Censorship in the 1920s

The 1920s was the first time American youth had a culture of their own. Prior to WWI, there was little interaction with the larger world, especially in a mostly-rural nation. Culture was regional and consistent. However, by the 1920s, the United States integrated technology perfected during the war, like cars, radios, photography, motion pictures, and advances in all types of communication.

The war also moved Americans around as never before, and they returned home with an expanded view of their world. The conflict introduced millions of Americans to the diversity of other cultures, and the realization that their own lives were increasingly affected by global influences.

Young people, especially those who experienced, first hand, the realities of war, embraced fatalism tempered with abandon. The bedrock of society was often perceived as a sham benefitting few, controlling the masses.

Rebellion was reflected in music, literature, and films. The youth of America veered into unknown territory, freed from outdated ideas and their own previous naïveté. The youth culture emerged. Fashion ditched stuffy constraints; silhouettes were looser and more freeing, especially for women. Chaperones were passé; those of the old school saw modern dating as dangerous, and cars as  “rolling bedrooms.” Films splashed sexy scenes onto the big screen; actors became influencers and stars with millions of fans hanging on their every move. Libraries and bookstores offered modern literature with fresh ideas that spoke to a generation demanding civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and especially the right to free speech.

After the Civil War, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was banned in the United States, as it was pro-abolishionist; it threatened the status quo by rousing widespread debate. This spawned an era of censorship intended to control access to materials and ideas in conflict with those in p0wer.

By the 1920s, special interest groups sought to ban books and movies that offended their base. In 1922, The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, later known as Motion Picture Association of America, was formed with Former Postmaster General William H Hays as its leader. That Marvel – The Movie, a book published in 1923, included an introduction by Hays. The author (and Hays) cite the need to protect Americans from themselves by censorship of radical thoughts and ideas that were not in keeping with prevailing Protestantism and the ruling male hierarchy.

In 1923, The American Civil Liberties Union published a pamphlet, Civil Liberty,  their statement on an individual’s rights in the United States of America. Publications such as Bibliography on Censorship and Propaganda, targeted at youth, described how censorship and propaganda were effective tools of social control.

In 1925, the Scopes Trial polarized American society.

Booksellers and Book Bans

Booksellers and many librarians defied acts of censorship and helped to galvanize readers locally, in many locations throughout the United States. They were important advocates in the fight for intellectual freedom and freedom of speech. Hoping to avoid actions like those taken by the City of Boston, a city that became famous for the number of classic literary works they banned, including those by Upton Sinclair, HG Wells, John Dos Passos, Bertrand Russell, and others.

This year, during the week of September 18 – 24, 2022, the American Library Association (ALA) has asked readers to support Banned Books Week. This annual event celebrates the freedom to read, an important freedom especially in this era of increasing censorship.

The Washington Post published an article by Angela Haupt (2022 06 09), titled, The Rise in Book Bans, Explained. She cites Jonathan Friedman, Director of Free Expression and education at PEN America, who said current efforts to ban books from schools and libraries is “unprecedented in its scale, and in the proliferation of organized groups” who want to remove entire lists of books from public access. PEN reported there were 1586 instances of books being banned in a nine month period through March 2022. (See the list of books on Fire.org.)

To learn more, visit Unite Against Book Bans.

Advocates for Intellectual Liberty in the 1920s – And Today

In 1923, the American Civil Liberties Union published a pamphlet stating that “all though on matters of public concern should be freely expressed without interference.” Civil Liberty is a brief publication denouncing repression, stating that it does not protect individuals nor evade conflict, but leads, instead, to violence and division.

Project Gutenberg.org provides a list of books that have been banned from 387BC to 1978AD, and are available online, free.

The University of Pennsylvania has offered readers online access to some of the books that have been banned from schools and libraries.

The New York Times (1921 01 09) estimated that over 76,000 American veterans returning from Europe during the Great War, were injured–physically or mentally–as a result. These veterans did not return to their former lives easily or well. They brought injuries none could have anticipated, both physical and psychological, due to the nature of that modern war. The fate of an entire generation of young people was altered because of ongoing trauma and disability caused by combat during The Great War.

