Our history: 150 Years of Friends in San Francisco

1849 – 1906

While we have little precise information, it is generally agreed that the Gold Rush brought some of the earliest Friends to California.  The Quaker Island of Nantucket had fallen on hard times after the War of 1812, and when the discovery of gold in California became common knowledge, large numbers of young Quaker men sailed from Nantucket to California.  Passenger lists of several ships that arrived from Nantucket in 1849 contain many historically Quaker names: Coffins, Starbucks, Folgers, and Macys among others.  Their experience paralleled that of other adventurers, and as the dream of striking it rich evaporated, many left California again.  Sheldon G. Jackson, editor of the Lindsey Journal states:  “By 1859 the number of Friends remaining in California had dwindled to about 250 . . .” He does not speculate on how many there had been earlier.

A reference to the first Friends’ meeting in San Francisco appears in the May 1914 minutes of College Park Association of Friends that states that James Bean, at age 92, read a short history he had written that noted that the first Friends meeting in California was held in San Francisco in 1850.  Unfortunately, we have no corroborating evidence for this event.  I have identified only one Quaker name in the 1850 City Directory:  Zeno Kelly.  He was mentioned briefly in the Lindsey Journal, but we know little about him.

The first documented meeting for worship in San Francisco occurred on July 17, 1859, but several individual Friends arrived earlier than that.  According to Jackson, William Sherman came in 1849, though the evidence for that date is slim.  He was a wealthy businessman, operated a ranch, and was active in politics.  The San Francisco Directory of 1854 lists Wm. Sherman as a merchant on Clay and Montgomery.  A newspaper ad in 1867 announced that Wm. Sherman & Co. moved their stock of clothing from Sansome St. to 608 Montgomery St., north of Clay.  In 1872 a notice in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that William Sherman, owner of a building on the corner of Clay and Montgomery, “from the City Restaurant on Clay street around to Sherman’s clothing store on Montgomery street,” intended to raze them to the ground and rebuild a new brick structure.

From his obituary in the Daily Alta California of Sept. 13, 1884 we learn that Sherman was born around 1822, a native of Rhode Island.  He moved to Oakland in 1870.  In 1873 he was appointed Sub-Treasurer of the U.S.  Sherman died in 1884 and was survived by a wife and three children.

In 1859 Sherman owned a ranch in the East Bay, and gave a tour to the Lindseys, visiting Quakers from England.  On two occasions in 1860 he hosted a small meeting for worship (10 or 11 persons) in his San Francisco room, attended by the Lindseys.

The Lindseys, Robert and Sarah, were Evangelical Friends ministers from England, traveling widely with a minute from their home Meeting.  In his later trips Robert Lindsey was accompanied by his wife Sarah, an astute observer and articulate writer, who left five volumes of travel journals.  From 1859 to 1860 the Lindseys resided in California, based in San Francisco.  Sarah Lindsey’s Journal is the most important published document available regarding early California Friends, though Joel Bean’s unpublished Journal may eventually surpass it.  The Lindseys’ goal was to meet with every Friend they could find, and encourage them in their faith.  An article in the Sacramento Daily Union on July 18, 1859 quoted from the Philadelphia Friends’ Review, saying that the Lindseys “desire to be informed of the names and places of residence of every member of the Society, and of those who are or have been connected with it, and now residing in California, Oregon, and parts adjacent.”  Sarah’s notes of these travels are delightful to read, and an important chronicle of early California Quakerism.

We are fortunate in having the text of a sermon and benediction of Robert Lindsey, as well as a prayer of Sarah Lindsey, given at the public meeting for worship in Sacramento, with about 200 present; it was recorded and printed in the Sacramento Daily Union on Nov. 11, 1859.

