On Being Raised in the Context of 9/11: Reflections of UC Berkeley Students

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

Shannon White
Shannon White

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

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 Sangyou Kim
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 Noel

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. 

Water flows down two walls and disappears into a void at the center of a memorial reflecting pool. Sunlight creates shadows on the pooled water.
Memorial pool of the World Trade Center memorial, Reflecting Absence, by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker

From the Oral History Center Director: Remembering 9/11

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. 

Night scene of New York City skyline with two beams of light where the twin towers once stood.
Tribute in Light, a commemorative public art installation first presented six months after 9/11 and then every year thereafter, from dusk to dawn, on the night of September 11.

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: “I​​t 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.

Newton Bishop Drury and the Legacy of the Save the Redwoods League

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. 

Newton B. Drury
Newton B. Drury (Photo from California Department of Parks and Recreation)

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. 

Paved road through redwood groves
The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway (Photo by Dave Van de Mark for the National Park Service)

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 19611971, 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 19801995, 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.

“I keep saying it was a miracle:” Experience the wonder of penicillin through oral history

In the history of war, soldiers died more often from infectious disease than from the initial blasts of artillery. Danger from bacterial infection affected people from all walks of life. A person with a minor cut might die within days, bacterial pneumonia was a leading cause of death, and while the advent of sulfa drugs in the nineteen thirties saved countless lives and transformed medicine, there was little physicians could do to save some patients. Until World War II, that is, thanks to the widespread use of penicillin. Discovered by bacteriologist Alexander Fleming in 1928, the Penicillium mold was not harnessed into a widely available treatment until World War II. At that time, penicillin was made available to soldiers and, to a lesser extent, those on the home front. From then until today, antibiotics remain the go-to treatment of bacterial infections worldwide, and the driving force behind a dramatic increase in life expectancy. An interview with Dr. Morris Collen, who treated workers in the Kaiser Shipyards, provides insights into this watershed moment in medical history. Additional oral histories take us beyond the initial scientific breakthrough to show penicillin’s effect on medicine, the pharmaceutical industry, and beyond.

“And to this day I keep saying it was a miracle. He recovered.” — Dr. Morris Collen, on giving penicillin to a patient for the first time in 1942

Early researchers who had witnessed penicillin’s effects on otherwise incurable patients hailed it as a miracle cure. During World War II, the potential of penicillin as a magic bullet was so powerful — the therapeutic results so speedy and effective — that scientists recognized the treatment could make a difference in the outcome of the war. But turning Penicillium into penicillin was slow, the output minuscule, and the technology to support mass production elusive. 

Poster of drawing of a soldier administering a shot to another soldier, who is wounded on the battlefield. The text reads, Thanks to penicillin, he will come home.
Advertisement for penicillin in Life Magazine by an unknown artist, August 14, 1944 issue. (Photo: National World War II museum)

A team of scientists from Oxford University intent on solving these problems — Howard Florey, Ernst Chain, and Norman Heatley — realized that they couldn’t successfully make the medical advances needed within war-torn, resource-strapped England. They sought support for their endeavors in the United States in the summer of 1941, freely sharing their research findings and techniques. 

The Oxford team easily persuaded scientists at the USDA, pharmaceutical companies, and elsewhere of the value of penicillin. After formally joining the war in December 1941, the United States government took over the research and production of penicillin, mobilizing government agencies, research laboratories, universities, and pharmaceutical companies in the United States and Great Britain. The ability to produce penicillin in bulk became a top priority for the war effort, behind only the Manhattan Project. 

As a result of this unprecedented international and inter-industry cooperation (not repeated until the coronavirus crisis and Operation Warp Speed), the United States was able to produce more than two million doses of penicillin in the lead-up to D-Day. This mass production of penicillin saved the lives of countless troops and likely made a difference in the outcome of the war. 

Morris Collen at computer
Dr. Morris Collen (Photo: Kaiser Permanente)

An interview by the UC Berkeley Oral History Center with Dr. Morris Collen provides insights into this watershed moment in medical history. Collen was interviewed by the Oral History Center’s director, Martin Meeker, for the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Oral History Project on evidence-based medicine. In 1942, Collen became the inaugural chief of medical service at the first Kaiser Permanente hospital in Oakland, California, serving those who worked for the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards, and also led Kaiser Pemanente’s research division. In his oral history, Collen describes in depth the difficulty of treating patients with pneumonia, and how penicillin changed everything. 

​​Then we began to see patients with pneumonia. A lot of women came to work. That’s where Rosie the Riveter started. Mr. Kaiser sent railway cars around to pick up men to work in the shipyards. All the healthy men were in the armed services, so the trains went around and picked up whoever wanted to get to work. So a lot of them were alcoholics and not in good health. When they hit the Richmond shipyards, where it’s cool and damp, within a few months we were getting — I remember we had ninety patients with pneumonia at one time. 

