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Exhibit: New Favorites: Collecting in the Bancroft Tradition

New Favorites: Collecting in the Bancroft TraditionBancroft Library Gallery
April 21 – September 1, 2017

For the first time in many years the Bancroft Library presents an exhibition of recent additions to its major collections. The exhibition also includes recently rediscovered masterpieces carefully collected in years past. Gold Rush-era memoirs and advertisements, early editions of William Langland and Jane Austen, “branded” books from 18th c. Mexico, and David Johnson’s photographs of the African American community in San Francisco after World War II are but a few of the items featured.

The exhibition showcases the Bancroft curators and their distinctive collecting practices, which expand the remarkable vision of library founder Hubert Howe Bancroft–documenting California as it was happening and building a library for the American West that would rival its European antecedents.

Presented by the Friends of the Bancroft Library.

The Bancroft Library Gallery is open Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm, excluding holidays.

For more information, please call 510-642-3782 or visit bancroft@berkeley.edu.

Arrival of the Mobe

by Sonia Kahn from the Bancroft Digital Collections Unit.

From coast to coast, April 15, 1967, was a busy day for American anti-war protesters. Fifty years ago today, massive demonstrations filled the streets of New York and San Francisco as marchers denounced US involvement in Vietnam.

anti-war protester holding sign[Michelle Vignes photograph archive, BANC PIC 2003.108–NEG Box 19, Roll 1752, Frame 22, Bancroft Library]


The protests were organized by the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, commonly referred to as “the Mobe,” which began in 1966 as a coalition of various groups opposed to the war. High profile names were among those who attended the marches, including Dr. Martin Luther King, who led the march in New York, and his wife Coretta King, who spoke to protesters at the counterpart demonstration in San Francisco. The Spring Mobilization protests were particularly noteworthy for the cooperation between civil rights and peace protesters in a greater effort to call for an end to the war.

The marches themselves were quite massive. In New York, upwards of 400,000 people joined the march which began in Central Park and was slated to end at the United Nations where speakers, including Dr. King, addressed the crowd. The demonstration in San Francisco, while smaller, still drew in between 75,000-100,000 protesters who walked from Second and Market Streets to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park. There, demonstrators were similarly treated to speeches by Coretta King as well as actor Robert Vaughn.

In Central Park, before the East Coast march got underway, there was a mass burning of draft cards. Protesters claimed to have burned nearly 200 draft cards, although this number was never verified.

Though the protests were peaceful, there were a few notable skirmishes. In New York, some demonstrators were bombarded by eggs thrown out the windows of various apartments on Lexington Avenue. Others were struck by red paint launched outside of police barricades on the march route. In Times Square, fights also broke out between motorists stalled by heavy traffic and demonstrators taking part in the march.

In both cities, counter-demonstrators popped up to voice their support of the war. In New York, pro-war protesters carrying American flags and signs ran on the sidewalks beside the protesters and heckled them. In San Francisco, a group of about 50 war supporters brought up the rear of the march into Kezar Stadium, also carrying signs with slogans like “Support Our Men in Vietnam” and “Communism is Red Fascism.” The group circled the track amidst loud booing from the anti-war demonstrators until they were escorted out of the stadium.

Fifty years later America still prides itself on the First Amendment which protects our right to freely speak and assemble. This year has already proved a strong one for protest, making its mark with the Women’s March in January. The demonstration was a shot heard round the world, when half a million demonstrators marched on Washington, and another 100,000 filled the streets of Downtown Oakland. The size was roughly on par with the anti-war demonstrations of a half century ago. Considering our present day advancements with social media to help get the word out, this makes the numbers of those who showed up to voice their anti-war beliefs in 1967 all the more impressive. But despite the differences, what the similarities between these two huge movements prove is that the American tradition of protest is still vibrant, 50 years on.

Freedom to Marry Oral History Project

The Freedom to Marry Oral History Project

In the historically swift span of roughly twenty years, support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples went from an idea a small portion of Americans agreed with to a cause supported by virtually all segments of the population. In 1996, when Gallup conducted its first poll on the question, a seemingly insurmountable 68% of Americans opposed the extension of marriage rights. In a historic reversal, fewer than twenty years later several polls found that over 60% of Americans had come to support the freedom to marry nationwide. The rapid increase in support mirrored the progress in securing the right to marry coast to coast. Before 2004, no state issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. By spring 2015, thirty-seven states affirmed the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, with a number of states extending marriage through votes in state legislatures or at the ballot box. The discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, denied legally married same-sex couples the federal protections and responsibilities afforded married different-sex couples—a double-standard corrected when a core portion of the act was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 in United States v. Windsor. The full national resolution came in June 2015 when, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution’s guarantee of the fundamental right to marry applies equally to same-sex couples.