The brothers John and Thomas Bevan from England established a drug store in San Francisco early on.  An ad in the Daily Alta California of May 9, 1851 stated that the store offered leeches, carbonate ammonia, tartaric acid, and “a general assortment of drugs and medicines,” and was located on Broadway between Stockton and Powell.  The 1854 Directory lists “T.B. Bevans, apothecary” on Broadway and Stockton.  We know that John Bevans went into a drug business with William Pickering in 1862, but dissolved the business three years later.  Both John and Thomas show up in the Directory in varying listings, up to 1873.  The day after the arrival of the Lindseys, they stayed at the home of Thomas Bevan, probably in his “good brick house in the suburbs.”  Thomas attended the first meeting for worship on Sunday July 17, 1859 at the home of James Neall.  The Lindseys dined with Thomas and Jane Bevan several times, and Thomas attended several meetings for worship, often giving short vocal ministry.  In March 1860 Sarah Lindsey noted that Jane Bevan had recovered from scarlet fever, though one of John Bevan’s children had died of it.  On July 15, Sarah Lindsey records her only note of John Bevan’s presence at worship.  He offered ministry on the vanity of seeking happiness in earthly things.  The loss of his child must have been on his mind.  Also during that month, while waiting for their ship to depart, Lindsey noted that she and her husband had stayed nearly a week with Thomas and Jane Bevan.

Other colorful San Francisco Quakers were James and Hannah Lloyd Neall.  Sheldon Jackson states that James Neall came from a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia, coming to Oregon in 1846.  He then moved to California in 1849, but had no success at mining.  He finally managed to establish a business in San Francisco, and then went back to Philadelphia in 1852 to marry Hannah Lloyd.  The couple returned to San Francisco, and at the time of the Lindsey visit (1859) lived on Broadway.  It was at their home that the first documented meeting for worship in San Francisco was held.  Led by the Lindseys on Sunday July 17, 1859, it was attended by 20 persons, including Thomas Bevan.  Worship was held at the Neall’s home again on Sunday July 24, with over 40 present.  This proved too crowded, and the next week, July 31, worship was held at 11 o’clock in the Supervisor’s room in City Hall on Portsmouth Square with about 150 present.  This meeting was advertised in the Daily Alta California.

During the evening of Sunday Aug. 7, a smaller worship (of about 15) was conducted at the home of the Nealls.  Sarah called Hannah Neall “the author of the beautiful poem entitled The ‘Neglected Call'” and “an intelligent and interesting woman.”  Hannah Neall was an accomplished writer, publishing stories and poems in local periodicals and newspapers.

Joel Bean’s Diary mentions visits of Hannah Neall, including at a dinner at the Coxes in 1897.  Hannah Neall stayed with the Beans in San Jose in 1901, and again in Pacific Grove in 1903 and 1905.   Neall lived in San Francisco, in her later years on Bush Street, until her death in 1912.

Another important figure was Dr. Henry Gibbons, Sr., one of the most prominent physicians on the West coast.  He appears in the SF Directory beginning in 1852.  Sheldon Jackson states that Dr. Gibbons came to California in 1850 with two of his brothers; and that he married Martha Poole of Wilmington, Delaware, a “prominent member of the Society of Friends.”  His obituary of Nov. 7, 1884 in the Daily Alta California notes, “he was a native of Wilmington, Delaware, his father being a prominent member of the Society of Friends and a practicing physician.  Dr. Gibbons was a professor of the Cooper Medical College [in San Francisco], of which he was one of the founders.”

No discussion of early San Francisco Quakers would be complete without mention of Sarah Pearson, a thorn in the side of her namesake.  We know her only through the eyes of Sarah Lindsey, whose Journal records the disruptions that Pearson, a “Hicksite,” made in meeting for worship.  After the large meeting for worship at the Town Hall on July 31, Lindsey wrote:

“After supplicating, your dear Father was engaged at some length in the ministry, & before he concluded, I raised my eyes, & saw Sarah Pearson (whom I have previously mentioned as having been connected with the Hicksites) standing up.  A man who was seated by her, endeavoured to restrain her, but she commenced speaking by referring to the Scripture precept:  “If anything is revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.”  She was proceeding to say more but the man beside her, prevailed in getting her to sit down.  When Father had concluded, she arose almost immediately, and in a very excited manner with much gesture, gave us some account of her feelings & religious experience, which seemed rather in opposition to something that had previously been said.”

