Herb Sandler and Marion Osher Sandler formed one of the most remarkable partnerships in the histories of American business and philanthropy—and, if their friends and associates would have a say in things, in the living memory of marriage writ large. This oral history project documents the lives of Herb and Marion Sandler through their shared pursuits in raising a family, serving as co-CEOs for the savings and loan Golden West Financial, and establishing a remarkably influential philanthropy in the Sandler Foundation. This project consists of eighteen unique oral history interviews, at the center of which is a 24-hour life history interview with Herb Sandler.
Marion Osher Sandler was born October 17, 1930, in Biddeford, Maine, to Samuel and Leah Osher. She was the youngest of five children; all of her siblings were brothers and all went on to distinguished careers in medicine and business. She attended Wellesley as an undergraduate where she was elected into Phi Beta Kappa. Her first postgraduate job was as an assistant buyer with Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan, but she left in pursuit of more lofty goals. She took a job on Wall Street, in the process becoming only the second woman on Wall Street to hold a non-clerical position. She started with Dominick & Dominick in its executive training program and then moved to Oppenheimer and Company where she worked as a highly respected analyst. While building an impressive career on Wall Street, she earned her MBA at New York University.
Herb Sandler was born on November 16, 1931 in New York City. He was the second of two children and remained very close to his brother, Leonard, throughout his life. He grew up in subsidized housing in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood of Two Bridges. Both his father and brother were attorneys (and both were judges too), so after graduating from City College, he went for his law degree at Columbia. He practiced law both in private practice and for the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor where he worked on organized crime cases. While still living with his parents at Knickerbocker Village, he engaged in community development work with the local settlement house network, Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. At Two Bridges he was exposed to the work of Episcopal Bishop Bill Wendt, who inspired his burgeoning commitment to social justice.
Given their long and successful careers in business, philanthropy, and marriage, Herb and Marion’s story of how they met has taken on somewhat mythic proportions. Many people interviewed for this project tell the story. Even if the facts don’t all align in these stories, one central feature is shared by all: Marion was a force of nature, self-confident, smart, and, in Herb’s words, “sweet, without pretentions.” Herb, however, always thought of himself as unremarkable, just one of the guys. So when he first met Marion, he wasn’t prepared for this special woman to be actually interested in dating him. The courtship happened reasonably quickly despite some personal issues that needed to be addressed (which Herb discusses in his interview) and introducing one another to their respective families (but, as Herb notes, not to seek approval!).
Within a few years of marriage, Marion was bumping up against the glass ceiling on Wall Street, recognizing that she would not be making partner status any time soon. While working as an analyst, however, she learned that great opportunity for profit existed in the savings and loan sector, which was filled with bloat and inefficiency as well as lack of financial sophistication and incompetence among the executives. They decided to find an investment opportunity in California and, with the help of Marion’s brothers (especially Barney Osher), purchased a tiny two-branch thrift in Oakland, California: Golden West Savings and Loan.
Golden West—which later operated under the retail brand of World Savings—grew by leaps and bounds, in part through acquisition of many regional thrifts and in part through astute research leading to organic expansion into new geographic areas. The remarkable history of Golden West is revealed in great detail in many of the interviews in this project, but most particularly in the interviews with Herb Sandler, Steve Daetz, Russ Kettell, and Mike Roster, all of whom worked at the institution. The savings and loan was marked by key attributes during the forty-three years in which it was run by the Sandlers. Perhaps most important among these is the fact that over that period of time the company was profitable all but two years. This is even more remarkable when considering just how volatile banking was in that era, for there were liquidity crises, deregulation schemes, skyrocketing interest rates, financial recessions, housing recessions, and the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, in which the entire sector was nearly obliterated through risky or foolish decisions made by Congress, regulators, and managements. Through all of this, however, Golden West delivered consistent returns to their investors. Indeed, the average annual growth in earnings per share over 40 years was 19 percent, a figure that made Golden West second only to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and the second best record in American corporate history.
Golden West is also remembered for making loans to communities that had been subject to racially and economically restrictive redlining practices. Thus, the Sandlers played a role in opening up the dream of home ownership to more Americans. In the offices too, Herb and Marion made a point of opening positions to women, such as branch manager and loan officer, previously held only by men. And, by the mid-1990s, Golden West began appointing more women and people of color to its board of directors, which already was presided over by Marion Sandler, one of the longest-serving female CEOs of a major company in American history. The Sandlers sold Golden West to Wachovia in 2006. The interviews tell the story of the sale, but at least one major reason for the decision was the fact that the Sandlers were spending a greater percentage of their time in philanthropic work.