When we first started there was no treatment for lobar pneumonia, pneumococcal type, except horse serum, and the people almost always got sick with serum sickness. It was a terrible treatment, but was all we had. Then from Germany came sulfanilamide, and then sulfathiazole and sulfadiazine, and a series of sulfa drugs, and we began to treat pneumonias with them. That’s where we began, I would say, our first clinical research, evaluating different treatments for pneumonia. 

Finally when penicillin came along, Chester Keefer in Boston became the czar controlling penicillin. Ninety percent went to the armed services, and 10 percent, about, went to the United States. We had so many pneumonias and we had reported already in a journal that we were treating large series of pneumonias. So we got the first dose of penicillin in California, and treated a young man with a very severe lobar pneumonia, type 7. They all died from that, and this poor fellow was going to die. So we gave him this one shot of 15,000 units, and to this day I keep saying it was a miracle. He recovered. Then gradually more penicillin came, and we switched to using penicillin.” 

Interviewer Martin Meeker: How long did it take for penicillin to ramp up in production? 

Collen: Oh, I don’t remember exactly. 

Meeker: When was it no longer a rarity to use in the clinic? 

Collen: Well, the war ended in ’45, so it became available thereafter.  See, when the shipyards began to close down from 90,000 members to 14,000, then most of these workers left.  By then the first clinic building was built, and I had some twenty-five beds or so.  We still had a fair number of pneumonias, but it wasn’t like it was in the shipyard days. And then we used penicillin routinely, and we had no trouble in getting it after ’45. 

Meeker: So after mobilization for the war ceases and it’s not all going overseas, then you have more access to it for the domestic scene? 

Collen: That’s true; it became available for civilian patients.

The Oral History Center archive contains more than 100 oral histories that reference penicillin. Some of these are reflections of those who benefited from penicillin, others of bereaved family members whose loved ones died before it was available. Some references are from scientists, physicians, entrepreneurs. The mentions are usually brief, often in passing, as these individuals were being interviewed for other reasons. Just a few examples are below. The oral histories take us beyond the initial scientific breakthrough to show penicillin’s effect on medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. Together these oral histories highlight how penicillin revolutionized not just the practice of medicine, but also how people experienced it. 

Alice Lowe: Commissioner on the San Francisco Asian Art Commission, Asian Art Museum Oral History Project

Oh, I didn’t tell you that my father became ill because he tripped one day, when he was visiting one of the canneries for which he hired people, and he got an infection. I guess that was before penicillin. He became kind of an invalid, and so my mother had to take care of him. 

Paul Boeder: PhD, Teacher of Physiological Optics, Ophthalmology Oral History Series

She had a miserable, early death, I hate to tell you. After Clara came Eda. Eda was the prettiest of the Boeder girls. She also had a beautiful voice; we loved to hear her sing. When she was thirteen, she contracted diphtheria in school. Penicillin wasn’t heard of at that time; she died in a day or two.

Thomas David Duane, MD: Wills Eye Hospital and Thomas Jefferson Medical College, Ophthalmology Oral History Series

I was saying that there is no specific single way of learning how to treat patients. It’s necessary that you know what can be done chemically and physiologically to put them in a better situation. The other thing is to make them relax. That is the art of medicine. If you want to be a good doctor, you’ve got to do both. You can’t just go into the room and dictate, pontificate, say a few words, and walk off. However, you wouldn’t hold their hand and talk to them all day when, if you gave them a shot of penicillin, it would cure them. 

Dr. Russel V.A. Lee: Earl Warren and Health Insurance, 1943–1949

In 1918, when I had the flu ward In San Francisco Hospital, 65 percent of my admissions died of pneumonia. When I went to the Air Force, we had a flu epidemic of the same kind. I called the doctors together. I said, “If anybody dies of pneumonia in this hospital, some doctor’s going to get court-martialed.” That’s the difference, because we could cure it and prevent it by then. That’s largely due to the advent of penicillin and the other antibiotics. 

So, that’s what makes it so important now that everybody has access to good medical care, because access to good medical care has some meaning now. It had no meaning in days gone by. If you want to have your kids live, you want to have a good doctor, because then they won’t get diphtheria, they won’t get meningitis, they won’t get polio, and if they do get them, they’ll be cured. This is a revolution. 

