By Mollie Appel-Turner
On Jan 25, 1972, Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm, representative for New York State’s Twelfth District and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, announced her candidacy for president. With this announcement, Chisholm became both the first African American to run for a major party’s presidential nomination and also the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The UC Berkeley Oral History Center has several interviews that address Chisholm’s trailblazing candidacy. In addition, the Center has numerous interviews with other ground-breaking female politicians.
“Anything that black women do like that, they’re pioneering; they’re the first, or one of the first. Because it takes a lot of guts and militancy and sacrifice to do those things when it isn’t popular.”
— Frances Mary Albrier
Frances Mary Albrier was a woman of numerous accomplishments. A graduate of UC Berkeley, she was an indefatigable opponent of racism, a civil rights activist from the 1920s onward, the first woman elected to Alameda County’s Democratic Central Committee, as well as the first black woman hired by Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. She founded the East Bay Women’s Welfare Club, and her efforts led to the hiring of black women teachers in the Berkeley public schools. Albrier discussed Chisholm’s then-recent candidacy when she was interviewed in 1977 and 1978 as part of a series on women political leaders.
Mrs. Chisholm pioneered when she ran for Congress in New York as a black woman. Anything that black women do like that, they’re pioneering; they’re the first, or one of the first. Because it takes a lot of guts and militancy and sacrifice to do those things when it isn’t popular, and it wasn’t popular for a black woman in the East or anywhere. Now, when Mrs. Chisholm ran for president, she did it again. She’s pioneered the way for [others]. Eventually, we’ll have a woman president of the United States. Those doors have been opened. People had looked at her and they’ve talked about a woman running for president. They heard what she had to say. It will be much easier for the next woman who has the ambition to run for president to do so.
Janet West was also interviewed for the women political leaders series, focusing on her work as a Santa Barbara Board of Education member. In the multi-interview volume Women in Politics Volume II, West spoke about how her experiences as a parent influenced her desire to run for office, and both motivated and informed her decisions as a board member. In her 1972 oral history, West discussed the significance of Chisholm’s then-contemporary candidacy:
I think if you’re talking about a large political office, people have the idea that you know, a woman couldn’t stand up under the pressures and maybe couldn’t take all that guff or whatever it is. I think we really have to overcome that type of thing and I’m not sure how many votes Shirley Chisholm will get just because she’s a woman, certainly not because she’s black but because she’s a woman and I don’t think people really feel that a woman can do all that hard work. It’s a lot of hard work.
Professor Harry Edwards joined UC Berkeley’s department of sociology in 1971. He conducted scholarship in the area of sociology of race and sport and is also renowned for his involvement in the famous Black Power salute on the victory podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. In “Harry Edwards: An Oral History,” he discussed his early life and upbringing in addition to his role as a scholar-activist, his time at Berkeley, and his work as a consultant to national football and basketball teams. When he was interviewed as part of the UC Berkeley African American Faculty and Senior Staff oral history project in 2005, Edwards spoke of Chisholm with both the knowledge of a contemporary and the perspective of a sociologist. Edwards discussed Chisholm’s extraordinary independence:
Shirley Chisholm, first of all, she had one phenomenal liability, and what I call it is the Stevenson syndrome. She was extraordinarily bright. She was extremely intelligent. That’s a phenomenal liability in the convention of the American political scene. She also had an independence to her that put her outside of the authoritative black leadership influence and control circle. The authoritative black leadership influence and control circle tried to get her not to run. They did not feel that it was “time” for a black woman to step out and run for President. She ran without the endorsement of the NAACP, without the endorsement of the Congress of Racial Equality, without the endorsement of SCLC, without the endorsement of Operation PUSH and Jesse Jackson. She ran on her own.
Shirley Chisholm is one of many women politicians discussed in the Oral History Center’s collections. The Oral History Center contains a wide variety of interviews on women in local, state, and national politics. For more on ground-breaking female politicians, the Oral History Center’s Women Political Leaders collection contains interviews that cover almost the entirety of the 20th century, from the suffragists onward. Interviewees include March Fong Eu, the first Asian American woman in the United States to be elected to a state constitutional office; Helen Gahagan Douglas, the first Democratic woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; and Hope Mendoza Schechter, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee and an activist for both the labor movement and the Mexican American community. The Oral History Center continues to preserve the histories of women leaders in the political sphere and is currently conducting new interviews with female political leaders in the Bay Area Women in Politics and California State Archives projects. For those who wish to learn more, a good place to start is the Oral History Center’s Women in Politics podcast, which has episodes on a variety of important female political leaders of the twentieth century — at the local, state, and national levels — including Francis Albrier.
Mollie Appel-Turner joined the Oral History Center as a student editor in fall 2021. She is currently a fourth-year history student with a concentration in medieval history.
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.
It’s been a topsy-turvy couple of years. But it’s not the only time in recent memory that the world’s turned upside down. As the Omicron variant has once again derailed our path to normalcy, I decided to search the Oral History Center’s collection to see what our interviewees have described as topsy-turvy. Referencing the trivial to some of the most challenging times in recent history, those who used the adjective included household names like Chief Justice Earl Warren and California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, as well as artists, urban planners, venture capitalists, and Rosie the Riveters. Topics raised include the rise of Hitler, atomic weapons, the Great Depression, educational equity, campaign finance, messy houses, and downtown San Francisco. Here are the results.
See below for a detailed description of how to search our collection by a keyword like topsy-turvy.
The rise of Hitler
Betty Hardison: Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project
“The world was beginning to be topsy-turvy. That was around 1939, when Hitler was not being very friendly.”
During World War II, Betty Hardison worked at the Mare Island Naval Shipyards for the department responsible for repairing ships damaged during Pearl Harbor. Here she reflects on why she gave up her dream of university and journalism and took her first job.
When it was time to go off to school, I sold my clarinet and I went to Armstrong Business College in Berkeley. . . . It no longer exists, but it was a very prominent business school at the time. I took secretarial and all phases of business. But at that time, then, the world was beginning to be topsy-turvy. That was around 1939, when Hitler was not being very friendly. . . . Journalism was a strong goal. I had been editor of the yearbook and things like that, so I thought that I wanted to go to the university and take journalism. But then with the world being turned upside-down, I went for my first job.
Related discussion within the interview: educational expectations for women, life in Calistoga, California during the Great Depression
Downtown San Francisco
Robert Riley: 1988–2000 Curator of Media Arts, SFMOMA 75th Anniversary
“He found San Francisco to be completely topsy-turvy, vertiginous, and absolutely mad.”
Robert Riley, the curator of media arts for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, recalled the inspiration for artist Steve McQueen’s work, Drumroll. McQueen had visited San Francisco during the exhibit of his work, Bear, in the early 1990s.
When he was in San Francisco, he experienced the hurly-burly, topsy-turvy development of the downtown—there was a lot of construction when he was here. There was traffic mayhem. . . . He found San Francisco to be completely topsy-turvy, vertiginous, and absolutely mad. He work-shopped an idea here of putting a camera lens into the drain hole of a striped orange construction barrel, which he borrowed. He’s a large man. He decided to start pushing the barrel down the street and just telling people to look out.
Related discussion within the interview: acquisition of Steve McQueen’s work, Bear; the development of Drumroll
Atomic bomb testing
Jean Fuller: Organizing Women: Careers in Volunteer Politics, Law, and Policy Administration
“Was that the mannequin whose head was cut off? Do you remember?”
Jean Fuller, director of women’s activities of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, 1954–58, was present at an atomic bomb test explosion in May 1955, dubbed Operation Cue. Conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission outside of Las Vegas, the test was designed to determine how the blast would affect people (represented by mannequins), food, and various structures. Looking at before and after photos of a test home, Fuller discusses the results with her interviewer, Miriam Stein.
Fuller: Now, here’s the before scene of that living room where we saw the man all topsy-turvy. As you see there were draperies and there were Venetian blinds. Now, had they had the draperies pulled completely across, the blinds probably would not have done quite as much damage but they were only as people normally leave them.
