Hellman Lecture at the Metropolitan Club Celebrates 140 years of German History

By Doris Linnenbach / November 2010

Frances Dinkelspiel chronicles the life story of her great- great grandfather Isaias Hellman, who was the founder of Wells Fargo Bank in her book” Towers of Gold”. Her presentation was well received by the 80 members of the German Ladies’ General Benevolent Society, who gathered at the San Francisco Metropolitan Club on Sutter Street to hear her interesting story. The German Ladies’ General Benevolent Society, which was established in September of 1870, added this lecture to a series of events which it has presented to its over 250 members to celebrate the founding of this charity in San Francisco over 140 years ago. The history of this charity coincides with the proud and formidable history of the German Community in California and particularly the San Francisco Bay Area. German speaking people from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and other countries flocked to the West Coast of California when gold was discovered by a Swiss man by the name of John Sutter at Sutter’s Fort near Sacramento in 1848. The thought of finding gold nuggets on the banks of the Sacramento brought flocks of immigrants to the State of California. The economy of Germany did not offer much opportunity to German citizens at that period of time. In particular the German Jewish citizens were restricted in their ability to thrive economically in Germany and therefore finding a new homeland was appealing to them. Great numbers of Germans left Germany and hoped to find economic success in the Golden State. Shortly after their arrival, many of the Germans, who did not “Strike It Rich” in the gold fields left the Sacramento area and came to San Francisco. In this young city they worked hard at the trades and professions they had learned in their native Germany and soon they were thriving due to their skills and practical know how in the this young frontier town of San Francisco.

By 1854 the German Community of 5,000 had established itself and many very well to do merchants and trades people gathered together on January 7, 1854 to form a mutual aid society, which would work together to raise funds to establish a German Hospital and Medical Clinic.  These facilities would aid all Germans in need and provide needed medical care.  This organization was eventually called Allgemeine Deutsche Unterstuezungs Gesellschaft. ( ADUG).  A Dr. Joseph Rauch at the Veranda Hall held the first meeting of the young German General Benevolent Society, which was modeled after similar organizations on the East Cost. Many representatives of German – organizations were present, and they immediately joined ranks and started to raise funds for a German Hospital. Within four years such a hospital was built to aid to all German-speaking citizens in San Francisco; the beautiful hospital soon stood proudly at the corner of Fourth and Brannan Streets in San Francisco.  All German-speaking citizens were asked to join up and support the hospital by becoming members of the ADUG Krankenkasse. The only requirement to join the ADUG was that you were German speaking.  It did not matter if you were Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish, as  the common factor to join in this effort was that one spoke the German language. Regardless of religion, the German were considered to be one great big united community, which worked together to achieve their goals.

The great fundraisers, who helped achieve the goal of raising funds to establish such a German Hospital, were the hard working capable wives of the German doctors and their friends in the German Community. These ladies were tireless worker, who held elaborate balls in the Palace Hotel or organized German Fairs at the Mechanics Pavilion in order to achieve their economic goals.  During a massive fundraising effort by the German Community in the State of California to help raise funds to support the German Army during the Franco Prussian War, the German Ladies’ General Benevolent Society was officially formed under the name of Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauen Verein.  In 1881 the organization was officially given recognition and incorporated in San Francisco. This magnificent organization has functioned without interruption since September of 1870 and has rendered financial support to needy German families every single month since that time.

The story of Isisah Hellman is an example of those who left their village in Germany and who came to America to seek their fortune. Hellman’s story starts off when he arrives in America from Reckendorf and works as a clerk in a Los Angeles dry goods store. It ends when he is one of the most powerful investment bankers in the State of California.  Not only was he a brilliant capitalist, who helped to shape the economy of California, but also he and his wife Esther were great benefactors of the American and German communities in which they resided. Frances Dinkelspiel in her research discovers that Esther Hellman was a hard working member of many charitable organizations, including the German Ladies’ General Benevolent Society.

The 80 members and guests of the GLGBS gathered together to socialize from 10:30 to 11:00 o’clock.  It is very evident as we continue to hold more events that our various members are beginning to get to become acquainted with each other. Doris Linnenbach, the Chairperson of the Historical Committee, called the group to order and introduced Gerlind Rothen, the wife of the Consul General, Sigrid Heidenreich, the current President of the GLGBS and the members of the Board of Directors. She then thanked members Anneliese Miller, Gila Lloyd, Ingrid Sponholz, and Marian Bernstein, who along with herself had made financial contributions to underwrite the cost of the Hellman lecture per se. The members only paid for the cost of their Grand Buffet lunch thanks to the generosity of the above-mentioned ladies. Doris Linnenbach then spoke of the fact that our organization with a history of 140 years is now not only a very generous ongoing charitable organization, but also has become a historical entity in its own right. The history of the GLGBS coincides with the history of the German Community in San Francisco and it was evident by the number of people present at the lecture that our members are anxious not only to learn more about the history of the organization, but the rich history of the German community in San Francisco as well.   It should be a matter of pride that we keep this important history of the contribution of the Germans in the establishment of San Francisco in the forefront.  Frances Dinkelspiel was then introduced and spoke for an hour about Isaias Hellman and his life and times. Frances is a wonderful storyteller and easily held her audiences attention with her clever and informative presentation.  Her book” Towers Of Gold” was available for purchase at the end of the lecture.

At the conclusion of the Hellman Lecture the delicious Grand Buffet was enjoyed by all in the elegant atmosphere of the beautiful dining room of the Metropolitan Club. It was evident that all who attended enjoyed the historical presentation and luncheon had an enjoyable time and everyone is looking forward to another such presentation.  Friends said their goodbyes and are looking forward to seeing each other again on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at the Lakeside Olympic Club for the traditional annual German Ladies’ General Benevolent Society Christmas luncheon.