The following will give you a more complete understanding of what is included in the exhibition and, in turn, provide options for classroom activities; these materials and ideas can be adapted to the needs and interests of your students, before or after participating in our museum education program.

This website gives you access to:
  • the handwritten, first-person accounts (compiled by The Association of Pioneer Women of California in 1900) reproduced in an interactive, digital format for students to explore, page by page
  • an easy-to-read transcription of every entry
  • audio files featuring a diverse cast of women reading the thirty entries selected for the exhibition
  • the images used to create the exhibition’s gallery of forty portraits of unidentified women (representing the thousands of women whose stories were never recorded)
Questions for discussion and/or writing exercises before or after visiting the exhibition:
  • Courage and self-confidence are common themes in the stories of pioneer women. What is something you have done that required courage?
  • Many pioneers left their homeland knowing that they would never return. What would you miss about San Francisco if you had to move away?
  • Today, we call those who take any brave, first step “a pioneer” – for example: “Rosa Parks was a pioneer of the civil rights movement.” Who do you think is a pioneer of our time?
  • Pioneer families brought their cultural traditions with them to California. What family traditions and holidays will you celebrate no matter where you live?
  • Many pioneers, both young and old, kept handwritten diaries. How do you record your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and secrets?
A sample entry:

Each of the entries selected for the exhibition is an example of a first-person narrative that is, by definition, a primary source – and can be used to introduce those concepts.

Harriet Virginia Peyton’s entry is a good example. She describes her experience as an adventure, including details that impressed her as a young woman and that she recalled years later.

Working with the original document could be difficult for some students because it was handwritten in cursive; this transcription, as edited for inclusion in the exhibition, can be used in the classroom in place of the original:



“When the cry of gold rang over the world, and California answered Eureka! I have found it … people everywhere made ready to rush to the gold fields in the far away West, but the problem was how to get there for no railroads or steamboats … and the great Panama Canal offered no transportation in those days. We had either to cross the plains and rugged interweaving mountains, have the dangers of the Isthmus of Panama, or go around the continent of South America on a sailing vessel.

With the family of my brother, The Reverend William Taylor, I left Baltimore in April 1849, in the ship Andalusia and sailed on the long voyage to California. We had a voyage religious service held every Sunday. A weekly paper was published with Father Neptune as editor … whose diversity of life was playing around the ship – shoals of whales, flying fish. We celebrated Fourth of July off Cape Horn. The Declaration of Independence was read. Coming up the coast of the Pacific we stopped at Valparaiso, the first land we had seen since we had left Baltimore. We enjoyed its fruits and flowers and the music of its happy people.

Never shall I forget with what eagerness and thankfulness we watched that beautiful day as our ship glided into that wonderful harbor of safety, The Bay of San Francisco, which today invites the commerce of all nations and the fleets of the world to come and rest on its placid waters. We anchored far out in the bay as the water came up to Montgomery Street and, in small boats, landed near Pacific and Montgomery. We arrived Sept 25, 1849, five months after leaving Baltimore.”

This example:

  • features words teachers can use to expand vocabulary (eureka, isthmus, shoal, and placid)
  • raises questions teachers can use to encourage research (Why was the Panama Canal created and when was it completed?)
  • encourages speculation and the sharing of opinions (Based on what you’ve read, how old do you think Harriet was when her family sailed to California? Harriet describes the people of Valparaiso as “happy” – what do you think she might have seen there?)
  • demonstrates what can – as well as what cannot – be gleaned from a first-person narrative (Harriet’s charming account is romanticized, since it makes no mention of the hardship of five months at sea.)

Teachers should feel free to use or adapt this material to meet the needs of their students, and to contact our staff with questions, to request additional information, or to make a reservation. There is no admission charge for students, your staff, or any number of chaperones; only a simple reservation is required.


–  Make a Tour Reservation   –

To make a tour reservation for your class, please contact:

John Hogan
(415) 957-1849 ext. 120
[email protected]


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