to the bindery and bound in more durable covers. Joined at the rear are scraps of the newspaper Regeneracion, edited by Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon, from August and October issues for 1900. Though deteriorated,[3] the crumbling newsprint preserves a possible link between the printer, Eduardo Dublan, the legal printer who was active in liberal politics of the time, and Magon.[4] These contemporaries both produced commentary on the politics of the porfiriato (the name given to the era that Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz was in power), one as a printer and the other as a journalist. Printed objects interact with the society that produces them, as well as collectors and readers and binders and libraries.

Let’s return to “Scraps of Booksellers’ Catalogues.” A sequence of  advertisements for Scottish printers Robert and Andrew Foulis opens with a handwritten caption: “Commenced business in 1740 – issued beautiful editions of the Classics.” One of these “beautiful editions” is De consolatione philosophiae, a 6th century philosophical work that was popular throughout medieval Europe. The Sutro copy bears the bookplate and handwritten commentary of Francisco Lopez Portillo, a colonial administrator in 18th century Guadalajara. It is also marked with the firebrand of the conventual library of San Francisco de Mexico. Enhancing the Sutro catalog record with descriptive information will help this book—not just the text, but the firebrand and bookplate and inscription too—move into the hands of its next user; the next step of an already long journey from 6th century treatise, to medieval bestseller, to the Glasgow printing office of the Foulis brothers, to colonial Mexico, to San Francisco, California.

Soon, much of what you just read about Sutro Library materials will be in our catalog which can be searched from virtually anywhere in the world. I am eager to play my part in the discovery process, and assist my colleagues whose instruction and outreach efforts have already done so much to help our materials tell their stories through exhibitions, classes, and volunteer opportunities. I hope to share more of the Sutro’s holdings in the future—in person and through this blog—as I continue to learn about our collection and community!

Jose Cruz Guerrero, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian, Sutro Library

[1] Tanselle, G.T. Libraries, Museums and Reading. Charlottesville, VA: Book Arts Press, 1992. First delivered as a talk, the audio is now available through the Rare Book School’s SoundCloud page along with many other presentations.

[2] This too can have interesting results, as Harvard librarian John Overholt has recently pointed out!

[3] Digitized copies are available at Archivo Magon. It was by referring to these scanned versions that I was able to date the newspaper scraps, whose dates have all been chopped off.

[4] When the Mexican government outlawed the printing of Magon’s writings, he relocated to the United States and became a central figure in the anarchist movement of southern California.


“Dad al César lo que es del César”

[The following entry is from guest blogger, Carlos Tapia, a Sutro student volunteer and a student at SF State University majoring in History. He supplied all the text and images that follow.]

“Dad al César lo que es del César, y a Dios lo que es de Dios”. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. These words were preached in a sermon delivered by Father Pedro Josef Mendizabal on September 30, 1810 in Queretaro, Mexico.

carlos 1
Title page of Fr. Mendizabal’s sermon

It was delivered just a couple days after Father Miguel Hidalgo’s famous “Cry of Dolores” (El Grito de Dolores), which incited Mexico’s war for independence. However, unlike Hidalgo’s speech for an independent Mexico, Mendizabal’s sermon stressed the need for the suppression of Mexican revolutionaries. While delivering his sermon, Mendizabal wastes no time in vilifying the revolutionary insurgents and reiterates that the people must remain loyal to their faithful king. Although Mendizabal’s stance is from a religious point of view, it nonetheless offers intriguing insight into the relationship between religion and monarchy as well as how faithful the Catholic Church was to King Ferdinand. Thus the words, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”, perfectly summarizes Mendizabal and the Church’s stance on the Mexico’s independence movement.



The beginning paragraphs of Mendizabal’s sermon, which comprise the first reading, is where the majority of his arguments are presented and in my opinion is where my curiosity spiked. Like any religious figure would begin speaking, Mendizabal warns his audience of a grave threat, of people who pretend to be Catholic worshipers but in reality are wolves in sheep clothing. In turn, the people must take up arms, just as the Archangel Michael did, and destroy the enemies of peace. He follows this up by asking the people whose rosette and cockades do the people wear and whose image is featured on the Spanish Medallion? Mendizabal answers, “King Fernando of course, ‘Rey Catolico de España y de las Indias’. Thus give to King Fernando what is his, and to God what is his” (Mendizabal 2). The entirety of Mendizabal’s sermon can be attributed to that specific prayer of Caesar, which again emphasizes the relationship between God and a monarch. Mendizabal asks another question which goes as follows, “Can we, with clarity, become true vassals of Fernando, uphold the rights of his throne, and be true Christians if we follow in the perverse footsteps of Dolores, de Allende, Aldama, Abasolo, and their evil minions? Not for certain, but I will state the answer in my sermon” (2). It is plainly observant that Mandizabal is strongly opposed to the Mexican insurgents and plays on the people’s fear of not being faithful Christians if they were to support such individuals. It also once again stresses the idea that any unlawful acts against the king is a direct act against God. Further on into the first reading, he once again warns the people to, “not be seduced by their promise of false happiness” and calls the named revolutionaries as disciples of the infamous Napoleon (4).