One of the first real forays by the Sandlers into philanthropic work came in the wake of the passing of Herb’s brother Leonard in 1988. Herb recalls his brother with great respect and fondness and the historical record shows him to be a just and principled attorney and jurist. Leonard was dedicated to human rights, so after his passing, the Sandlers created a fellowship in his honor at Human Rights Watch. After this, the Sandlers giving grew rapidly in their areas of greatest interest: human rights, civil rights, and medical research. They stepped up to become major donors to Human Rights Watch and, after the arrival of Anthony Romero in 2001, to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Sandlers’ sponsorship of medical research demonstrates their unique, creative, entrepreneurial, and sometimes controversial approach to philanthropic work. With the American Asthma Foundation, which they founded, the goal was to disrupt existing research patterns and to interest scientists beyond the narrow confines of pulmonology to investigate the disease and to produce new basic research about it. Check out the interview with Bill Seaman for more on this initiative. The Program for Breakthrough Biomedical Research at the University of California, San Francisco likewise seeks out highly-qualified researchers who are willing to engage in high-risk research projects. The interview with program director Keith Yamamoto highlights the impacts and the future promise of the research supported by the Sandlers. The Sandler Fellows program at UCSF selects recent graduate school graduates of unusual promise and provides them with a great deal of independence to pursue their own research agenda, rather than serve as assistants in established labs. Joe DeRisi was one of the first Sandler Fellows and, in his interview, he describes the remarkable work he has accomplished while at UCSF as a fellow and, now, as faculty member who heads his own esteemed lab.
The list of projects, programs, and agencies either supported or started by the Sandlers runs too long to list here, but at least two are worth mentioning for these endeavors have produced impacts wide and far: the Center for American Progress and ProPublica. The Center for American Progress had its origins in Herb Sandler’s recognition that there was a need for a liberal policy think tank that could compete in the marketplace of ideas with groups such as the conservative Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. The Sandlers researched existing groups and met with many well-connected and highly capable individuals until they forged a partnership with John Podesta, who had served as chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. The Center for American Progress has since grown by leaps and bounds and is now recognized for being just what it set out to be.
The same is also true with ProPublica. The Sandlers had noticed the decline of traditional print journalism in the wake of the internet and lamented what this meant for the state of investigative journalism, which typically requires a meaningful investment of time and money. After spending much time doing due diligence—another Sandler hallmark—and meeting with key players, including Paul Steiger of the Wall Street Journal, they took the leap and established a not-for-profit investigative journalism outfit, which they named ProPublica. ProPublica not only has won several Pulitzer Prizes, it has played a critical role in supporting our democratic institutions by holding leaders accountable to the public. Moreover, the Sandler Foundation is now a minority sponsor of the work of ProPublica, meaning that others have recognized the value of this organization and stepped forward to ensure its continued success. Herb Sandler’s interview as well as several other interviews describe many of the other initiatives created and/or supported by the foundation, including: the Center for Responsible Lending, Oceana, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Learning Policy Institute, and more.
Herb and Marion Sandler also played key roles in the formation and funding of two important research centers here on the UC Berkeley campus which have a global reach: the Berkeley Center for Equitable Growth (CEG) and the Human Rights Center. The CEG is directed by economist Emmanual Saez and has supported the influential work of Thomas Piketty which looks at methods for reducing wealth and income disparities around the globe. The Human Rights Center has for the past 25 years investigated and shed light upon human rights abuses around the globe.
A few interviewees shared the idea that when it comes to Herb and Marion Sandler there are actually three people involved: Marion Sandler, Herb Sandler, and “Herb and Marion.” The later creation is a kind of mind-meld between the two which was capable of expressing opinions, making decisions, and forging a united front in the ambitious projects that they accomplished. I think this makes great sense because I find it difficult to fathom that two individuals alone could do what they did. Because Marion Sandler passed away in 2012, I was not able to interview her, but I am confident in my belief that a very large part of her survives in Herb’s love of “Herb and Marion,” which he summons when it is time to make important decisions. And let us not forget that in the midst of all of this work they raised two accomplished children, each of whom make important contributions to the foundation and beyond. Moreover, the Sandlers have developed many meaningful friendships (see the interviews with Tom Laqueur and Ronnie Caplane), some of which have spanned the decades.
