S.E.S. Fraternal Benefit Society

Sociedade do Espírito Santo was founded in Santa Clara on December 16, 1895.

Years:  1895 — 2010

The Portuguese people have long had a part in the history of California and the City and County of Santa Clara.  At one time they constituted 70 percent of the City of Santa Clara’s population and have always played an important part in the life of the community.

After the 1849 Gold Rush, it was mainly in places like Newark, San Leandro, San José, and Santa Clara that the Portuguese settled into a life of farming and dairying. These early Portuguese settlers, preserving an interest in the land of their birth, started many fraternal societies.  One of these, the “Sociedade do Espírito Santo” (S.E.S.) was founded in Santa Clara on December 16, 1895.  The original organizers not only wanted to preserve their heritage, but wanted to be able to provide aid for their countrymen in case of serious illness or death, and to that end, on January 18, 1896, registered in the Hall of Records in Sacramento as the “Sociedade do Espírito Santo Beneficiente de Santa Clara”.  By the end of December 1896, according to the records of the Supreme Council, they had recruited 77 candidates.  By 1999, the S.E.S. had 15,964 members.

The S.E.S. merged with the I.D.E.S., the U.P.E.C., and the U.P.P.E.C. on January 1, 2010 to create the entity Portuguese Fraternal Society of America (P.F.S.A.).

The growth of the early society was very slow. On January 29, 1899, Council No. 2, “Flor Açoriana”, was inaugurated in Milpitas, and on May 14, 1899, Council No. 3, San José, was inaugurated.  A newspaper report in the “Santa Clara News” dated June 2, 1903, gives a flavor of the early “festas” that the S.E.S. sponsored:

“Preparations are being made for the Espírito Santo Annual Festa which will commence on next Saturday at 7 o’clock when members of the various Portuguese Societies will march to the Espírito Santo Hall where the queen would place a crown on the altar of the chapel.  An outdoor concert by the Santa Clara Marine Band will follow, during which time fireworks will be displayed.  A dance will fill the remainder of the evening.  On Sunday, the societies will form at the hall and march to St. Claire’s Catholic Church where mass will be celebrated and Rev. Father Governor of Centerville will deliver the sermon.  After the service, the societies will again march to the hall where the queen will return the crown to the altar.  A free dinner will follow.”

The festa attracted several thousand participants, many coming from Monterey, Santa Cruz, Gilroy, Oakland, San Francisco, Centerville, Half Moon Bay and surrounding towns. An afternoon auction was held to defray the expenses of the celebration.  A report of the festa indicated that $1,200.25 was realized and that expenses were $900.25, leaving a balance of $300.00.

In 1912, the S.E.S. split into two organizations, one group continued with the festa and celebrated it at the Lafayette and Lewis Street site.  This group became the S.E.S. Corporation.  The other group, using the money obtained from Mr. Manuel Machado Sousa, purchased land at Grant and Benton Streets in Santa Clara.  They also purchased the Santa Clara Grammar School building, which was remodeled into the Grant Street Hall.  They also built a “capela” (chapel) in honor of the Holy Ghost.  This group became the S.E.S. (Sociedade do Espírito Santo da Califórnia).  The Grant Street Hall remained until 1960, when it was torn down due to unsafe foundations.

In 1952, women were initiated into the S.E.S.  In 1967, Ms. Olivia T. Machado was the first woman to serve as Supreme President.

The junior movement started at the 1969 Monterey Convention and came to fruition in 1982.  The philosophy of the movement was to develop leaders for future generations.  The young people worked with the seniors in sponsoring activities to raise funds for various charitable agencies.  They were encouraged to be active in the S.E.S. and were motivated to move up in the leadership of the society.  Fully 40 percent of total memberships were junior members.

In 1969 at the Monterey Convention, the S.E.S. initiated the granting of scholarships to deserving students.  As of the year 2000, more than a quarter million dollars had been awarded to over 500 student recipients.

Family Day was another important group activity of the S.E.S., fostering a sense of solidarity and loyalty to the organization.  Begun in 1983 at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, this activity was held annually and drew as many as 1,000 participants.

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