Image by Ana Portnoy, 2017
We are excited to announce the release of our oral history interview will William C. Gordon, lawyer, noir writer, and library supporter. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, California and attended college at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned his law degree at the University of California, Hastings College of Law. He worked as a lawyer in San Francisco for many years before becoming a mystery writer. He is the author of six books, including The Chinese Jars, King of the Bottom, and The Halls of Power, among others. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of libraries, and has made significant contributions to the Whittier High Library and to The Bancroft Library for their burgeoning California Detective Fiction Collection.
OHC Interviewer Shanna Farrell sat down with Gordon in 2017 to discuss his early life growing up in Los Angeles, his affinity for libraries, education and career in the Bay Area, and becoming a writer in his retirement.
We are pleased to announce the release of our interview with Paul A. Bissinger, Jr. Bissinger was born in San Francisco, California in 1934 to Paul Bissinger and Marjorie Pearl Walter-Bissinger. He was raised on Divisidero Street and attended the Town School. He attended high school at the Phillips Exeter Academy, attended college at Stanford University, and earned a graduate degree from the American Institute for Foreign Trade. He served in the Navy in the 1950s, which took him to Japan, Hong Kong, and Manila. He’s been a life-long patron of the arts, which began as a child. He has a passion for the San Francisco Youth Orchestra, which he has been involved with for many years, and his service was honored by a performance dedicated to him on his 70th birthday.
In his interview, Bissinger discusses his early life, education, time in the Navy, meeting his wife, Kathy, and starting a family, working for his family business, and commitment to the local arts community. He also talks about serving on multiple boards for arts organizations, including for the San Francisco Youth Orchestra and Asian Art Museum.
UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center is offering a $2,000 summer fellowship to a graduate student of color enrolled in the UC system. Aimed at early to mid-career oral historians, this fellowship provides an opportunity to conduct a longform life history interview with a leading figure in the arts or humanities. The selected fellow will conduct a 4-8 hour interview on video, which will be archived at The Bancroft Library. The fellow will see the interview series through from conception to completion and will present on their project at the Oral History Center’s annual Summer Institute.
This fellowship is open to graduate students of color who are enrolled in the UC system. Preference will be given to projects with a U.S. focus, but consideration will be given to international projects that have impact in the U.S.
The fellow will work with OHC Interviewer Shanna Farrell to hone project planning, the structure of the interview, and presentation. Interviewing will take place during June, July, and August. The fellow is expected to be on UC Berkeley’s campus during the Summer Institute, which takes place from August 5-9, 2019. The fellow will have the opportunity to work out of the Doe Library and check books out as needed. Equipment (if needed) and transcription for the interviews will be provided by the Oral History Center.
Applications are open January 14 – February 25, 2019. Award notifications will be send out in late March. Please email Shanna Farrell at email@example.com with any questions.
From the Oral History Center Director:
Paul “Pete” Bancroft, III, a 1951 graduate of Yale, a pioneer in venture capital, and the eldest great-grandson of Bancroft Library founder Hubert Howe Bancroft, died peacefully in his sleep on January 3, 2019, at the age of 88.
We at The Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center are extremely grateful for his support of over the years. The word “support,” however, is wholly inadequate to capture what he did for oral history at Berkeley. Pete Bancroft was, in fact, its greatest single benefactor in the 65-year history of our office.
