The National Society of Colonial Dames in California was formed in 1895 in San Francisco. The NSCDA-CA is one of more than 40 societies of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America and a nonprofit 501(c) (3) with approximately 500 members located throughout the state.
The Octagon House, at 2645 Gough Street in San Francisco is the NSCDA-CA headquarters and is open to the public several days a month. This house museum holds a collection of American Colonial and Federal period furnishings and a collection of documents bearing signatures from 54 of 56 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The NSCDA-CA members care for and docent at the Octagon House.
The California Society raises funds for educational awards, supports the Congressional Essay Contest for high school students, volunteers for active military and veterans’ projects, participates in Naturalization Ceremonies and assists in the preservation of historical items and properties. The California Society offers its members a variety of educational and social activities featuring speakers and tours showcasing the rich heritage of America and California.
Founding and Early Days
The California Society of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America was organized on October 8, 1895 in San Francisco by Mrs. Selden Stuart Wright and eleven other charter members. The California Society was the first to be established in a non-Colonial state. Membership grew and there were more than 100 members by the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Most of the Society’s records were lost but the minutes survived and the California Society flourished.
The California Society’s first gift to the City of San Francisco was the sundial in Golden Gate Park. It was dedicated in 1907 to navigators Ximenes, Cabrillo and Drake who first sailed by our Golden Gate and is located in front of the de Young Museum. Colonial Dames Day was proclaimed in 1915 at the Panama Pacific International Exposition. The Los Angeles-Pasadena Committee was also established in 1915.
During World War I, most members participated in Red Cross work, many in the Colonial Dames Unit. One Los Angeles Dame started a Red Cross salvage shop that netted over $200,000 and large sums were collected for hospitals and hospital ships.
In the 1920’s, the California Society began a Collection of Signatures of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. It now includes 54 of the total 56 Signers and is on display at the Octagon House. During this time the Society also began to collect Colonial and Federal decorative art and artifacts., where they were displayed in two rooms at the de Young Museum from 1926 to 1951 In 1931, the California Society began to publish historical booklets on California subjects such as early trails and Mexican ranchos, among other topics of great local interest.
World War II and Midcentury
The San Diego Committee was established in 1940. During World War II, the Society helped support a USO in Ketchikan, Alaska. To raise funds for the British War Relief, the Society published Rosemary for Remembrance-A Colonial Herb Garden in California in 1941. The Los Angeles-Pasadena Committee sent gifts to servicemen stationed on remote islands. The newly formed San Diego Committee supported the servicemen of USS Gunston Hall.
In 1952, the California Society acquired a headquarters of its own in San Francisco, the Octagon House, where the Western Conference representing 17 State Societies met in 1957. That year there was a month-long exhibit of Colonial furniture held at the Octagon House, which was well-attended by the public. In 1962, the California Society sponsored a show of early portraits and miniatures at the Palace of the Legion of Honor which was viewed by 26,000 persons. Now the Octagon House showcases the California Society’s collection of decorative arts of the Colonial and Federal periods.
In 1964 the California Society succeeded in convincing the City of San Francisco to purchase the property adjoining the Octagon House for a park and contributed the seed money to do so. The park is now one of the most popular urban parks in San Francisco.
In 1960, the Los Angeles-Pasadena Committee began furnishing the rooms of the Hugo Reid adobe. In 1972, they became involved in the restoration of the Mount Pleasant House and moved it to Heritage Square. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the San Diego Committee furnished and helped restore historic properties in Old Town San Diego, the Victorian Heritage Park and the Gaslamp Quarter. More recently they furnished the Sykes Adobe farmhouse together with the City of San Diego. In 1985 the Monterey Peninsula Committee officially became the third town committee of the California Society. They joined the historic preservation and education effort locally by furnishing the Boronda Adobe and working on a costume collection with the Monterey History and Art Association among many projects.
The California Society celebrated its centennial at its 100th Annual Meeting on April 4, 1995. The Octagon House was renovated in 1997 and is open to San Francisco residents and tourists from around the world. In 2011, the California Society celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Octagon House.
The NSCDA-CA Today
The California Society is dedicated to education through scholarships and awards for history and other students at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels. They annually send high school students to Washington D.C. for a week-long program with Washington Workshops Congressional Seminar Awards. The Society has worked with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other history groups to foster historic preservation and education. They have organized more than 100 years’ of educational programs for their own members on a wide range of historic and patriotic subjects. They also provide genealogical assistance for prospective members. There are almost 500 members of the California Society at present and we look forward to sharing our interests in historic preservation, education and patriotic service with generations into the future.
Mrs. Selden Stuart Wright, was the Founder of the California Society of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.
Joanna Maynard Shaw was born in Richmond, Virginia and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1846, she married Seldon Stuart Wright, an attorney. In 1859, the Wrights traveled to California via steamship through the Isthmus of Panama. They arrived in January 1860 with six children and three freed slaves.
In 1863, the Wrights lived on the Presidio Road (now Union Street) near Gough Street – very close to the State Headquarters at the Octagon House. In 1865, they moved to Lombard Street on Russian Hill. This home did not survive the 1906 earthquake, and Mrs. Wright built a new home on the same property.
In 1891, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America was created. Mrs. Wright was admitted to the Virginia Society in May 1894 and soon thereafter, the National Society’s President appointed her to organize a California Society. On October 8, 1895, Mrs. Wright and eleven other charter members organized the California Society. The California Society was incorporated July 15, 1896 and admitted to the National Society on April, 12, 1898. Mrs. Wright was president of the California Society from 1895-1904 and again after the San Francisco earthquake from 1906 to 1916.