One of UC Berkeley’s first African American graduates and Oakland’s first black teacher
by Deborah Qu
In 1921, the members of the black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha stood proudly together for a photo to be featured in the University of California’s yearbook, the Blue and Gold. Among them was Ida Louise Jackson, the founder of the Rho chapter of AKA. As the first black sorority on campus, they knew that the day was going to be memorable, but unfortunately it was unforgettable for the wrong reasons. Jackson had scrounged 45 dollars from her parents for the photograph. Yet, despite meeting all requirements, when the yearbook came out their picture was nowhere to be seen.
When Ida Jackson inquired about their missing photo to Dean Stebbins, Jackson was directed to President Barrows. In her 1984 oral history at The Bancroft Library, she recalls his exact response of why the members of AKA were omitted: they “weren’t representative of the student body.” According to Jackson, neither the sorority pictures nor the individual senior pictures of most black students made the yearbook.
The blatant racism and discrimination in Barrow’s reply was a reality for students of color. During the oral history conducted more than 60 years later, Jackson still could name nearly every black student at Cal, as there were only 17 African Americans enrolled in 1920. California, which Jackson had believed was the “Mecca” of racial equality and opportunity before arriving from the South, was very much enveloped in racial discrimination. She recalls that “there weren’t too many opportunities in other places because good old California proved not to be as liberal as my brother had thought it was, or painted the picture to us. Because people are people.”
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1902, Ida Louise Jackson credits her parents for teaching her honesty and outspokenness from an early age. She also recalls that her parents “put education ahead of everything,” believing that education would increase opportunity in a prejudiced system in which they themselves had struggled. Ida Jackson went to Rust College for two years, and graduated from a teaching course at New Orleans University (now Dillard). When she arrived in Oakland, California, in 1918 and requested a teaching application from the county superintendent’s office, they suggested she apply for a full California teaching credential. Eager to continue learning, Ida Jackson enrolled in the University of California, majoring in education. By 1921, she had formed Alpha Kappa Alpha to build a safe community for the small number of black students.
After graduating with a B.A in 1922 and M.A in 1923, Ida Jackson went on to apply for a teaching position in the Oakland public school system. At the time, she recalls that the general consensus was that a black person was not capable of teaching, especially in Oakland where there were very few black students that continued on to high school. She was rejected and told that she needed teaching experience. This led her to become the first black high school teacher in California at the racially segregated East Side High School for Mexican and African American students in El Cerrito in 1923. Once again, Jackson applied to teach in Oakland and was rejected. Even then, her fiery determination to teach in Oakland did not falter. She received help from President Walter Butler of the Northern California branch of the NAACP, who worked with influential white members of the Board of Education whom he personally knew in high school. Social reformer Anita Whitney intervened to endorse her teaching credibility. Only after such interventions did Ida Jackson receive an offer at the Prescott School in Oakland in 1926. Finally, she became the first black teacher in the Oakland public schools.
Ida Jackson remembers how her black students, whom she had encouraged to go into college when teaching in Prescott School in the late 1920s–1930, were discouraged by the counselor to follow in Jackson’s footsteps and become a teacher. This was because the opportunities were so far and few in between along the West Coast, that becoming a teacher was seen as an impossible career path for black students. Frustrated, Jackson found that mentality to be very narrow, and recognized that systemic racism had to be changed. Her philosophy was one of boldness and passion:
Have a certain amount of confidence in yourself . . . be willing to tackle whatever interests you, because you get something out of it whether you win all the way or not. It’s a valuable experience to go into unknown territory to sort of prepare yourself for anything that follows.
She then continued to devote her life’s work to creating more opportunities for black students. In 1934, Ida Jackson became the national AKA president, where she continued organizing chapters at other schools around the West Coast in LA, Arizona, Spokane, and Seattle. In that same year, Jackson initiated an Alpha Kappa Alpha summer school for rural teachers that began in Lexington, Mississippi, which brought volunteer teachers to equip local teachers and students in low-income areas. She strongly believed that “if the teachers were better prepared then they could inspire the youth to go ahead and get an education.”
However, she soon realized that the students not only were starved from education but also basic healthcare. Turning her focus to include welfare, Jackson, along with Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee and AKA volunteers, began establishing child health care centers in rural areas. From the 1930s–1940s, Jackson became founder and director of the Mississippi Health Project, which expanded to include care for adults as well as children. Once again, she met obstacles with a fighting spirit. When it became increasingly difficult for clients to travel to the clinics, she helped the service evolve into a mobile center that moved between rural areas. Ida Jackson also was involved in forming a dental clinic for low-income families in Oakland. Meanwhile, her passion for education also did not dim. She spent a year at Columbia University and had gotten within two units of a doctorate in education, but did not officially obtain the degree because she could not afford the expense. Afterwards, Jackson held the position of dean of women at Tuskegee Institute, but ultimately returned to teach at McClymonds High School in Oakland upon retirement in 1953.
In addition to all this, Jackson was active in the National Council of Negro Women, where she strove to improve the economic and social conditions for low-income black women. She was also highly involved in the education department of the NAACP in their mission, as she described it, to “encourage more blacks to get higher education, and to sort of fight the prejudice that was in the schools.” In 1972, she donated her farm to UC Berkeley, requesting that the profits be used toward graduate scholarships for black students. Ida Jackson passed away on March 8, 1996, but her legacy lives on. In 2004, UC Berkeley unveiled the Ida L. Jackson Graduate House Apartments in her honor.