Herbert Heyneker: Molecular Geneticist at UCSF and Genentech, Entrepreneur in Biotechnology

I always felt that antibiotics were a field that would be open for Genencor, and I tried to push that early on because once we knew how to ferment, production of antibiotics, in my opinion, was also quite an interesting opportunity and very valuable. The penicillins and cephalosporins in the world were huge multibillion-dollar products, and still are. 

C. Judson King: A Career in Chemical Engineering and University Administration, 1963–2013 

The history of freeze drying in the food industry is actually kind of interesting. It doesn’t start in the food industry. The big push on freeze drying came from World War Two. It came with the isolation and stabilization of penicillin. This was the first way to isolate penicillin so it could be used as a medicine, and it was [also] used for blood plasma. A lot of freeze-dried blood plasma. The freeze drying stabilizes it. The penicillin would go bad if it weren’t dried, and this was the one way to dry it, and ditto for the blood plasma. That was the start. Then as we came out of World War II, it was recognized that freeze drying could have uses in the food industry. 

August 6, 1881, is the birthday of Alexander Fleming.

How to search our collection by keyword

To conduct a key word search, from the search feature on the Oral History Center home page, type penicillin or any keyword and click search. On the next page, toggle on “full text.” The results page will list all the oral histories that mention penicillin, showing the interviewee name, title of the oral history, and a snippet of the abstract. Results are easy to skim. You can then click on any oral history to be brought to a page with a description of the oral history, a PDF of the oral history (which you can read and search on the page or download), along with other information, such as publication date, project, related resources, and more.

Learn about Juneteenth through Oral History

Scholars from many fields will be interested in narrators who recall their experiences with Juneteenth

“Juneteenth was usually two days of real fun. . . . For those big picnics, people would come from Dallas, Fort Worth, well, just from miles around. I would think hundred miles or two hundred miles. . . . That was a time of reunion when all the families would come back.”

So remembers Selena Foster, the daughter of sharecroppers from Cherokee County, Texas, who was interviewed for the Oral History Center’s On the Waterfront: Richmond, California Oral History Project. Foster went on to recall the barbecues, the ice cream, the best food she ever ate, the festivities, and the large family reunions.

This is the first year that Juneteenth is being observed as an official national holiday. Juneteenth commemorates that day on June 19, 1865, when union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and formally announced that slavery was over and enslaved people were free. The Oral History Center has three interviews with narrators who talk about Juneteenth. While the references to Juneteenth in these interviews are brief, they reveal something about each narrator – the pride of starting the first Juneteenth parade in Richmond, California; the happy memories of family reunions in Cherokee County, Texas; and the involved approach of a teacher with her preschool students’ families.

Beyond that, scholars from many disciplines will find much of interest in the oral histories of these three women from three different backgrounds, all of whom landed in the Bay Area. Scholars studying everything from African American history to urban development, women’s history, community history, demographics, early education, higher education, theater, migration, the World War  II home front — the list goes on — will find something in these oral histories to enhance their research.

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

Woman holding 1 year old
Selena Foster with her grandniece

Margaret Wilkerson: A Life in Theater and Higher Education

Margaret Wilkerson
Margaret Wilkerson

Margaret Wilkerson was interviewed as part of the UC Berkeley African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project. A scholar of theater with a focus on Black women playwrights including Lorraine Hansbury, Wilkerson served as chair of the UC Berkeley departments of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies and African American Studies, and also served as director of Berkeley’s Center for the Study, Education, and Advancement of Women. In her oral history, Wilkerson discusses her childhood in an integrated community in Los Angeles, her life experiences, scholarship, and administrative work in higher education on behalf of equity and access.

Wilkerson, together with fellow UC Berkeley alum Lamarr Ferguson, organized the first Juneteenth parade in Richmond, California. It started as a small event through a local church, and was expanded to an annual citywide event through the City of Richmond that still takes place. Wilkerson recalls the first fair:

[We] picked up the kids and brought them down, and taught them about Juneteenth, and did makeup on their faces and things like that, and then took them back home. We had sent fliers out, delivered fliers in the neighborhood to let people know what was going to happen on that day and that we’d like to take the kids. We came down and they let us do it because we all lived in the neighborhood and they all knew us. I felt very proud that we did that for a couple of years and then after we stopped doing it, the City of Richmond picked that up and began to have a city-wide Juneteenth celebration.

Selena Foster: A Longtime Richmond Resident from Cherokee County, Texas

Selena Foster was interviewed as part of the On the Waterfront: Richmond, California Oral History Project. Born in 1916 in Texas to sharecroppers, Foster migrated to California in 1944, where her husband found work with the Kaiser Shipyards. Foster started out making donuts at a diner and soon after launched her own restaurant. In her oral history, Foster discusses her childhood in Texas, religion and church life, discrimination, housing, early Black families in Richmond, and Richmond’s development.

