Sara Bard Field: The Making of an Early Suffragist

By Shannon White

Sara Bard Field, born in 1882 to a strict orthodox Christian family, was a poet and prominent early member of the suffragist movement. A series of interviews with Field, conducted by the UC Berkeley Oral History Center in the late 1950s through the early 1960s—barely a decade before her death in 1974—reveals a woman of striking political acuity and deep concern about the world’s inequities. In her oral history, Sara Bard Field (Wood): Poet and Suffragist, Field recounts her storied life: from a childhood stifled by her father’s overbearing presence, to disillusionment with orthodox religion in her adult life, to a growing interest in local politics that eventually culminated in her involvement with suffragist activism at a national scale.  

“I kept saying to myself again and again, until women get the vote they’re not going to be much of a power in society.” 

Sara Bard Field
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. [ca. 1915] Title: Mrs. Sara Bard Field, of San Francisco, is one of the most eloquent and gifted speakers of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and the National Woman’s Party. She is a kinswoman of Eugene Field, the well known poet. Collection: Records of the National Woman’s Party. (Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C., Photographer)
Field spent much of her early adult life abroad; she was married in her late teens to her first husband, Reverend Albert Ehrgott—a relationship with an almost twenty-year age gap—and accompanied him on his ministry work overseas. Upon returning to the US, Field became involved in local politics in Cleveland, Ohio before assisting with several national suffrage campaigns and joining the National Women’s Party. Following a move to Portland, Oregon, Field became acquainted with lawyer and political activist Charles Erskine Scott Wood; the two later married and lived together on their estate “The Cats” in Los Gatos, California. 

Field speaks frequently of her interest in the arts, a fascination which began at a very young age. “My mother tells of me at four,” she says, “of hearing me improvise as I sang my baby brother to sleep. I’d begin with a song that was known and that had been taught to me, then I would start improvising.” In her later years, Field published several poems and poetry collections, evidence of a lifelong passion for poetry which began in childhood with, if not “a knowledge of its beauty, at least a sense of the beauty” that poetic writing conveys. 

Aside from her longstanding interest in writing, Field remained invested in politics and social issues. Field’s later activism was informed in part by her travels in India and elsewhere with Albert Ehrgott, where she developed insights about social inequity and what she referred to as the “almost frightening sense of the inadequacy of the capitalist system.” 

According to Field, “hard as it was, I feel it was one of the great, at least if not turning points. . . in my thinking, it was a curse on my mind to think about social conditions in the world, because for the first time in my life I saw starving people mingling in the crowd.” She recalls feeling a sense of inherent wrongness at witnessing the mass exportation of food and other goods from India while the country’s colonial administration remained “indifferent to people who were starving in a land in which they lived and were exploiting.”

At the same time, Field was also wrestling with the dissolution of her steadfast relationship with faith. Field describes her dissatisfaction with the widespread practice of conversion in predominantly Buddhist countries and the idea that people “had to become Christian to be good. They were already good.”

These experiences formed the foundation for Field’s further involvement with women’s suffrage campaigns in the US and prepared her for activism at the national scale, first as a state campaign organizer in Oregon and later as a country-wide spokesperson for the National Women’s Party. Thinking back to the origins of the suffrage movement and lack of support initially available to the movement’s members, Field offers her perspective on the early days of the fight for suffrage:

I want to say again, you who are young and have been born into a time when women are in politics, when they have the power of the vote, I think you can’t realize what an obstacle it was to women, not only to action but to learn more, because they didn’t have any reason, as it were, or any field to exercise their interest, and this I kept saying to myself again and again, until women get the vote they’re not going to be much of a power in society.

When discussing the motives behind her decision to join the suffrage movement, Field recollects her own childhood, which was marred by shame and the extreme lack of clarity surrounding women’s roles that defined her family life. She recalls learning from her own experiences as a young, naive minister’s wife and advocating for educating young women about the world. Speaking specifically about marriage and the expectations it entails—children, sex, and the responsibilities of a spouse—Field expresses her wish that young women not struggle the same way she did as a result of a lack of knowledge:

I told women that in the course of my days, young as I was. “They should be told,” I said, “and they should be told thoroughly and not given any impression that you are afraid of telling them because then they’ll get it mixed in crazy ideas and they’ll learn it from sources they shouldn’t learn it from.”

She remembers in particular an interaction with a woman whom she met in Huronia Beach as a young adult, whose name she cannot remember but whose words stuck with her and helped inform her perspective on liberation. Says Field, “Here was a woman who was a person in her own right regardless of anybody else and that’s what she wanted everybody else to be, of course. I remember she said to me that day—she talked to me about my fear of my father. She said, ‘You know, you can’t imagine how bad it is for a person to feel that anybody else could hurt them inside. Your father can’t hurt you inside. You’re a person.’”

“I think few young people in their lives, especially a girl who had wanted to go to college and didn’t get to college, have such a chance for awakening experiences outside of books, outside of the academic world.”

Field’s insights illuminate the reality of many suffrage activists, who often struggled to establish a balance between devoting themselves fully to a cause while at the same time meeting the requirements of personal and family life. Reflecting on the commitments required by the movement, Field notes the expectation of “utter impersonality when there is a work greater than ourselves to be done,” something that requires “much sacrifice and effort.”

Sara Bard Field’s oral history is long—the final publication numbers just under 700 pages—and provides an incredible amount of insight into the life of an intelligent and politically active woman in a time that was not always welcoming to Field and her contemporaries. In her own words, “I think few young people in their lives, especially a girl who had wanted to go to college and didn’t get to college, have such a chance for awakening experiences outside of books, outside of the academic world.”

Field’s testimony is full of observations about the social and political reality of the world in the early twentieth century. She details the record of her travels in Southeast Asia and later across the US as a suffrage activist, preserving a wealth of information useful for historians and curious readers alike. 

Shannon White in front of trees
Shannon White

You can find the interview mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.

Shannon White is currently a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying Ancient Greek and Latin. They are an undergraduate research apprentice in the Nemea Center under Professor Kim Shelton and a member of the editing staff for the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics. Shannon works as an editorial assistant for the Oral History Center.

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

This interview is part of the Suffragists Oral History Project. For interested parties, these interviews also tie in quite nicely with several other projects in the Oral History Center’s collection, including the Women Political Leaders oral histories and the Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project. Many of the interviews from these projects coincide in time, presenting detailed and intimate accounts of women’s careers and lives during the twentieth century. My article “Voices of a Movement: The Oral History Center’s Suffragists Oral History Project” offers an overview of several narrators involved in the Suffragists Oral History Project, including Sara Bard Field. In addition, The Berkeley Remix podcast has a season dedicated to women in politics, and Episode 1, “Gaining the Vote,” makes use of several oral histories from the Suffragists project.

The Bancroft Library contains several collections of material from Sara Bard Field and Charles Erskine Scott Wood, including photographs, personal papers, speeches, and published writing. Here are some:

Sara Bard Field papers, 1927–1956 (BANC MSS 79/46 c)

The Speech of Sara Bard Field, presented to Congress on behalf of the women of the nation, 1921. p JK1896 .F5

Charles Erskine Scott Wood papers, 1914–1942 (BANC MSS C-H 106)

The Pale Woman by Sara Bard Field. Bancroft (NRLF) ; x F855.2 .F436 1927 Copy 2

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter  featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.

“Why Should We Share Anything with Them?!” – Oral History, Truth, and Ethics in Post-Totalitarian Societies

Interview room at Marienborn, the border of the former German Democratic Republic. Two chairs, a desk, and typewriter, now part of a museum exhibit.
Interview room at Marienborn, a border crossing of the former German Democratic Republic. Photograph by Erich Honecker, 2009


“It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved, and irreplaceable.” This quotation is part of a description of what we at the Oral History Center do. It sits at the beginning of every oral history we publish. It was written by Willa Baum, the longtime director of the Regional Oral History Office (the former name of the OHC until 2015). It highlights quite beautifully the conceptual foundation of modern oral history: the deliberate exploration of the unique, subjective historical truths of individuals. While oral history was once considered a poor evidentiary cousin to official records stored in archives, academic oral historians from the 1960s on proclaimed proudly the value of subjective evidence. It was the subjectivity itself that was to be recorded and studied. At the same time, oral historians promised to expand the archive by interviewing people whose views had not been recorded in archives or studied by historians. So, there are two related ideas: oral history as a practice of inclusion that diversifies and enriches the archive, and a belief that the historical record can be made more accurate, more true, by conceiving of it as a living, evolving, contentious space in which there is little in the way of a settled, single consensus about what actually happened. “What actually happened” is a translation of a phrase coined by German historian Leopold Von Ranke, who regarded government documents as the apex of authoritative sources because he saw the 19th-century nation state as the prime mover of history. When I took historical methods courses ages ago, this phrase was trotted out by professors as a particularly primitive, dated, and possibly morally bankrupt form of reasoning. History is about power, the professors would argue, written by the winners, erasing the views and the experiences of the excluded. What mattered in modern historiography was making sure that different experiences and viewpoints were represented in the historical record, and in the interpretations of the historical record.