As a research assistant at the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, my role is to research the oral histories of accomplished women associated with UC Berkeley and the UC system. This project was formed to celebrate the 150 years of women at Berkeley and highlight their struggles, accomplishments, and impact UC women have had. Personally, this research project has opened my eyes to the privileges I take for granted, and shut down misconceptions I had about history. Whenever I looked back in the past, even as a minority, I almost wanted to see racism as a distant problem, something far away from me. However, as we know, racial injustice can still be very much rooted in our systems and institutions. Thus, while it is not pretty, it is crucial to be reminded of the history of our schools and the institutions we take part in, and realize the inequalities that our very own students and communities may be facing. Ida Louise Jackson was a powerful woman who rejected racial discrimination in education and health as the status quo. Thus, her fighting spirit and unrelenting determination can be inspirational for us all to stand up for what we believe in.
Deborah Qu is a rising sophomore at UC Berkeley and is majoring in psychology.
Jackson, Ida Louise. “Ida Louise Jackson: Overcoming Barriers in Education.” Interview by Gabriella Morris in 1984 and 1985. Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1990.
Smith, Jessie Carney. Notable Black American Women. United States: Gale Research, 1992.
At the conclusion of every academic year, the Oral History Center staff takes a moment to pause, reflect on the interviews completed over the previous year, and offer gratitude to those individuals who volunteered to be interviewed. The names below constitute the Oral History Class of 2020. Please join us in offering heartfelt thanks and congratulations for their contributions!
We would also like to take this time to thank our student employees, undergraduate research apprentices, and library interns. It was a unique semester, topping off a busy and productive year, and they continued to come through for us, as they always do. We rely on this team for work that is critical to our operations: research, interview support, and curriculum development; video editing; writing and editing of abstracts, frontmatter, and transcripts; and more. They’ve even produced articles and oral history performances to share our work with wider audiences. We couldn’t do it without them!
The Oral History Center Class of 2020
Robert L. Allen
Alexis T. Bell
Michael R. Peevey
Nancy Donnelly Praetzel
Bay Area Women in Politics
California State Archives
Vicki L. Ruiz
East Bay Regional Park District
Rev. Diana McDaniel
Economist Life Stories
Michael R. Schilling
Joyce Hill Stoner
Napa Valley Vintners
Yale Agrarian Studies
Marvel “Kay” Mansfield
Helen F. Siu
Elisabeth Jean Wood
Ashley Sangyou Kim
Undergraduate Research Apprentices
Corina (Mei) Chen
by Ricky J. Noel
We asked our awardee of the Carmel and Howard Friesen Prize in Oral History Research, Ricky Noel, to share how he found the oral histories he used, and his approach to incorporating them in his research paper. Read Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker’s award announcement. And hats off to Ricky!
My paper would not have been nearly as thorough if I hadn’t found these oral histories.
When I began research for my term paper I did not initially think to look in the Oral History Center’s archives for my primary sources. My class was centered on U.S. and Middle East relations and I had chosen oil as the foundation of my paper. Despite being familiar with the OHC collections through my library work, I didn’t think that their archives would have much that wasn’t U.S. centric.
I started with some general search terms and quickly realized that the results were plentiful but not necessarily related to my topic. It was easy to skim through the search results and identify what was relevant, but nothing initially stood out to me. There was however an oral history collection I found in the “Projects” section of the OHC website under Commerce and Industry: “Health and Disease in Saudi Arabia: The ARAMCO Experience 1940s–1990s.” Aramco happened to be one of the major oil companies discussed in my sections, and healthcare was an interesting perspective with which to approach the assignment.
Searching through an oral history may seem a bit daunting at first; the Aramco volumes were each roughly 700 pages long. However, the Health and Disease volume was available digitally in the archives and had drop down menus for each section and interviewee, which made it much easier to search for information related to my specific thesis, without me having to read through the entire collection.
I used this collection as the foundation for my paper by incorporating the actual voices of the interviewees and how they viewed their experiences in the company. I then applied outside secondary and primary sources to build my argument, as well as context. What I aimed for was to use the actual interviewees in the oral history (with quotes, paraphrasing) as a way to build an individualized view of how they viewed their work and applied it to the broader themes I had outlined in my thesis. My paper would not have been nearly as thorough if I hadn’t found these oral histories. The OHC is an incredibly useful source for researchers and I encourage anyone to learn more about oral histories and how they can be used in one’s projects. I will say that first person voices enliven history and the OHC has plenty of them available to use.
Finally I would like to thank the Friesens for this wonderful prize and for providing additional focus on the resources of the Oral History Center for scholarly research.
Ricky J. Noel is starting his final year at Berkeley. He is majoring in history with a Latin American concentration.
by Deborah Qu
Twenty-twenty has proven itself to be a challenging year, starting with the spring semester at UC Berkeley suddenly moving online to accommodate for the shelter-in-place order during a worldwide pandemic. Stressed, demotivated, and anxious, many of us students had to balance school on top of financial, familial, mental health, and other issues. Needless to say, I was extremely touched by the flexibility and continued commitment that many of my professors exhibited this semester. Twenty-twenty is also the 150th year of the University of California opening its doors to women, and I am lucky to be part of a project of the Oral History Center to identify all the interviews of UC-related women in its collection. While doing this research, I found myself especially interested in the stories of UC Berkeley women faculty. Many of these women were pioneers in their own fields at the time, or pursued their passion for learning despite great adversity.
The oral history of historian Natalie Zemon Davis reminded me that what is first seen as unconventional or disadvantageous can sometimes actually be an opportunity. As the only woman in a department of men, she used her position to include more units focused on women in history and expanded gender studies classes at UC Berkeley. Professor Elizabeth Malozemoff reminded me that learning is a valuable treasure and that pursuing education could continue at any age. Going back to school and earning her degrees at Cal, she rebuilt her life with such an unbroken positive attitude after leaving her home in Russia because of the chaos from the Bolshevik Revolution. Reading about their life experiences not only made me proud to be a Golden Bear, but also gave me encouragement and a sense of hopefulness for the future.