World War I, a trench war, introduced new technology including machine guns, grenades, tanks and armored vehicles, claymores, and chemical gas. More primitive tools of warfare, such as the French raiding hammer, the billhook, the Fascine knife, rifles, hatchets, and other close-range weapons, were also widely used. Many of the wounds were survivable, but incredibly disfiguring. In addition, tens of thousands were affected by the influenza pandemic as well as outbreaks of measles, and tuberculosis. A limited number of hospitals were available in the United States that could effectively treat those who were physically injured while in service, and only a few rehabilitative training opportunities existed after the war.

On January 8, 1921, the Santa Barbara Morning Press printed an article about the fate of veterans who were left with mental disability incurred during WWI. The article notes that legislators had not set aside any money for the welfare and care of those veterans suffering from ongoing disability, whether physical or psychological. Victims of shell shock, a new affliction (now known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder), returned to find little, if any, assistance for their psychological wounds. Many never recovered.

Veterans identified with psychological issues were sent to insane asylums, alms houses, or sanitariums. In order to enter such a facility, the US required that a court of law judge find the individual to be “an insane pauper,” which added a new layer of demoralization to those already injured. Once committed, most were forgotten as the federal government did nothing to ensure “they were properly cared for or to see if the institutions in which they are confined are even fireproof and fit for human beings.”

The American Legion (founded in 1919), joined with the Disabled American Veterans organization founded in 1920, to raise awareness of the difficulties veterans faced, as well as to force the government to create avenues for support of returning veterans and treatment of those injured, though few actual remedies were put in place.

Black, Asian, Native, or Americans of Color who were called to serve in the American armed forces faced discrimination during their enlistment and limited veterans’ services when returning to the US. Despite serving with courage and honor, Americans of color still faced Jim Crow laws, the Anti-Japanese movement, the Chinese Exclusion Act, among other restrictions to their civil rights. Most were denied the right to vote in the United States of America.

Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War ,  a “profusely illustrated” work, documents the experience of Black military members during WWI.

The January 12, 1921 edition of the Santa Barbara Morning Press reported that one Japanese American, Frank Maso Sasaki, petitioned for citizenship based on his service in the armed forces. Mr. Sasaki  was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and was “admitted to citizenship” by District Judge Maurice Dooling. Judge Dooling stated that “anyone who enlisted when the United States needed men deserved to become an American citizen.”

Veterans’ Memorial Building – Cabrillo Boulevard

The Veterans’ Memorial Building on Cabrillo Boulevard in Santa Barbara lists the names of Santa Barbara County’s military members who died in service during times of peace or war.

Pierre Clayessens – Veterans’ Advocate

To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen.

To be lost is not the worst that can happen.

To be forgotten is the worst.

~ Pierre Claeyssens (1908-2003)

Santa Barbara County is fortunate to have Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation as a community resource. Local philanthropist Pierre Claeyssens was a child growing up in Belgium during WWI. He credited the United States military for saving him and his “countrymen from the German occupation during World War I.” Forever after, Mr. Claeyssens advocated for the rights and well-being of US veterans and to ensure no veteran would ever be forgotten.

National Archives

The National Archives provides access to military records for individuals who served during World War I. You may find more information, here.

Battle Scars – Reconstruction of the Face

According to the Public Domain Review, the first textbook on plastic surgery was published by Italian Dr. Gaspare Tagliacozzi in the sixteenth century. The consequence of modern warfare left over twenty million wounded military personnel.  In 1918, a movie entitled Plastic Reconstruction of the Face, chronicled the work of Anna Coleman Ladd, an American artist in Paris. Ms. Ladd used her skills as a sculptor to create face masks and prosthetics for those whose injuries were permanently disfiguring.

Telephone Service in Santa Barbara County – The 1920s

It’s hard to imagine a time without telephone service, but in Santa Barbara County in the 1920s, the technology was revolutionary. By 1920, 35% of American homes had telephone service, though the number was far less for rural areas like much of Santa Barbara County. Telephone lines were strung from pole to pole, throughout the region, though fires, floods, earthquakes, storms – even a bird – could damage the line and disrupt phone service for days or months at a time. Prior to the 1920s, communicating at a distance was limited to sending telegraphs or via USPS mail.

