History of the San Francisco Microscopical Society

On June 4th in the year 1870, members of the California Academy of Sciences made the first attempt to establish a microscopical society in San Francisco. Approximately two years later, on August 30, 1872, the society adopted a constitution, elected officers and incorporated as the San Francisco Microscopical Society.

The SFMS Constitution
Constitution in 1874

Nine months from the date of conception, the society received its first microscope. It was placed upon the 'round table' by the president of the society "to the perfect satisfaction of the members, who were now aware that the society existed not only in name but in reality." After the installation of the society's microscope the society developed a library, obtained a cabinet of slides, furniture suitable for meetings, and the equipment of a working laboratory of microscopy.

"The deep interest and devotion which characterized the membership soon established the best collection of microscopical literature on this continent." Of particular interest was the round table with a fixed margin around a revolving center from which members could comfortably assemble and independently view slides. Through donations and bequests of microscopic apparatus and photographic equipment, the society's capabilities were enriched.

This society was an important part of the culture of early San Francisco and acted as a forum for the citizens in the study of the natural history of the newly opened Pacific Coast. As early San Francisco was a seaport city with concern about disease from the Orient, the society meetings were well attended by citizens and city fathers who were very concerned about the health of the city. This early society held meetings twice a month and on occasions held formal receptions.

18th Century Microscope
18th Century Microscope

Between 1893 and 1903, the society's membership dwindled and it disbanded just before the 1906 earthquake and fire. The property and library was donated to the University of California at Berkeley.

The society was once again reformed in 1946 by Mr. George H. Needham and has continued to date through the combined efforts of its membership and the unselfish devotion of a few individuals who have taken a particular interest in its preservation. Notable among these were Mr. Needham, who took it upon himself to reestablish the society, and Mr. James Fidiam, who provided any and all needed energies and support to keep the society functioning for at least two decades.

Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin

Robert Donald Griffin was a native San Franciscan who dedicated 33 years to CCSF, serving at times as Biology department chair and helping to establish the biotechnology certification program. He wrote "The Biology Coloring Book" to assist students in learning key concepts by illustrating them clearly. Robert Griffin led the San Francisco Microscopical Society from about 1986 to 2002.  

The society now has several microscopes that members can borrow or that can be used at meetings, along with an extensive library of slides. We also host a variety of educational classes, field trips and other activities. Our general meetings often feature highly accomplished scientists and professionals in the area of microcscopical science and related fields. Please visit our membership page for more details and to join.

A collection of SFMS historical documentation can be found here.

SFMS 2017 Board of Directors

Peter Werner, SFMS President

Peter Werner, President

Myron Chan, SFMS Treasurer

Myron Chan, Treasurer

Africa C. Williams, Recording Secretary

SFMS Bill Hill Acting At Large

Bill Hill, Acting At Large