Pete’s first major engagement with the Oral History Center (or, as we were known at the time, the Regional Oral History Office) began around 2007 with discussions about a possible oral history project documenting the history of venture capital in the Bay Area. Not only did Pete step forward to sponsor the project, he played a critical role in helping to articulate the major themes and issues to be covered in the interviews. He also created an advisory committee of scholars and leaders in the field that gave the project instant credibility and served on that committee; and he reached out personally to many of the key players whom we wished to interview, setting forth the goals of the project and convincing those who might have been reluctant to participate. Sally Hughes, who was the project director and interviewer for these oral histories, wrote to me upon learning of Pete’s death: “As the interviewer for the Center’s venture capital project, I could not have asked for a better sponsor in organizing, completely funding, and advising the project every step of the way. In his warm and supportive manner, he made it clear that we were a partnership in trying to create the best possible series of interviews on the foundational era of venture capital. It was a subject dear to his heart as one of its early participants.” When completed, the project resulted in 19 lengthy oral history interviews with the pioneers of venture capital, including Franklin “Pitch” Johnson, Art Rock, Reid Dennis, Tom Perkins, Don Lucas, Don Valentine, Bill Draper, Bill Bowes, and Pete himself. In addition, Pete facilitated the donation of another group of interviews already conducted by the National Venture Capital Association. Pete Bancroft played a crucial role in creating this “must read” resource for anyone interested in the history of venture capital.
The years around the financial crisis of 2008 were difficult ones for this office. In addition to waning donations and external support, several retirements left us greatly understaffed. For the few of us remaining, myself included, there was a nervously voiced worry that the fifty-plus year tradition of oral history at Berkeley might be reaching an end. In the wake of these worries, Pete was conspiring behind the scenes to make certain that oral history would continue at Berkeley. He was a good friend of long-time Bancroft Library director Charles Faulhaber. When Faulhaber retired in 2011, Pete paid tribute to his friend’s leadership of Bancroft by creating the Charles B. Faulhaber Endowment, whose income was to be dedicated to the oral history program. Pete had only one request: that the name of the office be changed. Happily, the staff of the center recognized that we had long ago outgrown the “regional” in our former name and readily embraced the new moniker of the “Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library.”
Other than the name change, Pete asked for nothing in return for creating the Faulhaber endowment, which was built with his donations and those of many of his friends and venture capital colleagues. This endowment has been critical to the recent success of this office. Because only one of eight full-time staff positions, and none of the related costs of conducting interviews (equipment, transcription, travel), is paid for by the university, all of our projects require external funding. However, project funds can only support project-related activities and there is a lot more that we do — and want to do — than just conducting interviews, transcribing them, and editing them. Pete Bancroft’s “Charles Faulhaber Endowment” allows the Oral History Center to do so much more: we can host formal and informal training for those who want to learn oral history methodology from our highly-skilled team of historians; we can now create interpretative materials based on the interviews that we conduct, including, now, three seasons of our in-depth podcast series, “The Berkeley Remix”; and, perhaps most importantly, the Faulhaber endowment allows us to conduct research and development in support of new projects. We are fortunate to have a smart, ambitious, and creative group of oral historians who come up with potentially important project ideas; this endowment gives us the ability to pursue those ideas by doing background research, conducting pilot interviews, and seeking funding to make these ideas a reality. Thus, Pete Bancroft continued his career in venture capital with the Oral History Center: by providing perpetual seed funding, he has established a lasting legacy of innovation, experimentation, and entrepreneurship among the publicly-engaged scholars at the center!
In his final months of life, Pete Bancroft continued to think about and look after his friends, including the Oral History Center. Charles Faulhaber, returning the honor given to him by Pete, created the “Pete Bancroft Endowment for the Oral History Center,” with an initial gift from Pitch Johnson and additional gifts from many of the same philanthropists who supported the earlier one as well as his ‘Hill Billies’ campmates at the Bohemian Club. And like the Faulhaber endowment, this one will support the ongoing work on the Oral History Center. In a touching note just after Pete’s passing, Faulhaber let me know that Pete was thinking of us until the end, making a major donation to the endowment in the final weeks of his life. With this news, we sadly bid farewell to an esteemed and gracious benefactor — our angel investor.
Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center
Mary Perry Smith (1926-2015) and her husband Norvel L. Smith (1924-1984) were educators, community activists, advocates for social justice, and supporters of African-American culture. The couple met while teaching in Texas and moved to Oakland in 1951. Norvel Smith became the first African American to head a California college when he was appointed president of Merritt College in 1968. He served as president until 1973, when he became Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at UC, Berkeley. Smith retired from that job in 1982.