Recognizing that history is about power, oral historians evolved practices for sharing authority with interviewees, whom we in the field refer to as “narrators” to highlight their authority as originators of a narrative, as opposed to passive sources for an interview. Sharing authority might involve planning an interview far in advance with the narrator, apportioning time to topics, putting up guardrails, and sharing the text of the transcript after the interview to permit them to reflect on their own words and correct them if necessary, or to protect themselves or others from anticipated harm. I call this process the construction of the “deliberate self.” With all the pressure and stimulation of undergoing a recorded interview in real time, even the most seasoned and trained speakers can, in a moment, misrepresent themselves, speak in a disorganized fashion, and mischaracterize what they remember. This is the spontaneous self. To be ethical, and above all trustworthy, interviewers should give narrators the opportunity to see themselves in their own words and refashion them to better represent themselves and the past for posterity. This works well if oral historians are already aligned more or less with their narrators with respect to what is known and how what is known is understood. This “shared authority,” to use oral historian Michael Frisch’s term, is part of what practitioners call the co-construction of oral history.

But what happens when a single, official narrative of state history is washed away by a revolution, and what remains is the collective trauma of decades of misinformation, surveillance, and punishment? How does one conduct interviews in this space? More importantly, how does one interpret what is said?

Over the past four years, I have conducted interviews with a group of Czech physicists. This project evolved into an exploration of how a scientific community functioned under a totalitarian order. The Czechoslovak Academy of Science and courageous scientists emerged as important spaces and agents that supported intellectual diversity and underground political activism. Scientific orientations and a certain form of asceticism underpinned political activism against dogma, propaganda, and the repression of fellow scientists and citizens. These interviews highlighted the contributions of scientists to the underground political movements established before the Velvet Revolution and to the democratic political order that followed.

Why was I doing this research? I study “scientists in trouble.” I am interested in the ways in which a scientist’s commitment to objective truth – a truth completely separate from the background, ideology, beliefs, and values of people – plays out in the messy political world in which scientists must live and operate. What happens when an individual scientist’s commitment to scientific truth clashes with powerful political forces? It could be the Iowa dairy industry during World War II or the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia. In the latter case, what is the relationship between a scientist’s commitment to objective truth and the demands in a totalitarian society of an absolute commitment to dogma? In my conversations with these narrators, and with scholars and students in the Czech Republic, I was confronted by a different understanding of the value of oral history from what we have constructed in the United States and a few other countries.

Last fall, I conducted two workshops on oral history methods, for faculty and oral historians at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and for graduate students at Masaryk University in Brno. My primary motivation for doing this work was to use oral history to meet the challenges of a difficult past and of an increasingly difficult present, one in which state-sponsored versions of the truth pose grave threats to democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. I was also considering the value of oral testimony in the historical shadow of a police state, where many official records from the totalitarian period have now been destroyed. Finally, I wanted to share ideas about the role of trauma in these stories – the difficulty of telling stories that, to this day, are not supposed to be told in Czechia.

But it was when I came to lead the training in Brno for graduate students in a history department that I learned about the implications of a particular form of collective trauma for the practice of oral history with populations who lived under or in the shadow of totalitarianism. After I explained the involved process of co-construction of an oral history from beginning to end, the importance of sharing transcripts with narrators, for example, a hand went up. “My adviser told me not to share the transcripts with the narrators.” Why? Part of the project this student was undertaking was to interview former members of the Czechoslovakian secret police. I said to the class that transcripts should be shared with narrators if possible. The student replied, “Why should we share anything with them? We give them more consideration than they ever gave us!” I trotted out my explanation of the “deliberate self.” Another student spoke, “If you say something in court, it’s in the record forever. You can’t erase it.” Still another said, “If you give them the opportunity to see how they really look, they will cut everything of any historical value out, and we will have nothing!”

I took my time to respond. “This type of interviewing will work, exactly once. But when you break trust with narrators, the reputation of your process, and those of anyone else claiming to do oral history, for that matter, will be tarnished in direct proportion to the notoriety of the exposure of the narrators’ hidden stories.” (Full disclosure, I said this at the time much more awkwardly than what I wrote here, but I am asserting my prerogative to reconstruct my narrative.)

The discipline of oral history relies on multiple narratives to tell a composite, textured story of perspectives about how complex phenomena can be understood, and framed. It was oral historians from Italy, a nation with a comparably complex political history as Czechoslovakia’s, who helped shape the field of modern oral history. For Alessandro Portelli and Luisa Passerini, oral history was the analysis and interpretation of the complex interplay between memory and recorded history. Portelli studied collective memory and press reports about labor protests in Italy. He wrote about how narrators transposed the death of a protestor at the hands of the police to a different protest about a different cause that actually happened four years later. Passerini wrote about the deafening silence in the life histories of those who described a “before” and an “after” of the Italian fascist period.

With these kinds of approaches in mind, I offered some suggestions to the Czech students. If you are disturbed by what you perceive as false narratives, lies to whitewash the narrator’s complicity in an evil political order, you can do at least two things. You can interview those who suffered at the hands of the police, explore the consequences of surveillance and interrogation on families of the suspected and accused, and/or you could also serve as a trustworthy partner of narrators whose deeds and perspectives you find abhorrent, but in the process potentially produce a more candid text than might otherwise be obtained through spontaneous revelations in some kind of interview trap. Then, you could interpret the alignment and differences among those perspectives. Allowing these perspectives to talk to one another through your historical interpretation is one way to understand oral history work.

So, were these graduate students chastened and enlightened, having been brought up to date on the latest best practices in oral history from the United States via postwar Italy?

Not necessarily.

The modern oral history method, this careful co-construction of the story between interviewer and narrator, is in my opinion the best way to interview the survivors of trauma and to collect and archive their stories. It gives the narrators control, the absence of which is at the center of trauma, which offers the potential to be a salve for the wounds of the past.

I wonder, however, if there isn’t some kind of American exceptionalism, or Italian exceptionalism, to this version of oral history practice. The evolution of the discipline or practice of oral history is towards diversity and inclusion, both in terms of sources of narratives and the ways in which narratives may be cultivated, framed, archived, or disseminated. Truth is plural, and the plural truths stand in contrast to one another. It’s a model of history as mosaic, not a king’s chronicle. In fact, the value of oral truth is that it comes from a narrator, filtered by the narrator’s history, memory, background, and position in the world.

When I did my initial interviews for the Czech physics project, one thing that struck me was that, of all the books smuggled into Czechoslovakia, the most important to this group was the works of Karl Popper. Karl Popper is a philosopher, known in some sectors of the academy for his rigid definitions of the mechanisms of science and the nature of scientific truth. More recently, some historians have pointed to Popper’s right-of-center political commitments as evidence that a belief in positive knowledge independent of the knower – that is, a truth that is not a matter of perspective, of background, or of prior knowledge – is a tool and a smokescreen for right-wing hegemony.

And yet, the people’s struggle, in Czechoslovakia, the poet’s revolution of Vaclav Havel, was fought by people who took this definition of truth as their north star. It is not hard to understand why.

It is not just the narrator who is traumatized in the Czech Republic, and so many other places; it is an entire society. The source of the trauma is more than the narrator’s experience of a lack of control in their past; it is the fundamental interdiction of independent meaning-making that is the lifeblood of a totalitarian state. It was the insistence on a daily truth that brooked no examination, discussion, or independent verification that so scarred those who are trying to tell their stories in Czechia now. One of the critiques of social science and humanities research is that the instrument of knowing cannot really know itself. How can humans really know humans the way we measure the chemical composition of matter? But that kind of objective clarity is in a way what these young historians in Czechia want. The heat of this discussion came in part from the problem of interviewers interviewing other interviewers about their interviewing practices. Oral history practice evolved partly in response to the historic menace of the interview: the confession, the interrogation, the Inquisition, self-incrimination through recorded, and always in some way compelled, speech. The tables turned, the student viewed the formerly powerful as liars, now minimizing, erasing, or justifying their practices as police interrogators. Is historical truth here a salve or a weapon? Can it be both?