Communication had gone live, whether to a shop around the corner or to a governmental office at the other end of the country. Residential customers were usually grouped into “party lines,” with three or four households sharing one line. While the main line was shared, calls were identified by a unique ring assigned to each number. The method did allow for people to eavesdrop on calls placed to other individuals.

Transatlantic lines laid beneath the ocean allowing for international calls between the United States to Europe. Business dealings were expedited with the advent of telephones, and customer bases were increased. Families, friends, sweethearts enjoyed having conversations even from a long distance.

Like other hallmarks of the 1920s, telephones, like automobiles and airplanes, virtually shortened time and distance between individuals. It seemed all of society moved at a faster pace than ever before.

By 1927, an increase in automated telephone exchanges and new dial telephones put the power of communication in the caller’s hands. A film from 1927 provided guidance, albeit silent, in using the newest technology:  How to Use the Dial Telephone.

Along with the ability to make and receive calls, cities and towns provided customers with local directories. In addition to names and numbers, state and local government information was included, along with advertisements.

Telephone Directory for Santa Maria, CA – 1922 and Beyond

The Santa Maria and Vicinity Directory included listings for a number of towns and settlements in its pages: Santa Maria, Ballard, Betteravia, Bicknell, Careaga, Casmalia, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Los Alamos, Los Cruces, Los Olivos, Orby, Orcutt, Santa Ynez, Sisquoc, and Solvang.

Telephone directories were a vitally important item in any home or business. In the 1920s, not only did listings include a telephone number, but the location of an individual’s residence, employment status, and place of employment were often included, and the names of high school students and their phone numbers were often listed, as well.

The old style of residential telephone directories were obsoleted with the advent of cell phones, as telephones were no longer associated with a physical location, but with an individual, instead.

United States of America – The Anti-Lynching Act

On March 29, 2022, United States President Joe Biden  signed the historic Emmett Till Antilynching Act. For the first time in the history of the United States of America, the lynchings of human beings is considered a hate crime. President Biden said, “Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone, not everyone, belongs in America, not everyone is created equal….Racial hate isn’t an old problem – it’s a persistent problem. Hate never goes away. It only hides.”

Throughout the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was active throughout Santa Barbara County and the surrounding counties of Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Kern.

In her book, The Mexican Outsiders, author Martha Menchaca, professor at the University of Texas, Austin, states that in 1923, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties held a KKK membership drive. The organization garnered more than 400 new members locally, through that effort.

In the October 26, 1923, edition of The American Hebrew, an article entitled, A Jew Answers Klan Hatred with Reason and Fact, the author advises that the Santa Barbara County branch of the KKK was distributing pamphlets (Ku Klux Klarion) threatening residents for “alleged misconduct and immorality.”

Samuel Adelstein, identified as “an American Jew,” paid for an ad to run in the Santa Barbara Daily News. Mr. Adelstein wrote, “The Kln stands for hatred. Hatred is blind, mentally and spiritually.” Mr. Adelstein said that Jewish tradition respects all churches, and that any issues of unlawful activity are adequately handled by authorities, without the need for mob violence or vigilantism.

Anti-Lynching Crusaders

In the 1920s, an effort between the NAACP and the Anti-Lynching Crusaders, a group of women with members throughout the United States, wrote an agreement stating that they wished to, “Unite a million women to stop lynching.” The Anti-Lynching Crusaders joined with the NAACP to continue the work of Ida B Wells, journalist, who spurred activists to promote legislation prohibiting the act of lynching human beings in the United States of America.

In November of 1922, the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill failed to pass, and similar bills failed for the next 100 years. Learn more about the history of lynching in California here, on KCET.

Leila Weeks Wilson, author of the book, Santa Barbara, California, written in 1913, describes tales of hangings in Santa Barbara.  These lynchings were supposed to been performed at a large oak tree growing downtown, between Highway 101 – El Camino Real – and State Street.

Juneteenth Santa Barbara

Members of Juneteenth Santa Barbara hosted a community event on Sunday, June 19, 2022, commemorating the history and of African-American residents of Santa Barbara County, and looking forward to “Caring for the People” today, and into the future.