Stein: Was that the mannequin whose head was cut off? Do you remember?
Fuller: No, he was upside down here someplace.
Stein: That’s right. He was hanging over a chair.
Fuller: Yes, but he undoubtedly would have been dead.
Related discussion within the interview: detailed account of the atomic test
Earl Warren Sr.: Conversations with Earl Warren on California Government
“Some poor son of a gun with no money but with a great issue will come along, and he’ll just turn them topsy-turvy.”
Earl Warren, who attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate and also received his law degree from Berkeley Law, was governor of California and chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. Here he discusses campaign finance with his interviewer, Amelia Fry, and an editor from Doubleday and Company, Luther Nichols, who was assisting Warren with his autobiography.
Nichols: I think Alioto spent half a million dollars—
Warren: More than that.
Nichols: It came out to something like six dollars a voter — six dollars a vote—
Warren: Well, I’ll tell you. Of course, it’ll go along that way and then some poor son of a gun with no money but with a great issue will come along, and he’ll just turn them topsy-turvy. Now, you take that fellow who was elected—was it governor or senator—in Florida this year . He was a little country lawyer, Chiles, his name is— He’s a little country lawyer, he had no money of any kind to spend, but he told them he was going to start in the north of Florida and was going to walk clear through the state making his campaign. And, by George, he did. He’d arrange every way that— To start in the morning where there was a television station, and they’d pick him up there, say something about him, and he’d always stop at a television station at night. [Laughter] He got publicity that way and never spent a nickel on it, and he went all through the state, and he beat the whole outfit. [Laughter]
Fry: And he got all that free TV time!
Warren: Oh yes, he got all that free TV time.
Fry: He must have had a million dollars of TV time!
Warren: [Laughter] And never paid a dime for it!
Related discussion within the interview: decision to run for governor, campaign finance
Justice Cruz Reynoso: California Supreme Court Justice, Professor of Law, Vice-Chair United States Commission on Human Rights, and 2000 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient
“Somehow those parents, when they have come to a meeting, have felt uncomfortable, as my parents did when they went to a PTA meeting.”
Cruz Reynoso, who received his law degree from Berkeley Law, was the first Hispanic California State Supreme Court justice. Here he reflects on race relations and parental involvement in schools.
I will tell you a story because it turns things topsy-turvy. I may have told you about this. I was invited to go speak on a Saturday to a parent-student group in a school in the Los Angeles area. When I got there, I noticed that practically everybody involved was Spanish-speaking, and a great majority of the kids there were there, but the leadership of the PTA and practically everybody in charge was Latino. So I asked, “Is this an entirely Latino school? Do you have some other folk?” And they said, “Oh yes, about 20 percent of our students are Anglo.” And I said, “Well, where are the Anglo parents?” And they said, “We don’t know. We keep inviting them; they just don’t come.” I was bemused because I have heard that story told a hundred times about Latino parents by Anglo parents, “You know we keep sending these notices. They don’t come. They must not be—” They don’t say this, but the implication is “they must not be interested in education or must not be interested in their kids.” Well, I just said, “Maybe you ought to do something more so they feel comfortable when they come to these meetings and so on.” Something is not quite right when 20 percent of the parents don’t come to a Saturday function that is supposed to be good for everybody. I don’t know what they have done right or wrong, I really don’t. I nonetheless have the absolute sense that they haven’t done enough. Somehow those parents, when they have come to a meeting, have felt uncomfortable, as my parents did when they went to a PTA meeting. And we as human beings are smart enough to be able to figure things out on how to make those folk feel more comfortable and so on.
Related discussion within the interview: affirmative action generally, and in particular at UC Berkeley
Venture capital partnerships
Paul Bancroft III: Early Bay Area Venture Capitalists: Shaping the Economic and Commerce, Industry, and Labor Landscape
“Others are saying the world has kind of gone topsy-turvy today—I don’t mean today, but up until recently.”
Paul “Pete” Bancroft was an early participant in the venture capital industry and president, CEO, and director of Bessemer Securities Corporation. Mr. Bancroft also devoted considerable time to The Bancroft Library, which was founded by his great grandfather, Hubert Howe Bancroft.
It finally evolved, unfortunately, to the point where the venture capital partnerships were investing so much money that with the fees they were getting, the 1 percent to 2.5 percent of the assets, that they were making more money that way than they were on the profits that were being made when the investments were sold. It meant that they were really starting to lose sight of really making money on the companies they were investing in. Which is why Arthur Rock and others are saying the world has kind of gone topsy-turvy today— I don’t mean today , but up until recently.
Related discussion within the interview: venture capital partnerships, CEO salaries, Bessemer Venture Partners
The de Young Museum. . . and the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jim Chappell: Directing the Resurgence of SPUR & Urban Planning in San Francisco
“Who can hate a baby seal?”
Jim Chappell is a retired urban planner whose forty-year career focused on intertwining environmental conservation into urban design. As the director of the nonprofit SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association), he helped shape San Francisco into a modern city. Here he discusses design and structural problems with two California landmarks.
The de Young Museum harkens back to the Midwinter Exposition of 1894, and then opened as the de Young Museum in 1895. It grew topsy-turvy over the years and was badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In fact, they built a steel exoskeleton around it to keep the walls from falling down. It had never been a great museum in terms of collection or building. And they are related. . . .
The [Monterey Bay] Academy was three or four years behind the de Young, so they got to learn from the mistakes, or at least knew what they were going to be up against when they started. Like the de Young, it was a building that had grown like topsy and was a mess of a building even before the earthquake. And then in the earthquake, pipes broke, which isn’t very good if you’re an aquarium. . . .
So in March 2000—this was three-and-a-half years after the first de Young bond vote—there was an $87 million bond on the ballot for the Academy. They needed 66 2/3 percent “yes.” They got sixty-seven. Phew. Just sneaked by. It was a different call than “old art.” It was “kids.” Their poster for the “yes” on the measure was a baby seal. Who can hate a baby seal?
Related discussion within the interview: California’s proposition system, the adaptability of Golden Gate Park, and the evolution of parks and recreation since the 1800s.
Some other references to topsy-turvy
The Great Depression
“You see, you had a topsy-turvy country.” Karl Holton, first director of the California Youth Corrections Authority, in the oral history collection, Earl Warren and the Youth Authority.
“I am astounded by the energy of her construction machinery in the landscape, the ‘topsy-turvy,’ earthquaking quality she accentuates in her paintings of San Francisco streets, and the destruction of the cumbersome Embarcadero Freeway.” Nell Sinton: An Adventurous Spirit: The Life of a California Artist
“Then, after a little over three years there, when things went topsy-turvy at DuPont Merck, I called Bill and asked, ‘Got a job left there?’ So that’s when I came back to Chiron, in ’94. It was an interesting period.” David W. Jr. Martin: UCSF Professor, Genentech Vice President of Research, and Beyond
The music industry
“The whole job pays 1500 bucks, this is a seven-piece band, but it cost $500 to rent the piano. So the piano is making three times what any of the musicians are making. This is how things have gone. The world, everything’s topsy-turvy. The priorities are all askew. So this is the kind of stuff we’re facing.” Jazz musician John Gill in Turk Murphy, Earthquake McGoon’s, and the New Orleans Revival.
A house in disarray
“We arrived in the most topsy-turvy mess of things in that house.” Ursula Bingham: A Lady’s Life: New England, Berkeley, China
How to search for a keyword like topsy-turvy
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. From our home page, I entered topsy turvy in the search box and clicked search. (I did not get a different result with/without a hyphen.) There were 18 total results, including when the interviewer used the term or it appeared in an introduction.
When you get to the results page, you might not initially see any oral histories. This is because the “full text” feature is off by default. On the results page, toggle on “Fulltext search.” A number of oral histories will populate on that page in a list. Please note that sometimes I get better results when I change the default “all the words” to “partial phrase.”