As usual, history emphasizes the role of the wealthy classes, but Lindsey does give us information about others.  Norris and Mary Palmer lived in the East Bay, and had not officially joined with Friends, but “were in the habit of sitting down together on first days for the purpose of Divine worship.”  There was an unnamed family who had lived in San Francisco for six years but did not know of any other Quakers in the area; and another young Quaker woman who had no knowledge of Friends in her city, and felt quite isolated.  Lindsey records her satisfaction at comforting such isolated Friends by letting them know they were not alone.  There was also a young woman from Dublin who Lindsey visited, Susan Alexander Rafter, confined to her bed because of “inflammatory rheumatism.”  Her husband had been away for 5 months, having set out to buy land in Washington Territory, but she had not heard from him since.  Rafter’s condition worsened and later she had to go to Dr. Samuel Cooper’s Infirmary near Mission and Third, an institution that in 1912 would develop into Stanford University’s Medical School.

It is clear that Friends in San Francisco (and in much of California) came from widely differing backgrounds, socio-economically as well as theologically.   We need to keep this mix in mind as we consider the events of the 1880s in San Jose.

First, however, let us look at what happened to Friends after the Lindseys left San Francisco in 1860.  While a less well-documented period, we do know that in 1861 Joel and Hannah Bean were on their way to Hawaii, and visited San Francisco where they were welcomed by William Sherman, Dr. Benjamin Hardy, and other Friends.  A meeting for worship was held in Sherman’s home.

The first record we have of an organized meeting for worship comes from notices in the Daily Alta California.  Beginning in 1867 there are regular notices of a Friends’ Meeting “every First Day” in the Fifteenth District Court Room on Kearny Street.  These notices continue until January 1869.  There is also a similar notice in November 1873 and in August 1875.  The City Directory of 1867, 1868 and 1869 list a Friends’ Meeting “every Sunday” at the Fifteenth District Court Room, City Hall.

The 1876 Directory lists:  “Society of Friends – Fifteenth District Courtroom, 6 Montgomery avenue.”  The 1876-77 Directory gives:  “Friends Meeting:  Members of this Society hold a meeting every First Day (Sunday), at half past eleven o’clock A.M., in the Fifteenth District Courtroom, junction of Montgomery Avenue and Montgomery Street.”  Similar listings continue for most years, at different addresses, through 1905.  Starting in 1900, worship is held at 570 Harrison St. (Swarthmore Hall), then 928 Harrison St. (Sunshine Hall). Unfortunately, any records that might have existed of this meeting appear to have been lost in the fires of 1906.

During this 40-year period of regular Sunday meetings for worship, turmoil started to divide Friends in San Jose.  San Jose Friends began to worship together in 1861, and held their first meeting in a newly built meetinghouse in June 1866.  In 1882, Joel and Hannah Bean moved permanently from Iowa to San Jose.  Friends in their home meeting began to hound the Beans, however.  The reasons are too complex to go into here.  For details, see David LeShana’s Quakers in California, 1969.  In 1883 the San Jose meetinghouse was sold to the Methodists.  Eventually the Beans were deposed as ministers, and later removed from membership.  They built a new meetinghouse at their own expense, and continued to worship.  In 1889 The College Park Association of Friends was incorporated.  Its stated purposes were to promote Christianity and morality, to hold property for church purposes and for a burial ground, and to maintain a meeting for worship.  It deliberately did not hold memberships, participating Friends keeping their membership in whatever Friends Meeting they came from.  This gathering of Friends in San Jose welcomed Quakers of any persuasion who wished to worship together.  San Francisco Friends would have followed these events closely.

