Luella Lilly: Cal’s first and only Director of Women’s Athletics

By William Cooke 

In 1976, Luella “Lue” Lilly became the first and only athletic director of the newly created Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Department at Cal. Over the course of her 17-year tenure, eight of the women’s sports programs won a combined 28 conference championships. In 1989, USA Today ranked Cal’s women’s athletics program number four overall in the nation. Today, several women’s programs are consistently among the best in the country and Cal female athletes, former and current, compete in the Olympic Games. 

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

Now one of the premier destinations for elite female student athletes, Cal has come a long way from being one of the last universities in the country to create a women’s athletics department and offer scholarships to female athletes. That history starts with Lilly.

You don’t try to keep up with Joneses. You figure out where the Joneses are going to go and get there before they do. And that was my philosophy. —Luella Lilly

Lilly had a steep mountain to climb when she first arrived at Berkeley. Ongoing budget constraints, competition over the use of limited sports facilities, and tensions between departments meant that she could not fight every battle all at once. Her wisdom and guidance set up women’s athletics for a successful future. Lilly’s oral history, conducted by the UC Berkeley Oral History Center in 2010, describes when and how Lilly picked her battles. 

Playing catch up 

Cal hired Lilly in 1976, four years after Title IX was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. The law prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex at any institution receiving federal aid. Lilly recalls that the newly founded Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics Department had a lot of catching up to do in regard to providing women with equal athletics opportunities. According to Lilly:

Cal was the last major university in the United States to give an athletic scholarship to women. They gave scholarships after I arrived, and there were no scholarships prior to my arrival. And most of the schools—some of them gave them prior to ’72 and others—the majority of the schools, if they weren’t giving scholarships when Title IX went in, they gave some scholarships right away.

Colleen Galloway dribbling the ball, with a defender to her right
Colleen Galloway (Class of 1981) in action for Cal women’s basketball. Galloway was one of Cal Women’s Athletics’ first recruits and was inducted into the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989. Photo:

It was only in the fall of 1977 that Cal’s first batch of female recruits came to campus. Among them were Colleen Galloway, who held the record for career points in Cal Women’s Basketball history until 2019, and standout three-sport athlete Sheryl Johnson, who played in three Olympic games for USA field hockey. 

In her first year at the helm, Lilly prioritized providing scholarships for a few reasons. In her oral history, Lilly explains that the Women’s Sports Foundation published a booklet annually that listed which schools provided scholarships in each sport. The department needed scholarships in order to compete for the best recruits, of course. But to be recognized nationally as a school that provided scholarships was just as important. 

I also knew that when it [the Women’s Sports Foundation booklet] came out in February, that Cal would not be included or it wouldn’t say anything… Talking with [Vice Chancellor] Bob Kerley—[I] told him that we could jumpstart a full year if we could get some money to get the scholarships… and then when that little form came out I could check [it]. And so what I did was—they gave me—I think it’s $6,740 dollars, which was—tuition and fees were $670, I think they were, something like that. Anyway, it gave me ten tuition and fees at that point in time. So I gave them to each of the sports that could give scholarships, and had the coach divide it so that whatever way they wanted to—if they wanted to give somebody a full ride that was up to them, but if they wanted to split it among all—they could do anything they wanted to in their particular sport. But I just wanted to be able to mark the check that said we had them.

The money needed to provide scholarships and pay coaches—both of which are necessary in order to build a successful athletic program—would not and did not appear out of thin air. Lilly says in her oral history, “With fundraising we’ve—I think we’ve done most everything anybody has done in fundraising.” Even so, early fundraising results were disappointing. 

One thing that really backfired and really, really surprised us was that we had Bruce [now Caitlin] Jenner and Steve Bartkowski play a demonstration tennis match—and it was five bucks to get in and all this sort of thing, and this was right after Jenner had won the Olympic decathlon, and we just assumed that everybody would really, really come. And nobody—we had so few people that we went up to the department and asked all the staff to please come down to put some more people in the stands. And we opened the gates and just let anybody that wanted to come, to come in to look for it, because it was so embarrassing how few came. And the thing I remember us saying too, that was probably with Chris Dawson. “You know, if this was a fundraiser for the men, the thing would be full.”

Support and strife 

Sheryl Ann Johnson plays field hockey, with another player in the background.
Sheryl Ann Johnson was a three-sport letter-winner in field hockey, basketball, and softball. She was a field hockey Broderick Award nominee in the 1979-80 school year, Cal’s first for any sport.