From the results list, click on any oral history. The next page will provide information about the oral history, such as interviewer, publication date, project, and so on. That page also enables you to read or download a PDF of the oral history. Without downloading, I entered the word “topsy” into the oral history search feature and selected “highlight all.” Then I just clicked on the arrow to be taken directly to the word. Repeat clicking on the arrow to see all examples of the search term within the oral history.
About the Oral History Center
The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. 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, including our podcasts and articles, are available online at no cost to scholars and the public.
The OHC is offering interactive, online versions of our educational programs again this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Introductory Workshop: Feb. 4, 8:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. via Zoom
Our introductory workshop, including the wait-list, is now full. Please see below for information about our Advanced Institute taking place in August.
The 2022 Introduction to Oral History Workshop will be held virtually via Zoom on Friday, February 4, 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.
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.
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. 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. 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 email@example.com.
Advanced Institute: August 8–12, via Zoom
We are now accepting applications for our 2022 Advanced Institute on a rolling basis.
The Oral History Center is offering an online version of our one-week advanced institute on the methodology, theory, and practice of oral history. This will take place from August 8–12, 2022. Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, 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.
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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
For many of us at UC Berkeley, remote work has been a hallmark of the pandemic. As a community we’ve thought a lot about what it’s been like for students to learn remotely and for staff and faculty to work remotely. But with thousands of undergraduate student employees across campus (500 at the UC Library alone), what was it like for undergraduate student employees — those who could — to work remotely during shelter-in-place?
As a staff member, my quality of life improved significantly when I was able to work from home every day. I was fortunate in that my work at the Oral History Center could seamlessly be done entirely online. I gained more time for sleep, exercise, even a leisurely cup of coffee in the morning. Remote work made my job as a manager of up to seven student employees easier. Prior to shelter-in-place, my students’ schedules revolved around their classes and there was never an overlap of all my assistants. I would have to train them separately, answer questions that could benefit all one by one. With the flexibility they gained through at-home learning, asynchronous classes, and no commute time, my students could easily hop on an online meeting outside of their core work hours. And they were willing, even eager, to adjust their schedules so we could all meet together. I was able to schedule regular team meetings for trainings and the exchange of ideas, leading to higher work quality. I was able to extend trust and tools for the student workers to be successful remotely, and I was impressed with how much they were able to accomplish. From my perspective, we were also able to build more of a community and I looked forward to our team meetings as a highlight of my work day. I still wondered, though, what was it like for my student employees to work remotely? So I asked them.
Our team’s 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, writing abstracts, and more. They do the work of professional editors and we would not be able to keep up our pace of interviews without them. Here, three of the Oral History Center’s editorial assistants describe their experience of remote work during the pandemic.
Ashley Sangyou Kim
Ashley Sangyou Kim is currently a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying rhetoric. She is an editor for the World Section of Berkeley Political Review (BPR).
[Written after return to campus]
I am extremely privileged to be able to say that the pandemic was more of a blessing than a curse for me. My family got closer, I learned how to take better care of myself both mentally and physically, and school was more exciting when I returned to campus. All of these changes stemmed from the fact that I had more time. I had more room throughout my day to think about what I was doing and, more importantly, what I wanted. The shock of the pandemic shook me out of auto-pilot mode and forced me to reflect in a peaceful silence.
One of the things that guided me during my reflections was reading interviews from the Oral History Center. As an editorial assistant, I get to write abstracts and tables of contents for interviews. Working at home helped me to relax and read more deeply into each transcript. Many of these conversations cover one person’s life from early childhood to retirement, with explanations on what led to significant decisions. These were incredible stories: Willie Brown’s journey from janitor to mayor of San Francisco, Dorothea Lange finding her sensitivity as an artist, and Josephine Miles pursuing higher education despite her disabilities to become the first woman tenured in our English Department. I paid special attention to how the interviewees discovered their passions and special skills. How do people know what they can contribute to the world? Which voice in your head do you listen to? These questions filled my brain over quarantine, and the OHC’s interviews offered a multitude of ways in which other people answered them.
Now almost three months out of quarantine, I still find myself referring back to the interviews I read over the pandemic. When I registered for classes, for example, I recalled Felix Khunar’s interview, and how he regretted not taking classes outside of music before his college education was cut short. He had to flee Nazi Germany. Little life lessons like this still pop up in my post-pandemic life, and I am grateful that my job allowed me to walk in so many people’s shoes so that I can see my life from multiple perspectives.
Jordan Harris worked at the Oral History Center as an editorial assistant from February 2020 to August 2021. She graduated from UC Berkeley in May with a bachelor’s degree in English.
[Written prior to return to campus]
I was hired as an editorial assistant shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the closure of The Bancroft Library, forcing employees to begin working remotely. I remember my last day working in the Oral History Center: it was my second shift, and everything was quieter than usual because I happened to be the only one in the part of the office where I was working. Sitting in one of the cubicles, I remember looking out the window on my right and seeing a group of protesters walking by with their homemade signs. I don’t remember what they were protesting (or advocating), but I do remember feeling a peculiar peace of sorts. It was a perfect moment of normalcy — at least by Berkeley standards — that now feels like a memory tainted by melancholy.
It really is unnerving to think about how that peace was shattered so quickly, my next shift spent in my Northside home of twenty-six students — a number that seemed alarming at the time. But over the next several months, it became clear that this was work we could successfully do remotely, even if it meant a lot of slowing down and emails and Zoom meetings. Amid the uncertainty of everything else happening at the time, working for the OHC was ultimately one of the few points of stability in my life throughout the rest of that semester and the following year, and it’s an experience I’ll always be grateful for.
Shannon White is currently a third-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.
[Written prior to return to campus]
I applied for this job at the last minute—a combination of my planned archaeology field school in Greece being cancelled and my sudden need to find housing and something to occupy my summer. I’m one of the newest hires on my team; all of my training happened remotely over Zoom and I’ve never worked in our office space. For the most part, remote work has been great. I enjoy working from home—I’ve got my office space set up in a way that works for me and I live in a house with other people who are also working or taking classes and understand the difficulties of handling everything remotely. At the same time though, it’s been rough. Establishing a stable work-life balance is difficult when you work and live in the same place. Overall, however, I think the transition to fully remote work during COVID-19 has been relatively smooth. Though it’s been strange working at a job where I’ve never met any of my co-workers in person, I’m glad I applied when I did and I can honestly say the ability to control when and where I work has been great for me.
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.
The Oral History Center 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.
By Shannon White
“That afternoon, when we came home, the troops were here, and this was martial law. Martial law was imposed on us, the soldiers just controlled everything.”
The Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project is the result of a collaboration between the UC Berkeley Oral History Center and the National Park Service: a series of interviews chronicling the World War II American home front experience. The library’s digital collections hold over 200 interviews pertaining to the project, and the recorded stories cover a wide range of themes, including migration, women’s employment, race relations and civil rights, religion, and wartime life.
Since the focus of this project is those individuals who were not on active military duty during the war, many of the interviewees are women and people from minority backgrounds for whom the war opened up career opportunities, like Elizabeth Lew and Betty Reid Soskin. Many other interviewees grew up during the 1930s and 1940s and recall the war years through the lens of childhood. What drew me to this project though, and what I would like to highlight in particular, is the subset of interviews from the Rosie the Riveter project that center around people who grew up in Hawaii and either witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor or lived through the aftermath, during which the state was placed under martial law.
These interviews are breathtakingly vivid in their accounts of the islands before the war, and the descriptions of life in Hawaii during the war and in the decades following are both insightful and poignantly emotional.
The majority of the interviewees discussed here are Nisei, the second-generation children of people who immigrated to Oahu, Kauai, or Maui to find work and start a family. Several, including Yoshie Seida Yamamoto and Champ Ono, grew up on plantations and recall the diverse environment of neighborhoods populated by Portuguese, Filipino, haole (white), Chinese, Korean, and Japanese families. “To this day, I proudly tell people I’m a plantation girl,” says Gladys Okada, who spent her childhood on the McBryde Sugar Company plantation in Eleele on the island of Kauai.