In 1970, Mary Perry Smith co-founded the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program at Oakland Tech High School. MESA’s goal was to provide academic support to students who were historically underrepresented in science and math fields and increase the numbers of African American, Latino, and American Indian graduates from four-year universities. The program spread throughout the state and continues to encourage students to excel in math and science and pursue college degrees in STEM fields: https://mesa.ucop.edu/
In 1974, Smith co-founded the the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in Oakland. The organization and its archives are dedicated to studying, teaching, and preserving the contributions Black filmmakers and actors made to U.S. cinema: http://www.blackfilmmakershalloffamearchives.com/.
In addition to their work as educators and cultural advocates, the Smiths were active in the civil rights movement and fought against injustice. Norvel Smith discussed his interest in prison issues and the administration of justice in an oral history he did with the Regional Oral History Office at Bancroft, “A Life in Education and Community Service”:
Smith’s papers document his work as co-chair (with attorney Charles Gary) of the Bob Wells Defense Committee, which worked to get Robert Wesley Wells off death row in the 1970s.
The Mary Perry Smith and Norvel L. Smith papers document the couples’ professional work and community activism and are open for research at The Bancroft Library.
Finding aid to the Mary Perry Smith papers (BANC MSS 2016/195):
Norvel L. Smith papers (BANC MSS 2016/199):
Lebanese-American philosopher, poet, essayist, and visual artist Etel Adnan met her partner, Syrian painter, sculptor, and translator, Simone Fattal in Beirut in the 1970s. The couple moved to Sausalito, California in 1977, and in 1982, Fattal founded the Post-Apollo Press to publish Adnan’s poem, “From A to Z,” and an English translation of Adnan’s award-winning novel about the Lebanese civil war, “Sitte Marie Rose.” The Bancroft Library holds Adnan’s papers and the Press’ records. There is overlap between the two collections, and it made sense to process them at the same time.
The Post-Apollo Press specializes in works of experimental poetry, prose, and translation and is an influential part of the Bay Area literary scene. A few of the many renowned poets published by the press include Anne-Marie Albiach, Barbara Guest, Lyn Hejinian, and Leslie Scalapino. The Post-Apollo Press records are one of many feminist press collections held by The Bancroft Library.
Adnan and Fattal currently reside in Paris. You can see an exhibit of 15 new paintings from the 93-year-old Adnan at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art until January 6, 2019:
The Etel Adnan papers (BANC MSS 2018/206) and the Post-Apollo Press records (BANC MSS 2001/101 c) are both open for research at The Bancroft Library. Both collections contain correspondence with prominent 20th and 21st Century artists and writers, as well as manuscript materials, and ephemera from art and literary events throughout the world.
Etel Adnan papers: http://oskicat.berkeley.edu/record=b24620423~S1
Post-Apollo Press records: http://oskicat.berkeley.edu/record=b16207195~S6
— Marjorie Bryer
Jeanne Rose is an herbalist, aromatherapist, distiller, and was the couturière to rock and roll bands like Jefferson Airplane in the late 1960s. Rose grew up in Antioch, California, and graduated from San José State University in the 1950s before attending University of Miami Marine Laboratory for graduate school. She started a couturière business called New Age Creations in Cloth, and her fashions became emblematic of the hippie movement in San Francisco. Rose has written over twenty books about herbal remedies and uses, including the 1972 Herbs and Things: A Compendium of Practical and Exotic Herb Lore. She also owned and operated New Age Creations, the first natural cosmetic company in the United States. She continues to teach and lecture about herbalism in the Bay Area.
In addition to sharing her rich and varied life experiences, Jeanne Rose’s oral history documents the physical and cultural changes in the San Francisco Bay Area over the last eighty years. Indeed, Rose’s influential fashions literally changed what people wore in 1960s San Francisco. Later, when Rose became interested in herbalism and aromatherapy, her written work and classes helped shape human interaction with the natural world in the Bay Area and far beyond.
Listen to Jeanne Rose share stories about fashion, herbalism, and 1960s rock and roll.
By Randal Brandt
This is the first entry in an occasional series (perhaps very occasional) of articles describing Bancroft Library materials that have recently been made available for research.