Natalie Zemon Davis
Professor Natalie Zemon Davis is a social and cultural historian who specializes in Early Modern History. In 1968, she arrived at UC Berkeley as a visiting professor and the only woman in the History Department at the time. She attained full professorship later in 1971. In addition to Berkeley, she has taught at Brown University, the University of Toronto, and Princeton University. In her interview conducted by the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library in 2003, Professor Davis recounts the difficulties attaining equality as a woman in a male-dominated field. This, in turn, sparked an interest in teaching history with a focus on women.
From the start, Davis did the unconventional. She chose to go into graduate school while also being married, which were seen as two distinct and diverging pathways for women in the 1950s. She recalls in her oral history interview that while her teachers were “not optimistic about women marrying and having children and having a career, because they had taken other paths,” Davis was not interested in following norms. Her marriage was founded on “egalitarian ideals.” She was one of the very few female students studying archival social history. Although the professors treated her seriously, she admitted that there was a difference in social attitude and treatment, stating “they just didn’t think about what it might be like to be a woman student.” But her interest in history meant more to her than adhering to the status quo. She remembers, “there was no way I was going to be stopped….I loved my work so much.”
Instead of allowing the challenges of being one of the only women to overwhelm her, it actually sparked an interest to bring a greater emphasis on the perspective of women into the historical discourse. Working with female graduate students in 1966 at the University of Toronto, Davis studied the experiences of women with children working toward their Ph.D., hoping to raise awareness to daycare needs. She was one of the first to hold undergraduate economic history classes with a focus on women “as central characters,” by adding topics regarding women poverty and labor services. Her integrity behind her courses stood out; she taught what she thought was important and interesting without expecting that it would lead to recurring courses. At UC Berkeley, Professor Davis taught the Reformation course, “Society and the Sexes in Early Modern Europe,” which looked at the likeness and differences between genders, garnering attention for the expanding field of gender studies. Professor Davis was involved in the Academic Senate Committee on the Status of Women, an initiative committed to hiring more women in academic departments.
While Davis’s accomplishments already make her story noteworthy, her confident attitude to pursue her passion was what really left a strong impression on me. As someone interested in pursuing a career in academia but also sometimes racked with self doubt about my ability, I admired the simplicity in her love of history and gender studies. And I certainly felt pride for UC Berkeley when she praised the institution for its “open” environment, which she felt gave her a space to experiment with understanding history and culture through the perspective of women.
As the spring semester continued on, I, like many others, was having difficulty staying motivated for my online classes. But, when I read through Professor Elizabeth Malozemoff’s oral history interview, I was suddenly reminded of the simple fun and joy learning can bring. Before Malozemoff went on to become a Russian Culture and Literature professor at UC Berkeley, she was born in Tsarist Russia in 1881. Growing up as a daughter of a seamstress who interacted with the wealthy, she became familiar with the entrenched classism within Russian society, specifically the contempt toward the meshchane, or whom she called the “petty bourgeois.” She explained in her oral history how the meshchane were seen as “the people who cannot rise from the ground, who are only interested in eating and sleeping, they have no interest in anything culture or in anything spiritual.” According to Malozemoff, this only gave people of the meshchane a strong desire to break free from such conceptions. Her mother, who could speak multiple languages but could not read or count well, had a “determination to give the children the best education possible,” because it was a dream her “mother had when she was a young girl.” Malozemoff believes that her class upbringing became interlaced with her identity starting from a young age, and subsequently acted as fuel and passion for her teaching.
Malozemoff began teaching at age 19 in St. Petersburg, later founded a kindergarten in 1915 for workingmen’s children while holding adult classes for miners, and also was principal for a high school at Lena Gold Mines from 1918–1920. However, her world was upturned when the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 first brought on unwanted cuts and limitations to her school, and then the “saddest tragedy of my life.” She recalls in the interview how she heard from her younger brother:
I received a telegram from him announcing the deaths of the five dearest people in my life. There had been a massacre around the estate. The Bolsheviks massacred my mother, my two sisters, and even the nurse of my little nieces, and then my brother was killed. My nephew, a boy of twelve, jumped out of the window when these Bolsheviks came and started to use their rifles. The two little nieces, twins, crawled into a stove and they stayed there during the night. The whole place was ransacked.
The violence and political unrest ultimately led Malozemoff to leave her life and established career in Russia to escape with her family through Siberia, Mongolia, China, and Japan, until they eventually reached San Francisco in 1920. Heartbroken, she had to start her life from scratch.
Yet at the same time Malozemoff recalls that she entered the United states with a sense of fresh optimism, believing that it was “a blissful country for us that would give us a chance to develop our capabilities.” As she began to acculturate into American life, she made it her purpose “to give in written form American culture to the Russians, and also to bring Russian culture to my American audience, my American friends and the American people.” She also felt a sense of inferiority in her education, that her teaching in the “lower classes” and caring for her children had left her “so ignorant, not being up-to-date with literature, with music, with historical events which had occurred during the ten years.” Specializing in Russian culture, she enrolled and received her B.A. in 1922 at age 41, her M.A. in 1929, and her Ph.D in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1938, all of which were obtained at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1935–1950, Malozemoff became a Russian language and culture professor, continuing her longterm passion for teaching and introducing Russian culture to students at Cal.
Needless to say, her journey was marked with obstacles. Malozemoff recalls the confusing process of adapting to American culture, stating that “during the first months in a foreign country you don’t understand what’s going on, not knowing the language, and not knowing many of the ways of life.” Regardless of what she had experienced, her optimism stood out to me. In her interview she remembers her horror while walking through a neighborhood during Christmastime, misinterpreting the wreaths hung on doors as a symbol for death in the family, instead of a festive decoration. While she saw it later as a “funny mistake,” it is one of countless examples of the little confusions an immigrant experiences while trying to adapt to a new culture in day-to-day life.