“Exciting,” Jimmy Lee says of his childhood. “Very happy,” recalls Okada, referring to her home on the McBryde plantation. The narrators of these oral histories bring to life vibrant accounts of their homes in Hawaii prior to the imposition of martial law on the islands.
At the same time, though, tensions between these different groups often ran high. Interracial relationships were frowned upon, if not strictly forbidden; narrators like Yoshie Seida Yamamoto and Fujiko Nonaka recall racial slurs hurled at them by American soldiers in the wake of Pearl Harbor; and several interviews note the segregation of Okinawan immigrants from other mainland Japanese families. Tomi Taba, for example, expresses in her interview frustration at being relegated to the position of second-class citizen on account of her Okinawan heritage, something that her family had always taken pride in. In his interview, Jimmy Lee describes the tumultuous and often violent environment that arose from locals, military, and undercover police living in close proximity in Oahu’s Chinatown. Here Lee discusses being questioned by police about undercover gambling rings as a child:
He says, “Don’t point.” I said, “Yes, up there, up there, up there, up there, all the gambling.” They had one of the biggest raids in Chinatown, for all the gambling joints because of—hopefully, all those guys are dead now, they can’t hear me.
Many children worked part-time on the plantations, harvesting crops like sugarcane and pineapple. In her joint interview with Akiko Kurokawa, Fujiko Nonaka describes how she and the other children on the McBryde plantation would pick kiawe beans and sell them for five cents a bag to earn lunch money. Tomi Taba worked on the pineapple field owned by her adoptive father, weeding and washing clothes for the Filipino workers her parents hired to tend to the land. Robert Lee recalls older workers making “pineapple swipes” while working in the California Packing Corporation’s pineapple fields:
But as soon as they got off the truck, each one would rush over to the pineapple field and pick the largest, ripest, prettiest pineapple they could find, break it off, cut the top off, and reach inside with their sharp knives, and make a soup out of the inside. Then they would put that same thing back on its own same plant; then they would go off and do the harvesting. At the end of the day, that pineapple had sat in the hot sun all day long, you see. So at six p.m., they come, and each of those men would take his pineapple, jump back on the truck, and drink his alcohol all the way back to the camp. Because it had been fermenting all day long.
At the same time, most children attended school. A few, like Gladys Okada and Robert Lee, remained long enough to graduate high school and attend college. In Japanese families, it was common practice for children to attend an hour or two of Japanese school after the standard school day was over. Here Gladys Okada details her daily routine with a friend:
We would have a little snack, like soda crackers and dried shrimp; walk from Eleele to Port Allen; and we’d go to Japanese school, come home, walk all the [way] back, talk story, laughing. We had so much fun.
In terms of recreational activities, interviewees describe a seemingly endless array of games and pastimes. Gladys Okada remembers swimming in the McBryde Sugar Company reservoir and catching medaka (Japanese rice fish) in mayonnaise jars to take home. Champ Ono fondly reminisces about pole fishing, a frequent weekend activity for kids in Puʻunene:
When we were in high school, somebody asked us, “Weren’t you afraid of going in and out?” I said, “Afraid of what?” They said, “Oh, sharks.” We never even thought about those things.
Sadie Doi discusses in her interview the importance of the family’s Philco radio for bringing her community together—neighbors used to gather at her house at night to listen to boxing matches and radio programs like The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger. Others describe their love for the movies, recounting memories of cheap tickets and the variety of films. “I used to go to Japanese movies every Saturday night. I used to like Japanese movies,” Tomi Taba says of movie theaters before the war.
Christian churches or Buddhist temples were also often an important part of family life, and several narrators, including Shizue Takaki and Yoshie Seida Yamamoto, discuss their experiences with religion throughout their lives. Here, Yamamoto talks about converting to Christianity: “Yeah, I was born a Buddhist, so I was a Buddhist until—gee, until war broke out.”
Almost every interviewee remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Tomi Taba, living on Kauai with her in-laws at the time, discusses how she was pregnant with her second son when word first got around:
So I went to see the doctor that day. As we were coming back, I stopped at the service station, which my uncle owned. Then when we stopped over there, my brother-in-law, who was below my husband, came over to the car and said, “You know something? Something awful happened on Oahu.”
Jimmy Lee was around eleven years old at the start of the war, and witnessed the entirety of the attack while doing chores on the family farm.
Well, my chores on December 7 was to feed the pigs. Right over here, maybe about 200 yards from here, that’s where the pigpen was. Feeding the pigs that morning, and wow, all of a sudden, here comes the plane coming overhead really low.
Robert Lee, then twenty years old, was also living on Oahu at the time and was woken up by the explosions from the harbor. Lee recalls the morning of December 7, 1941:
The Oklahoma, for example, had already turned over. Because before I’d even taken my grandfather and grandmother up to the cave, I had watched the Oklahoma turn right over. That was the first part of it; when I was still looking out my bedroom window, that still was happening. Then even when I was still up there looking, at that same early time, the Arizona exploded in this huge ball of fire.
Lee and his family members were later involved in the rescue efforts, helping the many boats of soldiers being carried to shore. Lee on assisting oil-covered soldiers:
So immediately, we knew what to do. We hooked up several hoses to the water supply there, and we started washing these fellows down. My mother came down with several cakes of what they called Fels-Naptha Soap. The naphtha soap cuts grease.
After the United States declared war against Japan on December 8, 1941, life on the islands quickly changed. Waterfront access was swiftly restricted, blackout drills went into immediate effect, and Japanese schools and Buddhist temples were shut down as priests and teachers were transported to internment camps on the mainland. Jimmy Lee describes life on Oahu under martial law, saying, “That afternoon, when we came home, the troops were here, and this was martial law. Martial law was imposed on us, the soldiers just controlled everything.”
Several interviewees discuss their families’ fear surrounding Japanese items they owned and how many of their parents quickly took action to hide or destroy their possessions. “By evening time, my mother took most of our Japanese things, and she burned it,” Gladys Okada says of December 7, 1941. Yoshie Seida Yamamoto remembers her parents entrusting a family heirloom, a sword, to a neighbor, only to have him refuse to return it after the war. Sadie Doi recalls digging underneath the house to bury her family’s Japanese books and records. “In fact, I think we even buried the phonograph,” she notes.
The Japanese films that Tomi Taba and several others look back on fondly stopped being shown at Hawaiian theaters, swiftly replaced by movies on the war and American patriotism. “We used to say, now, why did they make all the Japanese pilots look so ugly?” says Gladys Okada in reference to American war films.
In his interview, Champ Ono conveys the sense of panic and disorganization that pervaded the first few days of the war. A member of his school’s ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), Ono was quickly drafted, along with many of his classmates, into the Hawaii Territorial Guard. Laughing, Ono recalls the lack of training he received in the Territorial Guard: “Well, they didn’t even tell us how to load the gun.” On his first night as part of the Territorial Guard, he was assigned to patrol the waterfront for invasion:
The first night, I was there on the waterfront. They were supposed to pick us up the next morning. They never came, till almost evening time.
Ono was later dismissed from the Hawaii Territorial Guard on account of his Japanese heritage and went on to join the Varsity Victory Volunteers along with many other Japanese American students at the University of Hawaii.
Military presence on the Hawaiian islands was heightened. Individual families were ordered to build bomb shelters, the windows of houses and buildings were blacked out to prevent light from being visible, and air raid drills were frequently practiced in schools. Beaches were patrolled and monitored by troops in case of invasion, and access to the waterfront was restricted for civilians. Sadie Doi discusses military security measures along the beach on Waimea, stating that to access the water, she had to “crawl through the barbed wire fence, because they had strung barbed wire all over the place.”
Jimmy Lee’s childhood encounter with an armed soldier is a chilling reminder of the reality of martial law in Hawaii:
One morning before curfew time, I brought the cow out from the bushes, so I could take it to the pen so I could milk her. I was met by a soldier. A soldier with a long rifle and a long bayonet sticking at my throat. “What are you doing violating the curfew?”
