The principal figure is Minerva, with her spear and Gorgon shield, typical of the manner in which California was born, full grown…

– Bayard Taylor, describing the California state seal, in Eldorado: Or, Adventures in the Path of Empire (1860)


Just as Minerva had no childhood, but sprang full-grown from the forehead of Jupiter, so California skipped the territorial stage of development and joined the Union immediately upon application, with a voter-approved state constitution already in hand.

The Jupiter from whose forehead California statehood sprang was General Bennet C. Riley, who in April 1849 became commander of the Military Department of Upper California (including today’s Nevada and Arizona). Riley had responsibility for law and order in the region but not nearly enough troops, as the Gold Rush boosted the California census from around 10,000 to a quarter-million in two years. Most of the new arrivals were adult males with pickaxes, guns, and a dream of quick riches. There was a corresponding rise in frustration, desperation, soured hopes, and lawlessness. California needed governments, courts, and sworn police officers in a hurry.

General Riley issued a proclamation for a constitutional convention, held in September 1849 in Monterey. In ordinary circumstances, it would be Congress that would invite a territory to draft a consitution. Seeing gridlock on Capitol Hill, where the priority was balancing the number of free states versus slave states, Riley acted on his own authority. In Roman mythology, Minerva is the armed goddess of wisdom.


…it was just one of a number of black eyes the organization sustained in the run-up to this year’s Oscars, nearly all of them self-inflicted.

– Josh Rottenberg, “No thanks to the academy…” LA Times (February 24, 2019)

Black eye transitioned from medical to metaphorical injury in the early 1700s – notably in a tussle of two poets, where Colley Cibber taunted Alexander Pope about “the last black Eye I gave you.” Cibber had published a pamphlet ridiculing Pope – the verbal equivalent of a public thrashing – which must have incited gossip and embarrassment for days, like an actual black eye.

By the early 1900s, the personal black eye was supplemented by the group black eye. In 1913, an article in The Saturday Evening Post complained of unscrupulous growers who gave the entire farming fraternity a black eye. In the same year, the American Cloak and Suit Review lambasted penny-pinching manufacturers: “The entire garment industry will probably get a black eye, because of your over-conservatism.”

The group black eye gave rise to a variation – the self-inflicted group black eye (SIGBE) – in the late 1990s (e.g., in Jean Mater’s Reinventing the Forest Industry, 1997). In the early 2000s, news stories credited self-inflicted black eyes to the SEC, the US Army, UK security police, CBS, Ohio State University, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Major League Baseball, China, Biotech, Harley-Davidson, and others. At the 2019 Oscars, no one from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came to the stage to thank everyone who made their SIGBE possible.