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 full attention to her first love, music performance and composition.  A gathering in her memory featuring a concert of her music will take place at the Freight and Salvage music venue in Berkeley on February 5, 2023. Julie is survived by her husband of 32 years, William Russell Ellis, retired Berkeley professor and vice chancellor for Undergraduate Affairs, longtime supporter of the Oral History Center, and the subject of his own oral history, In the Golden Sandbox.  Julie is also survived by her two children, Kyle Pesonen and Amy Falzon, from her first marriage to David Pesonen, and by her brother, Alan Shearer. (David Pesonen is also the subject of a ROHO oral history, Attorney and Activist for the Environment, 1962–1992.)

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.

Richard Mendelson, “A Life Lived on the Steep Part of the Learning Curve: Richard Mendelson on Wine Law and History”

by Martin Meeker
Oral History Center Interviewer (retired)

“When we drink a glass of wine, we may enjoy its aromas, consider where it is from, and ideally, care about how it was made and who created it. We might think about the winemaker, along with the vineyard and winery team, and perhaps the brand owner. We most likely don’t consider the people beyond that circle who also play a role in a wine’s existence, ensuring its authenticity, making it more meaningful for consumers, and meanwhile, protecting some of the most sacred places to grow grapes and create wine. For those who are reading this, you are about to meet such a person, one of the most exceptional people in the wine world, and someone who has more passions and layers than the most complex glass of wine you have ever enjoyed,” Linda Reiff, President and CEO of Napa Valley Vintners.

Richard Mendelson
Richard Mendelson in San Francisco, 2021 (Photo courtesy of Richard Mendelson)

Richard Mendelson is in fact the person about whom Linda Reiff writes, and the Oral History Center is pleased to release this major life history interview with the man. Mendelson is an attorney who has played a pivotal role in creating the field of wine law through his legal practice, historical research and writing, and international leadership on the issue over the past four decades. Moreover, he is a Lecturer in Wine Law at UC Berkeley, School of Law, where he directs the Program on Wine Law and Policy. He also lectures on a variety of vineyard and wine law topics at UC Davis Graduate School of Management and has taught at the University of Aix-Marseille and the University of Bordeaux.

A graduate of Harvard University, Oxford University, and Stanford Law School, Mendelson has handled legal matters involving almost every aspect of the wine business, including liquor licensing, environmental challenges to vineyard development, grape purchase agreements, winery use permits, representation of winery clients before the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and federal Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, state and federal label approvals, distributor appointments and terminations, and import-export contracts. Mendelson has a special expertise in geographical indications and has been responsible for obtaining recognition for some of the most well-known American Viticultural Areas. He assisted the California legislature with the drafting of legislation to protect the world-famous Napa Valley geographical indication. Subsequently, he successfully defended that law on behalf of the Napa Valley Vintners in the case of Bronco v. Jolly, which he argued before the California Supreme Court. Of his legal work, famed vintner Bill Harlan writes, “His legal mind, business judgment, negotiating skills, discipline, and commitment to his clients are first rate. With great integrity and knowledge and an abiding commitment to be fair and clear, he is able to gain the respect of all parties in practically any setting.”

This oral history is a globe-trotting one, with meaningful stops in England, France, India, and China, but the focus here, as with Mendelson’s work, is California’s Napa Valley. According to Harlan, Mendelson serves “as Napa Valley’s unofficial ambassador, he truly upholds our agricultural heritage and promotes our special place in the world of wine.” Linda Reiff, head of the Napa Valley Vintners, writes, “He helped make Napa Valley one of the most iconic wine regions in the world by mastering groundbreaking initiatives and complex legal challenges. He authors, refines and defends regulations to protect consumers and to ensure a more sustainable wine industry. He is a thinker and a problem solver, a deal maker, a broker.” This oral history goes a long way to explain how over the course of a few short decades “Napa Valley” came to signify and to exemplify environmental stewardship, preservation of agricultural resources, American ingenuity and achievement internationally, and, of course, quality wine.

In this interview, moreover, Mendelson discusses his family’s heritage and his own upbringing in Jacksonville, Florida; his early employment on Capitol Hill; and his attendance at Harvard University, Stanford University, and Oxford University, where he first became enamored with wine in Magdalen College’s wine cellar. Mendelson goes on to discuss his career in wine and wine law, beginning with Bouchard Aîné in Burgundy, France, and continuing in America with the establishment of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Other topics discussed in the interview include the research and writing of his books (From Demon to Darling, Law in America: Law and Policy, Spirit in Metal, and Appellation Napa Valley: Building and Protecting an American Treasure), California cannabis law, yoga, tai chi, Hinduism, artistic sculpture and metalwork, and wine law instruction.

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

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.

Virtual and in-person discussion on ethics in archiving

The UC Berkeley Oral History Center is proud to host a talk by oral historian Venkat Srinivasan, an alumnus of the 2014 Advanced Oral History Institute. Srinivasan invites us to imagine how we might construct a more inclusive, ethical, and accessible oral history archive.

Every archive accession brings with it questions about inclusivity, ethics and privacy. Please join the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library for a special guest presentation on ethics in the contemporary archive, by Venkat Srinivasan, archivist at the Archives at National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore.