And yet, despite the omnipresent worry that war was just around the corner, many interviewees look back on this period fondly. Yoshie Seida Yamamoto remembers a local dance held for the members of her community and how, despite the inability for people to obtain good dancing shoes during the war, everyone still showed up and had fun together:
It was a dance. It was during the day. It was on Sunday and it was from twelve to three, I think. The public is invited. So I saw the soldiers coming, all the camp people—everybody was there dancing, having a great time.
Gladys Okada’s memory of being scolded by a teacher for misbehaving during a drill — “Just because you bought three twenty-five stamps doesn’t give you the right to not behave during an air raid” — highlights the reality that the people in these oral histories faced during the 1940s. This story is humorous but nevertheless still tinged by the very real threat of war on the Hawaiian islands. It really drives home the fact that many of the narrators of these oral histories were only children or young adults at the time of this globally tumultuous period and spent many of their formative years growing up in the shadow of a world war.
I barely learned about World War II in school, and what I did learn was focused mainly on the European theater of the war. I’m not like my little sister, a history nut who could probably name every major player involved in the war and what their personal motivations were. I credit my knowledge of the war to one thing: my father loves war documentaries. Even more than that, he loves telling me what he learned from war documentaries. At this point, I’ve seen enough war documentaries to last a lifetime, and, while invaluable as a resource for education and preserving the past, I’ve come to realize that for me these documentaries sometimes seem impersonal. The rich cadence of a narrator’s voice plays over grainy, zoomed-out footage of planes and ships and explosions and smoke, while masterful editing weaves in music — the soundtrack of war. It’s easy to lose the human element of the story within the spectacle.
I visited Pearl Harbor as a child, and what I remember most is the glaringly white color of the USS Arizona Memorial against the bright blue sky and the massive crush of people that seemed endless to a three-year-old. That visit unfortunately didn’t have as great an effect on me as it could have. The glaring white hurt my eyes, the bright blue of the sky meant sweltering heat, and the massive crowd of people so much bigger than me just made me nervous. Yet for some reason, the memory of that day has long remained in my mind.
Working my way through this oral history project has in its own way helped my mind sharpen that indistinct memory of the white and the blue and the rainbow of Hawaiian-shirted tourists into something that fits solidly within my understanding of history. These interviews are the opposite of an impersonal documentary. They plainly capture the experiences and emotions of people who lived through a time in history so much earlier than my own. More than that, these interviews are comprehensive; they document entire lives, thus granting people like you and me intimate insight into how people lived through, and continued to live beyond, such devastating events.
Find these interviews and all our oral histories from the search feature on the Oral History Center home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. You can also find projects, including the Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project through the menu on our home page from Oral Histories, then choose Projects.
Shannon White is currently a third-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 at The Bancroft Library
In addition to these oral histories, The Bancroft Library has a wide range of source materials on Pearl Harbor including: Army reports, photos, fiction, personal accounts, films, and more. From the UC Library Search, click on Advanced Search, select “UC Berkeley special collections and archives” and enter your search terms.
By Shannon White
These oral histories provide a comprehensive look into a revolutionary period of scientific development and the birth of a booming industry.
The Bioscience and Biotechnology oral histories are part of a collection of interviews from the Oral History Center documenting the development of the biotechnology industry in California. The Center’s digital collections contain twenty-nine oral histories related to different aspects of bioscience in this project alone, including interviews from founders and notable members of some of the most influential biotechnology companies of the twentieth century.
Many of the interviews in the project center around the company Genentech, a research-oriented biotechnology startup founded in 1976 by the venture capitalist Robert Swanson and by Herbert Boyer, a biochemist from the University of California, San Francisco. Oral histories from both Swanson and Boyer are present in the catalog, along with testimonies from several other Genentech employees involved in both the research and the legal sides of the company. Notable interviewees include Thomas Perkins, founder of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and an early investor in Genentech; Thomas Kiley, the company’s first general counsel; Axel Ullrich, the former director of the Molecular Biology Department at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and an early hire at Genentech; and David Goeddel, one of Genentech’s first scientists and the later co-founder of the pharmaceutical company Tularik. Here, Thomas Kiley speaks about his integration into the company and his involvement with the early days of patent law surrounding the human genome:
I had participated in the negotiation of the company’s arrangements with major pharmaceutical companies having to do with growth hormone and with insulin and with interferon; and written the company’s patent applications to that point, its brief in the Supreme Court and the inferior court on the question whether life could be patented; had been involved in the evolution and ultimate settlement of threatened litigation on the part of University of California. So by the time I walked through Genentech’s doors as a full-time employee it’s fair to say I was hip deep in the company’s issues and culture.
Though many of the oral histories in this collection are focused on Genentech, there are a few other notable institutions covered in the scope of the project. There are several interviews from people involved in other pharmaceutical companies like Chiron Corporation, a biotech firm founded in Emeryville in the 1980s with a focus on vaccines and blood testing, or Cetus Corporation, a company founded in Berkeley in the 1970s. The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company also comes into play in these oral histories—beyond the individual interviews from people who worked for the corporation, many interviewees from Genentech and other organizations recall dealings between Eli Lilly and other companies for research and development purposes. Interviews by Keiichi Itakura and Arthur Riggs chronicle the City of Hope Medical Center’s contributions to Genentech’s early DNA synthesis and recombinant DNA research.
The University of California also plays a recurring role in the Bioscience and Biotechnology interviews. Many of the narrators were associated with the university during their undergraduate years or later as researchers and faculty members. For example, William Rutter, the co-founder of Chiron Corporation, served as the chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco from 1968 to 1982 before transferring to direct the university’s Hormone Research Institute until 1989. Herbert Boyer was a faculty member at UCSF from 1966 until 1991. Several other interviewees, including Michael Urdea, Herbert Heyneker, and Axel Ullrich, were postdoctoral fellows at UCSF before transferring to work in the corporate pharmaceutical industry.
Within the Bioscience and Biotechnology interviews, there are several common topics of discussion. Many of these narrators were at the forefront of cutting-edge DNA research in the 1970s and 1980s and have since achieved worldwide recognition for their contributions to the fields of molecular biology and biochemistry. In their individual interviews, you can find discussions on their projects, laboratory environment, and the issues of balancing breakthrough research with establishing a fledgling company. For example, Daniel Yansura’s oral history details his involvement with developing the vaccines for hepatitis B and foot-and-mouth disease. In his interview, Herbert Heyneker goes over Genentech’s somatostatin project. Multiple narrators discuss Genentech’s efforts to synthesize human insulin and human growth hormone. David Goeddel’s interview brings up the growing awareness of the importance of recombinant DNA research that surrounded the biotech industry’s rise:
There wasn’t one point when, ahhh, it all clicked in. And then it was students’ talk, and then you see the paper. I think it never hit me instantly like, “Oh, this is going to revolutionize science.” It was more of a gradual thing over a few months, where I went from not understanding much at all the first time [Marvin Caruthers] had told me, to all of a sudden, “Oh yes, I know this [recombinant technology] is going to be very important.”
The growth of this burgeoning industry was, however, mired by controversy. Throughout the 1970s, regulation and commercialization of recombinant DNA technology was a hot topic in the scientific community. Following the publication of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Guidelines for Recombinant DNA Research, limitations were imposed on DNA research and several prominent scientists were called to testify concerning legislation for work with recombinant DNA. Axel Ullrich and Keith Yamamoto, a UCSF faculty member and the current vice chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at the university, discuss some of these issues in their oral histories. Yamamoto’s history in particular details the turmoil at UCSF surrounding the potential illegal usage of the pBR322 plasmid in experiments prior to UCSF faculty members William Rutter and Herbert Boyer being summoned before a Senate subcommittee in 1977. Here, Yamamoto recalls the environment that gave birth to the NIH Guidelines for Recombinant DNA Research:
This was completely untested. So it wasn’t that [any one] of us had any direct evidence that there would be a problem, but it was easy to conjure one up. And everything else out there was unknown.