It is often said that testimony about trauma has been a path to healing. Witness the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in the 1990s (though the results of that process are still being evaluated). But what if a society is still very much stuck on the truth part? One of the students came up to me after the workshop and apologized. “I don’t think we as a society are ready yet for your high ethical standards.” There was not a hint of sarcasm in his statement, though maybe there should have been.

This encounter with post-Velvet Revolution graduate students in Czechia did not change my mind about current oral history best practice as I understand it. Making the narrator feel safe and in control is the best guarantor of their representation of themselves and what they experienced. But in our search for plural truths, we need to respect the fact that one person’s truth is often a claim to “capital T” truth, not a perspective or opinion, and that their participation in an oral history project can be part of their battle against obfuscation, propaganda, erasure, and lies. That goes for both the narrator and the interviewer. So we need to be careful when we consider the epistemology of oral history, and reflect on what objective truth means to many individuals and communities, as a matter of cultural and actual life and death. And we might further consider the extent to which our commitment to co-construction shapes both the archive and a historian’s interpretive freedom. If trust-as-alignment is paramount, how much room is there for skepticism, comparison, or independent evaluation? Fortunately, oral history is an evolving field, and it is through these encounters with meaning-making in different contexts that we stumble towards our provisional truth of what we think we know about ourselves and what we do, much as Karl Popper once claimed was the ideal practice of science.

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of San Francisco Opera

front view of stage, performance of opera Fidelio, with chorus and leads dressed as detainees and guards in a prison camp. San Francsico Opera, 2021
Performance of Fidelio, San Francisco Opera, 2021, photograph courtesy of Cory Weaver


It is with great pride and pleasure that we announce the launch of four new oral histories with San Francisco Opera, continuing a collaboration with the Oral History Center that reaches back decades. In 1973, interviewer Suzanne Riess sat down for interviews with Julian Bagley, who met H.G. Wells and Marian Anderson during his forty years working at the War Memorial Opera House from its opening in 1932! In 1999, Oral History Center interviewer Caroline Crawford conducted an oral history  with tenor, voice teacher, and impresario James Schwabacher, whose relationship with San Francisco Opera went back to the 1940s. The San Francisco Opera has benefited from very stable leadership over the past century, with only two general directors during the first sixty years of its existence. This oral history project gained momentum in the 1980s with a three-volume oral history with Kurt Herbert Adler, who was general director of the Opera from 1953 until 1981, and those who knew and worked with him.

In the 2000s, Crawford conducted a number of interviews documenting the conception, creation, planning, management, rehearsal, and performance of an opera commissioned by the Company, John Adams’ Dr. Atomic. For the oral history project Doctor Atomic: The Making of an American Opera, Crawford interviewed composer John Adams, general director of the San Francisco Opera Pamela Rosenberg, music director Sir Donald Runnicles, who conducted the world premiere, music administrator Clifford “Kip” Cranna, and chorus director Ian Robertson. In 2011, Crawford created and oral history with star mezzo-soprano Frederica “Flicka” von Stade, exploring in depth a career in opera performance.

In 2018, we undertook dramaturg emeritus Kip Cranna’s oral history, this time to capture his long career with the opera as a music scholar/ administrator and dramaturg, including his familiarity with the tenures of general directors Kurt Herbert Adler, Terence McEwen, Lotfi Mansouri, Pamela Rosenberg, and David Gockley.

The oral history with general director David Gockley (2006-16) showcased his transformative promotion of “American music theater” that he had pioneered at the Houston Grand Opera. In his time at San Francisco, Gockley focused on dissolving the boundary between opera as high culture and a more democratic and inclusive notion of music theater. He was also an important impresario of new, original compositions by American composers, often in American historical settings.

The oral history with general director Pamela Rosenberg (2001-2006), Gockley’s predecessor, revealed a different approach to opera administration. Although raised and educated in Venezuela and California, Rosenberg spent her entire career in opera administration in Europe, and brought a European sensibility and enthusiasm for adventurous productions to San Francisco. As she began her term in 2001, Rosenberg faced the impact of 9/11 and the recession. Despite these challenges, she pressed forward with high-risk, high-reward premieres and productions.

The Oral History Center also explored the intersection of San Francisco Opera with the broader community in an interview with Opera Board member Sylvia Lindsey. She was asked to join the Opera Board in 1987, and since then has held a number of positions on committees, in particular to do with education and outreach. She has been a vital force in bringing young people to the opera, but she also fostered inclusion and belonging among the staff and visiting musicians and performers, long before these terms came to stand for common institutional practices. The interview touches on her multiple roles with several arts organizations, highlighting a key facet of her importance as a connector, bringing different people together towards a common purpose.

The pursuit of an art form that is hundreds of years old in the world center of up-to-the-minute technological trends and innovation may seem to be paradoxical, and even a bit quixotic. But the San Francisco Opera is an American story of modernity, resilience, and adaptation. It is about the transplantation of cultural forms from Europe, nurtured early on by many Italian immigrants to the city. It is also about would-be performers growing up in smalltown USA, seeing Beverly Sills on late-night talk shows, and wondering if they too might one day undertake something so grand and beautiful as a calling. But it is also about the ways in which art forms and their institutions can signal and in some ways exemplify elitism, and the efforts of the Opera to move beyond this unintentional cultural positioning through outreach, education, and initiatives of inclusion and diversity. Ultimately, these stories are about broadening the idea of what opera can be, for the performers, for the audiences, and for young people who talk to a singer who visits their schools, attend a performance, see themselves represented on stage, and perhaps dream one day to perform.

This most recent set of interviews is an in-depth exploration of what it means to do art. Creativity is of course the lifeblood of composition, performance, production, and, dare I say, administration. But this project is very much about the drama of the work of performance in all its dimensions. The audience experience of opera performance is certainly visceral. Those soundwaves hit you in your chest. You are, after all, sitting inside the giant horn that is the War Memorial Opera House. The melodies and harmonies open your heart, and the dramatic performance threatens to break it. But what emerges after talking for hours with people who make each of those performances work flawlessly every night is that this art is constructed and expressed on a knife’s edge. The stage manager’s calls sound like an air-traffic controller calmly landing dozens of jets at once. A prima donna falls sick the day of, and a cover, or understudy, steps in to sing a four-hour opera. Many, many things can go wrong at any moment, but the audience experience is only a musical and dramatic catharsis. Radiate out from the excitement behind the scenes of every performance, and you can see the larger drama in which the Opera finds itself: the ups and downs of the market and the tragedies of war and disease that impact the Company, its audience, and the wider community. In short, these interviews are very much about what art means, now and for the ages. For the past one hundred years the San Francisco Opera has been making meaning and beauty for its evolving communities. May it continue to do so long into the future.

In Memoriam: Phil Hoehn (1941-2023)

Phil Hoehn 2
Phil Hoehn, with a Sanborn atlas, Bancroft Library, May 1990. Photograph: Mary-Ellen Jones (BANC PIC 19xx.349).

Longtime UC Berkeley Maps and Earth Sciences Librarian Phil Hoehn passed away on February 6, 2023, from complications of colon cancer. He was 81 years old.

Raymond Philip Hoehn, Jr. was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on October 23, 1941, the son of Raymond Philip Hoehn and Florentine Jeanne Hoehn. Following World War II, the Hoehn family moved west to southern California and Phil grew up in Pomona. Inheriting a love of maps from his grandfather, he majored in geography at UCLA. In 1967, Phil earned an MLS from UC Berkeley and began his career as the Map Librarian at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library in 1969. He was then asked to assume responsibility for the map collection of the General Library, and managed both collections for several years. When the Map Library was merged with the Earth Sciences map collection, Phil was tapped to lead the new combined unit, eventually known as the Earth Sciences and Map Library, and did so until his retirement in 1996.