Tuesday, October 25, 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Pacific Time.
In person in The Bancroft Library, Conference Room 267
Or join online via Zoom.

In his talk, “An Act of Imagination: The Archives as Commons,” Venkat Srinivasan—an alumnus of the Oral History Center’s Advanced Oral History Institute from 2014—invites us to imagine how we might construct a more inclusive, ethical, and accessible oral history archive. His presentation will address how questions of inclusivity, ethics and privacy are critical when an archive is just starting out, as is the case with the Archives at NCBS. Through examples from correspondence, oral histories, native digital files, its nascent accession and retention policies, and the challenge of a campus COVID-19 archive, this presentation will address the conflicts and synergies on rights to information, diversity, privacy, and the ethics of a contemporary archive.

Photo of exterior of archive with glass door and poster next to it that says Find, Tell, Share
Archives at National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, India. (Photo: Ravi Kumar Boyapati)

The Archives at NCBS is a public collecting center for the history of science in contemporary India. It opened in 2019 and houses about 150,000 objects spread across 25 collections. The Archives at NCBS has one underlying philosophy: archives enable diverse stories. Through sharing the work that took place in 2020–21, this presentation will discuss four objectives for the archives: strengthening research collections and access in domain areas, pushing the frontiers of research in archival sciences, building capacity and public awareness through education, training and programming, and reimagining the archives as part of the commons. The Archives at NCBS is also part of Milli, a broader collective of individuals and communities interested in the nurturing of archives, and for the public to find, describe and share archival material and stories.

Speaker Biography

Venkat Srinivasan is the archivist at the Archives at NCBS in Bangalore. In addition, he currently serves on the institutional review boards for the archives at IIT Madras, ISI Kolkata, and NID Ahmedabad, and on the board of the Commission on Bibliography and Documentation of the IUHPST (International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology). He is a member of the Encoded Archival Descriptions – Technical Sub-committee (Society of American Archivists), and Committee on the Archives of Science and Technology (CAST) of the ICA Section on Research Institutions (International Council on Archives). He is a life member of the Oral History Association of India (OHAI), and served in an executive role in OHAI between 2020 and 2022. He is a founding member of Milli, a collective of individuals and communities committed to the nurturing of archives. Prior to this, he was a research engineer at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University. In addition, he is an independent science writer, with work in The Atlantic and Scientific American online, Nautilus, Aeon, Wired, and the Caravan. He graduated with a Masters in Materials Science from Stanford University (2005), a Masters in Journalism (science) from Columbia University (2009), and a Bachelors in Engineering from the University of Delhi (2003).

In-person directions and Zoom details

Zoom details

Please be sure to sign into a Zoom account (free, institutional, or paid).

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Meeting ID: 970 0859 8387

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+16699006833, 97008598387# US (San Jose)

In-person directions

Through the main entrance of The Bancroft Library, go straight. Once you pass the museum on your right, the Conference Room 267 is the first door on your left. This room is wheelchair accessible.

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

Virtual Discussion with Legendary Lawmakers Loni Hancock, Fran Pavley and Lois Wolk

The California Secretary of State, State Archives & UC Berkeley are holding a Virtual Discussion with Legendary Lawmakers Loni Hancock, Fran Pavley and Lois Wolk on Oct. 18 at 6 pm. This event will launch new oral histories of these celebrated lawmakers to be housed at the California State Archives.

Register and submit questions.

California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D., and the UC Berkeley Oral History Center will hold a virtual panel discussion and Q&A as The State Archives releases three new oral histories of former state senators Loni Hancock, Fran Pavley, and Lois Wolk.

This virtual event will take place via Zoom from 6–7 pm on Tuesday, October 18. Participants can register and submit questions in advance.

“The leadership and impact of Senators Pavley, Wolk, and Hancock will be felt by Californians for decades to come,” said UC Berkeley Academic Specialist and Historian, Todd Holmes, who interviewed the three women. “Documenting their experience in the legislature for the next generation is exactly what the State Government Oral History Program was created to do. We at the Oral History Center are honored to partner with the State Archives on this important work.”

Montage of Shirley Weber, Lois Wolk, Fran Pavley, and Loni Hancock
Left to right: Shirley Weber, Lois Wolk, Fran Pavley, Loni Hancock

“The California State Government Oral History Program is a critical part of documenting our state’s history and we are pleased to have worked with The UC Berkeley Oral History Center to capture the stories and remarkable accomplishments of the Honorable Loni Hancock, the Honorable Fran Pavley, and the Honorable Lois Wolk,” State Archivist, Tamara Martin said. “We look forward to their interviews and transcripts being available for the public to explore at the California State Archives and on our website.”

“The opportunity for the State Archives to capture the stories of these remarkable lawmakers in our state’s history has been an honor,” Secretary Weber said. “I look forward to the conversations we will be having with three women who have had such a lasting impact on California.”

Since 1986, the California State Archives has administered the Oral History Project, a legislatively established oral history program that has, to date, completed over 200 interviews. This systematic and disciplined effort to record, preserve, and make interviews available supplements the historical records in the Archives and provides researchers with a broader and more complete picture of California government than can be gleaned from documents alone.