This is not the only controversy covered in the project, however. In 1990, the University of California filed a lawsuit against Genentech for patent infringement, alleging that former employee Peter Seeburg, with the help of Axel Ullrich, had stolen samples of the human growth hormone gene discovered at the university labs and used them at Genentech. David Goeddel testified against Seeburg, claiming that researchers at Genentech had isolated and sequenced their own version of the gene. Both Goeddel and Ullrich comment on the suit in their interviews. In this quote, Ullrich discusses the events of the “midnight raid”:
On the last day of ’78, I had packed up all my things, including a box with reagents and clones and so on. Peter Seeburg, who had been banned from the lab, knew that I was leaving that evening, New Year’s Eve ’78. So he had asked me if he could come with me at night and get his own clones too.
This oral history project also contains interviews regarding the financial, legal, and administrative aspects of running a pharmaceutical company. For example, Thomas Perkins and Fred Middleton, the first CFO at Genentech, offer their perspectives on investment and financial strategies in the biotech industry. Dennis Kleid, a scientist-turned-patent agent at Genentech, and Thomas Kiley discuss the legal aspects of the company and their experiences offering patent counsel. The collection also boasts interviews with several leaders at various companies, including Richard Scheller, the former director of scientific research for Genentech; William Rutter, the co-founder of Chiron Corporation; and William Young, the former COO of Genentech and CEO of ViroLogic (now Monogram Biosciences). Here, Dennis Kleid reflects on the competitiveness of the biotechnology industry:
But what I’ve noticed from working in the legal area is that the innovator or leader gets a knife in the back from the copycat, the guy behind you. It takes a lot more money and expertise and time to do something first.
So, what makes these oral histories a unique contribution to the Oral History Center’s collection?
To start, they provide a comprehensive look into a revolutionary period of scientific development and the birth of a booming industry. Contained within these interviews are the firsthand accounts of several scientists, innovators, and academics who have gained worldwide renown for their work. The story of Genentech and its contemporaries is long and complex, spanning several decades and chronicling the growth of a wildly successful scientific endeavor. Here Thomas Perkins discusses his faith in the early biotech effort:
In the very early days of Genentech, I was very skeptical. . . You just have to hand it to Swanson. He saw it more clearly than anyone. He saw it more clearly than Boyer did. He saw it more clearly than anyone in the world.
The oral histories in this project may be of use to scholars concerned with the history of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, people interested in innovation and startup culture, science or law students exploring future career options, and countless other individuals.
Find these interviews and all Oral History Center interviews 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 Bioscience and Biotechnology oral histories, through the menu on our home page from Oral Histories > Projects.
Shannon White is currently a third-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 through The Bancroft Library
Genentech records, approximately 1980-2000, BANC MSS 2005/190 c.
Genentech: The beginnings of biotech, by Sallie Smith Hughes, Bancroft HD9999.B444 H85 2011
By Lauren Sheehan-Clark
In many ways, the history of food is the history of our world. It’s present in all aspects of day-to-day life; it shapes everything from our culture to our consumer habits. Food can inform us about politics and economics, environmentalism and land use — all issues of global importance — or it can reveal intimate stories of family, friendship, and generational strength. Ask someone about what they eat and drink, and you’ll hear their story.
At the UC Berkeley Oral History Center, our historians do just that. Interviews related to the history of food, food systems, and agriculture have long been a mainstay of the OHC’s research agenda, and reading through the Food and Agriculture project makes that abundantly clear. With more than 100 interviews dating back to the 1950s, the collection forms an impressive resource for scholars, students, and members of the general public alike.
Interviews range in scope from studies of the dairy industry to tales of local bakeries, but the heart of this collection is an expansive series on the California wine industry launched in 1969. Discover the rich history of California wine from Prohibition to Y2K as told by the winemakers, marketers, researchers, and countless others who had a direct hand in shaping the industry. And with interviews from famed enology and viticulture professors from UC Berkeley and UC Davis — such as Harold Olmo, Albert Winkler, and Maynard Amerine — the California wine series also reveals a good deal of insight into university history and the connection between academia and industry.
Find these and all the Oral History Center’s interviews 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 Food and Agriculture Individual Interviews project, through the menu on our home page from Oral Histories > Projects.
Here is just a small sampling of interviews related to Food and Agriculture:
Eric Sartenaer: Providing Bread and Pasta to the Bay Area
Former UC Berkeley student Eric Sartenaer was a baker and bread maker who established several eateries in the Berkeley and Kensington area. After working at the famed Cheese Board Collective for more than five years, he established Semifreddi’s bakery and cafe on Colusa Avenue in 1984 and a pasta restaurant named The Phoenix Pastificio in 1993. In his interview, Sartenaer discusses the restaurant scene in Berkeley, the history of Cheese Board and other popular eateries, and bread-making techniques.
André Tchelistcheff: Grapes, Wine, and Ecology
A giant in the California wine industry, André Tchelistcheff was the longtime vice president of Beaulieu Vineyards and a consultant to countless other vintners in Napa Valley. Tchelistcheff’s influence is unmistakable: his name echoes throughout the interviews of other winemakers in our collection, and among the many people who consider him a mentor are Napa Valley leaders such as Robert Mondavi and Louis Martini. In his interview, Tchelistcheff discusses winemaking in Europe and California, technological advancements in viticulture, and his secondary career as a vineyard consultant.
Cecilia Chiang: Chef and Businesswoman
Cecilia Chiang revolutionized Chinese cooking in the United States. A chef and businesswoman born in Wuxi, China, she established the first Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco in 1957 and built on her success to open a second location in Beverly Hills in 1975, all while acting as a consultant to new restaurants and providing cooking classes to Bay Area chefs. In her interview, Chiang discusses her life in China during the Japanese occupation, the importance of food and cooking, and the growth of Mandarin Restaurant into a culinary hotspot.
Harold Olmo: Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties
Harold Olmo was a leading figure in viticulture and enology and a professor at UC Davis, where he worked in the Department of Viticulture for more than forty years. A well-respected expert, Olmo worked with numerous agricultural organizations, including the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In his interview, he discusses the creation of new grape varieties, university-industry relations, and his research abroad in countries such as Afghanistan and Brazil.
Merry Edwards: Meredith Vineyard Estate
Another UC Berkeley alum, Merry Edwards was a vintner and wine consultant who worked with numerous wineries in the Sonoma County region. Edwards worked as a winemaker for Mount Eden Vineyards and Matanzas Creek Winery in addition to producing wines independently, later establishing the Merry Edwards Winery in 2006. In her interview, Edwards speaks frankly on the discrimination against women in the wine industry and discusses her early introduction to wine, experiments with fruit wine in college, and differences between European and American winemaking.
Whether you’re researching changes in American business practices over the twentieth century or are simply curious about the history of a local Berkeley restaurant, our Food and Agriculture collection has you covered. So sit back, grab yourself a bite to eat, and dive into these interviews to learn the story behind your food and drinks.
Lauren Sheehan-Clark is a senior at UC Berkeley studying history and English and is an editorial assistant at the Oral History Center.
Introduction by Martin Meeker
When coming up with ideas for a special newsletter commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we recognized a blind spot: as a history organization, we typically look backwards into the past to inquire about the memories of individuals, now older, about experiences when they were younger. But what about the young? How do they experience and recall events that might have happened even before they were born, yet are destined to impact their lives going forward? What are they told by their parents and taught by their schools to help them form opinions and make them grapple with events in which they can take no blame and accept no praise? How do they remember key, shared events that they did not experience as conscious, thinking adults? In the passages below, you’ll find a group of our wonderful student employees as they contend with the “experience” of 9/11.
Shannon White is currently a third-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.