Perhaps it is the stories hinting at her ability to connect with her students, the wisdom she gained from traveling, or her tenacity to learn and find new forms of teaching that I find most admirable. Or maybe it is her mantra that she proved to live by that I find most striking. Her favorite saying goes, “step forward, always forward, in all circumstances in life.” According to her, that is precisely what she did, “trying to be alive with continuous desire to be human and humane, in steps forward the simplification and service to the people.”
Deborah Qu just finished her first year at UC Berkeley and is majoring in psychology. As a part of the celebration of 150 years of women at Berkeley, Deborah is researching the Oral History Center’s vast archive to identify women in the collection with a relationship to UC Berkeley.
by Katherine Y. Chen
When I first began at Cal, I was excited to experience dorm life, take interesting classes, and study with my friends in the library. Before working at the Oral History Center, I viewed the library as merely a physical space to sit and study. However, working at the Oral History Center (OHC) quickly dispelled this false notion.
Through my tenure at the OHC and my experience with research from my classes, I have learned that the library is more than a building in which to study. The library offers a multitude of resources for students — databases encompassing different topics and mediums such as ProQuest for newspaper articles, librarians ready to assist students in planning out papers, and primary sources such as personal interviews. After an informative meeting with a librarian introducing all these resources and more, I quickly began to utilize them in my research. I spoke to a librarian who helped me find multiple sources for my papers; I learned how to navigate the infinite databases accessible to students; and I learned which database to use to find specific types of sources.
Furthermore, my work at the OHC greatly helped me hone my research skills. I learned how to navigate an archive, how to find specific information, and had the opportunity to help fellow students as well. While promoting the Carmel and Howard Friesen Prize in Oral History Research to my peers, I was able to utilize all the skills I had learned. I helped students navigate the OHC’s archive to find interviews, and gave advice on further research.
I became very familiar with the different projects and subject areas the OHC has to offer. My personal favorites are the Women Political Leaders project and the Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream project. It was gratifying and empowering to read about the impact women had on politics, especially as an Asian American woman who intends to pursue law. Furthermore, ice cream is a favorite treat of mine, and to learn about how Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream became widely popular was incredibly interesting.
My experience at the OHC exposed me to the many resources the library has to offer. In turn, I aimed to introduce my peers to the wonders of the library. For example, my friend was writing a research paper for her class and was having trouble keeping her sources in one accessible place. Based on what I learned, I recommended the saving grace of my paper to her — Zotero. Zotero is a program used to store and cite sources, and a librarian recommended it to me after I described having the same issue. Once downloading Zotero, my friend had a much easier time with her sources, and citing them was even easier.
Additionally, I recommended an oral history to another friend of mine who needed to find a primary source for their paper. They needed a source from a specific era, and I remembered reading over oral histories that fit what they were looking for. I sent over the link for the AIDS Epidemic in San Francisco Oral History Project. I wanted to show my peers that the library is not just a building to study in, but a plethora of resources right underneath their noses.
To everyone reading, especially Cal students, take the time to learn more about the resources at the library. Take advantage of all the library has to offer, and I guarantee you will be all the better for it.
Katherine Y. Chen just finished her first year at Berkeley. She is majoring in rhetoric with a minor in public policy.
If you’re an instructor looking for remote learning tools or a scholar or student looking for primary sources, you might just find it in our online archive.
Add some spice to your research papers, lectures, remote lessons
We’re sheltering in place, the libraries are closed, and we all need to adjust to this new “normal” of social distancing and remote learning and teaching. It may at times feel daunting to shift gears on such a tight timeline. A bit of good news in all this uncertainty: the UC Berkeley Oral History Center has an online archive of more than 4,000 interviews on a multitude of topics.
So if you’re…
- A professor, teacher, or high school administrator looking for remote learning tools
- A scholar, grad student, undergrad, or high school student looking for primary sources for your paper
…you might just find it in our online archive.
Primary sources with pizzazz — and ed tech
The Oral History Center (OHC) has oral history interviews on a countless number of topics, including science, engineering, medicine, business, politics, the environment, the economy, social movements, women’s rights, gay rights, art, music, literature, education, philanthropy, athletics, UC Berkeley history, and more.
The focus is on US history, California, and the West, plus some interviews with an international focus (such as global mining, communism). Information in interviews stretch back to the late 19th/early 20th century and also address some of our most recent social and political issues, including same-sex marriage and culturally competent medical care.
We’re committed to open access and all of our transcripts and interpretive materials are accessible online at no cost, whether you are a scholar, student, or member of the general public. We also have video and audio clips for many. Some transcripts are even synched to the full videotaped interview, specifically for the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Collection (interviews with “View OHMS video” have this capability).
How to search the collection
There are several ways to search the vast collection.
If you know what you’re looking for, select Advanced Search and enter key words in the full text feature. Use quotation marks for an exact match. Check “Limit to records that include audio/video” if you want to be sure there’s video for the transcript. The full text search is particularly useful to find gems in our individual interviews on a myriad of topics. For example, seventy-seven oral histories mention the word “quarantine” and three “coronavirus.”
You can browse projects to see what’s in the entire collection by specific subjects.
You can scan our collection guides, for some guidance on locating interviews on topics that cross projects, such as African American history, veterans, and the Holocaust.