I’d now like to turn to the first San Francisco Friend we have more knowledge of, Barclay J. Smith.  We are fortunate in having a photo of Smith from around 1900, apparently contributed by a grandchild.  From an Oct. 9, 1892 article in the S.F. Chronicle and an obituary of Dec. 15, 1903 we know that Barclay Smith was born around 1833 and had his home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where he was a businessman.  He married Lydia Ann Wood, also a native of Pennsylvania, and a daughter of John and Rebecca Wood.  He had a son at that time, Harper A. Smith, and in 1880 father and son (and wife?) came to San Francisco where they established what became a large business.   Barclay Smith is mentioned in the San Francisco Directory from 1880 to 1903.  The 1890 Directory lists “Mrs. Lydia Smith, with Smith’s Cash Store, r. 543 Seventeenth.”  An 1896 document, “A List of the Isolated Members of the Seven Yearly Meetings . . . ” lists “Harper A. Smith, Smith’s Cash Store,” “Laura M. Smith,” and “Lydia A. Smith,” in San Francisco, (all three of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) but does not mention Barclay Smith.   Smith’s Cash Store is mentioned in several listings.  One entry under Churches – Friends Meeting, in 1895, names Barclay J. Smith as “leader” of the Sunday services, then held on McAllister Street.

According to the research of Thomas M. King, an application was made in 1895 to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to take the San Francisco Meeting under its care, but it declined to do so.  Subsequently Smith gathered the “Sunshine Workers,” a missionary band, and in 1901 the Sunshine Mission in San Francisco became a monthly meeting under California Yearly Meeting.  (See King, unpublished papers, Book 2-B, 2009.)

Smith’s obituary notes that he died at his home, 570 Harrison Street, on Dec. 14, 1903 at the age of 70.  He was called “the chief support of the Society of Friends” in San Francisco; he was “very philanthropic and for several years he supported the Sunshine Kindergarten on Harrison street.”   The notice indicates that a wife, a son, and a daughter survived him.

An obituary for Lydia Ann Smith ran in the October 3, 1904 S.F. Chronicle which said that she died on October 1 at the age of 71, and that she had been the widow of the late Barclay J. Smith, and the mother of Harper A. and Laura M. Smith.

An Aug. 20, 1910 article in Friends’ Intelligencer notes:  “The meeting kept up in San Francisco so long, would have gone down sooner under its discouragement, had not Barclay J. Smith, with money contributions and unselfish personal exertion, kept up his love for the Society, and the little meeting as long as it was possible.”

A handwritten letter ca. 1946 (archives of San Francisco Monthly Meeting) from Nanna [Binford] and Richard Pearson to Elizabeth Owen states:

“My earliest recollection of Friends on the Pacific Coast was that of listening to an uncle Jared P Binford tell of an extended visit that he and another Friends minister made to California and Oregon about 1880, and of their meeting Barclay J Smith who, at that time was the proprietor of a restaurant in San Francisco.  It was during the International Christian Endeavor convention in San Francisco about 1897 that I first met Barclay J Smith and learned of his wish to establish a mission for the benefit of the poor children of the area then known as the “south of Market St.  It had at one time engaged in such work in the East and consented to see what could be done.  The result was that of my being installed as a member of the Smith house – which at that time was located on seventeenth St a block or two from the old Catholic Mission.   Swarthmore Hall was in fact, a one storey frame building, an annex to the old Mansion 570 Harrison St. . . . Members and attenders in addition to those you mention – Albert Smith, a cousin of BJS – Lillian Abbot of Pasadena, Ruth Barker, Frank Erskine, Ernest L Gregory . . .. At the meetings held in the YMCA Hall and Swarthmore Hall, Barclay J Smith sat facing the meeting and at his request when in attendance I sat with him . . .. You ask about Barclay J Smith – Tall, spare dark, of few words; never idle, kind.  His interest in the mission was humanitarian rather than actively evangelistic.”

A Nov. 2, 1946 meeting between Elizabeth Owen and Otha and Dana Thomas (handwritten document, archives of SF Monthly Meeting) prompted the following recollections:

“Barclay J. Smith was a conservative Hicksite Quaker.  He wore his hat in Meeting.  His home was at Swarthmore Hall, a large, beautiful residence in Rincon Hill.  After the death of his wife he made over his place into apartments and some 24 people lived there.  All ate in the dining room.  Esther Smith lived there.  She was not his daughter.”