Playing cards can be used for many purposes other than recreation. Three decks of playing cards designed for a very specific purpose–to further the education of a young monarch–have been cataloged at The Bancroft Library.
France’s Louis XIV (1638-1718), known as the Sun King, ruled for 72 years, longer than any other European sovereign. Born on September 5, 1638, to King Louis XIII of France (1601-1643) and Anne of Austria (1601-1666), the future Louis XIV was his parents’ first child. When his father died on May 14, 1643, young Louis ascended to the throne at the tender age of four under the regency of his mother, who was assisted by her chief minister, the Italian-born Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661).
One of Cardinal Mazarin’s duties was to supervise the education of the young king. To that end, he commissioned Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin (1595-1676), a member of the Académie Française, to devise a series of card games, which were in vogue at court, to interest Louis in his studies. The series comprises four sets of educational cards, each bearing a full-length figure, designed and engraved by the noted Florentine engraver Stefano della Bella (1610-1664), with descriptive text and a number. In 1644, Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin published an explanation of them with the title Les jeux de cartes, des roys de France, des reines renommées, de la géographie, et des fables, cy devant dediez à la reine régente, pour l’instruction du roi (“The Card Decks [or Sets] of the Kings of France, Renowned Queens, Geography, and Fables, Previously Dedicated to the Queen Regent, for the Instruction of the King.”)
Bancroft holds three of the four sets of cards. The Cartes des rois de France (“Cards of the Kings of France”) set contains 39 biographical cards, beginning with Pharamond and ending with young Louis himself, who is depicted as a boy riding in a triumphal chariot with his mother, Anne, holding the reins. The descriptive texts recount the territorial gains and losses, marriage alliances, royal character, and political and military adventures of the kings of France. Jeu des reynes renommées (“Deck [or Set] of Renowned Queens”) has 52 biographical cards ranging from Martesie, Queen of the Amazons, to Anne of Austria. The set comprises four series of 13 cards each, with descriptive legends and a single descriptive adjective (pious, clever, cruel, saintly, wise, brave, etc.) at one of the upper corners. Jeu de la géographie (“Deck [or Set] of Geography”) also has 52 cards, with figures emblematic of the country and text recording the nation’s size, borders, natural resources, principal cities, etc. Thirteen of the cards relate to America.
The cards are known to exist in four states, with later versions having numbers and suits added, and some of the images modified or replaced (for example, the image of the young Louis XIV was later substituted with a depiction of a statue of the king as a grown man). Bancroft’s sets, which were purchased in 2013, are all in the second state. Each card has been cut out and mounted on a separate leaf. The three sets are bound together as a single volume in a contemporary vellum binding. These cards, which were later reprinted twice, first in 1664 and again in 1698, are well-known in the literature documenting the history of playing cards. However, very few examples survive in libraries. With three complete sets, Bancroft’s volume represents one of the most comprehensive collections available for research.
Cartes des rois de France (“Cards of the Kings of France”)
Jeu des reynes renommées (“Deck [or Set] of Renowned Queens”)
Jeu de la géographie (“Deck [or Set] of Geography”)
The Year in Review
by Martin Meeker
It is no exaggeration to write that 2018 is one for the record books as far as the Oral History Center is concerned. I can write with great pride that this year the Center conducted more hours of interviews than at any other time in our 64 year history. And, while not as easy to quantify, I have listened to and read through enough of our interviews (along with conducting a few myself) to report that they are as illuminating, interesting, and important as any we’ve yet done. As I approached writing this final newsletter column of 2018, it wasn’t the grasping for a story that made me miss my deadline, rather I was stuck on just which stories to tell — and when to find time to do it!
We are thrilled with the opportunities that come with the challenge of working so hard. If you read this column regularly, you’ll know that the Oral History Center is a “soft money” operation of the university, meaning that we need to raise funds to conduct our oral histories and make them available to you. So, all of this work means that foundations, organizations, and individuals like you have invested in this work and given us the honor of conducting these remarkable interviews. We are thrilled that, thanks to you, we are so busy — and, at year’s end, we invite you to help us continue this good work in 2019 by supporting us now with a donation.