Foster details her childhood experiences in Cherokee County, Texas, and in that context recalled how important Juneteenth was in Texas and to her family. She remembers her family’s celebrations of the holiday:

Now, the Juneteenth, which is going to be celebrated here in Richmond this week, we had every year back there. That was one of the big celebrations in the middle of the year. Juneteenth was usually two days of real fun. The one day was getting everything ready and putting up the carnivals and then the big day of the celebration. My grandfathers all barbequed, and several other men that I know of there. They made their pits in the ground, unlike today. They would kill the cattle themselves. They would kill the beef off and wash it down and hang it and whatever they’d do to it, they say to tenderize it.

Then they would cook all night for two or three nights. That would be some of the best meat I ever ate in my life. And they had no ice and refrigeration. They would put the meat down in the well to cool it, to keep it from spoiling. That’s the way my grandmother used to do her butter.

So, for those big picnics, people would come from Dallas, Fort Worth, well, just from miles around. I would think hundred miles or two hundred miles. You would get to have that big reunion. That was a time of reunion when all the families would come back. My birthday, incidentally, is the twentieth of June. I always had a birthday party. I got ice cream for my birthday.

Sharon Fogelson: Rosie The Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project

Sharon Fogelson
Sharon Fogelson

Sharon Fogelson was interviewed as part of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front Oral History Project, in partnership with the National Park Service. Born in 1943, Fogelson was a preschool teacher and later head teacher with the Pullman School in Richmond, California. In her interview Fogelson discusses the changing demographics of Oakland and Richmond, where she lived and worked, in the several decades after WWII, as well as segregation and poverty in Richmond, shifts in federal funding for schools, early education, teaching methodology, standardized testing, and gender discrimination.

Fogelson talks about Juneteenth in the context of building rapport with the parents of her students. She explains that she would relate to parents through discussions of holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Juneteenth. Fogelson specifically references Richmond’s annual Juneteenth fair, the one that Wilkerson had founded.

If there was an event in the community, like they would have a Juneteenth fair at Nicholl Park, I would ask them, did they go to that? And if they haven’t been, next year they should try to make it a priority, because it’s a really exciting affair to go to, for your children, because there’s things there about your own culture. So we just talked about everything. If you make what some people call small talk with people, and they sort of get to know you, they start to build a trusting relationship with you. So then if something isn’t going right in their family, they feel more comfortable saying, “Do you have a couple minutes I could talk to you?”  Because you don’t threaten them. They feel sort of like you’re almost a friend. So I’ve always found that you make conversation with whatever the parent is interested in talking about, and how important— 

I don’t think sometimes people in education realize that a casual relationship and that daily interaction that you have — it’s something in elementary through high school — teachers don’t have the opportunity to do that.

These oral histories provide a glimpse into how the holiday of Juneteenth was valued and celebrated. Even more, the three narrators who recalled Juneteenth have much to share about the pressing social issues of their day — and ours.

You can find these and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Just type a name or key word and click “search.” To ensure a full text search, on the next page scroll down and toggle on the button that says “full text.” If you’re interested in African American history in particular, see our related collection guide, A Host of Hidden Gems: Interviews with African Americans throughout the Oral History Center Collection. You can also visit all our collection guides and our projects page to find oral histories on specific subjects. We have oral histories on just about every topic imaginable.

Montage, Margaret Wilkerson, Selena Foster, Sharon Fogelson
Margaret Wilkerson, Selena Foster, Sharon Fogelson

They’ve made a difference at UC Berkeley. Who are you thinking of right now?

Nominate someone who’s made an impact at UC Berkeley and we’ll interview them for an oral history

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has been around since 1953 and we’ve been documenting the history of UC Berkeley ever since. 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. 

They’ve made a difference at UC Berkeley. Who are you thinking of right now?

The Bancroft Library
The Bancroft Library

Nominations for the “Class of ’31 Oral History” are due by June 30, 2021. (Nomination form.) If you have any questions, please contact Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker at mmeeker@library.berkeley.edu. Selection criteria for nominees include willingness of the nominee to participate, uniqueness of the nominee’s story, and level of contribution to campus life, among others. This oral history honor has been made possible by a generous endowment from the class of ’31.

A spirit of gratitude

Upon the fiftieth anniversary of their graduation, hundreds of members of the Berkeley class of 1931 “joined together,” as class president Lois L. Swabel put it, “in a spirit of gratitude and admiration for their alma mater” — endowing an oral history series through The Bancroft Library. Their goal was to recognize the university for the “strength and skills” gained through a Berkeley education, and honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the community. Past interviews have celebrated campus leaders as diverse as Fred S. Stripp Jr, rhetoric instructor who has been described as the “heart and soul” of the Berkeley Debate Team, Anne DeGruchy Dettner, pioneering researcher at the Berkeley Radiation Lab (now Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), and our most recent honoree, Susan Graham, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, whose oral history is currently in progress.