Phil counted among his favorite accomplishments at Berkeley the development and management of the California Maps Project, an ambitious effort funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to catalog and re-classify some 21,000 maps held in the collections of UC Berkeley and UCLA. Randal Brandt, currently Head of Cataloging at the Bancroft Library, was the project cataloger. “Phil hired me into my first professional position,” he recalled. “He mentored me, encouraged me, and supported me in the early years of my career. He also taught me how to catalog maps, which has been a part of nearly every job I’ve held since then. I can honestly say that I owe my professional career to Phil.” 

One of the innovative decisions that Phil made during the project was to include geographic location data in records that describe California Land Case Maps. These diseños, rough manuscript maps, were used as evidence in the court cases which determined the validity of Spanish and Mexican land grants once California was ceded to the United States. Without the online tools of today, determining correct longitude and latitude data for the ranchos represented on the land case maps was not a simple task in the early 1990s.  

Although this work was time-consuming, Phil’s decision paid huge dividends several years later when the Bancroft Library undertook the digitization of the maps. When discussing the significance of this metadata, Bancroft Interim Deputy Director Mary Elings, who directed the digitization project, noted the bridge that has been made between the handiwork of 19th century amateur cartographers and contemporary Geographic Information Systems in an important aspect of California history: “Adding the longitude and latitude to the Land Case Map records provided helpful information for researchers in geo-referencing the digitized historic maps, which in turn helps current researchers using GIS systems in their work.”

After he retired from Berkeley, Phil headed down the Peninsula and held the position of map bibliographer at Stanford University’s Branner Earth Sciences Library & Map Collections from 1996 to 2000. At Stanford he performed collection development and maintenance, provided reference assistance, and worked to promote university-wide awareness of the map collections and services. Subsequently, from 2000 until 2007 he served as consulting librarian at the David Rumsey Map Collection (now the David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford), where he created thousands of detailed catalog records for digitized maps. 

Never one to spend much time “retired,” Phil then launched a second career as a volunteer map cataloger, first at the California Genealogical Society and then at the California Historical Society. In 2020, a CHS blog post described Phil’s work: 

In June 2015, Phil Hoehn … took on the daunting task of organizing the California Historical Society’s vast map collection … over 45 drawers of flat sheet maps dating back to at least 1800 (including maps in atlases and books where cartographers depicted California as an island) as well as early mining, railroad, and irrigation maps, bound volumes of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, and boxes of large rolled maps spanning all the counties in California. During the four years Phil worked reviewing, researching, cataloging, and rehousing the maps he discovered many unique titles, some that appear in only a few other collections in the world.  Many of the works, by such prominent surveyors and cartographers as William Eddy, Herman Ehrenberg, Jasper O’Farrell, and August Chevalier, document the birth and growth of the city of San Francisco … [Phil] leaves nearly 4,000 maps now accessible to researchers. From foldout ones in rare books to enormous rolled maps that practically took a village to bring up from the vaults, Phil has discovered, cataloged, preserved, and documented them all.

Frances Kaplan, until recently Director of Library & Collections at the California Historical Society, expanded on Phil’s impact, saying “It is due to his efforts that the entire map collection at CHS is now cataloged and searchable. Along the way he discovered some rare ones and his work inspired the [current] map exhibit.” The exhibit, “Mapping a Changing California: From the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century,” is on view through March 11, 2023.

Phil joined the Western Association of Map Libraries (WAML) in 1969, which was just two years after its first meeting took place. Phil was an active member of WAML his entire career. He found that the benefits of WAML membership included getting good practical advice from friendly, experienced colleagues. Phil also emerged as a wheeler and dealer who obtained many great maps for the UC Berkeley Library by participating in WAML duplicate exchanges. He viewed membership as a form of therapy and described WAML meetings as good places to voice local problems and concerns among like-minded individuals. 

Phil had a direct hand in the founding of the California Map Society. Together with Diane M. T. North, who was then a Ph.D candidate at UC Davis, he co-convened a meeting at the Bancroft Library in May 1978, which was the inaugural gathering of the California Map Society. North recalled her long relationship with Phil: “Phil’s knowledge of and deep enthusiasm for maps, all maps, seemed boundless. Anyone privileged to have the opportunity to be guided by him and work alongside him benefited from his professionalism, patience, generosity, and quiet sense of humor.” 

Phil had a longstanding interest in fire insurance maps, including local California maps, produced by the Dakin Publishing Company and he published on the subject. His most important publication, compiled together with William S. Peterson-Hunt and Evelyn L. Woodruff, is a reference tool of enduring value to map librarians and researchers, the Union List of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Held by Institutions in the United States and Canada, originally published in 2 volumes by the Western Association of Map Libraries in 1976-1977. The Earth Sciences and Map Library maintains an updated online version on its website which documents Phil’s hard work. 

Together with UCSB map librarian Mary Larsgaard, Phil also co-authored a reference resource which historically has been useful to map librarians, the Dictionary of Abbreviations and Acronyms in Geographic Information Systems, Cartography, and Remote Sensing

Will Murdoch, a book cataloger at the California Historical Society, who worked with Phil from 2015 until 2019, shared his memories of Phil:

He was my mentor and work colleague in the CHS Library.   I cataloged books and Phil processed the maps in that collection.  We shared a lot of fun discoveries with each other and learned about the depth of the CHS archives.  It was an education for me as Phil’s background was extensive and he was so kind to share his knowledge with me.  I miss him and our work together there. 

Phil Hoehn
Phil Hoehn at the California Historical Society, 2020. Photograph: Frances Kaplan.

Phil Hoehn played an important role in building the rich and diverse map collections on the Berkeley campus. As a map librarian, map bibliographer, metadata specialist Phil was instrumental in providing expert resource discovery for cartographic resources at many institutions throughout the Bay Area. More important than his professional qualities, however, Phil excelled as a colleague, mentor, and friend. Everyone who knew him and worked with him was made better for the experience. 


Randal S. Brandt, Bancroft Library

Heiko Mühr, Earth Sciences & Map Library

Susan Powell, Earth Sciences & Map Library

Helping Hands: A Guide to the Oral History Center’s Advocacy and Philanthropy Individual Interviews

By Lauren Sheehan-Clark

The Oral History Center’s Advocacy and Philanthropy project tells the history of our world from the perspective of those who went above and beyond to help shape it. From local Bay Area volunteers to international activists, these interviews serve as a guide through history, highlighting some of the prominent social concerns and reform movements of the last century. 

For a look into the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century, you can read interviews from UC Berkeley alumni Adeline Toye Cox and Emma McCaughlin, who focused their volunteer efforts on fledgling organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the League of Women Voters. Or, if you’re interested in the 1940s and 1950s, several of the interviewees in this project discuss their involvement with postwar activism, including Edith Simon Coliver, who served as an interpreter during the Nuremberg trials, and Florette Pomeroy, who worked with the United Nations to repatriate lost children.   

The project only continues to grow from there, with countless interviews on the social concerns of the latter half of the twentieth century. Carol Rhodes Sibly, a Berkeley community leader, touches on the movement to integrate schools in the East Bay, while Sally Lilienthal recounts her long-term commitment to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons through her organization, the Ploughshares Fund

If that’s not enough, take a look at some of the highlights from this rich collection of interviews. 

Midge Wilson holding a girl, against the backdrop of a school building during construction.
Midge Wilson with daughter Ashley. Wilson founded the Bay Area Women’s and Children’s Center in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. 

Newel Perry: The California Council for the Blind

Portrait of Newel Perry
Newel Perry

Newel Perry was a leading figure in disability activism in the early twentieth century, establishing the influential California Council of the Blind in 1934. Blind himself from the age of eight, Dr. Perry advocated for the self-sufficiency of individuals who were blind and visually impaired, and sought to increase their economic opportunities, particularly for students who wished to attend university. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, the Council was credited for a wealth of progressive legislation for Californians with disabilities, in addition to inspiring the larger National Federation of the Blind, established in 1940. 

Elinor Heller: A Volunteer in Politics, in Higher Education, and on Governing Boards

Hailing from San Francisco, Elinor Heller was a former committeewoman for California in the Democratic National Committee (1948–1952) and chairwoman of the University of California Board of Regents. In her work with the Committee, she witnessed the appointment of Harry Truman as vice president and his eventual rise to the presidency, while her time with the Regents overlapped with the influential free speech movement led by Berkeley students. In addition to her volunteer work with the League of Women Voters and other organizations, this interview covers Heller’s thoughts on major political campaigns of the mid-century and university-student relationships. 