Despite Mendizabal’s outcry against Dolores and other insurgents, he somehow manages to also call for unity through an interesting approach. In a brief section, Mendizabal discusses about the history of Spanish blood ties. He mentions the Gachupin, the Spanish father, grandfather, and uncle born on the opposite side of the ocean. He also mentions the Criollo, the Spanish son, grandson, and nephew born in the New World. By enforcing the shared blood ties, Mandizabal argues that, “other than being true sons of the Church, we are also without doubt equal vassals of Fernando” (5). Mendizabal plays an interesting point regarding race, which to me is unique because it calls for unity between two distinct races that nonetheless share the same blood. He also argues that the two should not murder one another. However, he finishes the first reading by stating that if the people give to God what is God’s, “he’ll take up arms against Allende, Aldama, and the evil minions of Dolores” (6).

In the second sermon, Mendizabal explains how the ten commandments have been violated by the insurgents. The numbering of the commandments mentioned in Mendizabal’s sermon is different compared to today’s but they still mean same. Beginning with the fourth commandment of honoring your father and mother, he applies this concept to not parents born in Europe, but also towards the Spanish Sovereignty and the motherland (7-8). For the fifth commandment, which upholds the divinity of the Creator, Mandizabal argues that the insurgents have seduced those who are ignorant by encouraging ideas that contradict the commandments. Lastly, the seventh commandment that Mendizabal mentions, states that thou shall not steal. For Mendizabal’s argument, he states that the insurgents have stolen the hard sweat and work of the people and have destroyed the rights that they were born with as well as stealing the good and riches of their parents (9). Mendizabal ends his sermon with a prayer to God and calls for victory against Napoleon, to stop those that threaten to destroy the Catholic religion, and calls for peace and tranquility.

Mendizabal’s sermon was a well written transcript in that it discussed the notions between church and state in the 19th century and the racial discussion between the ganchupin and the criollo. Aside from those two discussions, what I personally thought was intriguing was drawing comparison between the American Revolution and the Mexican War for Independence from a religious standpoint. Just as Mendizabal placed heavy emphasis on King Ferdinand’s given authority from God, the same can be said between King Edward III and the Church of England. King Edward III was the head and face of the Church of England, which many colonists, especially those deeply religious, saw that any act of rebellion was an act against the Church and God. That was one revelation that heavily sparked my interest to further delve into Mendizabal’s sermon and explore what similarities and differences did the church play in both American and Mexican independence. Mendizabal’s sermon is one that will catch the attention of anyone interested in notions of religion, government, and race.

–Carlos Tapia, SFSU History undergraduate class of 2019 and student volunteer at Sutro Library

List of References:

Mendizábal y Zubialdea, Pedro Josef de.:
Sermón que en el tercer día del solemne novenario de Nuestra Señora del Pueblito conducida en secreto … /predicó … Pedro Josef de Mendizábal..
   México : Arizpe, [1810].
  11 p. ;  20 cm..

Location Sutro Library ; Vault ; BX816.M6 C65

The Marvelous Mrs. Ferretti

Charlotte Anne Boon Ferretti Family Papers

I remember feeling apprehensive when I received an email from a lawyer executing a will that instructed over a dozen genealogical binders be donated to the Sutro Library. I felt this way not because I didn’t want to go through them (I am an archivist after all!) but because I feared the majority would be sent back. In the past, boxes or even trash bags of donor’s research have been known to show up without any notification or documentation denoting its origins. Sutro Library, similar to most libraries and archives, must be mindful of our space constraints, which makes us particular about the family papers we do keep: original primary sources and bound family histories. It is an uneasy and an even painful process to go through these binders knowing we cannot keep the meticulously filled out charts or copies of the original documents and other sources— all of which someone spent their lifetime researching. That isn’t to say there aren’t libraries out there who keep research notes, there are, and I will leave a few examples at the end of this post.


Now, let’s return to the two gargantuan boxes that arrived in my office housing a total of 15 black binders filled to the max with research. As I slowly began to review the contents, turning each heavy page of plastic sleeves stuffed with materials, the proverbial weight on my shoulders lightened. Among the four-generation and family unit charts, there was a narrative told through the scrapbook-like pages adorned with photos and blurbs typewritten by the donor. This was the donor’s form of a family history, and while it was not bound, it was still a fascinating collection. But wait, there’s more! In these binders, there were original manuscripts, records, photographs, objects, including a letter written by a great great grandfather and not one, but two locks of hair! One belonging to the donor herself.

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And who was this person to have such fortitude and foresight to collect her family’s papers and paraphernalia with the goal of donating them to Sutro Library? Charlotte Anne Boon Ferretti born on May 16, 1932 in Fresno and died on April 30, 2018 in Madera. In addition to being a mother, a grandmother, an avid reader, a genealogist, a gardener, an equestrian, and lover of all animals, Charlotte was an exceptional family historian and archivist.