I was born in April of 2002, several months after 9/11, and as such, I’ve never lived in a world that didn’t have the shadow of such an unprecedented tragedy looming over it. In September of 2001, my mom was six weeks pregnant with me, living in an apartment on campus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where my dad was getting his master’s degree. I’ve heard the story from her many times over the course of my life: she was watching the news and sat there, in a state of absolute shock, as the towers fell. “I wondered what kind of world I was bringing you into,” she said when I asked her about it again today. My parents have both described their sadness in the wake of September 11, as well as the fear that their home, a major east coast city, would also become the target of an attack. The firsthand accounts of my parents have been so important for my understanding of an event which I did not experience myself but which has had such a lasting impact on the world in which I grew up.
Jordan Harris worked at the Oral History Center as an editorial assistant from February 2020 to August 2021. She graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in English.
I was three years old when 9/11 happened. My mom remembers first hearing about it from a phone call with her mom, who said the Twin Towers were bombed. But my mom didn’t believe any of it, thinking my grandma had just been watching some crazy television show. When she came home after picking up my sister and me from daycare, my dad told her about the planes crashing into the towers. They vividly remember watching the overwhelming news coverage on the television, sitting in shock as they saw bodies falling from the destroyed buildings on the screen.
I don’t think I really understood the impact of 9/11 until I was in middle school. Starting in those years and continuing through high school, there would be annual assemblies to honor the fallen of that day in 2001. As I grew older, every year I became more and more aware of it as this grave, anniversal fixture of American culture, from those assemblies in school to the cable news on TV to the millions of posts on social media, especially as those platforms evolved into ubiquitous fixtures of their own in everyday life. As someone who has no memories from that day since I was so young, it’s a strange thing to think about each year because even though it happened in my lifetime, it still feels far away—an episode of my parents’ lives but not my own.
Ashley Sangyou Kim
Ashley Kim is currently a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying Rhetoric. She is an editor for the World Section of Berkeley Political Review (BPR). Ashley works as a student editor for the Oral History Center.
My mom was six months pregnant with me when she saw 9/11 on TV. The first time I heard of this event was when my mother talked about seeing the burning Twin Towers on the news. She told me that she could not believe what was on the screen, and that even the reporters sounded confused at first. Many South Koreans look to America as the ultimate symbol of power, and the fact that something like this could happen was a shock to many people there. After my family immigrated to the US, the first time 9/11 was brought up in school was in sixth grade. My teacher showed the class a documentary detailing how passengers responded to the news that the planes were hijacked. It was a very emotional film, and the individual testimonies stayed with me for a while. Only a couple of years ago in college did I learn how 9/11 had an enormous impact on U.S. domestic and foreign policy. To be honest, I feel like I only know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how 9/11 changed the world.
Ricky J. Noel worked at the Oral History Center as a student editor. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, he majored in history with a Latin American concentration.
For those of us born in the very late 90s, 9/11 was something that occurred in our lifetime, but we never quite understood the true gravity or impact of the tragedy until much later in life. Every anniversary of the tragedy was marked on our calendars but I personally did not learn the details of what had occurred until high school. Through various documentaries and podcasts I finally learned the full extent of what occurred that day and I finally understood how this terrible tragedy must have affected the people living through it. The idea that something like this could happen within the United States must have been a terrifying prospect. It set the stage for the United States — and by extension other countries — to become a lot more locked down in terms of how we moved around the world. The event changed everyday simple aspects of American life. Before 9/11 you could wait at the gate at the airport for a loved one, traveling was easier, and Afghanistan and Iraq were not constantly present in the back of your mind. Coming up on twenty years after the attack, 9/11 still has a conscious impact on America. It’s a tragedy that has continued to reverberate through the years, even through small changes that we have all become used to as part of everyday life.
by Martin Meeker
The radio alarm was set to KCBS news radio. I never really listened to the station itself but there was something mundane and even comforting about the even-keeled voices of newscasters summoning me from sleep. That morning was different, however. In the moments between the radio alarm sounding and my hitting of the snooze button, I heard a few voices in a more fevered tone than usual. I fell asleep again but I now recall dreams filled with anxiety and then awoke again before the 10-minute snooze reprieve.
I turned the radio back on because I sensed something was wrong. It took a few minutes to unravel the breaking story, but the newscaster was speaking with then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. The conversation was earnest and a bit frantic. The talk was of securing bridges, tunnels, public transit, and major public sites; offices were closing for the day and air traffic was grounded at the SFO airport. Here my memory gets a little foggy but I believe all four airplanes had already gone down along with one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I quickly roused myself from bed and turned on the television and tuned it to CNN (during one of the few times in my life I had cable TV). The images remain seared in my memory. I’m quite sure that I was watching as the second tower fell. I can still summon the emotions that I was feeling (although I typically prefer not to): fear, anger, horror, confusion, despair, helplessness, etcetera. The remainder of the day was a blur. I recall not wanting to commute from my apartment in Oakland to my work in San Francisco that day, so I stayed home and, like many, remained glued to the television.
The recollection above is what oral historians called a “flashbulb memory” — and this was my flashbulb memory of learning about the attacks of September 11, 2001. The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines this concept as, “a vivid, enduring memory associated with a personally significant and emotional event, often including such details as where the individual was or what he or she was doing at the time of the event.” Other common examples of when a vast number of people recall a moment with specificity include the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. In part because these events were so memorable — and often quite traumatic — they are said to define a generation or mark the transition to a new era. While studies have shown that the recalled memories tend to be vivid, they are not always as accurate as one might expect. Still, the memories when factually recalled (or creatively reimagined) can be revealing as they demonstrate the elements of an event that people find memorable — worth maintaining in one’s active memory and often sharing with others years after the event.
We at the Oral History Center do not make a regular practice of asking our interviewees to recount their own flashbulb memories, but sometimes the question is appropriate or simply happens to come up in the course of the interview. Thanks to the excellent work of our student researcher Deborah Qu, we have below a series of recollections of that tragic day now twenty years ago.
The first selection is from Bob Swinford, who was interviewed for our project with the US Forest Service. He recalled, “I was right here on this floor [4th floor] Washington office of the Forest Service in Washington, DC, not in this office but across the way there, when the plane hit the Pentagon. This is an old building. We felt the concussion very much in this building. We felt the building quake, and we knew something bad had happened. Didn’t know where. But it didn’t take long because some folks on the fifth floor, in legislative affairs, saw right away. Obviously, we were watching the Twin Towers stuff on the television here, and then everybody said — a lot of people have taken credit for taking charge that day and sending everybody home. We didn’t hear anything. The chief just made the decision. A couple of law enforcement folks happened to be in the building for some reason, and we didn’t have a speaker system then, so they just became human speakers, and they went up and down the floors in all of the wings of the building and told everybody to go home.”
Robert Berdahl, who was Chancellor of UC Berkeley and thus living in the Pacific time zone, had a Berkeley-specific recollection: “It was a Tuesday morning. It’s one of those days that is etched in your memory, like the assassination of Kennedy or some very, very significant event where you remember exactly where you were when you learned that something happened. In this case, I was still in bed and my wife was in St. Paul, so I was home alone. The phone rang at about 7:00 or 7:15 or something like that and it was John Cummins and he said, ‘Have you seen the television?’ And I said, ‘No, what’s happening?’ And he said, ‘Well, there’s been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers’ And so I jumped up, turned on the television and started watching it. And then watched when the Towers came down. And we called an immediate cabinet meeting to discuss what to do. There were a number of campuses that closed. This was September 11, so we were the only UC campus where school had started, because the others were on quarter system and school started later, a week or two later. So we were the only one that was open. But there was a lot of discussion about whether to close the campus.”