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

The Value of Relationships and Connections

Oral History Center Director’s Column
by Paul Burnett

It’s an honor and a privilege to address readers as the new director of the Oral History Center. I look forward to continuing the work I have been doing as interim director: helping to build new projects, increasing access to our collection, and facilitating the interpretive work that my colleagues do so well.

Students are back to school, and it is a time when everything can seem fresh for both our new and returning students. Although we experience this annual renewal with an incoming class and fresh faces, the academy is also a place of long, deep relationships, among colleagues, coworkers, and students. I interview people whose current friends can offer a window onto their activities and experiences over the past fifty, sixty years, all because they met here at Cal long ago. University is a place that connects people, and that ought to connect people.  

Paul Burnett, center, seated at a table with 5 other people engaged in conversation
Paul Burnett and a group of participants discuss projects at the OHC’s Advanced Oral History Institute, photographed on Aug. 8, 2019. (Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

In this month’s OHC newsletter, we see evidence of the deep connections people have with each other through institutions: government, foundations, and universities. My colleague Todd Holmes will be moderating an online panel discussion on October 18th with three influential women state senators who shaped and were shaped by the senate. Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes’ podcast explores local environmental activism through the history of the Save Mount Diablo Foundation, which was fueled by the long-term commitments and energy of the staff and the communities with which they worked. The new oral history of art historian and director of the Getty Research Institute Thomas Gaehtgens, also by Todd Holmes, is another example of decades-long dedication to institutions, disciplines, and practices.

Our student articles in this issue also explore the long-term relationships forged in efforts to change, or even survive, institutions. Intern Sari Morikawa explored the way in which individuals survived institutions such as the Japanese American incarceration camps. Shannon White explores the mutually supportive relationships of the suffragists, and the ways in which commitments to institutional change could take a toll on the personal obligations of activists. William Cooke marked the fiftieth anniversary of BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) by exploring its origins and the ways in which this new institution transformed the relationships between local and regional governments. 

Perhaps dedication, service, and long relationships are on my mind because of a passing of someone I met through the university. This person also talked about colleagues and students who became lifelong friends. We kept in touch over the years, and his passing reminds me of how wonderful it is to meet people from all over the world. The university, at its best, promises to be the departure lounge for a rich and rewarding life full of these connections and commitments.    

About the Oral History Center

The UC Berkeley Oral History Center preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. You can find all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. 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 or go straight to our blog home.

Announcing the Oral History Center’s new director, Paul Burnett

Congratulations to Paul Burnett!

Paul Burnett
Paul Burnett in Budapest, Hungary, 2019

We are pleased to announce that historian Paul Burnett has been appointed the Charles B. Faulhaber director of the Oral History Center following a national search. Paul joined the OHC staff in 2013 and has focused on science, engineering, and UC Berkeley history. He has published a number of academic articles, and has developed and directed large-scale oral history projects on economics, paleontology, Czech physics, the San Francisco Opera, and engineering, among other subjects. Paul has also worked to reach a wider public with a series of online articles for the UC Library blog, a curriculum for high schools on epidemics in history, and podcasts on the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and on the rise of Silicon Valley.

Prior to joining the Oral History Center, Paul was an assistant professor with the Science and Technology Studies Programme at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada. Before that, Paul researched and produced museum exhibits for the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. He completed his PhD at the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, where he developed his research on the politics of expertise — how scientists and experts of all kinds establish their credibility, and how people choose between different kinds of expertise to try to solve complex social, political, scientific, and technical problems.

Paul is looking forward to further developing the OHC’s collection, to making the archive’s audio and video more accessible to the public, especially to students in high schools and universities, and to promoting the interpretive work of Center historians.

Please join us in welcoming Paul Burnett to his new role.

Track changes: how BART altered Bay Area politics

By William Cooke

“It was just hooted at, the idea that you’d ever get people out of the automobile. They’d never come to San Francisco if they couldn’t drive into San Francisco.” Mary Ellen Leary, journalist

“The formation of BART is actually one of the funniest things that ever transpired.”
— George Christopher, Mayor of San Francisco

On September 11, 1972, an estimated 15,000 people rode Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) on its very first day of operation. The train system, which at that time was a fraction of its current size, has been a vital service to Bay Area commuters for 50 years now. Those with an interest in the history of the Bay Area’s rapid transit system, or regional planning and public transportation more generally, will find a treasure trove of information in the UC Berkeley Oral History Center’s (OHC) archive.

Interior of BART train with riders
Early adopters of BART ride on opening day. Photo courtesy of BART.

But BART’s development is much more than a history of a public planning project. It is also a history of the evolution of government and of local versus regional power sharing. The OHC houses oral histories from big and small players in California’s public administration throughout the entire 20th century. The voices of politicians, journalists, city planners, and others reveal that BART’s development brought about a whole slew of questions regarding the proper role of government at all levels and required a great deal of reciprocity. 