Here are more highlights from the collection curated by the marvelous Charlotte:

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The Confederate money was not the first piece within this treasure trove that caught my attention, though I did get up excitedly from my desk to show my colleagues. Rather it was a section devoted to someone who lived far more recently, Charlotte’s daughter who had died almost 30 years prior to her mother. The collection on Diane Marie includes childhood photos, diplomas and other academic certificates of achievement, and even cards drawn by her as a child.

Charlotte didn’t just provide the basic details of each family member. She also provided personal effects showcasing the family member’s personality and creativity. In her own binder, Charlotte included a drawing she sketched that won a prize in the fair as well as the pedigree chart of her horse, Sir Napa Champ.

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In another example of personal effects, along with the remarkable passport for her aunt, Vernie Gilmore, who was a nurse in World War I, Charlotte kept her aunt’s short stories and poems. One of which is a fascinating telling of her time as a nurse, titled “The Day I Knew A Miracle” personalizing this specific moment in time. And that’s really what we’re after with genealogy: the personalization and contextualization of one’s family history.

I truly am in awe by this collection and feel honored to have been the one to begin processing it. In a blurb found amongst the Confederate money, Charlotte speaks directly to her would-be repository, the Sutro Library:

“It is my hope that whomever becomes the possessor of my family history will care for this collection and keep it for the part of our country’s history that it is…”

We will fulfill Charlotte’s wish by caring for this collection and further processing it so that one day it will be accessible through a finding aid (aka inventory) enabling others to continue where she left off. Until then, the public is welcome to view these materials (some of which will have restricted access given the nature of the documents).  We ask you contact us first via email and notify us at least two business days prior to your visit.


Tips for those interested in preserving and donating their family papers:

  1. Email the repository of interest first, and if they cannot accept it, they will more often than not refer you to someone who can.
  2. Compile your research into a bound volume especially if you would like to donate to Sutro Library, preferably hardbound not spiral as the latter is not a friend of long-term preservation and access. Blog post by the Library of Congress regarding this request:
  3. If you’re not ready to donate your family papers, please make sure they are housed in appropriate storage and a climate-controlled location to ensure their preservation. Feel free to contact Sutro Library if you have any questions or visit the National Archives website providing tips on preserving documents and photos:
  4. As mentioned above, there are libraries out there that accept research notes. Examples include: Anderson Public Library (Indiana); City of Fairfax Regional Library (Virginia); W. Dale Clark Main Library (Nebraska); and Huntington City Township Public Library (Indiana). This is not an exhaustive list, and similar to tip 1, we encourage you to reach out to local repositories, especially ones that are in the same region of where your ancestors lived.

A detailed obituary of Charlotte Anne Boon Ferretti was published in the Merced Sun-Star on May 9, 2018:


Written by the Genealogy Librarian, Dvorah Lewis.

Between the Pages

I wonder if you’re like me and grab any scrap of paper that happens to be handy to use as a bookmark.  I’ve used grocery lists, notes from my husband, those annoying subscription cards that fall out of magazines, ticket stubs, receipts, postcards, newspaper articles I’ve clipped to read later, post-it notes with reminders to call the dentist… the list goes on and on.  When I’ve finished a book, before putting it on my shelf, passing it on to a friend, or trading it in at a second-hand bookstore, I flip through the book to remove the bits of paper that have been marking my place.  At least, I think I do.  I’m sure I’ve left plenty of things behind for the next reader to find.

As I look through books in the Sutro Library’s collection I sometimes come across things that other people have left tucked between the pages.  Such discoveries don’t happen often.  The books in the Sutro Library vault have probably passed through many hands before arriving there, and things left between the pages have most likely long since fallen out or been removed.  But occasionally something remains.  When I look through the books I’m generally checking their condition – making sure there’s no mold, investigating the extent of worm damage, confirming that the binding is still secure and no pages are coming loose.  It is always a wonderful surprise to find some small treasure instead of evidence of decay or damage.

For instance, in a book of poetry by an author identified only as Mrs. Hemans, published in 1839, I found a small strip of mesh embroidered with the word “modesty.”


Perhaps it is only a coincidence that the piece of needlework marks a page with a poem entitled “Woman and Fame,” but the sentiment of the poem and the simple exhortation of the stitched word make a perfect pair.  The narrator of the poem rejects the temptations of fame in favor of simpler rewards, which she deems more appropriate for women.

Though hast a charmed cup, O Fame,

A draught that mantles high,

And seems to lift this earthly frame

Above mortality.

Away! To me—a woman—bring

Sweet water from affection’s spring.

Someone has written a brief note on one of the first pages of the book:  “Presented to Miss M Smith by A Friend.”  I wonder about that “Friend.”  Why did he or she give the book anonymously?  Were they genuinely trying to save Miss Smith from a ruinous course of action?  Or was the book given by an interfering busybody who was shocked by the advanced or ambitious Miss Smith?  Did Miss Smith quail and repent when she saw the needlework and read the poem?  Did she carefully preserve the stitchery as a reminder in case she should stray from an “appropriate” path again?  Or did she snap the book shut with an immodest laugh and toss it aside, never giving the poem or the reminder to be modest another thought?

