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April 1863: Polish residents of San Francisco assembled at the Russ House
THE POLISH SOCIETY OF CALIFORNIA is one of the oldest civic organizations in California and among the oldest Polish societies in the United States. In the Spring of 1863 San Francisco’s Polish pioneers established an organized society to raise awareness of Poland’s 1863 struggle for independence (the January Uprising). The Central Polish Society of the Pacific Coast (as it was then called) was headquartered at the Russ House Hotel in San Francisco. The first president (and co-founder of the Society with Captain Rudolf Korwin Piotrowski) was Captain Kazimierz Bielawski under whose leadership the Society prospered.
In solidarity with Poland’s struggle to regain her freedom, the Poles in San Francisco arranged an unprecedented, well-organized public campaign that raised funds for the January Uprising and attracted the attention and support of the general public. On May 22, 1863, in the City of San Francisco, a “Grand Mass Meeting in Favor of Polish Freedom and Nationality” was convened, chaired by the newly-elected Mayor of the City, the Honorable Henry P. Coon. The outspoken and enthusiastic support of many prominent members of the California State Senate, the State Assembly and Civic Leaders in San Francisco for Poland’s 1863 struggle for national independence lent prestige to the Polish Society and furthered its goals.
Polish-Americans in Northern California have made significant contributions to the State: In 1849 Aleksander Zakrzewski, “engineer in the Topographical Corps of the Polish Army,” drew The Official Map of San Francisco that hung for a time in the Mayor’s Office; he is also known for publishing a lithograph entitled “View of the Procession in Celebration of the Admission of California, Oct. 29th, 1850” (Lithograph by Zakreski [sic] & Hartman). Dr. Feliks Paweł Wierzbicki (pioneer physician and member of the Medical Society of the State of California) published the first book in English in California [California as It is and as It May Be. A Guide to the Gold Region, 1849]; he also authored the first book on California mines. Dr. Wierzbicki is immortalized in a mural [by Polish-Jewish artist Bernard Zakheim] in Toland Hall at UCSF Medical Center. Captain Kazimierz Bielawski, first President (and co-founder) of the Polish Society of California, surveyed Spanish land grants in California, and reportedly assisted in the purchase of the State of Alaska from Russia. He drew and published a railroad map (1865) of California and Nevada. Martin Prag was a highly esteemed merchant who worked for the “cause of Poland.” Aleksander Hołynski wrote California’s Gold Rush Days in 1851 (he died in France in 1893). World-renowned stage actress Helena Modrzejewska (Modjeska) began her career in San Francisco with the help of local expatriates (Captain Kazimierz Bielawski, Dr. Władysław Pawlicki, Julian Horain, Gen. Krzyżanowski [1870s], Aleksander Bednawski, Captain Franciszek T. Lessen, and Captain Rudolf Korwin Piotrowski); Andrzej (André) Poniatowski, brother-in-law of banker William H. Crocker, brought to the Bay Area the first hydroelectric power lines from dams in the Sierra Nevada (now owned by PG&E); Captain Rudolf Korwin Piotrowski (prototype for Nobel-prize-winning author Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy literary character Zagłoba) was an immigration officer, a designated “agent for Poland” and a friend of California civic leaders; he was instrumental in naming the mining town “Sebastopol” on the Cosumnes River; his fellow countryman, Franciszek Michał Wojciechowski (aka Francis Mitchel) who settled in the mining town of Sebastopol was Sienkiewicz’s inspiration for his Trilogy literary character Longinus Podbipięta. For two years Henryk Sienkiewicz lived in California--for a time with Helena Modrzejewska in Anaheim and Franciszek Wojciechowski in Sebastopol. Dr. Jan Strencel (John Strentzel), physician and friend of Dr. Pawlicki, was one of the pioneer horticulturalists of the State, and father-in-law to naturalist John Muir. Dr. Marcel M. Pietrzycki, graduate of San Francisco’s Toland Medical College became one of the best-known physicians in the State of Washington. Colonel James Cannon Zabriskie was a prominent San Francisco and Sacramento attorney. Gabriel Sowulewski was a Yosemite trail-builder, and so on. Read more.
Some early members of the Polish Society of California included:
* Dr. Marcel Pietrzycki, physician -- an ardent worker for Polish Independence
* Dr. Władysław (Ladislaus)
Pawlicki, physician; personal friend of San Francisco’s Archbishop Riordon
Members Listed on the recreated PNA Lodge 7 Charter, 1880 (originally Lodge 4; now part of Council 4): Jan Banachowski, Kazimierz Bielawski, Władysław Borejko, Antoni Czarnecki, Konstanty Viktor Engelman, Max Engelman, Teodor Ferenc, Antoni Fijałkowski, Gustaw Hejlman, Antoni Hirschfelder, Paweł Jachowski, Władysław Januszkiewicz, Józef Jerczyński, Ignacy Jocz, Ignacy Kolasa, Andrzej Kopankiewicz, Count Leon Bronisław von Łąski, Aleksander Maliszewski, Kazimierz Nowak, Jan Nowak, Ignacy Olbinski, Ludwig Opio, Władysław [Ladislaus] Pawlicki, M.D.
Former officers and members of the Polish Society included Captain Kazimierz Bielawski, Captain Rudolf Korwin Piotrowski, Dr. L. J. Czapkay, Dr. Władysław [Ladislaus] Pawlicki, Aleksander Bednawski, Charles Meyer, Morris Schloss, Captain Franciszek (Francis) Teofil Lessen, Gustav Hejlman (Heilman), Antoni Hirschfelder, Antoni Czarnecki, Michał Bracławski, Ignacy Kolasa, Józef Paudler, Edmund Zbigniew Brodowski, and others (see the 100th Anniversary Booklet). [Read about Jewish life in San Francisco in the 1860s; “American Jerusalem”.]
"Prince Andrzej Poniatowski, a very enthusiastic worker in the Polish Colony, …paid for as many as 10 members of the [Polish] Society… One of the society's great supporters in the 1870s was Count Bożenta-Chłapowski, husband of the great Shakespearean actress, Helena Modrzejewska. The Society's library was enriched by a collection of books donated in 1864 by the Polish poet Kornel Ujejski. " –Quote from Silent Heroes by Wanda Tomczykowska, based on the work of Miecislaus (Mieczysław) Haiman & others.
Since 1880, the Polish Society of California has been known as Branch (or Lodge) 7 of the Polish National Alliance. The Polish National Alliance of the United States of North America, popularly known as PNA or the Alliance, is the largest of all ethnically-based fraternal insurance benefit societies in this country. The Polish Club Inc. and the PNA, Lodge 7, are both long-time sponsors of Łowiczanie Polish Folk Ensemble.
The PNA logo, or emblem, is a reminder of the January 1863 uprising of Poland against Russia. It was designed by the Revolutionary Government as a reminder that the Royal Republic of Poland was a commonwealth of three nations that shared the glories and misfortunes of the state.
The white eagle on a red shield represents crown lands, or Poland proper; the white knight on a blue shield, known as Pogon (the Chase), was the coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Michael the Archangel symbolizes the Duchy of Ruthenia.
In using this symbol of unity, the Revolutionary Government hoped, without much success, to engage Lithuanians and Ruthenians in the common struggle against Russia.
The January Uprising failed, but a member of the Revolutionary Government, Agaton Giller, inspired the founding of the Polish National Alliance. Consequently, the founders of the Polish National Alliance adopted this symbol for its fraternal emblem.
The "shaking hands" denote PNA fraternalism.