Mary Ellen Leary, a journalist who got her start with San Francisco News, studied and wrote extensively about urban planning and development in the early 1950s. In her oral history “A Journalist’s Perspective: Government and Politics in California,” she speaks at length about the origins of BART, and the broader development of regional agencies designed to meet the transportation needs of suburban areas, not just cities. “I felt then and still feel that the degree of local participation generated for BART from the first planning funds to the final bond issue was an extremely interesting and important political development.” 

Mary Ellen Leary at desk with typewriter and numerous papers
Mary Ellen Leary

Leary says the impetus to begin work on a regional transit system originated in concerns about traffic congestion in the Bay Area. At the time, however, the idea of an alternative to driving in San Francisco seemed absurd. After all, BART would become the first new regional transit system built in the U.S. in 65 years. 

But this worry about compact little San Francisco and the automobile launched this idea about rapid transit. And I laugh now about everybody giving BART such a hard time. It was just hooted at, the idea that you’d ever get people out of the automobile. They’d never come to San Francisco if they couldn’t drive into San Francisco.

According to Leary, local businessman Cyril Magnin and San Francisco Supervisor Marvin Lewis were among the first to consider the benefits of investing in a public transit system instead of parking garages. Unlike Los Angeles, the Bay Area could not build enough parking lots and garages to meet the needs of a car-reliant city due to limited space. Leary observes: 

At any rate, they got a group of some business people to take seriously the idea of “How is San Francisco going to endure the flood of traffic that’s already coming in from the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge? We can’t possibly do it.” The figures were coming out about what percentage of downtown Los Angeles was given over to automobile parking, most of it on the surface. They hadn’t yet begun many multiple-level parking facilities.

Eventually three counties — San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa — committed to the transit system and developed the “BART Composite Report.” This had to be approved by their respective county supervisors in order for a bond measure to be placed on the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District-wide ballot in November of 1962. 

George Christopher emerging from the trunk of a car with a sign that says Christopher Lieutenant Governor, with onlookers
San Francisco Mayor George Christopher campaigning for Lieutenant Governor in the San Fernando Valley, 1962. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library via Calisphere.

In his oral history, longtime Republican politician and former Mayor of San Francisco from 1956–1964, George Christopher, remembers seeking the crucial aye vote of the fifth and still undecided Contra Costa County supervisor, Joe Silva. Silva had been under pressure from his constituents to vote no, because they would not directly benefit from the commuter rail but would bear the high price tag. Without Silva’s vote, the eventual passage of the measure in November and the $792 million bond issue may have been set back by years. According to Christopher, “The formation of BART is actually one of the funniest things that ever transpired,” involving a pre-dawn meeting and donuts.

I called him and I said “Supervisor, you’re the important man here. Now what are we going to do about this? All I’m asking is that you put it on the ballot and let the people decide whether they want it or not…. I said, “What time shall we meet?” He said, “Five o’clock in the morning.”… Sure enough we got up at four o’clock in the morning and we went over to Contra Costa County and finally found this restaurant. It turned out to be a little donut shop with no tables, no tables whatever, and we all sat around the counter. Here were all the teamsters, the truck drivers listening to every word we had to say…. I don’t know how many donuts we had, but we certainly filled ourselves.

Many hours and donuts later, Christopher had earned Silva’s crucial “yes” vote in support of the regional rail system. Christopher’s oral history is part of the Oral History Center’s “Goodwin Knight-Edmund G. ‘Pat’ Brown, Sr. Oral History Series,” which covers the California Governor’s office from 1953 to 1966, and is a gold-mine of fascinating anecdotes on city planning and transportation issues during that crucial decade.

Even before the bond issue was put on the ballot and approved in 1962, a consequential battle for regional power over transportation, including BART, was fought, ultimately resulting in a victory for local influence in this regional system. This battle was reflected in the approximately three-year long struggle between the Golden Gate Authority (GGA) and its younger competitor, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), for control over the planning and operation of transportation infrastructure in the region. Several oral histories from the Oral History Center discuss the importance of ABAG, which refers to itself as “part regional planning agency and part local government service provider.” In the oral history titled “Author, Editor, and Consultant: A Participant from the Institute of Governmental Studies,” Stanley Scott, a research political scientist at UC Berkeley, explains:

It came more from the large business interests, the Bay Area Council, with Edgar Kaiser being the chief proponent and front man, I guess you’d say, to create a Golden Gate Authority. That would incorporate the ports, the airports, and the bridges, the bridges being brought in essentially because they were very profitable organizations. So that one kind of came in, you might say, from the side, but at the same time, also involving regional restructuring. 

This really upset the cities and counties, and quite a few others. A lot of people were concerned about it. A lot of people were concerned about just latching on to the bridges and tying them in with the airports and seaports. What are we going to do about all the other transportation problems? There was a great deal of concern.

It also exercised cities and counties that just did not want a major authority coming in from off the wall, so to speak. They began organizing themselves, and that was, in part, the genesis of ABAG. It was not the only reason for ABAG’s creation, but it provided substantial push in that direction. It had a lot to do with it. It scared the local people. That would have been in ’58, ’59, and ’60, that the Golden Gate Authority idea was kicked around. It was over a period of at least two years, and it could have been three, before it finally bit the dust.

BART cars being assembled
BART cars being assembled in Building 61 at Rohr Corporation, 1971. Photo courtesy of Chula Vista Public Library via Calisphere.