The City of Santa Barbara, through a grant from the California Office of Historic Preservation, has developed a document entitled, Draft: Santa Barbara African American and Black Historic Context Statement that explores the themes, events, people, and places important to the African American and Black community in Santa Barbara.

This effort will help to recognize landmarks and sites of historical significance to the Black community in the City of Santa Barbara, and to all residents of Santa Barbara County, as well.

You may review the Santa Barbara  Context Statement online. The City of Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission will hold a public hearing to review the draft. The hearing will begin at 1:30pm on July 6, 2022, at 630 Garden Street in the City of Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara County Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee

Santa Barbara County also has a Historic Landmarks Advisory Committee. From their website:

The purpose of the Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission (HLAC) is to promote the economic welfare and prosperity of the County by preserving and protecting those places, sites, buildings, structures, works of art and other objects having a special historic or aesthetic character or interest, for the use, education and view of the general public and to remind the citizens of this County and visitors from elsewhere of the background of the County.

A list of Santa Barbara County’s historical landmarks recognized by the Committee, along with a description of each site, can be found online, here.

A Santa Barbara Girl

The photo of the young girl, above, was taken in Santa Barbara by James Dearden Holmes, in about 1925. I found the photo on  Ninskaphotos, an Etsy seller’s website:

This photo is from a collection of 9,391 images titled ‘World Travel’ by British photographer James Dearden Holmes (1873-1937). Holmes travelled the world for three years and his trip has been dated from immigration records to 1925-1927. All of the images were taken with a stereoscopic camera and most of the photos from this world trip are not available anywhere else. Holmes travelled extensively across Asia and the Americas.

Healing Justice Santa Barbara is actively seeking information, photos, or archived materials that are a part of Black history in Santa Barbara County. If you have any to share, please contact Healing Justice Santa Barbara at HJSB.org.

William Henry Harrison, Jr – Inspiring United States History

The photo of the African American man, above, is William Henry Harrison, Jr, author and publisher of a book entitled, Colored Girls’ and Boys’ Inspiring United States History and a Heart to Heart Talk About White Folks. In his book, published in 1921, Mr. Harrison stated that as a young man of 15 years, he loved to learn about history. He was “hurt not to find any history, except about slavery, in such books concerning the American Negro.”

He was determined that someday he would write about the great accomplishments of African American poets, orators, artists, and other professionals to encourage young children by providing a true history for “colored girls and boys upon whose noble efforts and achievements will rest the foundation for the future success of the Negro race…”

The book provides an unflinching account of the history of African Americans in the United States. Mr. Harrison partnered with more than 100 African American partners from around the country to compile a list of individuals who had made contributions to the country and who had achieved success in the fields of art, science, sports, medicine, education, law, politics, and the military. Mr. Harrison also wrote about the harsh realities of life for African Americans in the 1920s, while giving children hope and encouragement for their futures.

Lessons in California History

The book, Lessons in California History, published in 1922, was typical of history books approved for use in California public schools in the 1920s. Written by Harr Wagner, author and publisher of educational books used widely throughout California’s public school system, and by Mark Keppel, educator and Superintendent of Los Angeles County Schools throughout the 1920s. Their version of California’s history was very much typical for the time.

The Volstead Act

Prior to the passage of the Volstead Act, streamlined channels were put in place to ensure access to the world’s finest liquid spirits–despite the new legislation that took effect on January 1, 1920. For people of means, Prohibition merely added a bit of effervescence to their lives. Narcotics–opium, White Horse heroin, marijuana–were also gaining in popularity, especially as the Jazz Age blossomed.

But for others, the Volstead Act was a tool used to increase the vulnerability of people of color, the poor, and a large wave of European Catholic immigrants that were imagined to threaten “the American way of life.” These groups were especially vulnerable to prosecution and imprisonment for violating Volstead, while privileged white Americans avoided consequences.