Documenting UC Berkeley’s contributions through oral history

Over the years, the Oral History Center has interviewed hundreds of UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and alumni. You can learn about their experiences through The Berkeley Remix podcast series, including the episode Once in a Career Fire, about the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, and the Let There Be Light season, including Berkeley Lightning, about game changing technology developed by Berkeley Engineering faculty and students. 

Honorees interviewed for the Class of ’31 Community Leaders series can be found within the Education and University of California – Individual Interviews and throughout our collection. Oral history projects about UC Berkeley consisting of multiple interviews include: Athletics at UC Berkeley, The Free Speech Movement, UC Berkeley History Department, The Originals (African American Faculty and Senior Staff), and SLATE (student political organization, 1958–66). Even more interviews of Berkeley alumni, staff, and faculty can be found in various projects throughout our archive. Reaching back to the class of 1895, these include narrators who were influential as educators, labor organizers, suffragists, scientists, community organizers, philanthropists, novelists, artists, and much more. More than 200 of these can be found in our Berkeley Women 150 oral history collection guide

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


Funding and Federal Authority: Obstacles in AIDS Research and Treatment

Guest high school blogger uses UC Berkeley Oral History Center interviews to write about Funding and Federal Authority in AIDS Research and Treatment. This is part three of a 3-part series. Resources for teachers are at the end of the article. 

Obstacles in AIDS Research and Treatment: Funding and Federal Authority

By Ella S. Damty
Sophomore, El Cerrito High School

As with any disease or scientific endeavor, research on AIDS required money. The federal government at the time didn’t have an efficient system to approve funds for projects that desperately needed it, like AIDS. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that funds might not be approved at all, because federal officials weren’t always convinced that AIDS was an important disease to research. Medical researchers had to work with little to no funding or equipment to research and treat AIDS until the first federal funds were approved by Congress in 1983.

Don Abrams, an oncologist studying AIDS, describes his experience writing a grant proposal for the National Institutes of Health, and the bureaucratic mistakes that delayed his funding. He recalls that his grant proposal was lost and put into the wrong category, so instead of being weighed against the six other applicants for the program he applied to, it was considered with hundreds of others for a different type of grant.

In addition to navigating slow federal bureaucracy, researchers had to contend with the government’s belief that AIDS wasn’t a lasting or serious disease. Their proposals weren’t always reviewed because for several years they were seen as a waste of time. Art Ammann, a specialist in pediatric AIDS, explains,

Again, who was going to review [an application for AIDS research funds] if most people didn’t believe that this epidemic was a problem to begin with? So grants got rejected and individuals had to reapply—maybe a two-year process. So research on AIDS was done initially by people who had funding which they could use flexibly…. A federal funding mechanism didn’t get built until people accepted AIDS as a disease, and the government put money into that area. (Ammann, 64)

AIDS protest signs
AIDS protest at Federal Drug Administration offices in Washington, DC.

When the federal government finally realized that AIDS was an important disease to research, the grantors (such as the NIH) wanted to maintain control over both the funds and the researchers because of the money and awards that could be earned. But, as Marcus Conant, the dermatologist who first diagnosed Kaposi’s Sarcoma in AIDS patients, describes, “The problem with that is that when the government retains control, it by definition slows down the process. There are very few examples where the government’s been in control of something that has moved rapidly.” (Conant, 152)

Conant goes on to describe a specific instance where quicker funding could have made a difference in thousands of lives: Jay Levy, the doctor who developed the HIV antibody test, had put in a request for funding to get a fume hood, so that he could work with viruses. Had he gotten it, he could have been the first to discover the virus months earlier, and developed the antibody test sooner. The number of AIDS cases caused by blood transfusions could have been greatly reduced if blood could have been tested sooner.

Through their oral histories, medical researchers show how government bureaucracy and reluctance to fund AIDS research greatly slowed the efforts to find a cause and a treatment for the devastating disease. But these oral histories also show that doctors and researchers did the best they could and valiantly soldiered on, saving thousands of lives.

Photo: AIDS protest at Federal Drug Administration offices in Washington, DC, 1988. (UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections. Source: Calisphere)

Resources for Teachers

Student project: See the website by Ella S. Damty, based on the class assignment developed by UC Berkeley undergraduate research apprentice Corina Chen: Virus Hunters Newsletter: Obstacles in AIDS Research and Treatment

Education resources, including how-to on interviewing, tips for searching our collection, and the complete AIDS/HIV curriculum with sample assignments. 