T.J. Kent also addresses this theme about local influence and power sharing — with a focus on the role of ABAG — in his oral history, “Professor and Political Activist: A Career in City and Regional Planning in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Kent was a prominent city planner under San Francisco Mayor Roger Lapham in the 1940s, a deputy mayor for development under Mayor John Shelley in the 1960s, served on the Berkeley city council in the 1950s, and was a founder of UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning. 

According to Kent, former Mayor George Christopher opted to keep San Francisco out of ABAG because he felt that San Francisco was too important a player in the region to enter into an equal-representation regional government. His successor, Mayor John F. Shelley, reversed that policy, bridging the way to cooperation between the Bay Area’s largest city and the influential agency. 

Shelley, with the board of supes [supervisors] backing him, he brought San Francisco into ABAG and appointed me as his deputy on the ABAG executive committee. I also served as the mayor’s deputy on the ABAG committee on goals and organization….The Committee prepared the regional home rule bill that was adopted by ABAG in 1966… It called for a limited function, directly elected, metropolitan government. That’s the key report.

Indeed, the publication of the Regional Home Rule and Government of the Bay Area report marked a huge milestone in the actualization of BART. ABAG, which was granted the authority by the State of California in 1966 to receive federal grants, included BART in the four elements of its metropolitan plan. Kent explains:

The first is the central district, enlarged and unified and focused in San Francisco; the second is a regional, peak-hour commuter transit system, which is BART and AC transit, plus the other transit systems serving San Mateo County, San Francisco and Marin and Sonoma counties; third is the open space system, to keep things from sprawling and for basic environmental reasons; and the fourth was comprised of the region’s residential communities, which shouldn’t get too dense, too overbuilt. 

ABAG’s ability to receive and use federal money would prove vital to BART’s construction and continued operation. Furthermore, city and county representation on ABAG’s board — as opposed to zero locally elected officials in the defunct Golden Gate Authority — meant that cities likely had more of a say in the planning of BART than they would have had under the administration of the GGA. 

T.J. Kent
T.J. “Jack” Kent

Kent, then a Berkeley city councilmember, helped write the ABAG bylaws that balanced regional and local power. Kent believed in the importance of assigning enough power to regional agencies and districts like ABAG and BART, while also maintaining local autonomy. According to Kent — who throughout his oral history stresses the need to protect home rule wherever possible — counties that opted to stay in the Bay Area Rapid Transit District sometimes felt that the District was too restrictive or overbearing. But as a regional representative government with limited authority, conflicts were eventually solved. Kent remembers the back-and-forth between BART and Berkeley prior to the bond issue passing in 1962. 

But those [counties] that were left in [the District], there were major battles in the BART legislation because the BART legislation had to give that agency that power and right. I was on the Berkeley council at the time and the battles were serious. There were many things that BART was required to do in consulting the cities and counties before the bond issue was proposed and voted on in 1962 and even after, which I think was good. They required BART to deal with Berkeley as an equal when Berkeley said, “We think—.” Berkeley got tremendous concessions from BART before the bond issue. You may not realize it, but the initial 1956 BART plan for the Berkeley line had it elevated all the way through downtown. Berkeley fought back before the bond issue vote of ʼ62 and got the middle third put underground. 

Those counties that decided to stay in the District and cooperate with BART during its construction had a say in the decision-making process. Perhaps due to that fact, the 1962 district-wide bond issue surpassed the required 60% approval threshold, a result that came as a surprise to many political experts. Litigation and negotiations ensued with cities and counties across the Bay Area in the years that followed. But without the initial bond issue, BART could not have even begun construction. 

Mary Leary observed that the impetus to create a regional, commuter rapid transit system — as well as the process of planning BART — did much to encourage local participation in politics. Even though ABAG was a regional entity with certain powers over local governments, Leary says that the agency allowed local governments a say in BART’s planning. 

I think it was not unrelated that during this same era of local sharing in BART plans on a regional basis the Supervisors Association and the League of California Cities together launched ABAG, Association of Bay Area Governments, a voluntary group of cities and counties to discuss regional problems. It did not become a real regional government. In fact, I always felt it was created by those two groups to thwart moves towards regional government and to make sure cities and counties maintained their own strong voices. But it has been a significant forum and I think cooperation of the various governments around the Bay in planning BART gave it a good start. Interestingly, when planning got underway for where BART’s lines should run and stations should be, this became the first regional planning ever undertaken and local communities could see as some did that they were planning a sewer outfall just where the next-door neighbor town was planning a beach resort, that sort of thing. 

In her oral history, Leary also noted a change in public perspective about public transit — away from the idea that no one would visit San Francisco if they couldn’t drive, to voters actually rejecting federal funds for a freeway connecting the Golden Gate and Bay bridges — and the relationship of BART to that. 

Anyway, there was a good deal of political pride in the area that they had shared in developing BART from the very start, and it was part of the system’s success. Most other cities sat back and waited for Washington to provide funds for transit. Los Angeles never could get that much regional support. Of course, about that same time San Francisco was so supportive of the transit idea it rejected federal money for a freeway connection between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. That really stirred a lot of national attention, saying “no” to millions or maybe billions.