Isabel Wong-Vargas: Commerce, Industry, and Labor, Family & Personal Philanthropy in Peru, China and the United States

Portrait of Isabel Wong Vargas
Isabel Wong Vargas

A jack of all trades, Isabel Wong-Vargas was an entrepreneur, restaurant developer, and philanthropist who founded the highly successful restaurant, La Caleta, in Peru. Wong-Vargas spent much of her life in China and Peru before settling in the Bay Area in 1966, where she was named San Francisco’s honorary consul for Peru. In this expansive interview, Wong-Vargas discusses her memories of World War II and the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, gender roles and divorce in pre-revolution China, Peruvian business practices, and her later years in the Bay Area. 

Midge Wilson: An Oral History

Midge Wilson was an activist and community leader who founded the Bay Area Women’s and Children’s Center in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco in the 1980s. A longtime resident of the Tenderloin, Wilson’s dedication to the community was extensive: She helped to establish clothing drives, youth programs, and recreation centers, as well as the neighborhood’s first public school, the Tenderloin Community School. In this interview, Wilson discusses her extensive work with the Bay Area Women’s and Children’s Center, fundraising strategies, youth programs and education, and changes to the Tenderloin community in the 1980s and beyond. 

Ernesto Galarza: The Burning Light

Erenesto Galarza sitting at a desk with books in the background.
Ernesto Galarza

Another household name, Ernesto Galarza was an influential labor organizer whose activism in the late 1940s laid the groundwork for the Chicano movement of the 1960s. Born in Jalcocotán, Mexico and immigrating to the United States at a young age, he began organizing strikes against the DiGiorgio Corporation in 1948 and worked closely with the American Federation of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Union. In this collection of speeches and discussions, Galarza discusses data-driven methods of community activism, as well as his years as a professor and the challenges of bilingual education.

Find these and all the Oral History Center’s interviews from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Find projects, including the Advocacy and Philanthropy —Individual Interviews project, through the Projects tab on our home page.

All in all, the narrators in our Advocacy and Philanthropy project had a profound impact on the communities around them, whether big or small, local or global. So if you’re looking for a bit of advice or mentorship from celebrated leaders, look no further: Get reading, and get inspired. 

Lauren Sheehan-Clark, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, studied history and English, and was an editorial assistant at the Oral History Center. 

Further Reading and Resources from The Bancroft Library

Blind Educator: The Story of Newel Lewis Perry, by Thomas Buckingham. BANC; xF860.P42.B8

Farm Workers and Agri-business in California, by Ernesto Galarza. Bancroft ; F862.2G14

Interviews on the University of California loyalty oath controversy. Bancroft ; Phonotape 3799 C:1-9. Interviews conducted for David P. Gardner’s thesis, The University of California loyalty oath controversy. 

See also “I take this obligation freely:” Recalling UC Berkeley’s loyalty oath controversy, by Shannon White with research by Adam Hagen. 

Newel Perry papers. BANC MSS 67/33 c. Presidential campaign, 1940. Democratic Party. Bancroft Folio ; f JK2256 1940d. Party platform, printed copies of speeches, pamphlets, broadsides, clippings and dodgers used in the 1940 presidential campaign of the Democratic Party.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.

OHC Staff Top Moments of 2022

As another year draws to an end, the OHC team looks back on an eventful year. Here are some of top moments from 2022.


In June 2022, I helped plan and lead a session about university-community relations in the “Race and Power in Oral History Theory and Methodology” Symposium, of which the Oral History Center was a co-sponsor. This symposium was a great opportunity to hear from oral history practitioners from many fields as we move toward best practices for culturally responsive and anti-racist oral history. I was grateful to be a part of this work!

Also in June, I had the opportunity to co-interview D.C.-based artist Sylvia Snowden for the Getty Research Institute’s African American Art History Initiative. Being so close to some of Snowden’s large-scale, textured, and vibrantly-colored pieces was truly a highlight of my year.

I was also very pleased this year to partner with Shanna Farrell to produce a podcast called “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo,” based on our oral histories about Save Mount Diablo, an East Bay land conservation organization. Learn more here about this three-part podcast series on the OHC feed The Berkeley Remix.

-Amanda Tewes, Interviewer/Historian


The Oral History Center relies on a talented team of student editors and I’d like to use this opportunity to highlight their contributions. A big thank you to editors Mollie Appel-Turner, William Cooke, Adam Hagen, Shannon White, and Timothy Yue, and researcher/editor Serena Ingalls. The student editors serve critical functions in our oral history production, analyzing entire transcripts to write discursive tables of contents, entering interviewee comments, editing front matter, and writing abstracts. They do the work of professional editors and we would not be able to keep up our pace of interviews without them. Serena also conducts research for our social media outreach, maintains our editorial calendar, and suggests ideas for articles based on historical events. The student team has also helped me evaluate our process, training, and documentation, and provided invaluable suggestions in our department’s quest for continuous improvement. Excellent writers in their own right, the student employees also research and write articles featuring themes in our archive, which this year included Cal Athletics, the Cold War, urban development, and women in politics. These articles have enabled us to better share the wealth of our collection with scholars and the public. Please keep an eye out for their work in future editions of the newsletter.

–Jill Schlessinger, Communications Director/Managing Editor


2022 proved to be another exciting year at the Oral History Center. In April, we released the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project. I started this project in 2017 with the aim of documenting the history and formation of Chicana/o Studies through in-depth interviews with the first generation of scholars who shaped it. Thanks to the generous support of universities throughout California and the West, the collection includes over a hundred hours of oral histories with the most prominent scholars in the field. You can read the project’s release article here.  

Our work with State Archives on the California State Government Oral History Program also proceeded apace. In October, we celebrated the careers of Senators Loni Hancock, Lois Wolk, and Fran Pavley in an online an online event hosted by Secretary of State Shirley Weber, and publicly released their oral histories. I also had the amazing opportunity to conduct the oral history Bill Lockyer, documenting a forty-six-year career in California politics that included offices such as Senate Pro Tem, Attorney General, and State Treasurer.

Last year, we released the oral history of famed Yale Political Scientist James C. Scott, as well as affiliates of his Yale Agrarian Studies Program. I am thrilled to announce that this year we finished work on the OHC’s first, full-length documentary film featuring the life and career of James Scott. You can watch the film’s trailer here. The documentary will be released in Spring 2023.

Here’s to an even more eventful and exciting 2023!

-Todd Holmes, Interviewer/Historian


This has been a big year for me, both professionally and personally. I had the privilege of helping organize a “Race and Power in Oral History Theory and Methodology” Symposium, of which the Oral History Center was a co-sponsor. After months of planning, our committee brought together scholars and oral history practioners from around the country for three days of thoughtful, reflective, and inspiring conversation. I had the opportunity to interview people for several projects, including for the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives, Anchor Brewing Company, the Getty Research Institute, the East Bay Regional Park District, and Save Mount Diablo. I co-producted a podcast celebrating the 50th anniversary of environmental conservation organization Save Mount Diablo with Amanda Tewes. I also became a mother, giving me a new perspective that I will bring to discussions of family and motherhood in my interviews. As ever, I grateful to be able to do this work, ask questions, and connect with the larger oral history community.

-Shanna Farrell, Interviewer/Historian


Three series of interviews in 2022 were especially memorable for me. First, fellow oral historians Shanna Farrell, Amanda Tewes, and I had the privilege to record over one hundred total hours of interviews with numerous narrators for the OHC’s new Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives (JAIN) oral history project. The JAIN project explores, preserves, and shares family narratives and traumatic legacies of the US government’s unjust confinement of Japanese Americans during World War II through oral histories with descendants of those who survived the race-based prison camps. The stories these narrators shared with us about the intersection of their family histories and their own experiences as Americans were both powerful and deeply personal.

Oral histories with three exceptional women—all exceptionally wise, accomplished, and active in environmental issues—were also among my most memorable moments from 2022. Doris Sloan helped stop a nuclear power plant from being built atop the San Andreas fault at Bodega Head and Harbor in the early 1960s, which later helped inspire her to return to school in her forties and earn an MS and PhD in geology and paleontology from UC Berkeley. Carolyn Merchant became a Distinguished Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley, where her research and writings over the past half century significantly influenced the fields of the History of Science, Women’s Studies, and Environmental History. And last summer, Mary Nichols and I finished recording an extensive 26-hour oral history of her life and storied career as an environmental lawyer and public servant, including her appointment as chair of the California Air Resources Board from 1979-1983 and again from 2007-2020, where she implemented vanguard regulations to make California a world leader in improving air quality and reducing emissions that cause climate change.