The library has a very well-used copy of The Works of Benjamin Franklin, published in Philadelphia in 1818.  Marguerite Milton Wells has pasted her book plate on the inside of the front cover and someone named H. Scott has written his or her name boldly in ink on the title page.  Perhaps it was Marguerite Wells or H. Scott who carefully annotated the lengthy book in pencil and copied out an inspiring verse on one of the back pages.  Somehow, however, I imagine it was not either of them, but rather a little sister who put the paper doll between pages 190 and 191.  And perhaps it was the same little sister who added a scribble to Franklin’s 1784 letter reproduced on page 190.  I hope the little girl didn’t fret over the loss of her doll too much. And I hope her older sibling wasn’t too angry about the scribble!


picture3Colyn Wohlmut, a librarian that worked at Sutro Library until August 2018, once asked for my help holding a book open as she carefully used tweezers to remove leaves, long since dried out and now crumbling into tiny shards, which someone had pressed between the pages of a book.  I was interested to see her place the pieces of the leaves into an envelope.  Colyn told me that while organic matter left in a book is an invitation to hungry insects, the leaves are part of the book’s history and will be safely preserved.

Indeed, even things that might seem innocuous can cause damage when left in a book.  For instance, you can see where something left in this book has permanently stained the pages.


Even something as seemingly harmless as a plain slip of paper can cause damage.  If the paper isn’t of archival quality, it contains acids or other chemicals which can create discoloration.


So what should you do if you find anything between the pages of a book in the Sutro collection?  Leave the item in place and let a librarian know what you’ve found and where.  A note or marker might be an important part of the book’s history, or it might be damaging the book, or both!  But whatever the object is, think of it as a reminder of readers who’ve come before you and spend a moment imagining how it might have made its way into the book.


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

If the Shoe Fits……

Cinderella reportedly said, “One shoe can change your life.” While Cinderella’s one shoe brought her to Prince Charming, our books’ shoes will bring them a lifetime of structure, security, and protection. Why would books need shoes you ask? Good question.

The Sutro Library has a stunning collection of libros de conventos (Convent Books, aka convento books), mostly bound in limp vellum, which means that the book does not have a stiff cover (or boards as they are technically called) and instead is very flexible (very similar in behavior to modern day paperbacks). These convento books were added to the collection when Adolph Sutro, traveled to Mexico in 1889 and purchased at auction the contents of the Abadiano Bookstore. Since the books are so flexible and in various sizes, shelving them can be tricky. At one point in the not-so-distant past, the State Library was committed to putting all these valuable books in phase boxes (a fancy word for a custom box) but the project stalled at some point, and now we have some books boxed, and some that are not. Fast forward to today and the unboxed books are starting to swell and distort.


Ideally, we would resurrect this past effort and make phase boxes for the rest of the convento books since boxes protect books from light, dust, and small leaks. Yet boxes do not let you see the limp vellum spine with the book’s handwritten title, and they also cost more money and labor to make. Since the past phase boxes were made in Sacramento, we wanted a more local solution.

Enter professional conservator Gillian Boal. Gillian learned of our desire to have a structured housing solution for our convento books but with the ability to see the book’s spines. She casually mentioned book shoes, and we quickly agreed it was the desired solution. The book shoe is a kind of box that is made out of conservation grade cardboard that the book slips into. Each custom box would fit snugly around all parts of the book except on the top and the spine. And, just like your shoes, you don’t want to make the shoe too tight or too lose. The shoe provides much needed structure for the books as well as:

  • Protects the sides of decorated or fragile bindings, such as those covered in textiles, from their neighbors;
  • Reduces wear to the book due to being pulled in and out of shelves;
  • Allows books to be moved without the binding being touched.

Gillian printed out information on how to make the shoes from the Northeast Document Conservation Center. The State Library purchased the conservation cardboard and Gillian made a prototype for our SFSU museum studies students to replicate.

Alan Scardera was the first SFSU Museum Studies graduate student to take up the project. Alan studied the documentation and prototype Gillian left behind and soon was making his own book shoes. I expressed a desire to have some sort of string or tie to keep the shoe as snug as possible and Alan figured out how to weave unbleached linen tying tape through the structure.

alan making boxes


img_6790Alan soon trained SFSU History graduate student, Allison Bermann, on how to make the shoes and the physical conditions of our convento books are rapidly improving. With the help of the California State Library Foundation, we were able to purchase enough glue and tying tape to keep Alan and Allison in steady production these last three months, and for many months to come.

img_7032The eventual goal is to have all the limp vellum bound books from Mexico in a shoe. While stage one of the project is focused on quarto-sized books, we will eventually move into folio and tiny-sized books as well. One challenge we noticed, however, is that some of the books are too fragile or have decorations that do not allow for easy slipping in and out of the shoe without causing further damage to the book’s bindings. For those shoeless books, another solution will have to be found.