Those interested in exploring the history of BART further, or learning more about the central themes of its history — local and regional government power sharing in the Bay Area, effective organization of regional governing bodies, and local participation in city planning, to name a few — can find much more in OHC’s numerous projects and individual interviews. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria from the OHC home page. 

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.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We preserve 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.

Related Oral History Center Projects

Covering the years 1953 to 1966, the Oral History Center (then the Regional Oral History Office) began the Goodwin Knight-Edmund G.Brown, Sr., Oral History Series of the State Government History Project in 1969. It covers the California Governor’s office from 1953 to 1966 and contains 84 interviews with a diverse set of personalities involved in Californian public administration. Topics include but are not limited to the rise and decline of the Democratic party, the impact of the California Water Plan, environmental concerns, and the growth of federal programs. This series includes the multivolume “San Francisco Republicans,” which includes the oral history of George Christopher, “Mayor of San Francisco and Republican Party Candidate.”

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Oral History Project, launched in May of 2012, is a collection of 15 interviews that cover the construction of the Bay Bridge, maintenance issues, and the symbolic significance of the bridge in the decades after its construction. The majority of interviewees in this project spent their careers working on or around the bridge as architects, painters, toll-takers, engineers and managers, to name a few. 

The California Coastal Commission Project traces the development of the only California commission voted into existence by the will of the people, from the campaign for Proposition 20 that created the agency in 1972 to the various development battles it confronted in the decades that followed. These interviews document nearly a half century of coastal regulation in California, and in the process, shed new light on the many facets involved in environmental policy. 

Listen to the “Saving Lighthouse Point,” podcast, a collaboration between the OHC and the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. “Saving Lighthouse Point” tracks the successful effort by citizens of Santa Cruz, with the support of the California Coastal Commission, to block the development of a bustling tourist and business hub on one of the last open parcels of land in the city. 

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

City and regional planning for the Metropolitan San Francisco Bay area, Kent, T. J., 1963. Bancroft Library/University Archives, Bancroft ; F868.S156K42

Open space for the San Francisco Bay area; organizing to guide metropolitan growth, Kent, T. J., 1970. University of California, Berkeley. Institute of Governmental Studies. Bancroft Library/University Archives. Bancroft ; F868.S156.57.K4

Regional plan, 1970–1990 – San Francisco Bay region, Association of Bay Area Governments, 1970. Bancroft Library/University Archives. Bancroft Pamphlet Double Folio ; pff F868.S156.8 A82

The BART experience: what have we learned? Webber, Melvin M.; University of California, Berkeley. Institute of Transportation Studies. 1976. Bancroft Library/University Archives. UC Archives ; 308m r42 W372 b

Voices of a Movement: The Oral History Center’s Suffragists Oral History Project

By Shannon White

The Suffragists Oral History Project is a glimpse into the history of the Oral History Center itself: a group of interviews recorded and published for the most part in the 1970s, chronicling the events of the suffrage movement from the perspectives of several exceptional women who devoted themselves to organizing and advocating for social issues. A rather small collection—the UC Berkeley Oral History Center sports just seven individual interviews and one joint interview from this project—the Suffragists Oral History Project nevertheless serves as a valuable source of information about the fight for women’s rights. 

The interviews of the project offer nuanced perspectives of the women’s rights movement and insight into the philosophy behind politics and political activism. These interviewees come from a wide array of backgrounds and represent a diverse range of careers, including poets, authors, educators, politicians, judges, and social workers. In fact, many devoted themselves to other causes beyond suffrage, advocating for peace, education reform, marital freedoms, labor policies, and social welfare.

A few notable oral histories from the Suffragists Oral History Project include:

Jeanette Rankin

Jeanette Rankin
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. [ca. 1917] Title: Jeanette Rankin.
I said, “I don’t want you to do anything against your conscience. If you are against woman’s suffrage I’m not going to ask you to vote for it. But I am going to ask you not to make a speech against it. . . When the vote came, we won by one vote, and they had a recapitulation, and when anyone came up that he thought might change his vote and be against it, he said “If you change your vote, I’ll change mine.” (Jeanette Rankin discusses her dealings with Joe Walsh, a staunch voter against women’s suffrage, who nevertheless respected Rankin and her efforts enough to encourage swing voters to support her resolution.)

Jeanette Rankin served in the United States House of Representatives from 1917 to 1919 and again from 1941 to 1943 and was the first woman elected to Congress. A lifelong advocate for peace, Rankin voted against the entry of the United States into both World War I and World War II and spent much of her career supporting anti-war activism. Additionally, she worked on a women’s suffrage resolution that later formed the basis for the Nineteenth Amendment. In her interview, Jeanette Rankin: Activist for World Peace, Women’s Rights, and Democratic Government, Rankin discusses her congressional career and involvement with the suffrage movement, offering a broad overview of how she saw the connections between women’s issues and labor rights and the systemic issues inhibiting the progress of women.