The Oral History Center is thrilled to release to the public the first major oral history project documenting the vast shift in public opinion about marriage, the consequential reconsideration of our nation’s laws governing marriage, and the actions of individuals and organizations largely responsible for these changes. The Freedom to Marry Oral History Project produced 23 interviews totaling nearly 100 hours of recordings. Interviewees include: Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry; Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV project; and Thalia Zepatos, the movement’s “message guru” who worked at Freedom to Marry as director of research and messaging. Read on for video clips of the interviews and links to complete interview transcripts.

Marc Solomon (left) and Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry in front the US Supreme Court (2015)

At the center of the effort to change hearts and minds, prevail in the courts and legislatures, win at the ballot, and win at the Supreme Court was Freedom to Marry, the national campaign launched by Harvard-trained attorney Evan Wolfson in 2003. Freedom to Marry’s national strategy focused from the beginning on setting the stage for a nationwide victory at the Supreme Court. Working with national and state organizations and allied individuals and organizations, Freedom to Marry succeeded in building a critical mass of states where same-sex couples could marry and a critical mass of public support in favor of the freedom to marry. This oral history project focuses on the pivotal role played by Freedom to Marry and their closest state and national organizational partners, as they drove the winning strategy and inspired, grew, and leveraged the work of a multitudinous movement.

Freedom to Marry Oral History Project Interview Transcripts:

Richard Carlbom, “Richard Carlbom on the Minnesota Campaign and Field Organizing at Freedom to Marry.”

Barbara Cox, “Barbara Cox on Marriage Law and the Governance of Freedom to Marry.”

Michael Crawford, “Michael Crawford on the Digital Campaign at Freedom to Marry.” 

Scott Davenport, “Scott Davenport on Administration and Operations at Freedom to Marry.”

Tyler Deaton, “Tyler Deaton on the New Hampshire Campaign and Securing Republican Support for the Freedom to Marry.”

Jo Deutsch, “Jo Deutsch and the Federal Campaign.”

Sean Eldridge, “Sean Eldridge on Politics, Communications, and the Freedom to Marry.”

James Esseks, “James Esseks on the Legal Strategy, the ACLU, and LGBT Legal Organizations.”

Kate Kendell, “Kate Kendell on the Legal Strategy, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and LGBT Legal Organizations.”

Harry Knox, “Harry Knox on the Early Years of Freedom to Marry.”

Amanda McLain-Snipes, “Amanda McLain-Snipes on Bringing the Freedom to Marry to Oklahoma, Texas, and the Deep South.”

Matt McTighe, “Matt McTighe on the Marriage Campaigns in Massachusetts and Maine.”

Amy Mello, “Amy Mello and Field Organizing in Freedom to Marry.” (forthcoming)

John Newsome, “John Newsome on And Marriage for All.”

Kevin Nix, “Kevin Nix on Media and Public Relations in the Freedom to Marry Movement.”

Bill Smith, “Bill Smith on Political Operations in the Fight to Win the Freedom to Marry.”

Marc Solomon, “Marc Solomon on Politics and Political Organizing in the Freedom to Marry Movement.” (forthcoming)

Anne Stanback, “Anne Stanback on the Connecticut Campaign and Freedom to Marry’s Board of Directors.”

Tim Sweeney, “Tim Sweeney on Foundations and the Freedom to Marry Movement.”

Cameron Tolle, “Cameron Tolle on the Digital Campaign at Freedom to Marry.”

Thomas Wheatley, “Thomas Wheatley on Field Organizing with Freedom to Marry.”

Evan Wolfson, “Evan Wolfson on the Leadership of the Freedom to Marry Movement.”

Thalia Zepatos, “Thalia Zepatos on Research and Messaging in Freedom to Marry.”


Freedom to Marry staff, July 2015: (left to right) Marc Solomon, Scott Davenport, Thalia Zepatos, Michael Crawford, Evan Wolfson, Jo Deutsch, Kevin Nix, Juan Barajas, Richard Carlbom

Onwards to No Man’s Land

by Sonia Kahn from the Bancroft Digital Collections Unit.