The book shoe is a huge step forward for this part of our collection and would not be possible without the generosity of the California State Library Foundation and most especially, the dedication and talent of the SFSU graduate students working on the project. Their devotion to making these books secure is deeply appreciated because everybody loves a good pair of shoes—even books!

img_7033.jpgFor More Information:

The book shoe was developed by Nicholas Pickwoad while consultant at the National Trust in England. The commercial design was developed by Christopher Clarkson, then at West Dean College, Chichester, England, and Anthony Cains, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. The instructions to make your own book shoes can be found here:

If you are interested in damage to rare books and different supportive housing for damaged books, more information can be found here:

A formal definition of limp bindings can be found here:

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


Cooking with Aunt Babette

Receipts of Jewish Identity

Hanukkah came early this year during the first week of December, and I searched in our catalog looking for Jewish cookbooks and found Aunt Babette’s Cook Book. I was surprised to find no listings of: latkes (potato pancakes were listed, however); sufganiyot (while doughnuts were listed, jelly-filled was not); and kugel (there were a couple of recipes, but none similar to the one I grew up eating). The shock at my lack of findings disappeared as I realized most of the recipes were of German dishes. As a descendant of Eastern European Jews, most of Aunt Babette’s recipes hold no meaning and are unrecognizable to me. In fact, if I hadn’t known the cookbook was donated by a Jewish family;  recognized the significance of the publisher’s symbol (a Star of David) on the title page; or learned about the publisher’s familial connection to the leader of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (this last one took a bit of research), then I would not have guessed this volume was a Jewish cookbook.



There’s hardly any dish listed in the index that is explicitly Jewish. Only one word is written in Hebrew, charoset (apple and nut mixture eaten during Passover) and this is ironically under the section titled: Easter Dishes. In addition to the avoidance of Jewish words or references to Jewish holidays, the recipes appear to be a reinterpretation of what it means to keep kosher and includes recipes which mix meat with milk and even include pork! One could easily misinterpret Aunt Babette’s as a German American cookbook for middle-class women and not Jewish.



What I find interesting about Aunt Babette’s is that it is so much more than a cookbook: it’s a guidebook providing tips and hints for a woman to effectively manage the household. According to Aunt Babette (pseudonym of Bertha F. Kramer): just like it’s the man’s duty to be the head of his business, it is the woman’s duty to be the head of the household. Among the recipes, there are instructions and other tips for becoming an effective housekeeper, from how to put on a Pink Tea party (hint: everything is pink) to curing a sore throat with strips of bacon. She even offers advice on the treatment of servants and how their treatment will lead to better service:

“How pleasant is a home where kindness reigns.”


While Aunt Babette’s Cook Book cannot claim the title as the first Jewish cookbook (that belongs to Esther Levy’s Jewish Cookery Book published in 1871), Aunt Babette’s is one of the most popular of its time having various printings for over 25 years. By the time of its first printing in 1889, the first wave of German Jews who immigrated to America half a century earlier would have already been established in American society, and most of them identified with the Reform Movement having renounced more traditional customs like keeping kosher. With the publisher’s familial ties to the movement and recipes including shellfish and other non-kosher foods, this cookbook was clearly written for German Reform Jews.

Also happening in the late 1880s, the next wave of Jewish immigration had already begun, this time Eastern European Jews. Is it possible that this cookbook could have been used (or at least was the intent of the publishers as well as the German Jewish community overall) as a guidebook for incoming Jewish migrants? Perhaps it was thought that its pages would inspire and encourage them to not only join Reform Judaism (Eastern European Jews immigrating to America would have been Conservative or Orthodox at this time), but also to assimilate to hegemonic customs? Or could this have also been a guidebook for non-Jewish women of the middle class? By providing recipes that mixed meat with milk alongside a section detailing how to set the Seder table for Passover (listed under Easter Dishes), perhaps the other intent of this cookbook was to assuage anti-Semitism, e.g. fear of the other?

Fear of the other is a concept to remember in the context of this book’s publishing. The Jewish Christmas tradition of eating Chinese food on December 24th and 25th is representative of a shared immigration history that both the Jewish and Chinese communities share. Chinese restaurants are one of the few places open during the holiday and, geographically, when these two groups immigrated to New York they lived closer together. Since both groups were outside of the Christian tradition, these groups were linked together often due to their “otherness.”  Additionally, traditional Chinese food did not include dairy and gave the allusion of keeping kosher. Jennifer 8. Lee, producer of The Search for General Tso, a documentary on Chinese cuisine from Shanghai to America, stated in an interview with The Atlantic that the connection Jews felt toward Chinese food “reveals a lot about immigration history and what it’s like to be outsiders”.

Aunt Babette’s cookbook is representative of an early response to this immigration history. It casts out the “otherness” rather than embraces it, thereby making it hard for outsiders, both non-Jews and Jews alike (especially Eastern European), to recognize this as a Jewish cookbook. While Aunt Babette may not have provided me with a recipe for Hanukkah, she did shed light on the Jewish immigrant experience.