Another Friend who we know exhibited leadership in San Francisco is Christy Davis, a native of Ireland who probably came to San Francisco in the 1870s.  The SF Directory from 1876 to 1895 identifies him as a businessman dealing in wool.  He was also dedicated to Friends’ ways.  The statement prepared following his death and read at College Park Association of Friends on November 1, 1902 said:

“When business drew Christy Davis to San Francisco years ago, being far removed from the meetings and privileges of his own Society, he did not shrink from the responsibility of holding a Friends Meeting in that city, in company with a few others.  For a number of years–so long as he resided there he was the mainstay of it, and his place at the head of it was seldom vacant.  He was so thoroughly imbued with Friends’ idea of the possibility of a true worship in silence, that he never seemed anxious about the presence of a preacher or of vocal service, though always ready to welcome the visits of Gospel Messengers.”

A letter of Aug. 8, 1947 from Anna Brinton (SF Monthly Meeting archives) to San Francisco Friends stated:  “When I was a child it was Christy Davis who timed the College park meeting.  He is remembered as a most punctual & reverend Friend.”  Davis apparently left San Francisco around 1893 and moved to San Jose, where he died about 1902.

William Burgess (great-great-grandfather of our member, Charles Martin) apparently came to San Francisco some time in the 1880s.  He is listed in San Francisco Directories from 1891 to 1901.  His sons Charles and Frank are listed until 1909.  In November of 1900 William wrote a letter to Friends’ Intelligencer describing the meeting for worship:

Editors Friends’ Intelligencer:

Since my recent arrival in this city I have had an opportunity of attending the Friends’ meeting here, now held at 570 Harrison street, in Swarthmore Hall, an annex to the dwelling occupied by Barclay J. Smith and family.  When I left the city over three years ago we met in the lecture hall of the Y. M. C. A. building.  Swarthmore Hall is not quite so large, but it answers a very good purpose for the little band which assembles here every First-day morning, and they are generally favored with good spiritual exhortations from some of the number, or from strangers who may be present.  The building is located on an elevated position overlooking the city and bay, but is easily accessible by the electric trolley cars near by, from all parts.

Although not organized under the jurisdiction of any particular quarterly or yearly meeting, several of the attendants are members of some branch of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, while others represent different localities, some being members of the other branch of Society; yet all meet in harmony with the same great object in view, for social and religious communion, and the performance of acceptable worship in accordance with the precepts of the Master, under the Christian dispensation.  Slight differences of opinion on doctrine, or conventional forms and customs, which by many seem to be considered as dogmas of the church and essential to salvation, are not allowed to interfere with that friendly intercourse which toleration invokes and true charity demands.

Some of the patrons of this meeting also assist in the now sectarian Friends’ Union Sabbath-school, held at Sunshine Hall, 934 Harrison street, every First-day at 3 p. m., and this place is also the headquarters of the “Silent Workers,” who are doing good service among the children of that portion of the city.  They publish a neat little paper monthly, called The Dinner Pail.  The kindergarten department is well patronized, and the enclosed slip from one of the evening papers will show the marked interest manifested at the recent Thanksgiving dinner given for the benefit of 124 of these young children, with many of their parents.  Other departments receive due attention from interested persons, young and old, who volunteer their services, and much good has no doubt been accomplished in this philanthropic enterprise, for the benefit of the young people in the line of moral training, good example, and the restraining influences of well organized effort and Christian endeavor.

The isolated Friends are always pleased to have the friendly calls and counsels of visitors from old homes and associations, while thus engaged in religious service, or in a cooperative and fraternal work for the spreading of gospel truth, and in aid of the uplifting forces for the redemption of depressed humanity.