Finally, another perspective comes from Bill Koenig, a former San Francisco police officer who was on holiday navigating a barge through the canals of France. “We were actually moving that day. We were moving through the canals and we were coming to a small city, Briare, which is two/three hours south of Paris by car, maybe a month south by boat. So we were coming into a mooring. We squeezed into a mooring. Right behind us was a small English boat, very small, a single man on the boat. He had a TV. We had just put our mooring lines down. We had a dish on a TV so we could watch our TV. He came running out and said that an airplane had just flown into a New York skyscraper. We quickly got our TV working. We had it in operation by the time the second plane flew into the Twin Towers. It just stopped us, of course. There are hotel boats that take people, different size hotel boats, maybe four couples on, maybe up to twenty couples. Some of them — to go through the canals, maybe ten couples. One of the hotel boats came in with many Americans on board, and of course we were glued to the TV. We were getting CNN at that time. We could follow it. When the hotel boats came in, we put up more American flags. . . . One of the things that continually stops me is the 343 New York firefighters that lost their lives on that day.”
These accounts all provide great detail into events that, in a few examples, happened years prior to the interview. Rarely do we record such precise details of everyday life into our active memories, and those typically only are retained once we’ve had the opportunity to rely on such events shortly after transpiring. In other words, it is usually as a result the retelling of an event that it is recorded into our memories. The interviewees also tend to focus on the moment of learning itself: this is the flashbulb moment, in which it seems like an imprinting happens. And in each of these examples, the narrative flows from the moment of recognition to the immediate response: what happened next? For Swinton, the next move was evacuation from a vulnerable site; for Berdahl, it was how to respond as head of a major university campus; and for Koenig, the response was to learn more and to show pride and defiance in the face of the attack.
On this solemn anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, I invite you to connect with others and share your own memories of that date and the events that followed — and perhaps explore the memories of our flashbulb memories. What are the specific details that you remember? What are the facts that now seem a little fuzzy after twenty years? What transpired in the hours and days after the attack? Why do these memories stand out? How do your memories differ from those of friends and family? I recall one phrase heard and seen often in the wake of 9/11 was “Never Forget.” Perhaps one way of honoring those who lost their lives that day is to remember, share those memories, and explore the meaning of what we’ve recalled.
Find these and all our oral histories from the search feature on the UC Berkeley Oral History Center home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.
By Deborah Qu
The balance between preserving nature and sharing it with the public remains a delicate one, according to redwood conservationist Newton Bishop Drury. “In a great natural area its beauty is a fragile thing usually — that’s particularly true of mountain meadows and other areas of relatively sparse vegetation, slow-growing plants. In one day an undue visitation might blot out many of the elements that made the beauty of the place, so that many a great area carries in its beauty the seeds of its own destruction.” As the director of the National Park Service from 1940–1951, Drury set out to revive the flora and fauna of the California statewide park system to its most natural state, while allowing the public to enjoy the most out of the scenery. This challenge was not his first in balancing the demands of environmental conservation and the interests of people and industries.
This challenge was not his first in balancing the demands of environmental conservation and the interests of people and industries.
Within the extensive five-volume oral history recorded by the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library from 1960–1970, Drury recounts his life and fruitful career. Drury graduated in the class of 1912 at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-founded the advertising agency Drury Brothers Company in 1919. That same year, he was hired to publicize the newly formed Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit organization that to this day specializes in the preservation of the endangered redwood forests and parkland. Drury became instrumental in expanding the League and establishing public support for a united park system throughout the twenties. Due to his efforts, among the work of the Save the Redwoods League and others, the California state park system was formed in 1927.
In his oral history, Drury describes how the Save the Redwoods League first began in 1917, when geologist and UC Berkeley professor Dr. John C. Merriam and others had taken a trip to Humboldt County in Northern California, as urged by the head of the National Park Service, Stephen Mathers. Upon viewing the rapid deterioration of redwood groves within the last century, they called for legislative action to protect redwood forests. “At that time, the way we have always understood it, the idea of a permanent, nationwide organization such as the Save the Redwoods League was conceived,” Drury recalls.
Deforestation was at its height due to uncontrolled logging in the early 1900s. The drastic change of forest scenery throughout California was heartbreaking to Drury, who observes, “One of the great tragedies in California is that practically none of the river banks in California, except a few relatively small parks that have been established just lately, are assured of preservation.” During the flooding seasons, banks experienced erosion and the habitats of burrowing mammals were lost. The natural beauty of the Northern California coastline was also harmed. As Drury recalls, “All of this country had magnificent coast oak forests in the early days. Some of Berkeley still has. Now you hear the city of Oakland named and you wonder how it got its name.”
To secure land, Drury often worked with logging companies and the forestry board, which was established to ensure a steady flow of wood products. Drury distinctly remembers the way the logging industry and the League differed in priorities, describing how the forestry board wanted “to conserve for consumption, while the parks were for the purpose of preserving for enjoyment and maintaining the pristine condition of the forests.” At the same time, they were motivated to work with the League in the interest of sustainability. One of Drury’s first great contributions to the League was his involvement in raising funds and negotiating a purchase of redwood groves for the League from lumber companies in 1920–1921, areas that constitute Humboldt Redwoods State Park today.
According to Drury, his brother Audrey came up with the idea of establishing memorial groves dedicated to historical figures, environmentalists, and philanthropists during the early 1920s. As executive secretary of the League in 1920, Drury established the “first so-called memorial grove” known as Boiling Grove inside Humboldt County. Today, there are thousands of park areas that memorialize figures, including a scenic parkway built to commemorate Drury for his work in forest preservation.
Although the League was successful in acquiring land in the late 1910s and 1920s, conservation parks in California were separately run and faced issues of obtaining sizable grants to acquire the areas that needed to be preserved. This is why the League always recognized the need for a government-run system. Throughout the twenties, Drury began publicly campaigning for a unified state park system. In 1925, two bills requesting a centralized park system had passed the legislature but were denied by Governor Friend Richardson. However, in 1927, three state park bills under Governor C. C. Young passed, which together granted permission to create a commission for a statewide park system, to survey for potential park sites, and to request a $6 million bond issue to purchase forests for state parks from voters. The State Park Commission was formed, and the $6 million bond issue that requested matching funds from non-State sources was successfully approved by voters. Land purchased by the League was generally donated to the California state park system. With adequate funding, a united front, and Drury as the acquisition officer, the park system quickly grew.
Today, the California state park system has over 270 parks and the Save the Redwoods League continues to raise money for land acquisition as well as to restore damaged redwood forests. Because of Drury, members of the League, other conservationists, and lawmakers, we can enjoy redwood groves that bring shade to sunny days, homes to wildlife, and beauty of the landscape. Drury became director of the National Park Service in the forties and head of the State Division of Parks and Beaches in the fifties, but in 1959 he returned to the Save the Redwoods League as a chairman, back to where he first started.
More Oral Histories on the Save the Redwoods League
In addition to Drury’s story, the Oral History Center collection contains interviews of California state park managers as well as other Save the Redwoods League members. This includes Humboldt Redwoods State Park’s first ranger Enoch Percy French, who supervised the conservation of Humboldt County redwood groves after they were acquired by the League. Sierra Club co-founder and secretary of the State Park Commission William E. Colby provides more insight into the commission’s formation in his 1954 oral history. The oral history by UC Berkeley paleobotanist professor and long-standing Save the Redwoods League member Ralph Works Chaney describes the fight to leave “the fragile nature of the landscape” at Point Lobos undisturbed, with the goal to erase destructive human interference. Chaney, who became president of the Save the Redwoods League from 1961–1971, also felt the conflicting perspectives between the park and the forest service, the latter of which was interested in “selling lumber, selling grazing rights, and . . . regulat[ing] and regularly permit[ting] camping.” For information about the Save the Redwoods League through the late twentieth century, Bruce Howard, League president from 1980–1995, recounts further bouts of reorganization and expansion in his OHC interview. Within these oral histories are countless stories of individuals with a love of nature, a dedication to the conservation of plants and wildlife, and a vision to preserve it for future generations.
Find these and all the Oral History Center’s interviews from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.
See also The Bancroft Library collection of Drury’s papers: Finding Aid to the Newton Bishop Drury papers BANC MSS 79/61 c.
Deborah Qu (she/her) is an undergraduate research assistant at the Oral History Center from the Bay Area. She is currently going into her third year at UC Berkeley and is majoring in Psychology with a Data Science minor.