California’s Admission Day: A “Decline of Popular Politics”?

September 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Citizenship & Civil Religion at the Dawn of the Progressive Era:

California Admission Day

San Francisco Call image of the Native Sons of the Golden West

162 years ago California was admitted as the 31st state in the Union. Does admission day (September 9) mean anything anymore?

Certainly contemporaries in 19th century California saw a great significance in celebrating the admission of their Pacific Coast republic. As it was celebrated by the Native Sons of the Golden West in San Francisco, parades, speeches, and entertainment enlivened a mass community to celebration. During the 1890’s California’s Admission Day celebrations were huge affairs of historical pageantry, carnival, and expositions. Most significantly, Admission Day also provided a public venue for elite sanctioned versions of the history of California. For instance, many attractions at Admission Day’s would carry interpretations of the significance of the Anglo-gold rush to San Francisco and the state. It emphasized the removal of the Mexican nation from sovereignty in Alta California, and California’s significance overall to national prestige.

California Admission Day, 1897

Front page image of the San Francisco Chronicle on California Admission Day, September 9, 1897

San Franciscan’s celebrated Admission Day with huge excitement. Despite Sacramento being the capital, SF played a crucial role in establishing a constellation of urban ideas and national concepts which structured historical memories and the social imaginations of those whom participated in the celebrations. Those whom participated in these celebrations, consciously and unconsciously, engaged in a dialogue between their own historical memories and those presented by the politically powerful. While these dialogues would cause little cognitive dissonance in those who identified with the powerful’s established urban identity, conflict and incongruities between lower class and immigrant historical memories could disrupt, modify, or reinforce their own minority identities.

The significance of this phenomena outlined above really comes in to play when you ask the question, how political power can influence the way a “city,” sees itself while also remaining in dialogue (conflictual or otherwise) with those whom occupy the same urban space?


  • September 9, 1897. San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California

  • September 9, 1898. The San Francisco Call. San Francisco, California

  • McGerr, Michael E. The Decline in Popular Politics: The American North, 1865-1928. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.


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