In the colorful early days of California’s Gold Rush, a group of Scotsmen gathered in San Francisco, as they so often have done across the world, to form a society designed to preserve and further their own traditions and culture, and to aid Scots in distress. The crossroads of the place and time brought together those who longed to hear their own speech, the skirl of the bagpipe, and the music and poetry of the Scotland they left.
While there is evidence that this society existed in our city in those lively days of the 1850’s, it was not formally organized until 1863. There were 80 members present at the first organizational meeting, at a time when the population of San Francisco was only 59,800. After that, we were incorporated under the laws of California in August of 1865.
Our Society joins persons of Scottish birth and those of the same heritage in a bond of cultural and benevolent purpose, the latter best expressed in our motto:
“Our Ain llls Aye Hae Strength to Bear,
Anither’s Aye Hae Heart to Feel.”
Aid to people of Scots origin or descent in distress remains an important function to us. We cooperate frequently with the British Benevolent Society of San Francisco, organized in 1846, and join with such organizations as the Daughters of Scotia and the Daughters of the British Empire in special projects.
Our Board of Student Assistance helps students of the same background who are from Northern California or Scotland, who are in their last two years of college or are in graduate study. In terms of cultural promotion, encouragement in tangible form is given to bagpipe bands, Highland dance groups, and Celtic music study.
Our Society maintains contact with other Scottish organizations on a state-wide and national basis, and exchanges greetings annually with a hundred societies around the world. Our “Hospitality Tent” is a feature of the Highland Games held at Pleasanton over the Labor Day weekend.
Our year’s events begin with the annual Robert Burns Dinner, with due and adequate celebration of “The Immortal Memory” of Burns in January. In April we pay tribute to Scottish-born John Muir, the famous naturalist who left a lasting mark on North America with his exploration and writing. In his honor we hold an outdoor picnic gathering at the beautiful grounds of the John Muir Mansion National Historic monument. In September we hold a dinner in honor of our past presidents. On St. Andrew’s Sunday in November we maintain the “Kirkin ‘o’ the Tartan” church service observance to commemorate the wearing of tartan, so long forbidden following the defeat of Prince Charlie and the clans at Culloden in 1746.
Our Society’s major social occasion is our annual St. Andrew’s Banquet and Ball late in the year, a joyful full Highland dress occasion, with a full complement of pipers, Highland dancers and singers. Our head table is graced with distinguished guests and speakers, frequently notable people from the Mother Country.
On other occasions during the year we have held receptions for visiting dignitaries and groups, including several distinguished noblemen and clan chiefs. We have been honored by visits of Lords Provost of Edinburgh, Glasgow and other cities, heads of ancient universities such as St. Andrews and Aberdeen, and delegations from Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Our memberships include people from all walks of life, — business persons, technicians, doctors, educators, high technology experts, lawyers, engineers, specialists in banking and investment, and active and retired military personnel; all of whom have a special interest in their Scottish inheritance and background.
Our ranks have included Governors Henry Haight and James M. Rolph, Jr., Samuel Irving, the prominent early San Francisan for whom Irving Street was named, John McLaren, whose vision gave us the world-famous thousand acre Golden Gate Park, and such honored holders of the Order of the British Empire as past presidents Dr. Donald Campbell and James Smith.
Our Society had one of the most unique honors such an organization could have when our member Dr. Dan M. Reid carried our St. Andrew’s flag to the summit of Mount Everest. He was a member of the three-man mountaineering team that conquered for the first time ever the East Face of the world’s highest mountain. This was the second attempt, after the first try with a team including our members Scot MacBeth and Bruce McCubbrey. The flag occupies a treasured place among our memorabilia.
We publish a monthly Newsletter, principally for our membership roster, but including nearby Scottish societies and organizations. We like to give information on coming events and share it with those interested.
Our library is housed at our old San Francisco firehouse in the meeting room. There is a great collection of works on Scottish history, art and culture, and reflects some generous gifts from members and friends of our Society. We encourage members and those requesting permission to browse and withdraw books of interest to them.
How to Become a Member
Our members are persons of Scottish birth or descent. Applications must contain information on birth and descent, the birthplace of the candidate’s parents and grandparents, and indicate the name of two members in good standing who are proposing and seconding the applicant. Annual dues are $125.00 for Standard Membership, $70 for Virtual Membership and $45 for Youth Membership.
Address all correspondence to:
St. Andrew’s Society of San Francisco
1088 Green Street
San Francisco, CA 94133-3604