Surely none of this could happen without one essential ingredient: a remarkable, smart, and hard-working group of colleagues. I could easily write a column on each of my colleagues’ contributions over the past year, which have been nothing short of heroic, so I’ll struggle here with this limited space: Amanda Tewes and Roger Eardley-Pryor each joined us in the spring as historian/interviewers and, in just a matter of months, both have proved themselves essential by conducting excellent interviews and contributing in valuable ways to the life of the office. Todd Holmes, who has been with us since 2016, is a serious scholar and a project development mastermind, serving as the driving force behind several exciting new initiatives. Shanna Farrell, historian and longtime head of our educational initiatives, conducted a remarkable number of individual interviews this year and also took over editing responsibilities for this now-monthly newsletter. Paul Burnett, with us now for five years, eagerly takes on some of the most intellectually challenging and complex oral histories and always excels. And, last but not least, David Dunham, our tech guru, quite literally worked two jobs in 2018: as technical lead and production manager he ensured that everything happened as it must — oh, and he also managed the project that brought you the amazing new search engine launched last month. I must also not forget to pay tribute to our group of student employees — 13 this semester — who do an expanding amount of work and perform an increasingly complex set of duties. Thank you!
So what has this inveterate and skilled, yet innovative and scrappy band of oral historians accomplished over the past year? Here are some of our highlights:
- We continued our partnership with the Getty Trust, conducting a number of interviews with Getty curators and trustees and with influential artists, including a group Latino artists. We’ve already begun a project on African-American artists, which will be a major feature of our 2019 agenda;
- We conducted several interviews for our Chicano Studies oral history project which will culminate in a full-length documentary film produced over the coming years;
- We maintained our commitment to documenting the history of the University of California with a small but fascinating project on the campus political organization SLATE and individual interviews with several faculty leaders, including Berkeley Law Dean Jesse Choper, UC President Mark Yudof, Berkeley provost Paul Gray, and Nobel laureate and UCSF chancellor J. Michael Bishop;
- We resurrected our long-running series on the history of wine in California with two new projects, one capturing the story of Harlan Estate and the other marking the 75th anniversary of Napa Valley Vintners;
- We completed large groups of interviews documenting life in and around the East Bay Regional Park District and the San Francisco Presidio;
- We continued our tradition of interviewing those who have made important contributions and lived memorable lives, including famed herbalist and clothing designer Jeanne Rose, philanthropist Howard Friesen, ACLU attorney Marshall Krause, Judge Patricia Herron, urbanist Anne Halsted, writer and lawyer Willie C. Gordon, professor Michael Teitz, philanthropist and businessman Herb Sandler, patron of the San Francisco arts Paul Bissinger, economist Lester Telser, and many many more;
- And, we have kept up the educational and outreach activities that are essential if we want the skill of quality oral history interviewing and the knowledge of our projects to spread, enhancing knowledge and the quality of public dialog.
I’ve got another oral history to conduct in the morning, so I’ll resist the temptation to go on — there really a great deal more to tell you about, including the fascinating projects already scheduled for 2019. Instead, I’ll humbly ask that you continue to read this newsletter and keep in touch with us: let us know if any of our interviews proved interesting or useful; if there are projects or specific interviews that you think that we should pursue (especially if you have ideas for how to fund them!); or if you have a question about oral history or any of the many topics which we study and attempt to help illuminate through our interviews. So, please keep in touch. Thank you for a wonderful 2018 and I wish everyone the best in the new year.
