The California Historical Society sent out an email connecting to their Flickr Commons page, where they're putting up pictures from their collections.
This one was taken at Rancho Santa Anita around 1890, and the only two people smiling are the two mustachioed gents lying on the ground, holding hands in front. Something is definitely going on there.
There's a photo of the 1908 Oakland Baseball Club, an 1898 art class, a daguerrotype of some early miners, over 150 pictures of soldiers of the Spanish American War, on parade and in camp (those are in San Francisco--before the earthquake), some pictures of early business catalogs and ads--including a handbill from an 1869 theatre performance--and this ad for The Hub clothing store which was just too weird not to copy, and 1890s certificates of residence for Chinese workers in the state--details on that below. And more will be added soon.
The Society says these pictures have all been determined to be in the Public Domain, though the CHS holds the physical picture. Which doesn't matter much to bloggers, but is great for anyone wanting to illustrate a book or paper. Getting rights to use pictures is a tricksy business these days!
The residency certificates, with old pictures attached, refer to an Act of Congress passed on May 5, 1892. That would be the Geary Act, passed by the US Congress, regulating one class of immigrants: the Chinese. It came ten years after the Chinese Exclusion Act, extending that earlier act for another ten years and mandating that those of Chinese descent who were here legally carry these certificates to prove themselves legal. They could be deported if caught without papers. The Geary Act also barred Chinese citizens from testifying in court.
I copied one of them--the papers of Ng Gwan, a 49 year old farmer. The youngest of these men (and they were all men) was 22; the oldest 60. What a flourish the clerk used to fill these out!
The law was protested and fought in court without success. In 1902, after 20 years, it became permanent--and it was not repealed until 1943, when the US was fully engaged in war with Japan.