Wm. Burgess, San Francisco, Eleventh month 30 [1900]

The question arises as to why the San Francisco meeting vanished.  The earthquake and fire of 1906 proved critical, to be sure, but perhaps more important was the loss of the major leaders of the meeting:  William Sherman in 1884, Christy Davis in 1893 and Barclay Smith in 1903.  Without their guidance Friends in San Francisco were unable to organize themselves again for another 34 years.

According to the unpublished papers of Thomas M. King (Book 2-B, 2009) the Sunshine Mission in San Francisco became a monthly meeting on the 29th of February 1901, under the auspices of California Yearly Meeting.  (The 1902-1905 SF Directory listings for Friends’ Meeting give the address as 928 Harrison St., Sunshine Hall.)

Elizabeth Shelley’s November 4, 1899, College Park Association of Friends minutes reported on the San Francisco Friends:

“R. Esther Smith was then introduced to tell us a little of the labors of the ‘Silent Workers.’  Christ said ‘And I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me’ and again ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’  They believed those promises.  She then spoke of the district in San Francisco in which the Silent Workers labor, and where Sunshine Hall is situated, viz., between 5th & 6th Sts and Folsom & the Bay.  The work was organized by Nancy Binford Pearson two years ago, and was incorporated 12 months ago.  In the Kindergarten the children are often clothed & fed.  There are three trained teachers.  Third day afternoon is the Girls’ Club.  Fourth day is devoted to Mothers’ Meetings or ‘Home Sunshine Society’ for the betterment of home life & the emptying of the corner grocery.  Fifth day is the Serving Meeting.  There are 98 girls being taught to sew.  Eileen Nilson, a Swedish girl, teaches them to sing.  A Sewing Bee has been established at Swarthmore Hall, and there are garments for those who need them.  ‘Many a door that’s barred to hate, will open wide to love.’  There is a Library, (for which a contribution of books was sent from this association) a Day Home for the children of working mothers, a Girls’ Club & a Boys’ Club.  The work during the week is known as Character Building.  There is a Sabbath School, with an average attendance of 75.  Meeting for Worship 11. a. m. [?] 570 Harrison St.  Esther Smith hopes Friends would take some opportunity of visiting & seeing the work for themselves.  It is backed financially by Barclay Smith, who is self-sacrificing in the carrying out of his desires for the uplift of humanity.”

From Tom King (Book 2-B, 2009):

“Thaddeus S. Kenderdine described Barclay J. Smith and San Francisco Friends in his history of ‘Friends in California.’  His article appeared in the Hicksite journal, Friends’ Intelligencer, for three editions of June and July 1902.  Barclay J. Smith was just one of many names Kenderdine mentioned as he maintained that Hicksites were the majority but that San Francisco remained a meeting for all Quakers, held in the old fashioned manner of waiting worship, until the Sunshine Hall Friends Church took over.

“After Joel [Bean] arrived home in San Jose, on June 6, 1902, Berkeley Quarterly Meeting met in Berkeley and listed the reports from each monthly meeting, naming elders.  San Francisco Monthly Meeting changed its business meeting to the first fourth day in each month at 7:30 P. M.  It had 40 or more attenders at its 3 P. M. mission, with blackboard exercises and memorizing Bible verses.’

[At Berkeley Quarterly Meeting of Sept. 6, 1902] “Mrs. Anna Parish and Wm. E. Ward gave an account of the Sunshine Mission in San Francisco.  The workers had moved to smaller quarters to reflect the financial support given by the yearly meeting.  Attendance averaged nearly 50.”

San Francisco Hosts Berkeley Quarterly Meeting 1904

“The first San Francisco Berkeley Quarterly Meeting was on Sept. 3, 1904, at Sunshine Hall.  One of the ‘moderates’ of California Yearly Meeting, Joel and Hannah Bean’s nephew, Chas. E. Tebbetts, President of Whittier College, planned to attend.  An accident to his son, Walter, unexpectedly called him home.  Harry R. Keats, pastor of Joel’s sister at Pasadena Friend’s Church, holiness evangelist Dr. Wm. V. Marshburn of Whittier, Prof. Elwood C. Perisho of the University of South Dakota, Richard and Any Stratton, Benjamin Swan, Ann E. Hillis, Phoebe Johnson, Mr. Newton, and Mr. Paulsell of Sunshine Mission, all attended.  Nannie M. Arnold (1848-1929) spoke of the good work done in Oakland, with the large tent contributed by Addison W. and Rebecca S. Naylor.  R. Esther Smith reported on the past years work of the Sunshine Mission.”