The eighteen interviews of the Herb and Marion Sandler oral history project, then, are several projects in one. It is a personal, life history of a remarkable woman and her mate and life partner; it is a substantive history of banking and of the fate of the savings and loan institution in the United States; and it is an examination of the current world of high-stakes philanthropy in our country at a time when the desire to do good has never been more needed and the importance of doing that job skillfully never more necessary.
Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director, Oral History Center, UC Berkeley
List of Interviews of the Marion and Herbert Sandler Oral History Project
As two of the oldest modern democracies, France and the United States share a long tradition of freedom of speech and of the press (and at times governmental censorship). The two societies have found catharsis in the mockery of their highest elected officials through caricatures, cartoons, and critical writings. Here are a few recent library acquisitions, in English and in French, from both sides of the Atlantic in this category of political critique:
Baldwin, Alec and Kurt Andersen. You Can’t Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year As President Donald J. Trump (a So-Called Parody). New York: Penguin Press, 2017.
Bourhis, Hervé and Rudy Spiessert. Trump de A à Z. Bruxelles: Casterman, 2017.
Burrell, Ginger R. Un[Hood]ed. Morgan Hill, CA: Midnight Moon Press, 2017.
Cole, David, and Melanie W. Stinnett. Rules for Resistance: Advice from Around the Globe for the Age of Trump. New York: The New Press, 2017.
Connolly, William E. Aspirational Fascism: The Struggle for Multifaceted Democracy Under Trumpism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
Daniel, Jean-Marc. Macron: La valse folle de Jupiter. Paris: l’Archipel, 2018.
Être postmoderne / Michel Maffesoli; postface de Hélène Strohl: Emmanuel Macron, icône ou fake de la postmodernité? Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2018.
Filoche, Gérard. Macron, ou, la casse sociale. Paris: l’Archipel, 2018.
Fottorino, Éric and Joep Bertrams. Détrumpez-vous!, Paris: Gallimard, 2017.
Fourquet, Jérôme. Le nouveau clivage: mondialisation, libre-échange, métropolisation, flux migratoires : état des démocraties occidentales. Paris: Les éditions du Cerf, 2018.
Giroux, Henry A. The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism. New York, NY: Routledge, 2018.
Johnston, David C. It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.
Lee, Bandy X. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.
Merchet, Jean-Dominique. Macron Bonaparte: Essai. Paris: Stock, 2017.
Nanos, Nik. The Age of Voter Rage. London: Eyewear Publishing, 2018.
Taguieff, Pierre-André. Macron: miracle ou mirage? Paris: Éditions de l’Observatoire, 2017.
Toulouse, Anne. Dans la tête de Donald Trump. Paris: Stock, 2016.
Trumpism: The Politics Of Gender in a Post-Propitious America / edited by Laura Finley and Matthew Johnson. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018.
Willem. Macron: L’amour fou. Bordeaux: Les Requins marteaux, 2018.
Zef, Kak and Degreff. Macron, L’an I: pardon de vous le dire. Paris: Florent Massot, 2018.
The Oral History Center is excited to announce that we have joined forces with local public radio station KQED on a significant new partnership. The occasion for this collaboration is a new oral history of four-term California governor Jerry Brown. The project is expected to encompass at least 30 hours of conversations with Brown, taking place over a series of months, beginning later this year. The interviews will span most of Brown’s adult life, including his time in the seminary, lessons learned from his father’s governorship, his terms as secretary of state, attorney general and governor of California, and mayor of Oakland, and three presidential bids. They will address a life lived in and out of the public eye, and a long and extraordinary career devoted to public service.
Research and interview duties will be shared by my colleague, Todd Holmes, and I. We’ll be joined by Scott Shafer, senior editor for KQED’s Politics and Government Desk and co-host of the weekly radio program and podcast Political Breakdown. “Jerry Brown is a singularly important figure in California political history,” Shafer says. “His long and remarkable time in and out of public life in California, including his personal reflections and insights, should be documented for posterity, and we’re delighted to be a part of doing just that.”
The final interviews will join our collection of political oral histories, which include major interview projects on four earlier California governors, including Jerry’s father Pat Brown, who was elected in 1958 and again in 1962. Transcripts and audio and video of the Brown interviews will be made available on our website. We are thrilled to partner with KQED to see that Governor Brown’s oral history is completed and made available to everyone — and we are humbled to be the ones with the honor of making sure that this history is recorded and preserved.