The OHC also has a podcast series, The Berkeley Remix, featuring audio recordings of our interviews on a wide range of topics, both historical and on current events, ideal for distance learning. Topics include:
AIDS and San Francisco: 6 episodes on the epidemic and community response
Engineering and Computer Science: on the microchip, open access, and Silicon Valley
Food: on the farm-to-table food movement
Parks and the Environment: 3 episodes on on preserving the land, women in non-traditional gender roles, and fighting the 1998 Oakland Hills Fire
Preserving the Coast: on saving Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz
UC Berkeley student housing: on women’s equality, disabled student access, and desegregation
Women in Politics: 6 episodes on suffrage through the 1990s
Prestigious $500 prize for UC Berkeley undergrads
UC Berkeley undergrads who use OHC’s oral history interviews for a UC Berkeley class paper in any discipline are eligible for a $500 prize for outstanding primary source research. Students — you don’t need to write a separate paper; just submit one from a class where you have used the interviews. Instructors — if you’re teaching a UC Berkeley class where students need to write a research paper, please let them know about the Friesen Prize.
By Deborah Qu
“It was naive, but it wasn’t as naive as it sounds.” — Lucy Sprague Mitchell on chasing her dream to expand career prospects for women
One hundred and fifty years ago in 1870, the UC Regents first declared that the university’s doors were open to women students, giving them the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Access to student facilities, housing, and resources were still far from equal for women. Thus began an era where thousands of young women pioneered for positive change, making their mark on the university, as well as transforming society at large. One of these women was Lucy Sprague Mitchell, the first dean of women from 1906–1912, and one of the first women instructors in UC Berkeley’s Department of English. Mitchell, an advocate for educational reform, had observed that “public opinion reacts very slowly. And there’s always been something that irritates me, and that is the voices against are so much louder than the voices for.” Yet her unrelenting optimism and her passion for education allowed her to introduce a more holistic framework for child learning and expand career prospects for women outside the limited field of teaching.
Born in 1878, Lucy Sprague Mitchell grew up in a traditional household where any sort of play was seen as “a waste of time.” In a 1962 interview with the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, Mitchell recalls a multitude of happy childhood memories, but they were also mixed with conflicting feelings of unworthiness and loneliness caused by her family’s strict Puritan modes of discipline. It is possible that these childhood learning experiences were great influencers in her later experimental work in education. In her autobiography, Two Lives: The Story of Wesley Clair Mitchell and Myself, she explained how she believed that the entire learning process is not complete without the “intake” of experience transforming into an “outgo,” or some living, creative action caused from the development. Perhaps these mixed childhood memories had also inspired her to take positive action through childhood education reform.
After graduating from Radcliffe College, Lucy Sprague Mitchell was appointed as Berkeley’s first dean of women at only age 23. In her oral history, Mitchell recalled a conversation she had with the university President Benjamin Ide Wheeler. His instructions were “to find out what needs to be done and to do it.” While terrified and confused, this is exactly what Mitchell did. As dean of women, Mitchell did not succumb to the “motherly” role to students that was expected of her in the early 1900s. Instead her youthful perspective allowed her to expand beyond the traditional housing and counseling needs to truly connect with students at Cal. She initiated community trips, poetry readings, and sex education discussions. She organized Parthenia, which she fondly called greek for “women of the Parthenon,” a performative showcase about various historical women and imagined female characters.
In her oral history, Mitchell reflected on why she wanted to leave her role as dean of women; Mitchell explained that her interests truly were rooted in education, not administration. During her years working with women students, she had become, she says, “extremely concerned about the lack of professional training for women excepting in the field of teaching. She explained how “not everybody is equipped to be a teacher, nor wants to be a teacher.” At the time, Mitchell found it jarring that over 90 percent of the women students she surveyed had planned to become a teacher after graduation. While Cal was progressive for its time, teaching was the most socially acceptable profession and “the only thing that the University offered to women.” In retrospect, Lucy Sprague Mitchell believed that her real reason for requesting a leave from Berkeley “was to try to explore different fields of work that women could enter and for which the University could train them.”
This disaffection inspired innovation. Lucy Sprague Mitchell brought the issue of limited education for women to six social organizations in New York, completing statistical fieldwork from women working in nursing, to labor legislation about city tenements, to public schools. Her exposure to public school education had such a profound effect on Mitchell that she became an educator resource for teachers throughout 1922–1955. She began developing experimental methods about childhood education and classroom procedure that promoted creative expression and holistically fulfilled a child’s emotional, physical, and mental needs. Her emphasis on “relationship teaching” and “active learning” over memorization helped shape the way for “social studies,” a course widely studied in American classrooms today. Her focus on the learning environment was unorthodox at the time, and it led her to new paradigms of using childhood maturity instead of age to measure emotional intellectual development. She founded Bank Street College of Education in New York as a graduate student teacher training institution in 1916 based on this same philosophy.
From my perspective as an undergraduate student at Cal, Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s life story teaches me that to truly orchestrate change, we should not just be focusing on the various problems of the present, but rather dreaming about all the future potential. The oral history interview allowed Lucy Sprague Mitchell to recount the early dream she had formed working with Cal students in her late 20s: to provide opportunities for young women to pursue rich and nuanced fields of study. This dream certainly did not go to waste. As a young college woman with a wide selection of majors to choose from, I am grateful that she and many others helped pave the way. Reflecting on this vision for women, Lucy Sprague Mitchell said, “Now that sounds very naive. It was naive, but it wasn’t as naive as it sounds.”
Deborah Qu is a first year undergraduate student who intends to study psychology. As a part of the celebration of 150 years of women at Berkeley, Deborah is researching the Oral History Center’s vast archive to identify women in the collection with a relationship to UC Berkeley.
They’ve made a difference at UC Berkeley. Who are you thinking of right now?
The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has been around since 1953 and since then we’ve been documenting the history of UC Berkeley. Is there a Berkeley faculty, administrator, or staff person — past or present — who’s made an impact on campus? This is your opportunity to nominate someone who has made an outstanding contribution to campus life or to the teaching, research, or public service mission of the university — and we’ll interview the selected candidate for posterity. This oral history honor has been made possible by a generous endowment from the class of ’31. (Nomination form)
Past narrators (interviewees) have included Edith Kramer, director emeritus of the Pacific Film Archive, and Susan Ervin-Tripp, Psychology professor, Ombuds, and advocate for women’s equity on campus. Last year’s awardee was Susan L. Graham, professor emerita, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (oral history in progress).
