“To collect and preserve information connected with the early settlement and to form libraries and cabinets…that advance the interests and perpetuate the memory of the founders of this new state.”
The Society of California Pioneers Articles of Incorporation, 1850
Established in 1850, The Society of California Pioneers is dedicated to the study and enjoyment of California art, history, and culture. Founded by individuals arriving in California before 1850 and thriving under the leadership of several generations of their direct descendants, The Society has continuously served its members, the academic community, and the public. As the oldest historical organization West of The Mississippi, The Society opened the first library in California, as well as a grand hall for meetings, lectures, and social events. Today The Society operates a public museum and a research library, both housed in one of the iconic Montgomery Barracks Buildings on The Presidio of San Francisco’s historic Main Post.
Pioneer Hall features rotating exhibitions of art and artifacts amassed since 1850; we offer free museum education programs for school-aged children, as well as public tours and events. The Alice Phelan Sullivan Research Library, which houses a large portion of The Society’s collections, is open to the public by appointment, allowing researchers and historians access to The Society’s privately held repository of rare primary source materials. These public services are designed to provide full access, support scholarship, and encourage new interpretations that illuminate and celebrate the diverse experiences of those who came before us.
Our archives document the founding and early history of California, including The Gold Rush, The Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and other defining events. The collection includes rare manuscripts and diaries, paintings, prints and drawings, photographs, books, maps, newspapers and journals, the business ledgers of mining and transportation companies, as well as historic artifacts and decorative objects. An extensive collection of overland and pioneer diaries includes those of John A. Sutter and a letter by Henry W. Bigler, both primary sources announcing the discovery of gold in California. Works by Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Lawrence & Houseworth, and Turrill & Miller are held in our archive of photographs, panoramas, and daguerreotypes. Particularly notable for its nineteenth-century holdings, the painting collection includes works by Thomas Hill, William Keith, Jules Tavernier, and Maynard Dixon. Together with The Society’s collection of ephemera and prints, these form a vivid, visual record of life in California over time.
To learn more about exhibitions, collections, or membership with The Society of California Pioneers, please visit californiapioneers.org.