In her article, Why the Ku Klux Klan Flourished Under Prohibition (Smithsonian Magazine, 2017 12 05) author Kat Eschener explains the complex layers of intent that helped to usher in the era of Prohibition. The effort was driven by the white American elite, along with bankers, developers and land owners, the members of various white mens’ and women’s clubs, the Anti-Saloon League, and the KKK. Santa Barbara County was no exception.

As far back as 1906, Santa Barbara County entertained the Anti-Saloon League, as described in one article in the Santa Barbara Weekly Press. On February 15, 1906, the “Presbyterian church of this city,” Santa Barbara, announced a “mass meeting,” in support of the League.

The additional bureaucracy generated by Volstead required new governmental bureaus and branches to uphold the unwieldy Act. Myriad departments and offices and thousands of employees were needed to administer the law. Federal oversight increased throughout California and the nation.

So many well-placed individuals in Southern California were awarded choice appointments and promotions as a result of Volstead that the LA Herald called it “the Prohibition plum tree.” (1920 06 10)

Immigrants, people of color, and the poor, already subject to discrimination, mob violence, and harassment by the Anti-Saloon League and the KKK , were also the targets of federal and state legislative efforts aimed at further limiting their civil rights.

James P Phelan, First National Bank, and a US Senator, ran for re-election using the slogan, “Keep California White.” It was a sentiment shared by many in Santa Barbara County, and throughout the state despite the contributions made by Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Mexican, and other people of color. Without the skill and tenacity, the contributions and hard work of Santa Barbara County’s agricultural workers, our history would have been a very different one.

Pleasure Drives

When wealthy tourists discovered Santa Barbara County near the end of the 19th century, grand hotels catered to their every need by providing luxury accommodations, fine dining, music, dancing and social events for those who chose to “winter over” in Southern California. High-end shops in the area offered furs, jewels, and other extravagant merchandise. Outdoor diversions were especially popular for those who were no longer housebound by winter weather. Hotels arranged tours for hunters who sought wild game, or those who wanted to fish creekside, or from the sea. Visitors could enjoy golf, ‘sea-bathing,’ tennis, hiking, or yachting almost any day of the year.

One of the most popular pastimes was the pleasure drive. Carriages could be rented so tourists might spend the day driving along an oak-shaded road, the beach at low tide, or braving the extraordinary San Marcos Pass between Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley. These were rare and exotic landscapes for people who were from the Midwest or East Coast.

By the 1920s, the number of auto-enthusiasts throughout the country continued to grow. While many in the United States could not afford the luxury hotels, new auto courts and less expensive hotels grew like mushrooms, especially in Southern California. The area was a prime destination for tourists.  Locally, a variety of m.aps highlighted various points of interest throughout Santa Barbara County, including the mission trail – El Camino Real – identified by the slew of highway markers.

This era was also the beginning of modern photography. New technology put easy-to-use cameras in the hands of many Americans for the first time. Most families had photo albums filled with pictures of life’s memorable moments, especially those taken on vacation. California’s landscapes and incredible vistas became familiar photo backdrops in a pre-Instagram world.

Auto Enthusiasts

With the advent of better roads and more dependable cars, camping soon became a popular hobby. With little more than a car and some helpful tips, families could travel economically and find enjoyment in Nature, whether for a weekend or a month. The national parks were in the business of welcoming travelers and campers. Auto-camps sprang up throughout California. With advice from books like Motor Camping, authored by JC Long and JC Long, or The Motor Camping Book, by Elon Jessup, campers’ questions were anticipated and answered. Even families with small children and little extra money could enjoy time outdoors. The love of camping became a national pastime that only grew more popular with each passing decade.

Not for Everyone

Even with the advent of affordable, dependable cars and the many opportunities for camping outdoors, these pastimes were not available to everyone.

Prior to the 1960s when legislation secured services and supports for Californians who had developmental disabilities, families were routinely advised to institutionalize – and forget about – a family member who was differently abled. Invisibility was society’s answer. There was no accessibility with regard to transportation, housing, employment, or even the smallest of daily tasks and pleasures others enjoyed: dining out, entering a shop, attending a movie or play, going to a park or beach. Camping was, for most, completely out of range.

The era of the 1920s was also one of segregation and mob violence. People of color suffered the wrath of these vigilante groups, most of all.