Nominations for the “Class of ’31 Oral History” are due by May 1 and the awardee will be announced in mid-May. If you have any questions, please contact Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker at firstname.lastname@example.org (Nomination form). Selection criteria for nominees include willingness of the nominee to participate, OHC interviewer expertise, uniqueness and rarity of the nominee’s story and level of contribution to campus life, and the generation of the nominee.
Documenting UC Berkeley’s contributions through oral history
The Oral History Center has conducted hundreds of in-depth interviews addressing key moments in UC Berkeley university history. Oral history projects about UC Berkeley consisting of multiple interviews include:
Dozens of other interviews of Cal students, faculty, and staff can be found in the collection: Education and University of California – Individual Interviews. Even more interviews of Berkeley alumni and faculty can be found throughout our collection. Interviews include several of the first female students and administrators dating back to the late nineteenth century, as well students, faculty, and staff representing a multitude of disciplines and contributions to UC Berkeley and well beyond. To get a flavor of these UC Berkeley-related interviews, see the following articles on some newly released oral histories:
“They Got Woken Up”: SLATE and Women’s Activism at UC Berkeley, by interviewer Amanda Tewes
“George Leitmann: Engineering Science, Risk, and Relationships at UC Berkeley and Beyond” by interviewer Paul Burnett
And listen to the podcast season, Let There Be Light, about the powerful impact Berkeley’s identity as a public institution has had on student and academic life, and the intertwined history of campus and community.
In Sleeping with the Light On, we explore what home and community has meant to students at Cal, and how accessible spaces have supported social justice movements on and beyond campus.
Berkeley Lightning is about the contributions of UC Berkeley Engineering to the rise of the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.We focus on the development of the first widely used design program for prototyping microchips. Originally designed by and for students, the software spread like lightning in part because Berkeley, as a public institution, made it available free of charge. The world has not been the same since.
Berkeley After Dark is about the connection between the history of farm-to-table eating and the campus community.
“It’s too late now because there’s nobody I can ask.”
— Katalin Pecsi, child of Auschwitz survivor
The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is on January 27 of this year and 41% of Americans don’t know what Auschwitz is — including a whopping two-thirds of millennials. A recent survey found a stunning lack of basic knowledge in the United States about the Holocaust — defined by the US Holocaust museum as “the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews” that decimated the Jewish population in Europe. Almost one million Jews were killed in Auschwitz alone, the largest and most infamous of the death camps. With fewer and fewer Jews who experienced the Holocaust first-hand alive to tell their stories — the youngest survivors with memories of the camps are in their eighties and nineties today — the cry of Holocaust remembrance not to forget depends on a clear historical record.
Throughout the Oral History Center’s vast collection of interviews are more than 200 that reference the Holocaust. While there is no specific Oral History Center (OHC) project dedicated to documenting the Holocaust, interviews can be found within projects about food and wine, arts and letters, industry and labor, philanthropy, and more. Furthermore, our oral history collections about the history of UC Berkeley include memories of the Holocaust and its impact, including projects about the Free Speech Movement, the student political party SLATE, and faculty interviews. These oral histories document memories of the Holocaust from a multiplicity of perspectives, from the first-hand experiences of Jewish refugees who fled from Europe before it was too late, to Americans who first heard about the atrocities after the liberation of the camps. The Jewish narrators in particular talk about how the Holocaust was the driving factor in their careers, philanthropy, Israel advocacy, and political activism. These oral histories may be particularly interesting to scholars as they provide a different lens for looking at the Holocaust, capturing the histories of those who were being interviewed for other reasons, but nonetheless spoke about the impact of the Holocaust on their lives.
There are oral histories in the collection that preserve the experiences of Jewish refugees who managed to flee Europe before it was too late and build new lives for themselves in the United States. Alfred Fromm fled Germany for the US in 1936 and went on to build a successful wine distribution business; he became a philanthropist supporting numerous educational, cultural, and Jewish organizations, including UC Berkeley’s Magnes Museum. In 1939, violinist Sandor Salgo had a sponsor in the United States but was denied a visa from the US consul in Hungary, who said the Hungarian quota was filled until 1984; Salgo cried to a patroness that he would probably die in a concentration camp and she was able to intervene on his behalf; his brother died in Auschwitz. Berkeley Mechanical Engineering professor and dean George Leitmann escaped Nazi-occupied Austria in 1940 at the age of 15, a few years later to return to Europe during WWII as a US Army combat engineer. He was in the second wave of soldiers who liberated Landsberg Concentration Camp, and later served as a translator during the Nuremberg War Crime Trials. All these experiences influenced his scientific area of study in control theory — measuring risk, probability, and how to avoid catastrophe.
“We certainly got there in time to see the smoldering bodies they were trying to burn and the skeletons. That probably hit me more than it hit the rest of the guys, because here my father was still missing. I still had hopes to see him among the DPs [displaced persons].” — George Leitmann on the liberation of Landsberg concentration camp. His father did not survive.
The one collection of interviews that addresses the Holocaust in the most detail is that of the the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation Leadership. Here can be found the oral history of William Lowenberg, a Holocaust survivor, number 145382 of the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing complex. His interview details how as a teenager luck, good health, and his own survival strategies enabled him to survive his harrowing journey through extermination camps, the Warsaw Ghetto aftermath, and a death march, until he was liberated from Dachau concentration camp at the age of 18. After an attempt to go home (like so many, his house had been taken over), Lowenberg eventually settled in San Francisco, where the Jewish Family Services Agency helped him secure a job collecting rent for a realty company. He went on to become a major figure in industrial real estate in the city. Lowenberg gave back to the agency later, serving on the same committee that helped him, in the 1970s finding jobs for Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. Of his life dedicated to philanthropic and political activism on behalf of the Jewish community and Israel, Lowenberg reflected, “I feel that Jewish survival depends on the Jews.”
