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I am trying to find the text or at least the proper citation for the mask laws in San Francisco and other cities in 1918. However my research only tells me that they existed, when they were enacted and paraphrasing of the contents, and that they resulted in an open-air court on the street, where fines were contested and upheld. Yet I could not find either the proper reference to them or the original text. I am not in the US, so digging through the papers in the archives of LA and SF is impossible for me.

How should one cite these repealed/annulled laws and where can one find the verbatim text of at least one of them, most favorably the San Francisco one?

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  • It's quite possible they have never been digitized, so the archives in San Francisco may well be the only place to find them. Jan 23 at 17:16
  • @NateEldredge possibly, but that would open the question: Which archive might contain them?
    – Trish
    Jan 23 at 17:17
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    Almost certainly the San Francisco History Center. You could contact one of their reference librarians and ask. Maybe also the San Francisco Law Library. Another option would be to look at newspaper archives. The San Francisco Chronicle has online archives back to 1865, but searching them requires a subscription. Jan 23 at 17:19
  • @NateEldredge Good pointers, I have sent the two libraries an e-mail, so maybe this ends as a self answer.
    – Trish
    Jan 23 at 17:38
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This was a resolution of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, passed on 1918-10-24 as the Chronicle reported the following day.

The texts of resolutions may be obtained from the Clerk of the Board, but one needs to know the specific resolution number, or at least "reasonably describe" an identifiable resolution. It is possible that "mask wearing resolution passed on 1918-10-24" is a reasonable description. How many mask ordinances could the Board have passed that day? ☺

Information from the Board on the WWW only goes back to 2000, and in the Legislative Research Centre to 1998.

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+50

After contacting the libraries of San Fransico and getting back a very helpful E-mail from the San Francisco Law Library I can now answer it.

  • It is likely that a copy of the ordinance text is retained at the San Francisco Law Library in the 1915 SF General Ordinances as a written or taped in addition.
  • The Journal of Proceedings of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, vol 13 (1918) contains the legislative intent as well as the original proposed and accepted "mask law" on page 898 and following. A digitized version is on archive.org, indicating further discussion of the topic later the year. The actual, first issued ordinance is:

    Bill No. 5068, Ordinance No. - (New Series), entitled, "Providing for the wearing of masks or covering over the nose and mouth by certain persons during the prevalence of the epidemic of the so-called 'Spanish flu' and prescribing the penalty for violation thereof."

  • The follow-up vol 14 (1919) starts on page 8 with discussing another "mask law" and adjourning that decision. A digital edition also exists on archive.org

Since "The Journal of Proceedings of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, vol 13 (1918), page 898" is a good citeable source, I ended my inquiry at that position, especially since there are only limited librarians able to look into the physical editions inside the archives and libraries.

Thank you Nate for hinting me to the right archives, I wouldn't have known which library to ask without you.

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