Additional Resources:

Sutro Library carries the 6th edition of Aunt Babette’s Cook Book. To view this in person, please give us 2 business days advance notice of your visit. Other editions are also freely and remotely available online through

From our families to yours: Happy Holidays!


*Written by the Sutro Library Genealogy Librarian, Dvorah Lewis.

Jethro Tull, 1674-1741


It’s funny the way popular culture can inform our historical interests and discoveries.  While searching for something to post for the Instagram challenge #ArchivesHarvest, I was immediately attracted by the name Jethro Tull in the 600s’ Dewey section of our vault.  And it is here that I discovered that more than a seventies progressive rock band,  Jethro Tull was in fact a central figure who helped set the foundation of the eighteenth century revolution in agriculture.



This revolution, which had its origins in Britain, took over one hundred years to come to fruition. Tull first published his seminal work, The Horse-Hoeing Husbandry: or, an, essay on the principles of tillage and vegetation. Wherein is shewn a method of introducing a sort of vineyard-culture into the corn-fields, in order to increase their product, and diminish the common expense; by the use of instruments described in cuts, in 1733, and although his seed drill was largely denounced in England, it was however immediately adopted by colonists in New England. In terms of Tull’s theories and Britain’s failure to adopt them, it was especially disagreeable that Tull rejected the need to use manure to enrich soil.


There are several reasons why the agricultural revolution came about, policies like the Enclosure movement as well as discoveries in crop rotation, but it was invention of machines like the seed drill that were the major catalyst. Not until the 1800s did British farmers finally adopt Tull’s theories, leaving behind the ancient method of hand broadcasting which consisted of farmers randomly throwing seeds in a field, hoping for them to take root.  This method and its glaring inefficiencies was what had initially motivated Tull to invent his rotary system, and in addition to the seed drill, he also developed the horse drawn hoe and an improved plough.


This book “approved and recommended” by the Dublin Society, known now as the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), was part of a concerted effort to build up Ireland’s economy. The Society, which was founded in 1731, just two years prior to the publication of this book, was created to improve Ireland’s “husbandry, manufacture and the useful arts.” Resources like this one represent one of the important ways in which the Society helped disseminate information regarding new breakthroughs in science and technology. The audience would obviously be landed, literate, men with the means to buy an expensive book like this.



This is just one of many primary resources on farming and agriculture housed at the Sutro Library. If you are interested in looking at any of our rare materials, please give us two business days.

In Search of Gung-Gung

[The following entry is from guest blogger, Mike Wong, a student at SF State University. He supplied all the text and images that follow.]

Having heard the same story every year of my grandpa going into “the wrong branch of the armed forces,” I decided to make it my mission to research more about my grandpa, more than any other person in my family has before. I decided to undertake this research this semester and the process on finding more information about my grandpa rapidly advanced from a casual story into a much more intriguing story I would have ever imagined.

Mike GrandpaGung-Gung in his youth, in his Navy Uniform

Given the resources I had, one major website that blew open the doors for me was The Sutro Library gave me free access to, and after a quick dive into my family’s heritage, I uncovered much more information, more information than I needed quite frankly. Initially I thought I was going to cover the basics of my grandpa and his time in the military, but with the grind of research, I found much more about my family than just my grandpa.

Before doing hours of research in the Sutro, I conducted an oral interview with my grandma and my dear great-Aunt. During the interview, I called them the way I always called them growing up, for my grandma I call her “Paw-Paw” because in the Chinese culture that is what you call a grandma on the mother side, and Aunty Virginia, is a standard name for Aunts, and I would ask them questions about Gung-Gung. The term “Gung-Gung” means grandpa on the mother side in the Chinese culture.

When talking to Paw-Paw, I had focused my questions more towards after the war, and more of the solid facts. They were primarily Why type of questions, I had asked those because my grandmother would give more detailed answers as if it was from a textbook. When it came to Aunty Virginia, I had to change my questions up a little bit because she knew Gung-Gung longer, and more on a family basis rather than a soldier basis from my grandmother. While interviewing my Aunt I had asked her a lot more What and How style questions, which would enable answers to a more personal basis. In the end of both interviews, in their closing statements they had admitted that they are thankful for me doing this interview. Both of them had a lot of sympathy for Gung-Gung and his time on Earth, and yet they were proud. They were both proud because they got to reminisce of a good man, an even better brother, a soldier who sacrificed blood sweat and tears for this nation, and most importantly, a loving hero to three children and six grandchildren.

Mike with Aunt and grandmaFrom Left to Right, Anna (Paw-Paw, grandma, wife of Gung-Gung), me, Aunty Virginia (sister of Gung-Gung)

After the oral interview with both my grandma and my Aunt, my knowledge of Gung-Gung was considered minimal for the amount of information I received. For example I found out that my grandpa went through an infamous typhoon in the pacific, and I also found out how far my grandpa went in his personal education. Granted I did learn a lot about his time in the armed forces, I feel like I learned more about him outside of the military. I found out where he lived before he met my grandma, I found out the location of his little mom and pop liquor store was, and I even found out who he was related to. There is an all-important family member I have always heard of, but I always end up overlooking. Through research and asking around internally I found out that my grandpa’s grandfather’s sister had a son, and that son was the local Oakland judge Delbert Earl Wong, the first Chinese American Judge in the United States of America.