Like all Oral History Center projects, we are obliged to raise funding to help support this endeavor as neither the state or the university will provide funding this extraordinarily important project. We are happy to accept donations large and small for those who agree that this oral history needs to be recorded and that we cannot miss this window of opportunity to get it done. Please contact me directly (email@example.com or 510-643-9733) with questions or think about making a donation online: http://ucblib.link/givetoOHC
Martin Meeker, @MartinDMeeker
Charles B. Faulhaber Director
Oral History Center
Now available: Hadley Roff: A Life in Politics, Government and Public Service Oral History Transcript with video excerpts below. Hadley Roff (1931-2016) was a top aid and advisor to four San Francisco mayors from 1967 to 1992: Joseph Alioto, Dianne Feinstein, Art Agnos and Frank Jordan. He attended Stanford University from 1950 to 1954 where he was editor of the Stanford Daily. From 1957 to 1964 he was a night beat reporter for the S.F. News. He became a vocal advocate for firefighter safety and was beloved by the San Francisco Fire Department, serving on the Fire Commission beginning in 1995. In these interviews, Roff recalls the turbulence in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s: Harvey Milk’s and George Moscone’s assassinations in 1978, Jonestown, the early years of the AIDS crisis. He recalls events on the national stage as they played out in San Francisco: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and Watergate, among others. In 1992 Roff was press secretary for Dianne Feinstein’s senatorial campaign, and head of her California senate staff office from 1992 to 1995.
The Freedom to Marry Oral History Project
In the historically swift span of roughly twenty years, support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples went from an idea a small portion of Americans agreed with to a cause supported by virtually all segments of the population. In 1996, when Gallup conducted its first poll on the question, a seemingly insurmountable 68% of Americans opposed the extension of marriage rights. In a historic reversal, fewer than twenty years later several polls found that over 60% of Americans had come to support the freedom to marry nationwide. The rapid increase in support mirrored the progress in securing the right to marry coast to coast. Before 2004, no state issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. By spring 2015, thirty-seven states affirmed the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, with a number of states extending marriage through votes in state legislatures or at the ballot box. The discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, denied legally married same-sex couples the federal protections and responsibilities afforded married different-sex couples—a double-standard corrected when a core portion of the act was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 in United States v. Windsor. The full national resolution came in June 2015 when, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution’s guarantee of the fundamental right to marry applies equally to same-sex couples.
The Oral History Center is thrilled to release to the public the first major oral history project documenting the vast shift in public opinion about marriage, the consequential reconsideration of our nation’s laws governing marriage, and the actions of individuals and organizations largely responsible for these changes. The Freedom to Marry Oral History Project produced 23 interviews totaling nearly 100 hours of recordings. Interviewees include: Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry; Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV project; and Thalia Zepatos, the movement’s “message guru” who worked at Freedom to Marry as director of research and messaging. Read on for video clips of the interviews and links to complete interview transcripts.
At the center of the effort to change hearts and minds, prevail in the courts and legislatures, win at the ballot, and win at the Supreme Court was Freedom to Marry, the national campaign launched by Harvard-trained attorney Evan Wolfson in 2003. Freedom to Marry’s national strategy focused from the beginning on setting the stage for a nationwide victory at the Supreme Court. Working with national and state organizations and allied individuals and organizations, Freedom to Marry succeeded in building a critical mass of states where same-sex couples could marry and a critical mass of public support in favor of the freedom to marry. This oral history project focuses on the pivotal role played by Freedom to Marry and their closest state and national organizational partners, as they drove the winning strategy and inspired, grew, and leveraged the work of a multitudinous movement.
Freedom to Marry Oral History Project Interview Transcripts:
Amy Mello, “Amy Mello and Field Organizing in Freedom to Marry.” (forthcoming)
Marc Solomon, “Marc Solomon on Politics and Political Organizing in the Freedom to Marry Movement.” (forthcoming)
Slaying the Dragon of Debt: OHC’s Look into Federal Budgets from the 1960s into the 2000s.
Debt and deficits, budget reconciliation, CBO scoring. These arcana have again appeared at the forefront of social media feeds and on the front pages of newspapers as Congress and the White House attempt to pass the new President’s agenda while figuring out how to pay for it.
Back in 2010, OHC director Martin Meeker and then-postdoc scholar Patrick Sharma embarked on a brief but intensive oral history project — that we called “Slaying the Dragon of Debt” — exploring the recent history of federal debt and deficits. The central question asked at the beginning of the project went something like this: how was it that after running deficits for over 25 years, the federal government was able to produce a budget surplus in 1998 and every year until 2001, when we returned to deficits? As the project progressed, plenty of other questions were asked as well: Can the surpluses be attributable to President Clinton’s fiscal policies? To the belt-tightening mandated by Congressional Republicans? To the monetary policies of Alan Greenspan’s Fed? To broader economic trends, such as the dot.com boom? To something else entirely? To all of the above?