Article from Big Pine Citizen, Volume 9, Number 52, 9 December 1922:

Washington – Administration leaders in the Senate abandoned the Dyer anti-lynching bill, admitting defeat by the combined Democratic and insurgent Republican filibuster. The decision to throw the bill overboard was reached at a secret caucus of Republican senators. The filibuster started last week and put a stop to the transaction of all business in the Senate.

The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, legislation to prohibit the lynching of human beings in the United States of America, was not re-introduced until 1935. The bill was never passed because of opposition by Southern legislators. It wasn’t until March 29, 2022, that United States President Joe Biden signed anti-lynching legislation into law, for the first time in United States history.

Green Book

The Negro Travelers’ Green Book published in the 1950s, proved that people of color traveled in the United States of America at great risk to themselves and their families. The book lists hotels, restaurants, tailors, bars, auto mechanics, and other establishments considered safe for African American travelers. There are no entries listed for Santa Barbara County.

The 1920s and ensuing years, were just as restrictive for Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, and other people of color, who have endured limitations in their ability to travel freely throughout their own country.

Negro Travelers’ Green Book


The Selling of a Dream

For many years, Santa Barbara County was the winter playground of those who could afford to escape winter’s cold – and many other unpleasantries of life. They came from places like St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and New York. These lucky few spent the darkest months of each year reveling in sunshine and daytime temperatures that rarely dipped below the mid-60s.

A spate of luxury hotels drew them to Southern California where outdoor activities kept them entertained. There were several in Santa Barbara County, among them the Potter Hotel, the Arlington Hotel, the Miramar, El Encanto, and the San Ysidro Ranch. Sea-bathing, hunting, fishing, yachting, and long afternoons touring the magnificent canyons, valleys, beaches or islands in the area were favorite pastimes. Opulent accommodations and fine dining rivaled many in the Midwest or East Coast. Soon, a number of the wealthiest built large, fabulous estates throughout the area, though most were sited in Montecito.

Health sanitariums, too, offered places the well-to-do might seek treatment for tuberculosis. The incurable disease was said to be improved by  leisure, fresh air, sunshine, and frequent trips to natural hot springs, all of which were found in Santa Barbara County.

But by 1920, Santa Barbara County began to draw thousands of dreamers, adventurers, hopefuls, regular people who responded to the relentless advertising campaign waged for more than a decade. Hoping to dodge life’s harsher elements in a place where promises seemed to grow on trees like oranges – said to be free for the picking – even real winter could not reach here. In this place, anyone’s past – and their troubles – could be left behind in favor of a new start at life.

At the time, 8.9% of California homes were wired with electricity, but that was greater than in many areas of the nation. The state was also first advertised as a car-culture, although only 6.5% of residents owned cars. In 1920, this was a modern world filled with possibilities for the future.

Not for Profit

The pamphlet, California, Where Life is Better, was published in 1922 by Californians, Inc, a group of entrepreneurs w

ho encouraged Americans to begin anew in California and create a better life than the one left behind. For those who were disappointed the harsh realities of life, the words and photos in the pamphlet became the stuff of dreams:

Whoever you are, if the spirit of the pioneer is in you – if you are a worker, a dreamer, a builder – there is a place and a chance for you in California. There is a chance for you to live healthfully…among people who are almost universally friendly and helpful to the stranger…California stands forth as a tremendous reservoir of power and productivity, of health and youth and hope.

At the time, for many, it seemed that California was truly a place of health, youth, and hope – vague words and promises that, nevertheless, resonated with many readers.

The end piece of the publication lists as the officers and directors of the incorporation the President of Standard Oil Company, the Vice-President of Crocker National Bank, the President of the Bank of California, Vice-President of Cornwall & Banker, and other men of great influence.

Their organization, as stated in the publication, “is the outcome of the desire of hundreds of business firms, associations, and individuals to establish for the state an impartial, non-profit-making body for the dissemination of exact, unprejudiced, authoritative facts.”

Like some of the more prominent civic clubs of the time, this “impartial, non-profit-making body,” was anything but.