“I was young, healthy, and I kept clean. I kept as clean as I could all of the time.” — William Lowenberg on his survival strategies
The OHC collection also includes interviews of those who were present for the liberation, like Berkeley History Professor Emeritus Richard Herr, who was serving in the Signal Intelligence Corps and visited Buchenwald shortly after the liberation. He describes the displaced persons wandering the streets, survivors in their striped pajamas, the pile of dead bodies. “I was told they’d died after the liberation. They’d just been in such poor shape. They were just skin and bones. It was terrible.”
The collection also includes interviews of those who didn’t directly experience the Holocaust, but heard about it through family, friends, teachers, even work acquaintances. Oral histories are unique in that they can include off-hand comments and asides that illuminate an era. Six million — two thirds of Europe’s Jews perished — but three million survived and many dispersed to other countries including the United States. Narrators would encounter these survivors, the tales of depravity would sear in their memories, and the narrators would sometimes make offhand remarks. Other narrators provide more details about the many facets of the Holocaust — resistance and the underground, escapes, refugees and displaced persons, concentration camps, the murder of entire families — such as the oral histories of Laurette Goldberg, who taught music at UC Berkeley; Berkeley MBA Ronald Kaufman; wine writer Mike Weiss; winery manager Morris Katz; economist Lester Telser; poet Carl Rakosi, and Berkeley student activist Danniel Goldstine.
Among these are the oral histories of children of Holocaust survivors, including Berkeley History Professor Emerita Paula Fass, Paula Kornell, and Katalin Pecsi. All of them attributed their careers to their parents’ experiences. Growing up in Hungary, Katalin Pecsi knew her father had survived Auschwitz, her uncle Buchenwald, and her paternal grandmother Dachau; but had been told they were political prisoners because of their affiliation with the Communist Party. She later learned that she was Jewish, that her mother’s entire family had been killed in the Holocaust, and began to question what she had been told. “When I was a child I was told that they were political prisoners because they never told me that we were Jewish… but I’m not sure that’s true that they arrived as political prisoners. I don’t know, it’s too late now because there’s nobody I can ask.” Learning about her Jewish heritage combined with her longing to know about her own family propelled Pecsi into a career in Holocaust remembrance, becoming the director of education at the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center.
“My parents were both survivors of the concentration camps. They had lost families. Not just their parents and siblings, but in fact, husbands, wives and children. They were married to other people, and my mother had a son who was taken from her when he was three. My father had four children who were all taken away and died in Auschwitz. One of the things that’s very, very clear is that I became a historian because of it. I became a historian because history was always around.” — Berkeley Professor Paula Fass
“What the concentration camp [Dachau] instilled in my father was just the beauty of life, and I think he helped to instill…was the beauty of a vineyard or of a vine growing, or beauty of your garden or the beauty of winemaking.” — Paula Kornell, winemaker
The OHC collection includes numerous oral histories that touch on narrators’ reactions to learning about the Holocaust. Interviewers for the Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront Collection, for example, frequently asked narrators, who came from many walks of life, when did they first learn about the Holocaust and what was their reaction. Like Beatrice Rudney and Bud Figueroa, narrators interviewed for the Rosie the Riveter collection generally responded that they learned about the horrors of the genocide after the war, sometimes mentioning newsreels (films of piles of naked corpses, survivors of skin and bones). Other narrators, sitting for longer life-history interviews, addressed this issue when talking about their childhoods. Oral histories of Jewish narrators reveal more knowledge about what was happening during the war itself, particularly those whose families housed refugees, or who received letters from family with news of mass killings — 13 family members gone — or whose letters from family in Europe just stopped one day, such as former Dean of Berkeley Law School Jesse Choper, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Howard Schachman, Laurette Goldberg, Lester Telser, as well as Quaker activist Gerda Isenberg. Schachman observed, “I was certainly aware of what was going on to the Jews in Europe…. I doubted those people who claimed they weren’t aware of the Holocaust — it wasn’t called the Holocaust then.”
“I understood it during the war. There were always leaks of information of what was happening. Some people would escape from the concentration camps and come back and tell it.” — Jesse Choper, Dean Emeritus of Berkeley Law
The oral histories provide researchers with information about the range of feelings people had when they learned about the atrocities in the camps. Many of these are short responses to a direct question, such as in the Rosie the Riveter collection. Daniel Levin recalled a “sickening feeling;” DeMaurice Moses described being “inured to savagery by that time;” and as David Dibble remembered it, “You have to sort of genuflect and say, true, it was the worst thing that ever happened. And it was.” Some narrators recalled how other people talked about the Holocaust, and these interactions were indelible moments for them. Berkeley alumna and student activist Susan Griffin recalled an incident about four years after the war where her fellow Girl Scout Brownie troop members were laughing, saying Heil Hitler, and making the Nazi salute. She recalled the driver pulled over, emotional, and scolded that they must never do so again; and her grandparents, whom she described as “passive anti-Semites,” explained to the six-year-old “what an evil man Hitler was.” Berkeley History Professor Emeritus Larry Levine recalled being “shocked” when he was an undergraduate five years after the war ended, and an English professor told the class, “Don’t let the Jews tell you they are the only ones who have suffered.”
Some of the oral histories provide a glimpse into how the Holocaust affected Jewish Americans in the Baby Boom generation, living in its shadow. Berkeley alumna and student activist Julianne Morris, Adrienne Asch, and Wayne Feinstein recall how the Holocaust was something they always knew about, part of the culture. As Feinstein put it, “The first twenty or thirty years after the Second World War I think the Jewish community was in shock. And I grew up in that environment.” He described the Holocaust as “the primary motivation” for his lifelong dedication to Jewish education, cultural programs, and support for Israel.