One-hundred years ago today, on April 6, 1917, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 50 formally authorizing the United States’ declaration of war against Germany. As a direct result, the US joined its allies Britain, France, and Russia in the war to end all wars. More than 116,000 American soldiers would lose their lives in a war that many thought was Europe’s problem. The Battle of Argonne Forest alone would cost more than 26,000 American lives, making it the deadliest single battle in American history. The conflict would end up being the third bloodiest in US history, with only the Civil War and Second World War producing more military deaths.

World War One had ignited in a frenzy in the summer of 1914, but for almost three years the United States had managed to keep itself out of the Great War. That’s not to say that the US felt no impact from the conflict. The sinking of the British liner Lusitania by a German U-boat in May 1915, for example, resulted in the deaths of 128 American passengers onboard and tensed US-German relations.

American war posters from the First World War

[BANC PIC 2005.001:067–F], American war posters from the First World War, BANC PIC 2005.001, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Tensions were exacerbated in 1917 when Germany took several actions which further alienated the United States. In February 1917, Germany reinstated its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Between February and March 1917, German U-boats sank one US liner and four American merchant vessels. To make matters worse, in February the British government presented President Woodrow Wilson with a decrypted German telegram which would come to be known as the Zimmerman telegram. The message, sent from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico, offered Mexico a portion of US territory in exchange for joining the war on the German side. American public opinion turned dramatically against Germany when the telegram was published in the American press in March, and the US inched ever closer to war.

On April 6, America joined the fight against the Kaiser’s troops. But much was needed to fight a war. Soldiers, food, supplies, had to be acquired. To get Americans on board with the war effort the government produced a variety of propagandist war posters encouraging everything from the obvious signing up to join the armed forces, and buying war bonds, to urging women to join the Red Cross. Though the US homefront was not terribly affected by the conflict, some posters even encouraged women to plant Victory Gardens, almost as an eerie foretelling of what would come in the Second World War.

The Bancroft Library houses a collection of more than 170 American war posters from the First World War. Some of these posters have addresses for army recruiting stations in San Francisco and Oakland, a reminder that a piece of a worldwide conflict played out in our backyard.

View the digitized collection here: American war posters from the First World War [BANC PIC 2005.001]


Panoramas Revealed: 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition Photographic Negatives

This year staff in the Bancroft Pictorial Unit have been hard at work housing and preparing to digitize glass plate negatives from the Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) Photograph Collection. Supported by funding awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), about 2,000 glass negatives and 115 panoramic film negatives will be put in order, housed in archival sleeves and boxes, listed, and scanned. Although the work will not be complete and online until June 2018, great progress has been made, and we are starting to see some of the images produced by our digital imaging technicians.

The Rogers Collection was a gift presented in late 2014, just months before the centennial of the opening of San Francisco’s great world’s fair. In addition to the negatives (filling about 40 large boxes), there are also huge ledger books containing about 6,700 photographic prints. These originally served as a visual inventory of the negatives, which were mostly produced by the Cardinell-Vincent Company of San Francisco, official photographers for the PPIE. (Others are by the H.S. Crocker Company that previously held the PPIE photo contract.)

The Cardinell-Vincent photograph archive was broken up many decades ago, with much of it sold off in small auction lots in 1979; but Ed Rogers had collected this material well before that sale. In 2014 his was believed to be the largest PPIE photo collection in private hands – and certainly is the largest quantity of glass negatives known to have survived.

The most challenging images to conserve and digitize are the 115 panoramic negatives. These sweeping views and group portraits, made with a pivoting “Cirkut camera,” are on flammable cellulose nitrate film. Handling, transportation, and storage must meet stringent safety requirements. The rolled negatives were soiled from years of warehouse storage, so they are being cleaned by photograph conservators. They are so large (eight or ten inches high and up to 60 inches long!) that they need to be digitally photographed in segments, and these segments are digitally merged to create a file reproducing the original view.
The first scans from these panoramic negatives have been delivered, and they do not disappoint. The broad views over the bay-front PPIE site, just inside the Golden Gate, are stunning.

Panoramic photograph: overview of completed PPIE grounds and the bay, May 1915.

Panoramic overview of completed PPIE grounds and the bay, early May, 1915. Scanned from nitrate negative, approximately 8 x 42 inches. (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00414P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)


There is enough detail present to zoom in and closely study segments of the view.