El Camino Real

After the Great War, Americans had attained greater mobility than ever before – along with a new mindset. Cars were more dependable and roads were being laid across the nation at a frantic pace. People who had never traveled more than a few miles from home could now drive to the next city, another state, or even across the entire nation.

This leveling of technology provided a new outlet for the masses. By 1920, Victorian and Edwardian rigidity could not survive the unnerving realities of the previous five years. Chemical warfare and battlefield casualties revealed man’s potential for destruction on a horrific scale.  An influenza pandemic had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives around the globe (3% of the earth’s total population, as compared to .08 of the total population due to COVID.)

Each day seemed to bring greater and greater disparity of class and income. The US economy depended on child labor and dangerous working conditions. Political corruption was being exposed as never before. A heavy resurgence of hate groups in the United States did nothing to stop lynchings and increased mob violence. Members of the Ku Klux Klan were embedded in almost every community in the nation. The world saw fascism rise in Europe, Mexico and South America. Mussolini and Hitler were already drawing crowds of 50,000 supporters, presaging the next World War.

Real estate developers and investors had been marketing Southern California for more than a decade. Finally, the disillusioned and discontented were sufficiently mobile to venture all the way to California.

The men driving this wholesale marketing were not alone in the endeavor. Their wives formed armies of women’s clubs and community organizations in almost every city and berg in the state. Clubs such as The Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, The California State Grange, and the California State Farm Bureau Federation were promoted as civic clubs, but they were heavily invested in lobbying. These groups promoted legislation that supported their advancement and power, but limited the rights of the laboring class, immigrants, and specifically, people of color.

Women’s clubs softened the approach, and though their aim was no different. By commemorating sites and events they deemed historically significant in California’s history, they controlled the narrative by advertising Southern California as a land of ease and plenty, a place of romance and myth.

California State Assembly Bill 1707 introduced El Camino Real, the Royal Road, as the historic path of benevolent Spanish padres who established 21 Catholic missions from San Diego through Sonoma. In actuality, El Camino Real is a story told by wealthy influencers of their day, a clever marketing ploy laid – free of cost – over a state highway funded by taxpayers.

Any original pathways through Santa Barbara County were footpaths established by the Chumash, who, for millennia, were sole residents in the area; they altered routes according to seasons, weather, and purpose.

Appropriation of the truth was the profitable lynchpin in the tale of El Camino Real.

The California Federation of Women’s Clubs set the first mission bell marker alongside the state highway in 1902, and called it El Camino Real. By 1920, there were about 370 bells installed up and down the state.

Although these clubs and organizations have softened their approach in more recent years, their legacy is part of the public record.

From the publication, Civil Rights–1959, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate, Eighty-Sixth Congress:

In litigation to take away the US citizenship of the American born of Japanese ancestry (Reagan v Kin, 1942), the Native Sons and Daughters argued that the Federal Constitution refers to “white people only” and that the phrase “We, the people of the United States” means, “We, the white people.” It insisted that we made a grave mistake when citizenship as granted to the Negro after the Civil War.

The Sunshine Gatherers

The Sunshine Gatherers is a short film made in 1921. It begins with the history of California’s Mission Era, as told in 1921. The beauty and agricultural wealth of the state are also promoted in this film made by Del Monte, purveyors of fruits and vegetables, who relied on low-paid agricultural workers to harvest California’s bounty and feed a nation.

Residents for More than 13,000 Years

Any history of Santa Barbara County, California – however brief – must begin with our First Nation people, the Chumash. Their society – sophisticated, spiritual, artistic, enduring – extends for more than 7000 square miles throughout areas now known as San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties, as well as a part of northern Los Angeles County.

At the turn of the previous century, there were no protections for indigenous cultural items found in and around Santa Barbara County, or anywhere else. As the Chumash lived for 13,000 years in Southern California, the trove of cultural artifacts, holy sites, and the bones of their ancestors was immense. Anthropologists pillaged the area in the name of research and study, with little regard for the living culture.

In 1907, in the bulletin, Bureau of American Ethnology, Vol. 6, published by the Smithsonian Institution, includes information about Chumash society on page 296.