As we enter into a new fiscal regime, we think it is useful to return to our project on debt and deficits and attempt to seek insights into the complex workings of federal fiscal and monetary policy and how those policies are influenced by profound political shifts , warring parties, and memorable characters. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is now brought under criticism by the White House Office of Management and Budget, we want to know how have those offices worked together — or against one another — in the past. Has the work of CBO always been politicized and if so, how? Is the kind of rhetoric we hear today something entirely new or is it just another chapter in the decade’s long battles around government spending?
This project featured interviews with several former directors of the CBO, including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, June O’Neill, Rudolph Penner, Robert Reischauer, and Alice Rivlin. The project also includes interviews with a handful of former OMB directors, including: James McIntyre, Jim Miller, and, again, Alice Rivlin. Perhaps among the most revealing interviews are those with key staffers who worked behind the scenes, crafting legislation, and making policy. We recommend reading through the oral histories with Bill Hoagland, who served as staff director for the Senate Budget Committee from 1986 to 2003, and Joseph Minarik, who was the chief economist at the OMB throughout Clinton’s two terms. Let us know what you think!
Another recent acquisition of the Library is the ProQuest History Vault module, FBI Confidential Files and Radical Politics in the U.S., 1945-1972. Under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI vigorously investigated and tracked the activities of Communist groups, Communist-front groups, and other radical organizations in the U.S. This module consists of records of the FBI and the Subversive Activities Control Board from 1945-1972.
Highlights of this module include J. Edgar Hoover’s office files; documentation on the FBI’s so-called “black bag jobs,” as they were called before being renamed “surreptitious entries”; and the “Do Not File” File. The “Do Not File” file consists of records that were originally supposed to be destroyed on FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s order, however, through both intended and inadvertent exceptions to this order, large portions of these files survived. Another key collection in this module consists of the records of the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB). The SACB files constitute one of the most valuable resources for the study of left-wing radicalism during the 1950s and 1960s.
Just over 50 years ago the California State Legislature established the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). This commission was charged with protecting the San Francisco Bay from unchecked development and with providing access to this great natural resource. In 1972, citizens throughout California voted to establish the Coastal Commission, which had a charge similar to the BCDC but its authority ran the entire coastline of California. Today we are pleased to release to new oral history interviews with two of the most important figures in both of those organizations: Joe Bodovitz and Will “Trav” Travis.
Joseph Bodovitz was born Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1930. He attended Northwestern University, where he studied English Literature, served in the US Navy during the Korean War, and then completed a graduate degree in journalism at Columbia University. In 1956 he accepted a job as a reporter with the San Francisco Examiner, reporting on crime, politics, and eventually urban redevelopment. He then took a position with SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research) where he launched their newsletter. In 1964 he was enlisted to lead the team drafting the Bay Plan, which resulted in the creation of the San Francisco Bay Conversation and Development Commission (BCDC) by the state legislature in 1969. Bodovitz was hired as the first executive director of BCDC. In 1972 he was hired by the newly-established California Coastal Commission to be its first executive director. He left the Coastal Commission in 1979 and shortly thereafter was named executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, a position he held until 1986. He served as head of the California Environmental Trust and then as the project director for BayVision 2020, which created a plan for a regional Bay Area government. In this interview, Bodovitz details the creation of the BCDC and how it established itself into a respected state agency; he also discusses the first eight years of the Coastal Commission and how he helped craft a strategy for managing such a huge public resource ? the California coastline. He further discusses utilities deregulation in the 1980s and the changing context for environmental regulation through the 1990s.
Will Travis was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1943. He attended Penn State University as both as an undergraduate and graduate student, studying architecture and regional planning. From 1970 to 1972 he worked as a planner for the then nascent San Francisco Bay Conversation and Development Commission (BCDC). In 1972 moved to the newly established California Coastal Commission, where worked in various capacities until 1985. In 1985 Travis returned to BCDC first as deputy director then as the agency?s director beginning in 1995. He retired from BCDC in 2011 and continues to work as a consultant. In this life history interview, Travis discusses his work both the BCDC and the Coastal Commission, focusing on accounts of particular preservation and development projects including the restoration of marshland areas around the San Francisco Bay. The interview also covers in detail Travis?s work documenting the threat of sea level rise as a result of climate change and how the Bay Area might plan for such a transformation.