“You couldn’t be a Jew in post-Holocaust America without knowing about the Holocaust. I mean, you grew up, you knew about the Holocaust, you knew about Israel.” — Adrienne Asch, disability rights activist and professor of bioethics
Finally, at least a few oral histories describe how narrators reacted upon visiting death camps as tourists years, even decades, after the end of the war. Through visiting these camps in person, these narrators came face to face with the scope of the horrors. Berkeley Economics Professor Emeritus and past director of the Institute of Industrial Relations, Lloyd Ulman, along with Marty Morgenstern, past director of Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, were taken to Auschwitz on a work trip to Poland. Ulman recalls how Morgenstern went outside and “put his head between his legs. He thought he was going to throw up or faint.” Ulman recalls “terrible things like seeing a whole collection of false teeth” [taken from the dead for their gold fillings] and feeling the “horror” that General Eisenhower had felt upon seeing the camps. Annette Dobbs also lived through the war but the enormity of the Holocaust really hit her when she visited Mauthausen Concentration Camp outside of Vienna in 1971. Expressing the sentiment of many of the narrators who spoke about the Holocaust, she said, “That day I made my own personal commitment to spend the rest of my life to see that nothing like that would ever happen to my people again.”
January 27, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Jerry Brown, I found, to be a man with a largely unwavering set of core values and principles who sometimes appears to choose contradictory ways in which to express those drives.”
— Director Martin Meeker, Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, reflecting on his experience interviewing Jerry Brown
Bancroft Roundtable: Thursday, February 20 at noon in the Lewis-Latimer Room of The Faculty Club
Brown, Behind the Scenes: Contending with Governor Jerry Brown and His Oral History
In this presentation, OHC historians Martin Meeker and Todd Holmes will provide the behind-the-scenes story of a remarkable interview with a singular Californian and offer an initial perspective on how this oral history might influence our understanding of California and its political culture.
Inside the Jerry Brown Oral History
There are very few individuals who are what might be called a “shoe-in” for an Oral History Center life history interview. Governor Jerry Brown is one who easily qualifies. Brown’s career as an elected official began in Southern California in 1969 when he was elected to the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees and then continued for nearly the next fifty years through a succession of high offices; in 2018 he concluded his record fourth term as governor.
In forty hours of interviews, there are at least three main areas of study of the life of Jerry Brown, and politics much more broadly, that might be impacted by the contents of this interview from today’s vantage point: the historical trajectory of key social and political issues; the influence of creative and unique ideas upon Brown and his agenda; and what might be called the philosophy of realpolitik — of how politics really works, at least according to Brown.
The Jerry Brown oral history was made possible by funding from the State Government Oral History Program, A Project of the California Secretary of State, State Archives.
Dive deeper into the political life of Jerry Brown through the Jerry Brown oral history.
“20 Shades of Jerry Brown” UC Berkeley Podcast
“We had 20 interview sessions, and I would say that in those 20 interview sessions, we had 20 different shades of Jerry Brown,” explains Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker in UC Berkeley’s 9-minute Fiat Vox podcast, “Berkeley oral history project reveals 20 shades of Jerry Brown.” Get a taste of the oral history — hear Brown talk about the medfly invasion, Linda Ronstadt, and politics past and present. Martin Meeker provides insights into this “extraordinarily detailed, thoughtful, self-critical, broad, and sweeping oral history.”
Jerry Brown Interview History
For the historians at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center, the question was not, “Should this interview be done?” but rather, “How might it be done at all?” Get the inside story about the making of this riveting 40-hour oral history from interviewer and Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker.
Governor Gray Davis Foreword to the Jerry Brown Oral History
When Gray Davis tried to have a hole in the governor’s rug repaired, Jerry Brown responded, “That hole will save the state at least $500 million, because legislators cannot come down and pound on my desk demanding lots of money for their pet programs while looking at a hole in my rug!” Find out why Gray Davis, the 37th Governor of the State of California, who served as chief of staff to Jerry Brown during his first two terms as governor (1975-1981), thinks Jerry Brown is one of the most consequential governors in California history.
California State Government Oral History Program
The Jerry Brown oral history is a part of the State Government Oral History Program and is the cornerstone of the re-launch of the program under California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. All of the oral history materials (recordings and transcripts) will be deposited with the California State Archives and available to users through their website as well.
Read the transcript of the 40-hour oral history. In this oral history, the following topics are discussed at length: family background and upbringing; education, religion, and friendships; the political career of Pat Brown; college, seminary, and law school; California statewide elected offices, including Governor of California; campaigns for elected office, including for US President; election reform; taxation, budgets, and deficits; law, the courts, and criminal justice reform; immigration; the environment and climate change; education reform, charter schools, and higher education; Oakland, CA; popular culture, journalism, and political campaigns; political philosophy, theories of governance, and applied politics.
KQED Forum Podcast Featuring OHC Director Martin Meeker
Politics was the family business. The Democratic party was tribal for Brown. Listen as Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker, and KQED interview partners Scott Shafer and Guy Marzorati, talk about the unique political perspective and interviewing style of Jerry Brown.
KQED Podcast: The Political Mind of Jerry Brown
From KQED: The Political Mind of Jerry Brown brings listeners the wisdom of the former Governor, Mayor, and presidential candidate. The Oral History Center’s Martin Meeker and Todd Holmes, and KQED’s Scott Shafer, interviewed Brown for more than 40 hours, covering the former governor’s life and half-century in the political game – and Brown has some lessons he’d like to share. Premiering January 8 with hour-long episodes on KQED 88.5 FM every Wednesday at 8pm through January 29.