And men haven’t the freedom because big business doesn’t give it to them. And so men’s jobs are dependent on having a nice mousy wife who doesn’t do anything. And one of the greatest difficulties that the women’s lib has to contend with is the fact that the women can’t go any faster than the men. And this isn’t because men want to hold them down. (Jeanette Rankin gives her perspective on labor practices indirectly influencing the social position of women in her interview in 1972.)

Burnita Shelton Matthews

BBurnita Shelton Matthews
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. [May 28, 1925] Title: Burnita Shelton Matthews. Collection: Records of the National Women’s Party.
When a woman tried to get admitted to the bar. . . she faced a remarkable decision. That decision was something to the effect that there are many callings for women which were suitable and proper, but that the law was not one of them; and that it was treason for women to undertake to invade the practice of law. (Burnita Shelton Matthews reflects on the difficulties women faced when attempting to practice law.)

Burnita Shelton Matthews became the first woman to serve as a United States federal judge when she was appointed to the US District Court for the District of Columbia in 1949. She worked closely with Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party and fought to advance the legal rights of women. In the oral history Burnita Shelton Matthews: Pathfinder in the Legal Aspects of Women, Matthews gives her perspective on the legal activities of the National Women’s Party and her work on the District Court, discussing the nuances of the relationship between women and the law.

Separate bills for separate ills. For instance: to give women the right to serve on juries; to do away with the discrimination against women with reference to the guardianship of their children; to straighten out the laws on descent and distribution so that women would have a status equivalent to that of men in the same relationship. (Burnita Shelton Matthews talks about the legislation she worked on with the National Women’s Party.)

Rebecca Hourwich Reyher

Rebecca Hourwich Reyher
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. [ca. 1913–1917] Title: Miss Rebecca Hourwich of New York. Collection: Records of the National Women’s Party.
I mention this all deliberately because it isn’t ever easy for people who are pioneers—and that goes for feminists today—to follow their deepest inclinations and yet meet the rigorous obligations that they may have committed themselves to in their personal relationships. (In her 1973 interview, Rebecca Hourwich Reyher discusses the difficulty of reconciling personal conviction and activism with familial and personal obligations.)

Rebecca Hourwich Reyher was an author and lecturer who also came to head several offices of the National Women’s Party. Reyher was deeply interested in Africa and the lives of African women, and published the books Zulu Woman and The Fon and His Hundred Wives based on her travels to the continent. Reyher’s oral history, Rebecca Hourwich Reyher: Search and Struggle for Equality and Independence, reviews her work with the suffrage movement and her career as a whole, acknowledging the difficulties of balancing activism and personal obligations, as well as providing an interesting look into the limitations of first-wave feminism. 

Undoubtedly I was imbued with a middle-class philosophy. Only then could you afford the luxury of supporting a cause, full time, that you believed in. (Rebecca Hourwich Reyher discusses socioeconomic status and the ability to contribute full-time to a cause.)

Alice Paul

Alice Paul speaking into a phone, at desk with papers on it.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. [ca. June 1913] Title: Alice Paul. Collection: Records of the National Women’s Party. Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C., Photographer.
And the person who got up to speak first was instantly arrested. And the next one that she would introduce was instantly arrested. So when it came my time to get up and make a speech, my heart was calm [laughing] because I knew I wouldn’t have to make the terrible speech [laughter] which was the thing that worried me more than anything else. So I was immediately arrested. And that’s the first time I was in prison. (Alice Paul recalls her first imprisonment in 1909 after being arrested at a counterprotest in Bermondsey, a district of London.)

Alice Paul was a prominent suffrage activist who founded the National Women’s Party and played a key role in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. She was also involved with the British women’s suffrage movement and was arrested and jailed several times for her work. Paul later co-wrote the Equal Rights Amendment and worked toward its ratification. In her interview, Alice Paul: Conversations with Alice Paul: Woman Suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment, Paul details her involvement with the various stages of the British and American suffrage movements and the split in the factions of the suffrage movement that led to the formation of the National Women’s Party. Paul also discusses the protests of the Silent Sentinels, peaceful demonstrations in front of the White House that resulted in mass arrests, poor imprisonment conditions, and the Night of Terror: the brutal abuse of some of the imprisoned protesters at the hands of the Occoquan Workhouse guards. 

He sent a formal [message]. I received it and I remember it very well. And then we didn’t know exactly what to do, and various women. . . said, “All right, then we will have to have people willing to be arrested, and I will come down and I will be one.” (Alice Paul reflects on the arrests during the Silent Sentinels protests outside the White House, a turning point in the militancy of the National Women’s Party.)

Sara Bard Field

Sara Bard Field
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. [ca. 1915] Title: Mrs. Sara Bard Field, of San Francisco. Collection: Records of the National Woman’s Party. (Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C., Photographer)
As I think I have told you before, one of the greatest lessons I learned and I wish I had learned it earlier in life was that in working for a great cause you must leave self behind, you must leave sometimes even personal preferences and wishes and give your all to what you are working for, impersonally, because it seems the only way to gain what your objective is. (Sara Bard Field discusses the compromise necessary to fully support suffrage work.)