“At least one San Francisco Evangelist, R. Esther Smith, attended [the Nov. 5, 1904 Semi-Annual meeting of College Park Association of Friends].”

1907 – 1939

We have a few hints about Friends in San Francisco during this period.  We recall, for instance, that Hannah Neall lived in San Francisco until her death in 1912.

According to Miriam Berg of Berkeley Monthly Meeting, in 1914 a group of 19 Friends, encouraged by Mary L. Whitson of Philadelphia on an outreach visit, met in San Francisco.  The group included Elizabeth Griscom, and Albert and Lillian A. Smith.  Shortly thereafter these Friends moved their meeting to Oakland, and then later to Berkeley, where Berkeley Monthly Meeting was established.

From the unpublished papers of Thomas King, Book 3 “Beanite Quakers, Past and Present,” March 25, 2008 edition, we know the following:

“Sara Ellis, an immigration officer living in San Francisco at 105 Montgomery Street, joined the [College Park] Association in May of 1919, when she came seeking aid for a Russian immigrant.  She spoke at this November 1922, meeting.  She did not worship at the College Park Meetinghouse between semi-annuals.” From CPAF Minutes of Nov. 4, 1922  (King p. 61).

In 1921 Lydia Bean Cox, mother of Anna Cox (later Brinton), wrote a letter to the Brinton family, from 147 Belvedere St., San Francisco (King p. 56).

Herman and Elizabeth Owen apparently came to San Francisco about 1920 (from the Langley-Crocker SF Directory).  On Nov. 7, 1925 Elizabeth K. Owen (of Delmar Street, San Francisco), who in the future would become the first clerk of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, gave an address to College Park Association of Friends on The Institute of Pacific Relations which had been held in Honolulu the previous summer (King p. 66).

William C. Allen lived or worked in SF in 1910.

From the Minutes of College Park Association of Friends we find the following connections:

  • In 1913 C. H. Dawson lived at 624 – 4th St., SF.
  • In 1903 Donald & Janet Erskine lived at 516 – 29th St., SF.
  • In 1926 Alfred G. and Susan G. Gardner lived in SF.
  • In 1885 and in 1905 Hannah Lloyd Neall was described as being “of SF.”
  • In 1917 Arch Perrin was in SF.

1940 – 1994

We are fortunate in having not only the original minute books of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, but some early documents from 1940 as well.  (All documents referred to in this section, unless otherwise noted, are from the SF Monthly Meeting archive.)  This appears to be due mainly to the interest of Elizabeth Owen, our first Clerk.  The story begins not with her, however, but with Josephine Duveneck and a Berkeley Friend.

The earliest document we have is a letter of Peter Guldbrandsen, a Friend of Danish origin who came to Berkeley Monthly Meeting in 1925.  On Jan. 13, 1940 he wrote from Merced St. in Berkeley to Josephine Duveneck at Hidden Villa Ranch, Los Altos, declining Josephine’s request for help with clerical duties associated with establishing a Friends Center.  In spite of his refusal, the establishment of a Friends Center in the SF Bay area was apparently a long time dream of his, and he was present at the first meeting in San Francisco later on.

A letter of William C. James, San Luis Rd. in Berkeley, to Josephine Duveneck at Presidio Open Air School in San Francisco, responds to her request by sending a list of names of “potential Friends who might be interested in the establishment of a Friends Meeting in San Francisco.”  The list of names does not appear to have survived.

