The Gold Rush was one of the most influential times in California History. During the four years from 1848-1852, 400,000 new people flooded into the state. People from many countries and social classes moved to California, and many of them settled in San Francisco. All this diversity in one place created a very interesting dynamic. California during the Gold Rush, was a place of colliding ideals. The 49ers came from a very structured kind of life to a place where one was free to make up her own rules.
“Freedom was in the very air Californians breathed, for the country offered a unique and seductive drought of liberty. People were free from censure, from Eastern restrictions, from societal expectations.”1
California society, and people as individuals, could not decide whether they relished their newfound freedom or despised it. Some people attempted to recreate the lives they knew at home, while many others threw off the shackles of their old proper lives. Victorian culture emerged in the 1820’s and 1830’s in America. At 1850, the time of the Gold Rush, it was at it’s high point. Anyone who came to California from the states, no matter what their position, would have come from a place influenced by the Victorian way of life. This included strict ideas about the roles of men and women, taboos on drinking and gambling, high value set on hard work, Christian ethics, and ethnic prejudices.2 People who came to California experienced something quite different.
“In the years which followed the gold discoveries, society was not stratified. Moral and religious principles were often disregarded, and all kinds of irregular situations could be found.”3
Americans who came to California had...
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...egquier from San Francisco,1849-1856. Ed. Robert Glass Cleland. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1949.---Full book of letters written by a woman from Maine about her trip to and life in San Francisco.
Morrison, Martha. “Families in Transit I.” Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. Ed. Lillian Schlissel. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1992. 35.
Royce, Sarah. A Frontier Lady. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1932.---Reminiscence of traveling to and life in early California and San Francisco.
Schlissel, Lillian. Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1992---General history of gold rush women as well as first person diaries.
Taniguchi, Nancy. “Weaving a Different World.” Journal of California History. 79 (2001): 141.
Ward, Harriet. They Saw the Elephant. Ed. JoAnn Levy. Hamden, CN: Archon Books, 1990. 4.
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