A third set of memorable interviews for me in 2022 was expanding the OHC’s long standing Sierra Club Oral History Project to record new climate and justice-focused narratives with three activists and organizers—Rhonda Anderson in Detroit, Verena Owen in Chicago, and Bruce Nilles in Oakland—all of whom worked on the Sierra Club’s transformational Beyond Coal campaign. Since its grassroots origins two decades ago, the Beyond Coal campaign stopped more than 200 new coal plants from being built across the United States and secured retirement of two-thirds of the nation’s existing coal plants. This work prevented untold tons of carbon emissions and other toxic pollution from poisoning our air, land, and water, and in doing so, it prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths in communities living near coal plants, often disinvested communities of color. In addition to its commitment to racial justice and grassroots power-building, the coal campaign supported a robust economic transition for coal communities at the state and national level, and it helped midwife our new era of clean energy solutions to further combat climate change.

Throughout 2022 and into this new year, it has been and remains my great honor at the Oral History Center to continue conducting inspired and intriguing interviews with such incredible narrators. I wish you and yours much love, peace, and power at the end of this year and throughout the next.

-Roger Eardley-Pryor, Interviewer/Historian

The Occupational Hazard

When people talk about becoming fast friends with someone, they often describe the experience as an easy ability to discuss anything, even the proverbial meaning of life. It’s a sign of a strong bond that you can feel vulnerable enough to share what you really think of life and how it has been lived.

What happens when it is your job to talk about the meaning of life with someone, to walk with them through the years as they take stock, evaluate failures and triumphs, and provide the odd piece of advice along the way? I would say that that is a pretty amazing job, and it is. But you also realize that one reason you are interviewing many of these folks is because they are nearing the end of their journeys. You become fast friends — one could say lifelong friends — and then, one day, they go away.

Interviewers have loss as their occupational hazard. Many of the narrators I speak with are in the late 80s, early 90s when I first sit down with them. Then it might be another twelve-to-eighteen months of interview sessions, breaks for illness and life events, reviews of transcripts, assembly of materials, publication, and even follow-up projects such as podcasts or additional interviews with others. Then – not always, but often – there are check-ins, updates, exchanges over a few years, often about more of the same: what things mean, what is important, the imperative of what we ought to do and the burden of what we often do instead. Of course, it’s important to realize that the temporary nature of our residence here is what gives life its eternal meaning. I watch people enact this understanding as they outline who they have been, who and what they have cared about, what they have witnessed, and what all this might mean for the future. But the fact is that the people I talk to become a part of me, and their departure takes my breath away, every time.

The consolation is that, if one has lived to the ninth decade, it is a kind of triumph to be celebrated and contemplated. I’m 52 years old. Although time is marching along, I am still usually at least a generation younger than the narrators I interview. Without getting analytical about it, there is just something elemental about an older and a younger person talking together. If, in general, our society suffers from too much talking and too little listening, it is especially true that we do not listen to older people often and carefully enough. An older person’s perspective is not just any perspective; it is the wisdom of a survivor. They have a visceral experience with life’s cycles and events of all kinds. Plugging into that way of knowing in these interviews is a gift. And while there is contemplation of the inevitable tragedies of life in these oral histories, and the eventual passing of these storytellers is sad, it is not usually tragic. So, accompanying a feeling of loss is a sense of gratitude and happiness that they lived a meaningful life with purpose and dignity.

I have been interviewing in earnest for about ten years, and my personal in memoriam list has increased with almost actuarial precision in 2020, 2021, and now this year.

In April, there was a memorial for economist George S. Tolley, with whom I spent a few weeks in Chicago in 2018, where I had a balcony view onto how sub-disciplines in economics developed around social and political problems: urban sprawl and housing costs, the pricing of environmental policies, economic development initiatives, and new ways of valuing health. He was 95.

In July, oral history impresario Tony Placzek passed away after spending the last four years of his life building two oral history projects, one about his dramatic family history and the other about underground political activism among physicists in Czechoslovakia. He was an inveterate optimist and a good friend. He was 83.

I first met Lester Telser at an event at which Nobel-Prize-winning economists fawned over his mathematical prowess in the jovial “taught me everything I know” manner of close mentees. He had little patience for dogma of any kind and was remarkably kind and generous of spirit. Talking with Lester was a master class in the importance of appropriate expertise and good judgment in the face of enormously complicated societal problems. As late as this summer, Lester and I were swapping tips on good papers and the hidden heroes of baroque chamber music. He died in September. He was 91.

I only met Thaddeus “Ted” Massalski briefly at a conference at Disneyworld, of all places. He talked about his incredible career as a professor of metallurgy and materials science, his key scientific discoveries and his experiences as both a refugee and a soldier during World War II. Here Professor Massalski tells the story of a narrow escape from the Nazis during World War II. He was 96.

Although I did not interview the following personally, we have lost some important friends to the Oral History Center this year: narrators and supporters Richard “Dick” Blum and Howard Friesen. Mr. Blum was a financier, former Regent of the University of California, and supporter of many causes. The Carmel and Howard Friesen Prize in Oral History Research is awarded to an undergraduate whose outstanding paper utilizes the OHC collection. From our Regional Oral History Office community (renamed the OHC in 2015), we also lost interviewer, US political historian, and composer Julie Shearer.

For many people, the holidays can be hard for a number of reasons. One reason may be that they are a time of reflection and meaning-making, maybe a little bit like undertaking an oral history. Fortunately for me, mine involve bittersweet emotions this year. I feel lucky to have known the people who passed this year and sorry to have missed knowing the others. So, this season, I wish you peace with the difficult memories and joy with the creation of new ones with family, friends, and even the fast friends and acquaintances you have just met.

Sign up for the 2023 Oral History Center Educational Programs 

The Oral History Center is pleased to announce that applications are open for the 2023 Introductory Workshop and Advanced Institute!

Introductory Workshop: Friday, March 3
Advanced Institute: M–F, August 711

The OHC is offering online versions of our educational programs again this year 

Introductory Workshop: Friday, March 3, 8:30 a.m.–2:30.p.m., via Zoom

There is currently a waiting list for the Introductory Workshop. There are still spaces in the Advanced Oral History Institute, which you can learn more about below.

The 2023 Introduction to Oral History Workshop will be held via Zoom on Friday, March 3, from 8:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Pacific Time, with breaks woven in. Applications are now being accepted on a rolling basis. Please apply early, as spots fill up quickly. 

Apply here.

This workshop is designed for people who are interested in an introduction to the basic practice of oral history and learning best practices. The workshop serves as a companion to our more in­-depth Advanced Oral History Summer Institute held in August.

Screen shot of presentation being given by Amanda Tewes
Amanda Tewes presents on interviewing during a remote workshop.

This workshop focuses on the “nuts-­and-­bolts” of oral history, including methodology and ethics, practice, and recording. It will be taught by our seasoned oral historians and include hands­-on practice exercises. Everyone is welcome to attend the workshop. Prior attendees have included community-­based historians, teachers, genealogists, public historians, and students in college or graduate school.

Tuition is $150. We are offering a limited number of participants a discounted tuition of $75 for students, independent scholars, or those experiencing financial hardship. If you would like to apply for discounted tuition, please indicate this on your application form and we will send you more information. Please note that the OHC is a soft money research office of the university, and as such receives precious little state funding. Therefore, it is necessary that this educational initiative be a self-funding program. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide financial assistance to participants other than our limited number of scholarships. We encourage you to check in with your home institutions about financial assistance; in the past we have found that many programs have budgets to help underwrite some of the costs associated with attendance. We will provide receipts and certificates of completion as required for reimbursement.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. We encourage you to apply early, as spots fill up quickly. 

If you have specific questions, please contact Shanna Farrell at

Advanced Institute: M–F, August 711, 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m., via Zoom

We are now accepting applications for our 2023 Advanced Institute on a rolling basis. Please apply early, as spots fill quickly.

About the Institute 

The Oral History Center is offering a virtual version of our one-week advanced institute on the methodology, theory, and practice of oral history. This will take place from August 711, 2023. The Advanced Institute will be held online.

The cost of the Advanced Institute has been adjusted to reflect the online nature of this year’s program. Tuition is $600. See below for more details.