Seven-episode podcast: First Response: AIDS and Community in San Francisco.

All interviews in the AIDS Epidemic in San Francisco Oral History project. 

“The True Experience of Terror:” Fear in the Medical Community in AIDS Research and Treatment

Guest high school blogger uses UC Berkeley Oral History Center interviews to write about Fear in the Medical Community in AIDS Research and Treatment. This is part two of a 3-part series. Resources for teachers are at the end of the article, including the Oral History Center’s Epidemics in HistoryHIV/AIDS Curriculum.

By Ella S. Damty
Sophomore, El Cerrito High School

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, no one knew what the disease was or how it was transmitted. This led to medical professionals who treated AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital to fear for their lives, not knowing whether they could get the disease themselves. This fear was particularly intense for gay health professionals, who were already in a high-risk group. This fear subsided for medical professionals once the HIV antibody test was developed in 1985, but in the years before that, fear plagued doctors and other health workers.

Doctors treating AIDS patients in the beginning didn’t use any protective measures when treating patients, including taking their blood for testing. Andrew Moss led the first epidemiological study of gay men with AIDS. On why health workers didn’t use gloves or other protective measures, he says, “Denial. We were refusing to acknowledge how afraid we were.” Moss went on to explain that despite the denial, the health professionals lived in fear.

We all thought we were going to die. By the middle of the next year, 1984, we all thought we were going to die. Volberding thought he was going to die. He was going around saying, “Oh, my lymphadenopathy is bad today.” He thought he had AIDS. He thought he had given it to his wife and his kids. Everybody did. I went to see my doctor five times. (Moss, 283)

Magazine cover about AIDS
Cover of Science 83 with AIDS headline.

Moss describes the period between 1983–1985, as “the true experience of terror.” During this time, he was working with patients, but the antibody test had not yet been developed.  The lack of knowledge on who could get it or who had it was terrifying to health workers. “It was a period of maximum paranoia. Nobody knew who was getting infected (Moss, 283).”

Paul Volberding was an oncologist who first became involved in AIDS while treating patients with Kaposi Sarcoma. He created and worked in the AIDS clinic in San Francisco General. He describes the environment in his home during this period, and how when he developed any sort of sickness or fever, he thought he had AIDS, but wasn’t allowed to discuss it.

There was about a year or year and a half period where the anxiety was so great that AIDS was just not permitted as a discussion item at home. There was so much anxiety attached to it that if I’d say, “Gee, I’m worried about taking care of these patients. I’m worried I have a fever, maybe this is PCP,” my wife, Molly, wouldn’t let me talk about it. (Volberding, 122)

After the HIV antibody test was developed in 1985, all the health workers in the AIDS ward were tested, and most came back negative, except for some of the gay employees. At this point the fear was over for people like Volberding and Moss, married heterosexual men. But the risk remained for gay health workers, and Moss recalls several coworkers who ended up dying from AIDS, and informing them of their test results.

In January 1985, I tested myself, when I had seen how the results were coming in. All the heterosexuals were negative. It was a very difficult study to do. There were a lot of gay men working in the clinic, and one-third of them were positive. And they’re dead now. Philippe Roy, the receptionist, the Shanti social worker, Gary Starliper, and a whole bunch of people that worked there are now dead. We tested them and they were positive, and I had to tell them. (Moss, 283–284)

The fear of catching AIDS in the medical community dissolved after many were tested and all came back negative except for the gay men. This also allowed doctors to assure the public that there was no risk of casual transmission from things like coughing and saliva. For medical professionals, the period of fear was for the most part over, and doctors could focus on treating and researching AIDS.

Photo: Cover of Science 83 with AIDS headline. (UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections. Source: Calisphere)

Resources for Teachers

Student project: See the website by Ella S. Damty, based on the class assignment developed by UC Berkeley undergraduate research apprentice Corina Chen: Virus Hunters Newsletter: Obstacles in AIDS Research and Treatment

Education resources, including how-to for interviewing, tips for searching our collection, and the complete AIDS/HIV curriculum with sample assignments. 

Seven-episode podcast: First Response: AIDS and Community in San Francisco.

All interviews in the AIDS Epidemic in San Francisco Oral History project. 

High School Researcher on Social Biases: Obstacles in AIDS Research and Treatment

Guest high school blogger uses UC Berkeley Oral History Center interviews to write about Social Biases in AIDS Research and Treatment. This is part one of a 3-part series. Resources for teachers are at the end of the article. 

