San Francisco politics “through the curtain”

Monika Trobits’ tidy little book ends with a great quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, – “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players”. Indeed, after reading Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco: a western theater for northern & southern politics, one wonders how Shakespeare could have been so prescient. Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco consists of thirteen chapters that in a linear and concise fashion outline the political maneuverings and major events that lead up to and culminate with the Civil War. As even the phrase “political maneuverings” may elicit snores, let me assure you, this is not a dull book. Trobits’ humor leaps from the page and her experience as a walking tour leader shines as she ably makes even the...

Passion, pride and principle: the Mechanics’ Institute at 160

On December 4 at the bi-annual Members’ Meeting, I gave a talk on the founding of our Mechanics’ Institute and the strange but wonderful times that provided the impetus for its birth. The decision to found our Institute was formerly made on December 11, 1854 when two scores of men in the building trades met in the tax collector’s office to thrash out a plan to create a Mechanics’ Institute similar to ones that existed in the Eastern United States, Australia, and Great Britain. From the beginning, the directors knew what sort of Institution they wanted: A library with open stacks so all the books were accessible to the members A game room where members could spread out their chess and checker boards Classes that would stretch the mind and teach new skills To be an...