The institute is designed for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, university faculty, independent scholars, and museum and community-based historians who are engaged in oral history work. The goal of the institute is to strengthen the ability of its participants to conduct research-focused interviews and to consider special characteristics of interviews as historical evidence in a rigorous academic environment.

We ask that applicants have a project in mind that they would like to workshop during the week. All participants are required to attend small daily breakout groups in which they will workshop projects. 

In the sessions, we will devote particular attention to how oral history interviews can broaden and deepen historical interpretation situated within contemporary discussions of history, subjectivity, memory, and memoir.

Apply here.

Overview of the Week

The institute is structured around the life cycle of an interview. Each day will focus on a component of the interview, including foundational aspects of oral history, project conceptualization, the interview itself, analytic and interpretive strategies, and research presentation and dissemination.

Instruction will take place online from 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Pacific Time, with breaks woven in. There will be three sessions a day: two seminar sessions and a workshop. Seminars will cover oral history theory, legal and ethical issues, project planning, oral history and the audience, anatomy of an interview, editing, fundraising, and analysis and presentation. During workshops, participants will work throughout the week in small groups, led by faculty, to develop and refine their projects.

Participants will be provided with a resource packet that includes a reader, contact information, and supplemental resources. These resources will be made available electronically prior to the Institute, along with the schedule.

Applications and Cost

The cost of the institute is $600. We are offering a limited number of participants a discounted tuition of $300 for students, independent scholars, or those experiencing financial hardship. If you would like to apply for discounted tuition, please indicate this on your application form and we will send you more information.

Please note that the OHC is a soft money research office of the university, and as such receives precious little state funding. Therefore, it is necessary that this educational initiative be a self-funding program. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide financial assistance to participants other than our limited number of scholarships. We encourage you to check in with your home institutions about financial assistance; in the past we have found that many programs have budgets to help underwrite some of the costs associated with attendance. We will provide receipts and certificates of completion as required for reimbursement.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. We encourage you to apply early, as spots fill up quickly. 


Please contact Shanna Farrell at with any questions.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page.

Heavy hitters: the modern era of athletics management at UC Berkeley

By William Cooke

The last fifty years might be considered the modern era of intercollegiate athletics management in the United States. Ballooning TV contracts and Title IX have changed the college athletics landscape forever. The growing pains associated with those changes were felt by everyone involved with college sports, including those at UC Berkeley. The Oral History Center’s project, Oral Histories on the Management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkeley: 1960–2014, offers cross-sections of the Cal Athletics world during those formative years in the form of interviews with key internal and external actors. 

For college sports fans, the history of the management of collegiate athletics at UC Berkeley is a familiar one. The unending conflict between maintaining a solid academic reputation and fostering winning programs, funding dilemmas, NCAA sanctions and the challenges surrounding gender inclusion in sports — common issues for every university athletic department — are all included in UC Berkeley’s storied athletics history. 

 These tensions and developments are reflected in the UC Berkeley Oral History Center’s project, Oral Histories on the Management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkeley: 1960–2014. Interviews between former UC Berkeley Associate Chancellor John Cummins — who served as interviewer — and a diverse cross sampling of individuals involved in the management of intercollegiate athletics, including athletic directors, chancellors, donors, and senior administrators, make up this collection of 45 publicly released interviews. 

Organized by decade, here are a few snippets of the voices represented in this collection of oral histories. Themes in this collection include but are not limited to funding dilemmas, controversies surrounding academic standards for student-athletes, the evolving relationship between women’s and men’s sports, and the sometimes incompatible interests of athletic boosters and University officials. 

The 1970s: The beginning of the modern era — Dave Maggard and Luella Lilly

The 40s and 50s were the golden years of Cal football and basketball. Led by legendary head coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf, Cal’s football program made three Rose Bowl appearances between 1948 and 1950. In 1959, head basketball coach Pete Newell led Cal to the program’s lone national championship to date. 

A relatively disappointing decade followed for both programs. Then, in the early 1970s, catastrophe. When the NCAA found out that football and track athlete Isaac Curtis had failed to take the SAT as required, the intercollegiate governing body came down hard with sanctions. 

Dave Maggard, who was appointed Athletic Director in 1972, argued against those in the administration and around Cal Athletics who wanted to fight the sanctions. These included the Golden Bear Athletic Association, an independent booster organization that had sued the NCAA in response to the sanctions. According to Maggard in his oral history:

When I became the athletic director I went to the administration and said, “This is a huge mistake. You cannot fight these people. We need to work to get on the inside, we need to get on committees, we need to be a part of the NCAA. I will tell you that they will rip this place apart, and this is something that you will never win. You will never win.” 

The sanctions included probation and four years of bowl game ineligibility, a blow to the revenue stream of Cal’s most profitable program. Thanks to Maggard’s cooperation with the NCAA, though, the sanctions were eventually lifted. 

Luella “Lue” Lilly
Luella Lilly held the position of Women’s Athletics Director for 17 years between 1976 and 1992.

At the same time, intercollegiate athletics at UC Berkeley took a huge step towards achieving gender equity in sports at the University. Following the passage of Title IX in 1972, the University hired its first director of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics, Luella “Lue” Lilly. 

Generating revenue for women’s athletics was a difficult undertaking. But Lilly made it a priority and found creative ways to raise funds and boost support for the newly established programs. Those efforts included the recruitment of a local politician and an Olympic gold medalist. 

Then one time when we had— Dianne Feinstein and Ann Curtis were going to help us with the Mercedes raffle that we were giving out…  We went over in front of city hall, and we just drove. We looked to see what was going to make the best picture, and there was a fountain behind it. We just drove the thing right up on the sidewalk.

If the 1970s was an era of immense change in athletics management at UC Berkeley, the next two decades would see the University settle its position on the relative importance of athletics and academics. 

The 1980s and 1990s: The balance between school and sports — Chancellors Ira Michael Heyman, Chang-Lin Tien

When Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman took the reins from Albert Bowker in 1980, he inherited a sound athletics fundraising plan that Maggard had developed the decade prior. In many ways, Heyman supported the success of athletics at Cal, going so far as to allow “Blue Chip Admits” — 20 student athletes per year who would not normally be eligible to attend UC Berkeley. 

Ira Michael Heyman
Title IX passed during Chancellor Heyman’s time as UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor in the 1970s.

But even while supporting athletic success at the calculated expense of lower academic standards, Heyman did not avoid criticism from UC Berkeley athletics boosters: 

So they [The Grid Club]  kept pushing me. “How important is athletics to you in relation to academics?” et cetera, et cetera. And I essentially said, “Academics, they’re really important. And intercollegiate athletics are of importance.” I just tried to make that distinction. And they said, “Well, on an index of one to ten where do athletics stand?” And I said, “Oh, about seven. Six and a half or seven.” That group never really warmed up to me.

In the early 1990s, Earl “Budd” Cheit, who served as the dean of the Haas School of Business, Executive Vice Chancellor and Interim Athletic Director over the course of his time at UC Berkeley, found himself right in the middle of that ongoing tension between winning and maintaining the University’s reputation for being first and foremost an elite academic institution. 

Head football coach Bruce Snyder had led the Bears to a 10-2 season and a trip to the Citrus Bowl in 1991. Arizona State University doubled UC Berkeley’s annual salary offer of $250,000 to recruit Snyder. 

 Chang-Lin Tien in front of blackboard, teaching
In his oral history, former Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien states the need to support athletics, but “not at the expense of institutional integrity.” (Undated photo by Peg Skorpinski/UC Berkeley)

Long-time supporter of UC Berkeley athletics Walter “Wally” Haas offered to match ASU’s offer along with the help of other boosters. But when Cheit relayed Haas’s message to Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, the Chancellor shot the idea down and explained his reasoning. 

Wally Haas called me during this time, and he said, “There are a number of people, myself included, who will come up with the money to match what he’s being offered. Will the Chancellor go for that?” And I called Chang-Lin and talked to him. And Chang-Lin said, “I can’t justify paying a coach that much more than the highest-paid professor on the campus.”

The 21st century: Changing priorities — Robert Berdahl, Robert Birgeneau

The 80s and 90s saw proponents of academic integrity and responsible spending win out over those who wanted Cal Athletics to accept the national shift toward a culture of commercialism in intercollegiate sports. The potential to rake in huge revenues from TV deals by investing in “revenue athletes” — student-athletes on the football and men’s basketball teams — drove the impetus to sacrifice academic standards for athletic success. 