Sara Bard Field was a poet who was involved with several national suffrage campaigns and later joined the National Women’s Party. She became acquainted with and later married Charles Erskin Scott Wood; the two lived on their estate “The Cats” in Los Gatos, California, and struck up friendships with several famous artists and writers. In Field’s oral history, Sara Bard Field (Wood): Poet and Suffragist, she discusses her involvement with politics and the suffrage movement, offering her opinion on prioritizing collective goals over a personal agenda to achieve progress.

Indeed, as I went on deeper and deeper into the work of the Woman’s Party I was forced to realize that in political life men are influenced only and solely by the hope of political backing, and that all the pleading and the urging and the brilliance of the delegations of Eastern women that had gone [before] had just evaporated because they were helpless; they couldn’t deliver the votes. (Sara Bard Field discusses the difficulties in dealing with party politics to secure the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.)

The interviews of the Suffragists Oral History Project are a wonderful resource for preserving memories from the women’s suffrage movement. The narrators of these oral histories are eloquent and comprehensive, and their accounts of events that have now taken their place in the annals of national history are not only invaluable, but also just incredibly interesting to read. 

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. You can also find projects, including the Suffragists oral histories, through the menu on our home page from Oral Histories > Projects.

Shannon White in front of trees
Shannon White

Shannon White is currently a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying Classical Languages. 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 a student editor for the Oral History Center.

Related Resources from the Oral History Center

For interested parties, these oral histories 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. 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. 


Related resources from The Bancroft Library

The Bancroft Library has hundreds of records related to women’s suffrage, including speeches, letters, photos, convention proceedings, organizational by-laws, and much more. Here are a few. 

Biography on Jeanette Rankin. E748.R223 L67 2005.

Guy Wilfrid Hayler papers – Rankin listed as the writer of some letters. BANC FILM 2550. Rankin a correspondent in the Anne Henrietta Martin papers. BANC MSS P-G 282.

Short film based on a children’s book written by Rebecca Hourwich Reyher. 1604-01-9194.

Mabel Vernon papers – Alice Paul & Sara Bard Field are among the correspondents. BANC MSS P-G 283.

Photographs of Sara Bard Field (BANC PIC 1979.141–PIC), Sara Bard Field papers, 1927–1956 (BANC MSS 79/46 c), and The Speech of Sara Bard Field, presented to Congress on behalf of the women of the nation, 1921. p JK1896 .F5.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We preserve 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.

Summer Listening

The Oral History Center Director’s Column, June 2022

By Paul Burnett
Interim Director, Oral History Center

Closeup of butterfly perched on a plant, with Mount Diablo in the background
Save Mount Diablo BioBlitz (Photograph by Scott Hein)

For many of us, summer brings the promise of vacation, or at least time off with friends and family to rest, celebrate, or explore the great outdoors.

Whether spending time in parks fits into your summer plans or not, you owe it to yourself to check out the Oral History Center’s new project on the history of Save Mount Diablo, and especially the accompanying podcast. Shanna Farrell, Amanda Tewes, and student research apprentices Anjali George and Andrew Deakin did an amazing job of telling the story of fifty years of this important land conservation organization in the Bay Area and Northern California. The three episodes span key aspects of its history, which involved grassroots organizing; drawing on youthful energy and the expertise from older, larger environmental groups such as the Save the Redwoods League; management of invasive species; competition with developers for land; reintroduction of endangered species; the role of artists in the movement; and the potential fate of the area as the organization battles climate change.

For more interviews on the history of parks and environmental movements, check out the projects on the East Bay Regional Park District, natural resources, and the Sierra Club.

As you are listening to the podcast, we hope you’re lucky enough to get some time to visit some green space near you and appreciate the wonders all around us.

One of the things we’ve also been doing this summer is moving house to a brand new website. However, there are currently no automatic redirects from our old site, so please bookmark our new home page. It will take a while for this new site to come up in search engines, so that will be the best way to reach our great content for now. You can go directly to our blog here.

Luella Lilly at her desk, holding up a piece of paper
Dr. Luella Lilly, the Cal Women’s Athletics Director, 1976–1992

And as this summer and recent events turn our attention both to sports and women’s rights, one of our student editors William Cooke  has written a piece on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at schools that receive federal funds, and its impact on athletics at UC Berkeley. 

Stay tuned for our next newsletter in August!

Happy summer!



We’ve moved—at least our website has!

Dear Friends of the Oral History Center,

We’ve moved—at least our website has. 

We’re pleased to announce that the UC Library has created a new website for us as part of a massive Library website upgrade. New look, new URL, same great content. You’ll still be able to access all our interviews, our search feature, articles, collection guides, podcasts, and more. 

There are currently no automatic redirects, so please bookmark our new home page

Hard bound books on shelves
The OHC’s extensive archive comprises thousands of oral histories preserved in blue clothbound volumes. (Photo by Jami Smith)

Access our most recent articles from our home page, or go directly to our blog home. From our blog home, scroll through our articles, or at the search icon, enter your search term (name, keyword).

You may be seeing some updates to our website over the next few weeks and months, but will always be able to access our materials. If you haven’t done so already, please sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history.

Thank you very much for your ongoing support of the Oral History Center!

About the Oral History Center

The UC Berkeley Oral History Center has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We preserve 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 our most recent articles from our home page.