Welcome to the Saint Andrew’s Society of San Francisco

A Very Abridged History

In the colorful early days of California’s Gold Rush (1850s), Scottish people gathered in San Francisco, as they so often have done across the world, to preserve and further their traditions and culture and to aid Scots in distress. The crossroads of the place and time brought together those who longed to hear their native language, the skirl of the bagpipe, and the music and poetry of Scotland they left behind. Over time, a small group of Scottish immigrants in San Francisco recognized the need for a Saint Andrew’s Society. However, it wasn’t until 1863 that the society was formally organized, with 80 members present at its inaugural meeting. Despite the city’s population being only 59,800 at the time, the society quickly gained traction. By August 1865, it was officially incorporated under the laws of California, marking a significant milestone in its commitment to serving the Scottish community.

?Shortly after this gathering, as the group grew larger, some members proposed to the membership that our Society should celebrate their heritage by organizing an annual Highland Gathering and Games. This proposal brought much discussion and derision, resulting in a clear vision to focus on preservation and benevolent aid. From this discussion, a separate sister society was born, The Caledonian Club of San Francisco, which was founded in November 1865 and goes proudly on today. Over the years, the Society weathered seismic events such as the 1906 earthquake, which destroyed its building but provided an opportunity to rebuild and strengthen its financial portfolio.

At the first Annual Banquet on November 30th, 1863, Peter Donahue, a declared Irishman, presented the “Traditional Society Ram’s Head” as a gift we colloquially nicknamed Snuffy. It has been a great source of sneezing for our members, providing a pinch of snuff to the brave hearts in attendance!

In 1971, the Society found a new home in the old Native Sons Building on Mason Street, where it struggled with dwindling attendance and the need for a larger meeting space, sometimes opting to meet at the Edinburgh Castle Pub. After considering various options, including properties in the Presidio and Masonic halls, the Society ultimately settled into its current location at 1088 Green Street, a decommissioned firehouse. This historic building, acquired in a fortuitous turn of events, now serves as a prominent symbol of the Society’s enduring presence in San Francisco.

Today, the St. Andrew’s Society of San Francisco continues to thrive, hosting a range of events throughout the year to celebrate Scottish heritage and foster fellowship among members. With a diverse membership representing various professions and backgrounds, the Society remains committed to its founding principles of preserving Scottish culture, supporting those in need, and building community ties that transcend generations.

Our Purposes

?, Gene McLaughlin, David McCrossan

Our Society joins persons of Scottish heritage and those interested in Scotland 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 important to us. Our Board of Relief frequently cooperates with the British Benevolent Society, organized in 1846, to provide for Scots in dire need. 

Our Board of Student Assistance helps students of the same background who are from Northern California or Scotland, in their last two years of college, or 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 worldwide. Our “Hospitality Tent” is a feature of the Highland Games held at Pleasanton over the Labor Day weekend.

Social Functions


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 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.

We have held receptions for visiting dignitaries and groups on other occasions during the year, including several distinguished noblemen and clan chiefs. We have been honored by visits of the Lord 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 Members

St. Andrews Highland Ball

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 with a special interest in Scottish culture and heritage.

Our ranks have included Governors Henry Haight and James M. Rolph, Jr., Samuel Irving, the prominent early San Franciscan for whom Irving Street was named, John McLaren, whose vision gave us the world-famous thousand-acre Golden Gate Park, and much-honored holders of the Order of the British Empire as past presidents Dr. Donald Campbell, James Smith, and Norman Macleod.

  • James F. Stewart was our first president in 1863.
  • John McLaren was a well-known Gardner who joined in 1893.
  • James Rolph, Jr., also known as “Sunny Jim,” served as Mayor of San Francisco in 1901 and later became Governor of California.
  • Judge Robert L. McWilliams, who presided over the Circuit Court in Northern California, joined in 1943.
  • Donald M. Campbell, MD, OBE, became a member in 1962.
  • Past President Norman Macleod, OBE, whose outstanding contributions to our society were recognized with an Order of the British Empire.

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 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 newsletter, principally for our membership roster, but it also includes nearby Scottish societies and organizations. We like to give information on upcoming events and share it with those who are interested.

Our Library

Our library is housed in the meeting room of our old San Francisco firehouse.  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 membership is open to anyone interested in Scottish culture, whether through descent, heritage, academics, or curiosity. Applications must contain information about your interest in Scottish culture and connection to the Scottish community and indicate the names of two members in good standing proposing and seconding the applicant. If you are new to the community, attend our meetings and events to meet our membership and decide if it’s the right society for you. Annual dues are $125.00 for Standard Membership, $70 for Virtual Membership, and $45 for Youth Membership (21 – 30 years old or 18+ of you are accompanied by a parent who is a member in good standing).

Address all correspondence to:

St. Andrew’s Society of San Francisco
1088 Green Street
San Francisco, CA 94133-3604