Picture of Haas Pavilion taken from the southern baseline.
The construction of Haas Pavilion, which cost $57.5 million, began in 1997 and finished in time for the 1999–2000 basketball season.

The hiring of Athletic Director Steven Gladstone in 2001 marked the beginning of a short, half-hearted effort to spend money in order to make money. Under Gladstone’s direction, coaching and administrative salaries were increased to attract and retain the very best in the intercollegiate athletics industry, all in the hope of making the two revenue sports — Cal football and men’s basketball — into elite college programs.  

But with higher spending came concerns about the growing athletics budget deficit, which was compounded by the ever-growing cost of the newly built Haas Pavilion. In his interview with Cummins, Robert Berdahl, UC Berkeley’s Chancellor between 1997 and 2004, attributes some of the blame for deficit spending on the 1991 Smelser Report, which called for broad-based, highly competitive athletic programs in spite of budget constraints. 

I think that the Smelser Report was a real disservice, because it created in the donor and booster community the notion we’re going to be as excellent in athletics as we are in academics, which I think is an unrealistic expectation for any high-quality university. I don’t think there’s any university of high quality that has that aspiration. Maybe Stanford, maybe Stanford’s the only one that does… But they don’t—they are competitive in football and basketball but rarely go to the Rose Bowl or to the NCAA championship. 

Sandy Barbour at podium answering a question
Athletic Director Sandy Barbour’s tenure under Chancellor Robert Birgeneau included 19 national titles across all programs, as well as a period of poor graduation rates among student-athletes on the football team. (Photo by Steve McConnell)

Robert Birgeneau, who succeeded Berdahl as Chancellor, saw to it that priorities change under his leadership. To the dismay of some donors, Birgeneau replaced Gladstone with Athletic Director Sandy Barbour in 2004. During her tenure, Barbour facilitated the creation of the University Athletics Board (UAB), a committee that included faculty members and student athletes. Its purpose was to increase transparency in athletics spending by sharing this information with faculty for the very first time. 

The Great Recession of 2008 made budget constraints even tighter. In 2010, Birgeneau made the difficult and controversial decision to cut four athletics programs — baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics, and women’s lacrosse — and make rugby a club sport. 

Because we had such loyal supporters of [Division] IA sports, I felt that they needed to know that the financial situation really was quite dire and that we needed them to step up, both themselves personally and to organize fundraising campaigns. As I said, that just simply did not happen… So, in this fateful September meeting, after the cold hard financial facts were presented to me, I agreed with the financial and IA people, that there really was not any choice. Specifically, we were never going to be able to achieve our goal of $5-million-a-year support from the campus without eliminating sports.

Supporters of those four sports eventually raised a combined $20 million in order to restore them to Division I status. 

We worked out a compromise, basically asking each sport to raise enough funds to close their operating gaps for the next five to seven years… The baseball supporters raised nearly $10 million in six weeks. It is notable that philanthropy to baseball had been negligible for many, many years, and so there was a qualitative change. Indeed, this funding crisis brought the baseball community together, and in fact has resulted in us now having a stadium with lights at night. Thus, for baseball the situation actually is markedly improved. 

These quotes represent just a small fraction of what this collection has to offer. Researchers will also find information on intra-departmental relationships, the personal experiences of former administrators in regards to particular decisions, and the retrospective opinions of both external and internal actors in the most crucial formative decades in the history of intercollegiate athletics management, both at UC Berkeley and institutions across the country. 

Find these interviews and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.

William Cooke is a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in Political Science and minoring in History. In addition to working as a student editor for the Oral History Center, he is a reporter in the Sports department at UC Berkeley’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Californian

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

In addition to these oral histories, The Bancroft Library has related sources on Cal Athletics and intercollegiate athletics management more generally, including books on athletics facilities and fundraising, department records, and newspaper articles. 

Read “Title IX in Practice: How Title IX Affected Women’s Athletics at UC Berkeley and Beyond,” also by William Cooke.

Related oral histories include Brutus Hamilton, Student athletics and the voluntary discipline : oral history transcript / and related material, 1966-1967 and ​​Peter F. Newell, UC Berkeley athletics and a life in basketball.

66 years on the California gridiron, 1882-1948; the history of football at the University of California. Brodie, S. Dan. 1949. Bancroft BANC F870.A96 B7

A celebration of excellence : 25 years of Cal women’s athletics. Compiled by Kevin Lilley, Lisa Iancin, and Chris Downey. UC Archives Folio ; 308m.p415.c.2001.

Pamphlets on athletics in California. Bancroft Pamphlet Double Folio ; pff F870.A96 P16.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page.

Remembering Julie Shearer, oral historian

By Ann Lage
Oral history interviewer (retired)
November 2022

Julie Gordon Shearer, an esteemed former colleague from the days when the Oral History Center was known as the Regional Oral History Office, passed away in August 2022.

Julie Shearer
Julie Shearer (Photo courtesy of Russ Ellis)

Julie joined the ROHO staff in 1978, as the office was ramping up its second large-scale project documenting California’s political leadership.  Having completed a comprehensive project on California governance during the years of Earl Warren’s gubernatorial administration, the office was now beginning to document the Goodwin Knight and Edmund “Pat” Brown administrations. Julie brought to the project an academic background in political science, relevant work experience as a journalist for the Mill Valley Record and as editor at UC’s Agricultural Extension, as well as personal experience as an environmental activist, most notably in the battle to prevent the building of a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head.

Julie’s interview subjects on the Knight-Brown project illustrate the breadth of the project’s scope, as well as Julie’s skill in connecting with diverse narrators. Her lengthy interview with Bernice Layne Brown focused on life in the governor’s mansion and the supporting role played by political spouses at the time, but Julie’s careful coaxing also elicited Mrs. Brown’s insights on the personal impacts of the governor’s difficult decisions, as in the Caryl Chessman capital punishment case. Others she interviewed included former Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, who had opposed Pat Brown in the 1966 Democratic Party primary, and Helen Nelson, a pioneering consumer advocate and Brown’s appointee as California’s first Consumer Counsel.

In the early 1980s, ROHO’s political team launched its next major project, interviewing key figures in the Ronald Reagan gubernatorial administration, along with legislative leaders, political opponents, and community activists.  Julie contributed numerous interviews to the Reagan project, delving into issues as broad as parent advocacy for children with intellectual disabilities, criminal justice issues, and tax reduction efforts of the Reagan governor’s office.

Following completion of the Reagan project, Julie was on the ROHO team for the California State Archives State Government Oral History program, interviewing several legislators and agency administrators.

In the summer of 1985, Julie had a leading role in an innovative oral history project. Berkeley Chancellor Michael Heyman asked ROHO to conduct interviews examining how the campus managed the recent student protests demanding the university’s divestment from the South African apartheid regime. Sixteen interviews were conducted with campus officials and police officers, intended not only for the historical record but also for current and future campus administrators tasked with managing freedom of speech and assembly issues. The interviews were for internal use until their publication in 2013 as Six Weeks in Spring: Managing Protest at a Public University.

Highlights of Julie’s contributions in the 1990s include two gems: an extensive, two-volume oral history with Sidney Roger, A Liberal Journalist on the Air and on the Waterfront: Labor and Political Issues, 1932–1990; and a deep dive into the lives of S.I. Hayakawa and his wife, Margedant, in From Semantics to the U.S. Senate, ETC., ETC. Hayakawa was a noted semanticist, a controversial president of San Francisco State College during a turbulent period of Vietnam War protests, and a one-term U.S. Senator from California.

After more than two decades with ROHO, Julie retired, turning her attention to her first love, music performance and composition. Julie Gordon Shearer will be remembered not only for her many contributions to the oral history archive, but also for her remarkable personal qualities, her openness and joy in life, her gift for friendship, and her warm relationships with her interviewees as well as ROHO colleagues.

You can find the interviews mentioned here and all of the Oral History Center’s interviews from the search feature on our home page.                                                                             

Ann Lage conducted oral histories for the Oral History Center (previously called the Regional Oral History Office, or ROHO) from 1978–2013, on topics including natural resources and land use, the environmental movement, California political and social history, and the University of California. She was director of projects on the Sierra Club, the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement, the Department of History at UC Berkeley, the University of California Office of the President, and Saving Point Reyes National Seashore. In the 1990s, she was deputy director of ROHO and then served as acting director following Willa Baum’s retirement. She holds a BA and MA in history from Berkeley.