Detail of photograph, showing PPIE Tower of Jewels, from center portion of panorama.

Detail: Tower of Jewels and South Garden, with Alcatraz Island at right, from right of center of Panoramic overview of completed PPIE grounds and the bay, early May, 1915. . (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00414P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)


Detail of panoramic photograph, showing the Marin County coastline across the bay from the PPIE site.

Detail: Marin County coastline, where the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge would later be built, from left side of Panoramic overview of completed PPIE grounds and the bay, early May, 1915. (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00414P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)


Even the more prosaic group portraits offer great detail and often capture candid moments at the fringes of the crowd. Some of the crowd views are the most entertaining, and place the viewer in festive moment captured 102 year ago.


Panoramic photograph: Turning on the Fountain of Energy, Opening Day Panama Pacific International Exposition, February 20, 1915

Turning on the Fountain of Energy, Opening Day Panama Pacific International Exposition, February 20, 1915. Scanned from nitrate negative, approximately 10 x 42 inches. (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00006P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)


Detail of left portion of panoramic photo: crowd scene while "Turning on the Fountain of Energy, Opening Day"

Detail: Festival Hall and crowds, with large camera at right, from left portion of “Turning on the Fountain of Energy, Opening Day,” February 20, 1915. (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00006P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)


As more digitization is completed we will share favorites, along with project updates, on this Bancroft Pictorial Unit blog. Stay tuned!

James Eason, Archivist for Pictorial Collections, Bancroft Library

Oral Histories with Women at Berkeley

One of the great joys of being an oral historian is getting to speak with many different people. We have the privilege of asking them about their lives and allowing them to put their experiences in the context of larger historical trends. We get this chance every year when we interview people for our “Class of ’31” series in university history, which is funded through a small endowment.

We have used the “Class of ‘31” series over the past four years to increase the representation of women interviewed because such a small percentage of Berkeley oral histories historically have been with women. So, in 2013, we interviewed Anthropology Professor Laura Nader. In 2014, we interviewed Pacific Film Archive Director Emeritus Edith Kramer. In 2015, we interviewed higher education scholar Patricia Pelfrey (her interview is forthcoming). And, most recently, we interviewed Psychology Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp as our 2016 honoree. Ervin-Tripp’s numerous nominations were among the strongest we’ve had. Her nominations conveyed a resounding eagerness to document her work in academics and equity, knowing that we could all benefit from learning about her efforts as a trailblazer.

Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp

Now, just as we celebrate the appointment of Berkeley’s first female Chancellor in the person of Carol Christ, we hope to expand our documentation of women’s contributions to UC Berkeley through a new initiative called “Women Leaders at Berkeley.” Although just in its infancy, this new initiative promises to highlight the work of the many female leaders on campus who have added much to their respective fields of study. In many cases, they have also helped advance equity on campus and in higher education more broadly. If you want to see more interviews like those with Nader and Kramer, Pelfrey and Ervin-Tripp, we encourage you to support the “Women Leaders at Berkeley” fund.

Check back with us in the coming months – and years – to see the progress that we hope to make in increasing the representation of UC Berkeley women in the Oral History Center collection and, by extension, in documenting the important, indeed pivotal, contributions women have made to make Berkeley what it is today.

Shanna Farrell, Interviewer

Incalculable Odds: The story of how one professor (unintentionally) wound up at UC Berkeley

by Sonia Kahn from the Bancroft Digital Collections Unit.

Berkeley is known for its world-renowned professors. Just walking through the campus today you can spot parking spaces reserved for Nobel laureates. Of course, this is hardly a new phenomenon at Berkeley, which has had prominent faculty on its staff for decades. Perhaps one of the most distinguished members to grace the Berkeley faculty, and one with a fascinating history to boot, was a professor in the mathematics department named Alfred Tarski.

Newsclipping with photograph of Alfred Tarski

[BANC MSS 84/69 c], Alfred Tarski Papers, BANC MSS 84/69 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Alfred Tajtelbaum (who would later change his last name to the more Polish sounding Tarski) was born January 14, 1901 in Warsaw, Poland. He was born to Polish Jewish parents but would later convert to Roman Catholicism due to the discriminatory hiring practices of Polish universities in the interwar period.