Obstacles in AIDS Research and Treatment: Social Biases

by Ella S. Damty
Sophomore, El Cerrito High School

Early responses to the AIDS epidemic across the United States were slowed by biases against—and lack of concern for—the country’s gay communities. Many community leaders didn’t believe that a disease ailing homosexuals would affect their communities, and the methods of transmission (gay sex and IV drug use) made it appear to only affect people who engaged in illegal or, as some considered it, immoral behavior. In addition, the disease heightened stigma against homosexuals with names like gay cancer and GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), and made the gay community wary of public health officials. These social biases ostracized AIDS victims and made many public officials reluctant to act on their behalf.

One of the ways that public health officials tried to slow the spread of the disease was to spread information about it, with the help of local political leaders. But many of these politicians shrugged it off as something that wasn’t important or wouldn’t affect their communities. Dermatologist Marcus Conant, who first diagnosed Kaposi’s Sarcoma in AIDS patients and was involved in AIDS treatment and research since the epidemic began, recalls a meeting held to distribute pamphlets:

Ernie came to me that night and he said, “You won’t believe this. Most of the people just took it [the pamphlet] and kind of shrugged and walked off. One guy said, ‘Homosexuals?! We don’t have homosexuals where I come from!’” (Conant, 102)

Quilt hanging from SF City Hall
The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt panels displayed at San Francisco City Hall during San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade.

Another obstacle to getting local leaders to take interest in treating the disease was that is was widely viewed as a law enforcement issue, because it was spread through gay sex and intravenous drug use, both of which were illegal activities at the time. As Conant explains it, “If you have this mindset, that this is a law enforcement problem, not a medical problem, then it’s not surprising that from the top all the way down there has been this constant resistance to do anything, to move (129).”

In addition to local leaders’ resistance to act on the issue, gay communities feared that the public health officials would use the disease as an excuse to curb their newfound freedoms. The gay community in San Francisco at the time saw the bathhouses as a symbol of gay liberation in the city. But it was also a hotspot for HIV transmission. Donald Abrams, a gay man treating AIDS, discusses the issue of closing the bathhouses from his perspective as a member of both groups.

But still, as a gay man and as a member of a group of people that had been persecuted from time immemorial, I also thought that in the absence of knowing what AIDS is really caused by and being absolutely certain that closing the bathhouses would have very wide-ranging repercussions, I saw both sides of the issue. The gay community had achieved a lot of liberation and a lot of prominence in San Francisco over the seventies and on into the early eighties, and I thought that closing the bathhouses would really be a political setback. (Abrams 46)

These biases against and from the gay community delayed the response to AIDS in San Francisco and around the country. The view of homosexuals as outsiders and criminals made public officials reluctant to act on their behalf, and made the gay community skeptical of their efforts when they did act.

Photo: The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt panels displayed at San Francisco City Hall during San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade, 1988. (UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections. Source: Calisphere)

Resources for Teachers

Education resources, including tips for interviewing, tutorial for searching our collection, and the complete Epidemics in History — AIDS/HIV curriculum with sample assignments. 

Student project: See the website by Ella S. Damty, based on the class assignment developed by UC Berkeley undergraduate research apprentice Corina Chen: Virus Hunters Newsletter: Obstacles in AIDS Research and Treatment

Seven-episode podcast: First Response: AIDS and Community in San Francisco.

All interviews in the AIDS Epidemic in San Francisco Oral History project.

Janet Daijogo: Japanese Internment and Finding Her Place through Aikido and Teaching

by Deborah Qu

“I’ve actually heard that what you think of as your earliest childhood memory has a certain importance, but not because it’s necessarily your first memory. Just that having that association as your first memory means that you’ve placed a certain importance on it, for whatever that’s worth.” — Janet Daijogo

Janet Daijogo’s first real memory was the day military police knocked on her door and gave her family two weeks to relocate. It was during World War II, and she was Sansei or third-generation Japanese American. “The whole thing was just shrouded by fear,” she recalls during her oral history for The Bancroft Library in 2011. There was a fear of police knocking at her door and the uncertainty of where she was going to live. She realizes in retrospect that this memory was like a “body imprint” that influenced her personality, and something she carried with her into adulthood. 

Janet Daijogo was born on March 21, 1937 in San Francisco, California. At age five, she and her family were relocated to internment camps at Tanforan Racetrack and Topaz, Utah, during WW2. Post incarceration, she followed in her mother’s footsteps and attended UC Berkeley. Today, Daijogo is a veteran kindergarten teacher at Marin Country Day school, having taught children for 40-plus years. She incorporates Aikido, a noncompetitive form of martial art, in her teaching, and attributes her journey in teaching and Aikido as a mental practice where she found her space and purpose.