Young Delbert.png

Delbert E. Wong (young)

Because my research lead me more towards Delbert, I decided to see where this would take me. I had found out that Delbert was the son of Alice Mar Wong and Earl Wong. Alice Wong was the sister of Cuyler Sr (great-Grandpa). Cuyler Sr. had three children, the oldest was Gung-Gung, who was named Cuyler Jr, the middle son named Gavin (he passed away from leukemia in the year 1973) and the youngest was a daughter he named Virginia. To my understanding on Delbert’s side of the family, Earl is the one who married into the family. Earl and Alice got married in Fresno County on May 20, 1919, by a man named John Freeman Mills. It is logged in the Fresno County certificates in volume 38, on page 345. According to the official California passenger and crew list for 1882-1959,  Earl was coming back from Hong Kong via SS President Coolidge on May 23, 1935 but nobody accompanied him. He was 37 years old and married to Alice and had two kids, Delbert and Ervin.  Less than a month later, the same source listed Alice coming back to California from Hong Kong as well, on June 11, 1935, and with Delbert accompanying her.  Alice’s age was 34 making Delbert 15 years old.

The question that arises is Where was Erwin in all of this? and why didn’t they travel as a single unit? Well to conclude the latter question, my theory behind that is Alice had to come back separately from Earl because of a federal act that was in play at the time. This act called the Expatriation Act of 1907, was a law that forced American women to lose their nationality and citizenship if they married an alien. With the Expatriation Act of 1907 in play, I am theorizing it is the reason why Alice had to come back separate (but not divorced) from Earl and with Delbert. This would explain also why I found accounts of Alice’s naturalization papers on Naturalization papers were forms an individual has to fill out to become a citizen in the United States back then. The question remains of where Erwin was during this time. One thing that doesn’t connect is that Erwin, born a US citizen, should’ve been 10 years old when Alice and the family moved back to California.

With all this research on my family heritage, including Gung-Gung’s military time and cousin Delbert, questions still arise. Some questions that come to mind are, how close was Gung-Gung to Delbert?, What were the military ID numbers, ranks, and where were they stationed? Did Delbert see any action in the war?, or Did Gung-Gung do anything in the war that made a huge impact, and Delbert as well? The list of questions can be endless, and I believe that I just scratched the tip of the iceberg, and that there is many more routes I can go down in doing my genealogy.

For future investigation (and if time permits) I know that the archives in Saint Louis would be a great place to start, I could conduct research in the pentagon and get through all the public information because I am family. I could also investigate locally in the N.A.R.A (National Archives and Records Administration) in San Bruno. To investigate further into Gung-Gung, I could dive deeper into a database called fold3 and look up WWII US Navy Muster Rolls. From there I could look into which ship my grandpa was on and what rank he was.

As for Delbert, I could always contact Stanford University and UCLA to look up his school records, as well as try to find out what laws and projects he had worked on while being part of the Judicial system and California State Legislature.Judge Delbert

In conclusion, although I wanted more information about Gung-Gung, my research time in the Sutro Library lead me down a different path, a path that I wasn’t expecting. I had a goal coming into this research project looking to find more about the military presence of Gung-Gung but it ended up being more directed towards my first cousin, twice removed cousin Delbert Earl Wong, the first Chinese-American judge in America.

Mike Wong FamilyGung-Gung (in the blue shirt with yellow flowers), surrounded with the upcoming two generations

Although I’m proud of my connection and family heritage associated with Delbert, I am still interested in finding out more about my grandpa.

Mike Wong grandparents.jpgGung-Gung with the one he loves the most, Anna or Paw-Paw

During the closing thoughts portion of the interview with Aunty Virginia, she had mentioned a wise line to live by, and I would like to share it. Aunty Virginia had said “Do the best you can, and keep your nose clean. Do what you’re expected to do, and don’t get into any trouble.”

Mike Wong grandpa and auntGung-Gung with his one and only sister Virginia

–Michael Wong, SFSU History undergraduate class of 2019, student in SFSU History #405, History of Maritime Class


List of Resources Consulted via

California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1959 for Alice Wong

California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1959 for Earl Wong

California, County Birth, Marriage, & Death Records, 1849-1980 for Early Quong Wong

Delbert Earl Wong in the U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947

1940 United States Federal Census for Earl Wong

Alice Mar Wong in the U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current

Earl Q Wong in the U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current

Erwin Wong in the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

Ervin Wong in the U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947






Monsters of the Deep

October brings us to the season of Halloween and spooky monster tales. While it would be easy to do a blog post on something written by the master of scary, Edgar Allen Poe, I thought I would take a different approach and focus on the mythical sea monsters found on some of our 16th and 17th century maps.

