The Journal of San Diego History
April 1955, Volume 1, Number 2

By the Staff

For all these years, we have been going along on the idea that the San Diego History Center came into being when it was formally incorporated in 1928. It now develops that there was an earlier — and one might say a funnier — organization of the same name, three quarters of a century ago. The most amazing things sometimes pop up, out of old newspaper files; for instance, The San Diego Union for October 21, 1880, had this to say:

SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY-This society was organized Jan. 24, 1880, at the Public School house for the diffusion of a general knowledge of natural and civil history. The formation of a museum was immediately begun, the collections of the public school were donated and many of the scholars brought specimens and soon it had a fair collection. In April it was found necessary to procure a cabinet which was obtained by subscriptions. During vacation the school house was entered, the cabinet which then was there, was unlocked and many of the specimens taken. It soon recovered its loss and the collection has steadily increased, now consisting of several hundred specimens and is constantly enlarging. It meets the first and third Thursdays of each month. Each meeting shows an improvement, and they are growing very interesting. The society meets this evening (October 21th) (sic) at the Bay View Hotel at 7:30. All are invited to attend.

The meeting must have been quite an affair, although one finds a certain amount of difficulty in justifying the use of the word “historical” in connection with the organization. Three days later the Union got around to describing the details, which included talks by members on the following subjects: hawks, owls, thrushes and, of all things, “forest trees.” At the same meeting, members were reported as donating to the museum a number of items which included specimens of ore, and the skin of a jelly-fish. Historical society? Indeed?

By 1883, however, the situation appears to have deteriorated even from the level of 1880, and one begins to feel that any attempt to link the present with the old Historical Society might be, perhaps, unwise. The meeting of February 3, 1883, got off to a flying start, with twenty members present, and after calling the roll they settled down to listen to a debate — “Resolved: That the Indians have a right to the soil of America.” For perhaps the only time on record, that night the poor Indians won. There followed some pertinent remarks by Treasurer L. Blochman on the matter of people who do not pay their dues, and then the program for the next gathering was announced. It was to be a splendid meeting, with the reading by members of three essays, a lecture on ferns and another entitled “The polyoptican and what it can do.” And the big smash of the evening would be another debate. We almost hesitate to tell you its subject, but after all, facts are facts, and of them history is made. The subject was —

“Resolved: That the Temperance Societies do more injury than good.”