On Feb. 27, 1940 Josephine Duveneck sent out a form letter to Friends inviting them to a meeting on March 10:

“There have been frequent inquiries as to why no Friends’ meeting is held in San Francisco, when it is such an important gateway to our country.   Undoubtedly there are some Friends and friends of Friends here, but they are scattered and unknown to one another.  At this turbulent time in our world, it seems especially necessary and wise for us to draw together with those of like faith to confirm the unity of the spirit and to strengthen one another in brotherly love.  Would you be interested in joining with other San Francisco Friends in meeting for worship on Sunday afternoons?  The Board of Directors of the Presidio Open Air School has given permission to use the school assembly room for such a purpose.”

In response to this invitation, Elizabeth Owen wrote a note on Mar. 1, 1940:

“Dear Josephine Duveneck:  How often I have wished we could have a Friends meeting here in San Francisco.  At last someone else is interested.  I shall plan definitely to be at the meeting on Sunday afternoon, March 10th.”

We have a list of 33 Friends present at the March 10, 1940 meeting who signed a guest book, including 15 from San Francisco and 6 from Berkeley.  This meeting was held at Presidio Open Air School, 3839 Washington Street, courtesy of Josephine Duveneck.  San Francisco Friends continued to meet there until 1942.

And we have the minutes of this first meeting, in which officers were chosen:  Elizabeth Owen, Clerk, Arthur Hall, Publicity, and Phoebe Seagrave, Treasurer.

Shortly after Elizabeth Owen wrote to Elton Trueblood asking his opinion about affiliating with the College Park Association of Friends (CPAF).  He responded on Apr. 8, 1940 recommending that a delegation attend the May 4th meeting and request admission.  This appears to have been done, as the “Records From 1932” of CPAF has a handwritten list of Meetings, which includes this note:  “San Francisco Monthly Meeting Affiliated May 1940.”

The first regular meeting for business of San Francisco Monthly Meeting was held on Nov. 17, 1940.  On Jan. 12, 1941, the minutes of the business meeting record the following:

“We, the undersigned, members of the College Park Association and other members of the Religious Society of Friends, wishing to extend the principles and the contributions of this religious group in San Francisco do on this day First month, twelfth 1941 complete the organization of a monthly meeting set up by representatives of the College Park Association on third month, tenth 1940 and recognized at Semi-annual in San Jose fifth month, fourth 1940.”

This is followed by 13 signatures.

In September 1942 the SF Meeting changed its location to 1830 Sutter St., the “A.F.S. House.”  This was the American Friend Service Committee’s Friends Center, which Josephine Duveneck helped to found.  The building, the former Japanese YWCA, had become available after the forced relocation of the Japanese earlier that year (see Josephine Duveneck, Life on Two Levels, 1978).  The Meeting paid rent to the AFSC for this space.

The Meeting continued to thrive.  Early on, a desire for a meetinghouse was clear in the minutes, and a fund instituted for the purpose.  By 1959 the Meeting was able to buy 2160 Lake Street, a building intended to house not only the Meeting, but also the American Friends Service Committee, and later on the Friends Committee on Legislation (of California).  On Jan. 3, 1960 Howard Brinton gave an address at the dedication of the new San Francisco Friends Center.

For the next 30 years, San Francisco Friends shared space at 2160 Lake Street with the AFSC Regional Office.  By the late 1980’s however, a concern for handicapped accessibility began to weigh heavily on both the Meeting and the AFSC, and this was a leading reason for the AFSC decision to move, which took place in the summer of 1993.  The earthquake of October 1989 had prompted increased concern about seismic safety in the unreinforced masonry building.  In January 1994 the Meeting decided to sell the property on Lake Street and seek new quarters that would be wheelchair accessible, earthquake safe, convenient to public transportation and meet other criteria.  By June 1994 we closed both the sale of 2160 Lake Street and the purchase of 65 Ninth Street, with the dream that the AFSC might again share our building.  Happily this proved to be the case, and the AFSC moved into 65 Ninth Street soon thereafter.

Bruce A. Folsom, SFMM Historian/Archivist, April 2010 (updated 2014)