Charles B. Faulhaber Director, The Oral History Center
The Oral History Center has had a productive year, and interviewed many people. Here’s some of our favorite moments from our 2018 interviews. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
Of the dozens of revelatory, challenging, or even hilarious moments in my interviews this year, I find it difficult to highlight just one. But I keep coming back to this moment in my interview with famed ACLU attorney Marshall Krause. Krause defended a number of individuals charged with obscenity in San Francisco in the 1960s, including Vorpal Gallery owner Muldoon Elder for putting Ron Boise’s erotic Kama Sutra sculptures on display. While recounting the story, Krause mentioned that he had one of the artworks in question, so I asked him to bring it out to show on camera. I then asked him to provide the kind of defense he did in the courtroom in 1964. Krause’s sensitive, insightful, convincing words made it obvious why the jury acquitted Elder of the charges, thus giving Krause and the cause of the freedom of expression a victory.
My favorite interview moment of 2018 occurred when I interviewed Bay Area herbalist and aromatherapist Jeanne Rose. In the 1960s, Rose was the couturier for bands like Jefferson Airplane and was very plugged into the local rock and roll scene. During one of our sessions together, Rose recounted her experience at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, when an agitated audience of about 300,000 erupted into violence. Rose watched the chaos from above the crowd, but still recalls the strong emotions from that day. Hearing about the event firsthand reinforced how scary and chaotic the events must have been for concert goers. Interestingly, Rose marked this concert as “the end” of rock and roll.
had started an underground called the Werewolves. We spent quite a bit of
time on that for the first few months. I don’t think we ever found any. We
once raided an outfit that were presumably Werewolves. I don’t remember
what happened to them, except that we sort of used movie techniques to make
the raid, coming through the skylights.
My favorite moment this year was interviewing Professor James C. Scott at his farm in Durham, Connecticut. The Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University, Scott is widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of our time, producing an unparalleled corpus of books over the last 50 years on peasant politics, resistance, and state governance, which today are standard reading across a host of disciplines worldwide. Yet in the interviews, we get a glimpse of the unassuming human being behind the books as Scott discusses the two principles that have always underpinned his approach to academic work – principles he stresses . The first: “Don’t ever be afraid to be an army of one in a crowd of a hundred,” a philosophy of independence he came to embrace during his Quaker education as a young man. The second: “If you’re not having fun, what the hell are you doing?” For those who know Jim Scott, the latter is certainly an oft-quoted remark he has extolled to colleagues and graduate students for decades. Spending the weekend at his farm, I quickly realized that those principles were not just lofty ideals, but words he lived by, and I would be wise to do the same.
My favorite moment this year was during an interview with WWII Veteran Lawson Sakai, who is in his nineties, for the East Bay Regional Park Parkland Oral History Project. Sakai’s parent immigrated from Japan, making him Nisei, or second generation. He spoke about needing to flee California to avoid internment, and the role that farming in the Central Valley played to rebuild the Japanese community in the aftermath. Driscoll Farms was just getting started and needed help growing strawberries. They recruited Japanese farmers, asked them to farm the land, and split profits with them 50/50. After hearing how Driscoll helped many people get back on their feet after losing everything in the wake of Executive Order 9066, I scoured my food history books and didn’t find any information about this. I felt like I had stumbled upon a hidden historical gem.
Interviewing Aaron Mair—the 57th president of the Sierra Club and the Club’s first African-American president—provided my favorite interview moments this year. We conducted Aaron’s initial interview session at the Hagood Mill Historic Site in the upcountry of South Carolina. As his family’s genealogist, Aaron has the 1865 records of his enslaved great, great grandfather Zion McKenzie’s emancipation from the Hagood family. Before interviewing at the Hagood Mill site, Aaron and I visited the humble, un-fenced cemetery of his enslaved ancestors, whose rough, uncut gravestones lay just outside the Hagood family’s iron-fenced grave site with grandiose tombs and Confederate soldier crosses. Later, during his interview, Aaron recounted his ancestors’ remarkable stories from slavery to freedom and their purchase of farm land that remains in Aaron’s family today. His family’s narrative, from human dominion to sustainable stewardship of land, informs Aaron’s ideas on environmental responsibility. And it helped inspire Aaron’s initiatives as Sierra Club president to unify activism for environmental rights with civil rights and labor rights. Aaron takes seriously Sierra Club founder John Muir’s admonition that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
Mair and Eardley-Pryor