Since ancient times, sailors have told stories of fierce and hideous animals found in the ocean’s depths.  As much of the ocean’s ecosystem was hidden and still a bit of a mystery, it is not surprising that sailor’s tales of sea monsters made an impression on the Medieval and Early Modern mind, with early cartographers incorporating these accounts into their maps.

What is interesting to me about the monsters found on our maps is how they are familiar to my eyes and yet gruesomely different. The drawings take animals that I have seen before—like a whale or dolphin– and then add some exaggerated characteristic that turns them into something terrifying.

For example, this seemingly fierce, but normal looking fish from the front, just happens to have a snake-like tail added on:fish1

From: Thomas Gage, A New Survey of the West-India’s (1655), call number F1409 G34 1655

Or this vicious but otherwise common-looking shark happens to have a multi-finned tail:


From: Thomas Gage, A New Survey of the West-India’s (1655), call number F1409 G34 1655

Another example can be found in Theodor de Bry’s Vivae Imagines et Ritvs Incolarvm (1590), where we find what appears to be a large whale with two spouts and a snake-like tail:


From: Theodor de Bry’s Vivae Imagines et Ritvs Incolarvm (1590), call number E141 .B798 1590

And another two spouted whale is spotted again in Theodor de Bry’s Americae pars Decima (1619):


From: Theodor de Bry’s Americae pars Decima (1619), call number 910.8 B91 vol. 2

I found a fish almost as big as Cuba in that same volume:


From: Theodor de Bry’s Americae pars Decima (1619), call number 910.8 B91 vol. 2

Lastly, this creature appears to have a spout but his head resembles that of a cow:


From: Hispaniae Novae Nova Descriptio, 1592, mapG33

If you are curious to learn more about monsters found in antiquarian maps, you can follow #MapMonsterMonday on twitter or check out these two books at your local library:

Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet Van Duzer, and Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map, by Joseph Nigg.

This post was inspired by SF State University’s Sarah Crabtree’s History 405 Maritime History class which explores the history of the ocean and our relationship with it.

Have a great October!

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


Cataloging & Conserving What They Carried: The Geneva Bible

Next month’s #SFArchivesCrawl‘s theme is Im(migration) and Indigenous Voices of California.  We at the Sutro Libray have decided to focus on the things that travelers brought with them when they traveled. We have many physical reminders of people’s past journeys: government documents, diaries, maps, guidebooks, letters, and books.  One item that traveled relates strongly to the upcoming 400th anniversary of the Mayflower‘s voyage and colonization of the area known today as New England.

The participants of the Mayflower journey are credited with taking a particular version of the Bible with them to the new world. It’s known as the Geneva Bible, in honor of the very active community of Protestants in the city where it was printed. It predates the more famous King James Version (which Sutro also has) and continued to be produced for some years before being practically supplanted.

The Sutro Library owns a 1582 imprint of the bible which was originally printed in 1560. This later printing demonstrates two significant differences from the earlier one. The first printing was printed in Roman type, while our version is printed in black-letter. However, the more commonly ascribed difference is the use of the word ‘breeches’ to describe the plant based clothing Adam and Eve used to cover themselves.  This printed edition among Geneva Bibles is known as the Breeches Bible.


There were multiple additional features which appeared in the printed text. Glosses, illustrations and more gave the reader a more direct understanding of the scriptures. In this period literacy and printing was empowering individuals to make decisions about their own faiths and directly challenged the authority of the priestly classes.

Our book includes 3 other works: Whole Booke of Psalms, printed in 1581; Concordances, printed in 1582; and the Book of Common Prayer, printed in 1582.

As you can imagine, cataloging a work of this historical importance and complexity is a significant challenge. Have a look at the deluge of notes in the record:


The devil is in the details, so without the careful work of an expert cataloging librarian, researchers would lack the information they need to identify materials of interest remotely. We are most grateful to our expert cataloger, Dan Taysom, for creating this amazing record for this special item.

Another perennial problem is condition. After 436 years of use, anyone would look a bit tired! We sent the volume in its tattered state to a professional conservator for treatment. Our priority as custodians is to ensure that materials continue to be accessible for hundreds of years into the future.

Here is the bible before conservation treatment:


As you can see, the way the binding is damaged makes it very difficult to use. Handling a book in this condition will often result in further damage. It’s the conservator’s job to stabilize the binding, effect any necessary or integral repairs, but not necessarily hide the repairs or erase some of the books history. Restoration is the process of making something old look like-new. Conservation is the process of stabilizing something so that it will be usable, but maintaining whatever features have been added or changes which have occurred over time.

Here is the bible after treatment:


If you’d like to see this bible, or any other items from Adolph Sutro’s rare book collection, please email or call 415-469-6100 to schedule an appointment. Make sure you mention the call number for this book: BS170 1582.

We wish to thank the California State Library Foundation for funding the conservation work on this bible and Sarah Elson of Sarah Elson Bookbinding, Menlo Park, for the pictures submitted for this article and for her outstanding conservation work.

[This article was written by Sutro Library Librarian, Colyn Wohlmut, who has since assumed a new position at another institution. We wish her every success!]