According to the Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash – History page, about 22,000 Chumash were living in communities among the hills, in the valleys, along pristine seashores, and in a number of settlements on the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. They have always been hunters, gatherers, seafarers, artists, sophisticated stewards of land, sea, flora, and fauna of Santa Barbara County, California.

The Spanish

Following a number of Spanish expeditions, a contingent of their militia established a presidio in Santa Barbara in 1782. They were ensuring dominance over the indigenous people, allowing the Franciscan padres to establish 21 Catholic missions from San Diego northward to Sonoma. They also authorized a few enormous Spanish land grants – hundreds of thousands of acres each – to favored individuals. The missions were built by Chumash forced into unpaid labor and made to comply with foreign religious dictates. Brutality and European diseases took their toll. In fewer than 50 years the Chumash population that had lived in the region for more than 13,000 years was reduced by about 80%.

Eventually, the Spanish struggled to supply goods and government support to their military or the Franciscans in California from their European base.

The Mexicans

In 1821, Mexico, also under the rule of Spanish colonizers, revolted in a bid for independence. The Spanish had lost interest in the area and the military withdrew, leaving behind several powerful Spanish military leaders and their families as prominent citizens of Santa Barbara County. When Mexico won their freedom, Spain secularized the missions.

Mexico expanded its holdings, claiming a large area of the southwest as Alta California. They, too, distributed land grants, though in greater numbers. These large ranchos, 600 of them, were given to Mexican citizens or other foreigners who were favored by local governors.

When Mexico claimed Alta California, they promised to return mission lands to the Chumash, but did not make good on that promise.

The Americans

Like Spain, Mexico had difficulty ruling their large official holdings, as Mexico’s capitol lay a hard 2000 miles away. The situation worsened when the Mexican-American War began in 1846. In December 1847, General John C Fremont arrived in Santa Barbara to lay claim to the area on behalf of the United States of America. By April, 1848, the Mexican-American war ended; California was then administered by the US until official statehood was granted in 1850.

By 1920, generations of disease, racism, and brutality had reduced the Chumash culture almost to extinction. In the 1930s, Mary J. Yee (née Rowe) and Lucrecia García (née Ygnacio), worked closely with linguist John Harrington, to capture the sounds and meanings of the Barbareño language, the very breath of Chumash culture.

Chumash Culture – Visit Santa Ynez Chumash Pow Wow 2022

Today, there are 14 bands of Chumash living in California. Santa Barbara County’s First People, more than 5000 strong, continue to thrive and evolve. They are active in local educational activities, and share indigenous culture and wisdom with others.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Inter-Tribal Pow Wow will be held on October 1 – 2, 2022, at the corner of Meadowvale and Highway 246, in Santa Ynez, California. In 2015, the Santa Ynez Chumash held their first pow wow in 1965 to bring running water to residents who lived on the reservation. The 2015 video, Santa Ynez Chumash Pow Wow, provides the history of the event.

Anthropologists Study Chumash Culture – The 1920s

In the 1920s, AL Krober was considered to be the ultimate authority on indigenous people of California. Educated at Columbia University, he was awarded the first doctorate in anthropology by the university. As a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley, Krober’s work included helping to develop the museum of anthropology on campus. He was honored with a building the university named after him, Krober Hall. (He also happened to be the father of author Ursula K LeGuin.)

Krober was also well-known for his work with a man called, Ishi, said to be the lone surviving member of the Yahi tribe in Northern California. Krober’s wife, Theodora Krober, authored a book entitled, Ishi – The Last of His Tribe, which was part of the curriculum for California’s school children in the 1960s.

In 2021, UC Berkeley stated that AL Krober, “the founder of the study of anthropology in the American West — is a powerful symbol that continues to evoke exclusion and erasure for Native Americans.” The building known as Krober Hall was then unnamed.

Once considered the authority on the indigenous people of California and their societies, Krober wrote Basket Designs of the Mission Indians of California, published by the Smithsonian Museum in 1922.  The book includes information about design elements and the use of baskets, as well as photographs of fine examples of the art.

He also wrote the Handbook of California Indians, published by the Smithsonian Museum in 1925.

For additional information about the Chumash, you may also visit the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum website, here.