Janet Daijogo
Janet Daijogo in her classroom

Daijogo remembers moving to Topaz after a few months in Tanforan. Her parents carried on with hope or gaman, the belief in Japanese culture that they “can get through this kind of thing, and we do not complain.” While she does not remember much about Tanforan as a child, she recalls barracks with dirty wooden floors and sheetless cots, and mess halls with long waiting lines that served food on metal dishes. But Daijogo most distinctly recalls the large fences that encased the Topaz camp along the grey landscape, and how her imagination went wild about the people and mystery outside the fence. 

After the war, the Daijogo family moved to Oklahoma. There, she remembers seeing black-white segregated bathrooms and being unsure about which one to enter. Daijogo recalls feeling divided, saying “I think at that moment . . . I realized that I was not one of them. I was not white, I was an outlier. I was somebody on the fringes.” 

From fourth grade onwards through high school, Janet Daijogo lived on an American Army base in Japan. She describes the unfamiliarity about not knowing the language or dressing like her peers, and becoming more ‘Americanized’ in Japan. “There was this distance,” she remembers. “I did not really identify with them even though they looked like me.” Later, she looks back on her childhood and high school years by saying, “I think one of the themes of my life is being the outsider and finding the comfort of that, where to be, how to be in that situation.”

Janet Daijogo attended UC Berkeley, majoring in child development and minoring in history. Both her parents were Cal alumni and strongly valued education, but her mother was especially proud of attending Berkeley. Janet describes how “unusual” that her mom was able to attend Cal and how “it was also an important part of her identity.” Like many Berkeley students today, Daijogo felt the same excitement in anticipation for school. She describes the feeling of picking up books for the start of the semester, saying “there’s a real energy in them…like you’re getting ready to explore something out there.” But while Daijigo describes her experience as “amazing,” she also remembers thinking, ”oh my God, what am I doing here with all these smart people?” 

Janet Daijogo with her family
Janet Daijogo with her family

After graduation, Daijigo and her new husband Sam moved to Japan, where she taught at an international school. While she still was seen as a foreigner, this time she experienced Japan more outside her American bubble. Once they returned to the US, Daijogo stayed at home to raise her children. However she quickly felt discouraged. She recalls that her “sense of purpose and personal value that comes from work” was missing, because she could not express her academic side. This was when she found a job at the Marin Child Development Center teaching emotionally disturbed children. First, she recalls coming home and crying every day for four or five months, frustrated at the difficulty of teaching children. Yet over time, Daijogo found there was something about these situations she had no control over. With the help of her mentor, Janet Daijogo realized that she was not the cause, but she also could not magically make them happy. She was just “part of the journey.” 

Around this time, Janet Daijogo found Aikido. For Daijogo, Aikido was a space for reflection and grounding, where she found her “center, a place of stability and of ‘okayness’, of feeling good, of relaxation and of power.” She integrated the practice of Aikido into her teaching curriculum, and stressed the importance of cultivating a supportive relationship with oneself to students at a young age. Janet Daijigo discovered that she needed to treat herself in the same way she had taught the children; like them, she was “part of the journey.” Today, Janet Daijigo is a grandmother who still teaches at Marin Country Day and still practices Aikido. About accepting uncertainty and understanding the self, Janet Daijigo says, “I think at this stage in my life I now know what I know, and I know what I don’t know.” 

This year marks the 150th anniversary of women being admitted to UC Berkeley on “equal terms as men,” as approved by the Board of Regents in 1870. Since the doors were opened that first year, there have been an innumerable number of accomplished women graduates from Berkeley who have gone on to contribute meaningful work in STEM and humanities, excel in sports, devote their lives to public service and communities, and introduce new and valuable perspectives on old patterns of thought. From looking at their outward accomplishments alone, it seems like large shoes for today’s students to fill. As a student studying remotely this year, I would not be surprised that many of us are anxious about school or future career prospects, health and wellbeing, financial issues, or the news in general. But Daijogo’s oral history stood out to me, because she openly speaks about the mental challenges of stressful life events and the importance of self care and patience. Her vulnerable story reminds us that that life is a journey of continued learning, and we are all along for the ride. 


Deborah Qu is a sophomore at UC Berkeley and is majoring in psychology. As a research assistant for the UC Berkeley Oral History Center, she developed a collection guide to UC Berkeley Women Oral Histories, which is available on the Berkeley Women 150 and Oral History Center websites. 

Read the Daijogo oral history: Janet Daijogo, A Life’s Journey: From Child of the Incarceration to Master Teacher, Translating the Truths of Aikido for the Kindergarten Classroom.

See the related oral history collection: Japanese American Confinement Sites.