In 1918, Tarski began his academic career, entering the University of Warsaw. He studied mathematics under prominent logicians and philosophers of the time. In 1924, Tarski graduated with a Ph.D., becoming the youngest person to obtain a doctorate from the University of Warsaw. Between 1924 and 1939, Tarski worked intermittent positions at the University of Warsaw, but mostly made a living by teaching math to secondary school students. This was actually a common practice in Europe prior to the Second World War as university positions tended to pay poorly. Meanwhile, as he taught the basics to teenagers, he wrote various papers and books, earning himself an international reputation as a mathematical logician and for his ideas on truth, which the current writer will not attempt to summarize here because they are well beyond her.

In 1939 Tarski was invited to attend the Unity of Science Congress in September, held at Harvard University. In August 1939, Tarski boarded a ship bound for the United States. It would be the last ship to leave Poland before Nazi forces invaded the country on September 1, igniting World War Two. He left behind a wife and two children in Warsaw who he would not see again until 1946.

Effectively exiled in the US, Tarski worked at various research institutions including Harvard, before settling on the world’s best research university: UC Berkeley. In 1942 he joined Berkeley’s mathematics department, and was eventually tenured in 1945 before being awarded a full professorship in 1948. In 1946 his wife and two children, who had all survived the devastation of the war, joined Tarski in California.

Tarski stayed on at Berkeley, helping to create an esteemed graduate program in logic, until 1968 when he retired, becoming a professor emeritus. However, he remained devoted to Berkeley and students even in retirement, continuing to teach until 1973, and supervising doctoral theses until his death in 1983.


Today the Bancroft Library maintains a collection of materials relating to Tarski’s tenure as a mathematician at UC Berkeley. Among them are personal documents of Tarski’s, from his Polish passport, to a dinner menu saved from his sailing voyage to the US in 1939.

Digital reproductions of selected items are available: Alfred Tarski papers (BANC MSS 84/69 c)


Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp: 2016 Class of ’31 Interviewee in University History

Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp

One of the great joys of being an oral historian is getting to talk to people you otherwise wouldn’t have known. We have the privilege of asking people about their lives, putting their experiences in context of the larger historical landscape, posing questions that others don’t have the opportunity to ask. I had the opportunity to do just this when I interviewed Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp in 2016.

Professor Dan Slobin puts it best in the introduction he wrote for Ervin-Tripp’s oral history:

Throughout her long and productive career, Susan Ervin-Tripp has repeatedly been a path-breaker. And the paths that she helped explore have become well-traveled roads. I is remarkable to see so many innovations in one life story: psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics, embracing new directions in the study of first-language acquisition as well as bilingualism; repeated applications of new technology: computers, tape recorders, video recorders, wireless microphones; design of new methods of transcribing and documenting the many layers of speech interaction; cross-linguistic and cross-cultural research, with attention to both individual and interpersonal dimensions of language. Along with these contributions to the scientific side of her profession, Ervin-Tripp has given equal attention to the institutional and political dimensions of academia, focusing on the treatment of women and minorities. Wherever possible, she used her academic skills as a psycho- and sociolinguist to provide a scientific foundation to her advocacy.

Slobin is not the only one who values Ervin-Tripp’s many contributions. Her interview was part of our Class of ’31 series, in which faculty and staff, both current and retired, are nominated by admirers to the subject an oral history. Ervin-Tripp received numerous, passionate nominations which conveyed a resounding eagerness to document her work in academics and equity, knowing that we could all benefit from learning about her trailblazing work.

I sat down with Ervin-Tripp for our first interview in May of 2016. It was immediately clear that she was a practiced speaker, having taught for many years, with a healthy sense of humor. She was poised and articulate, prepared with her notes. Over the course of our six hours of interviews, we discussed her childhood during the Great Depression in Minneapolis, Minnesota, her undergraduate education at Vassar College, her doctoral work at the University of Michigan, and her career at UC Berkeley, which began in 1958. She detailed her work on the Southwest Project in Comparative Psycholinguistics studying the connection between language and cognitive performance, her time as a professor in the Psychology and Speech Departments at Berkeley, her early adoption of technology in her research, her participation at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences and with the 1985 Scientific Exchange program in France. She talked about the significant advances that she made for women’s equality on campus and the multiple efforts she made to create such change.

It was a pleasure to have interviewed a woman whose career has impacted Berkeley so greatly. There are many lessons to learn from this interview, particularly the courage and persistence it takes to create an equitable environment. Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp’s oral history is one that is rare for her generation and one that should be celebrated.

Shanna Farrell, Interviewer, Oral History Center

A Truly Perilous Journey

by Sonia Kahn from the Bancroft Digital Collections Unit.

“We pray the God of mercy to deliver us from our present Calamity if it be his Holy will,” wrote Patrick Breen on New Year’s Day 1847. In the midst of a snow storm, with provisions running short and several members of his party already dead from starvation, Calamity was not an overstatement.

Breen was a member of the now infamous Donner Party. An Irish immigrant, he had set out with his wife and seven children to make their way westward from Illinois to the California sunshine. The Breens composed just one family in the group of 87 people to make the trek led by George Donner and James Reed. Only 48 would survive the ordeal.

title page

[BANC MSS C-E 176:01], Patrick Breen Diary, November 20, 1846 – March 1, 1847, BANC MSS C-E 176, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

The Donner Party set out from Springfield, Illinois in the spring of 1846, expecting to arrive in California by late summer. Their downfall, however, came with an idea from an Ohio lawyer named Lansford Hastings. Hastings was convinced he could come up with a faster route to California than the standard voyage which involved traversing Wyoming, the southern border of Idaho, and northern Nevada. He devised a cutoff that diverged from the typical route, sending the party south into Utah (rather than north into Idaho) and rejoining the original path in Nevada. The shortcut backfired as the voyage through Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake desert expended more time and energy than originally planned. Many wagons, oxen, and livestock were lost in the Salt Flats, and by the time the Donner Party reached California in late October they were weeks behind schedule and running low on food and supplies.

Calamity struck the Donner Party while in the Sierra Nevadas. Stuck in the first blizzard of the season, the party was unable to continue the journey. The blizzard, unfortunately, was not a quick setback but the harbinger of a terrible winter to come.

Patrick Breen began recording in his diary on November 20, 1846. “It continueing [SIC] to snow all the time we were here we now have killed most part of our cattle having to stay here untill [SIC] next spring & live on poor beef without bread or salt,” wrote Breen. “Poor beef” would hardly seem such a terrible meal when a few weeks later the party had resorted to eating animal hides. The situation deteriorated even further, and as members of the party perished, Breen described how other members thought about, or claimed to have engaged in, cannibalism. When one woman mentioned that she was considering consuming a dead comrade out of desperation, Breen quite simply wrote “It is distressing.” Such bare simplicity perfectly describes the feeling one is faced with in reading the trials of the Donner Party.

On February 19, 1847 the first rescue party arrived bringing a few provisions. The relief team of men from California took with them 21 members of the party, but the Breen family was left behind. 170 years ago today, on March 1, 1847, Breen made the last entry in his diary which recounts the arrival of the second relief team. This second rescue team guided 14 people, including the Breen family, to safety in Sutter’s Fort, California. A third relief team later rescued all the remaining children of the Donner Party but was forced to leave behind five stragglers. By the time the fourth team arrived, only one man was still alive.

The history of the Donner Party and the epics detailed in Breen’s diary are a reminder of the lengths to which people once went to reach this golden state, and the sunny days we often take for granted.


The Bancroft Library maintains the original Breen diary and has digitized the journal.

View the collection: Patrick Breen Diary (BANC MSS C-E 176)


Event: Views of the women’s liberation, feminist movements of the 1970s, 1980s

A New Women's Symbol

A New Women’s Symbol, 1971, The Bancroft Library, BANC PIC 2012.054

Bancroft Library’s first Roundtable of the semester will take place in the Lewis-Latimer Room of The Faculty Club at noon on Thursday, February 16. Cathy Cade, documentary photographer, will present “Views of the Women’s Liberation and Feminist Movements of the 1970s and 1980s: Selections from the Cathy Cade Photograph Archive.”

Cade was introduced to the power of documentary photography as she participated in the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s. In the years that followed, she took an array of images that depict the women’s liberation movement, union women, trades women, lesbian feminism, lesbian mothering, lesbians of color, LGBT freedom days, fat activism, and the disability rights movement. Cade will speak of her personal experiences with social justice causes and the connections between these movements and communities. She will feature highlights drawn from her extensive photograph archive acquired by The Bancroft Library over the past several years.

Event details
Bancroft Roundtable
Thursday, February 16, noon
Lewis-Latimer Room, The Faculty Club
Presented by Cathy Cade, documentary photographer

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