Ironically, men involved in Cal Athletics, including boosters, administrators, and journalists, were some of Lilly’s biggest supporters as well as her biggest adversaries. Lilly describes an environment of contentiousness over the scheduling of limited athletics facilities between the four athletics departments: Physical Education, Recreational Sports, Men’s Athletics, and Women’s Athletics. She believed that sometimes the tensions were understandable given Cal’s limited number of facilities; but, at other times, the competition between departments felt totally contrived. 

A lack of cooperation meant that Lilly’s women’s programs had to deal with last-minute facilities scheduling changes, as well as explicit efforts to block cooperation between the men’s and women’s athletics departments. Lilly had to decide whether to resist those efforts or focus her energies elsewhere. Oftentimes she wavered between the two: 

I think that cooperation is the main thing. I think you can really, really help each other… One of the things that I did do here was that I had all of my coaches and athletes give gold cards to all of their counterparts. I think the men’s gymnastics team should be able to watch the women’s gymnastics team free of charge, so I did that. And then [Vice Chancellor for student affairs] Bob Kerley talked to me and said that—here we go again—that [Men’s Athletic Director] Dave Maggard was upset with it, that we were trying to get tickets for the men’s events, and he went on and on about what I was trying to do, so I said to Bob, “All right. We won’t do it.” So then I came back the next year and I said, “I am not comfortable with this. I don’t like the fact that we can’t cooperate and have the men come to the women’s events. I don’t even care if he just thinks we’re trying to increase our attendance. The point is that you’re working together.” Because again, I came from that background of when the swimmers were on the same buses and that sort of thing, in high school. So it’s really hard for me to just think that everybody is so territorial. So Bob [Kerley] said, “If you feel that strongly about it, just go ahead and do it and we’ll just put up with the consequences.” So I had my coaches do it the next year.

Some instances of antagonism seemed inexplicable to Lilly who, as a volleyball and basketball coach at the University of Nevada prior to her tenure at Cal, learned the value of cooperation between the men’s and women’s coaches.

I said, “Well, let’s try to have a Christmas party and get to know some of the male staff. So all my coaches invited all the men coaches to come to a Christmas party, and the Alumni House gave it to us for free. This is where I say I had a lot of cooperation—they gave us the room; we didn’t have to pay for it. And nobody showed up except for the men’s football staff. And Roger Theder said nobody’s going to tell him what party he could and couldn’t attend. And another coach had told me that Maggard threatened that if anybody came to this party they’d be fired. So here’s all the women’s staff and eight football coaches. And we had a good time, you know. But that was just it; it was one of those situations again that just didn’t make any sense for me. The tennis coaches should know each other, and all this sort of thing.

Although Lilly found some adversaries in other sports-related departments, she found supporters of Cal Athletics elsewhere. In her oral history, Lilly says that “the strongest supporters that we’ve had and the people that have helped us the most along the way have been men.” 

Doug Gray, a reporter at The Daily Californian, took an interest in Cal Women’s Athletics and began covering Lilly’s programs. Members of Cal’s athletics boosters, the Bear Boosters, slowly warmed up to the idea of supporting Lilly’s department. But many were reluctant to openly support the Department, which made for some odd interactions with male boosters. As Lilly recalled:

When I used to give my speeches it was really kind of funny, because I said I felt like a hooker or something, because the guys would never just come out and hand me money. They always—as I was saying goodbye they would either slip it in my pocket or they would shake my hand and leave the money in my hand. Or do all these little indirect things so that nobody knew that they were giving us any money!

And so when we were doing that, this one guy said, “If you ever let anyone, anyone at any time, ever know that I gave to the women’s program, I will never give you another cent.” He’d given us a whole twenty-five dollars; you’d think he’d given us millions. Anyway, but then later on after it became the big deal to give—and one of the awards that he got—and he said he was one of the first members of the Bear Boosters contributing and helping Women’s Athletics. Because at that point in time it was acceptable to do it. So he went from one extreme to the other. So we laughed when we saw that on his resume.

Muddling through

Fundraising picked up eventually, but for quite some time Lilly had to make do with limited resources. Lilly recalls diving into dumpsters and upcycling waste into equipment that the women’s programs needed for competitions. Among other things, Lilly made tennis poles to hold up the nets for doubles, poles for cross-country finish lines and a rolling cart for outdoor sports out of scrap wood she salvaged. 

The women’s head coaches, who were already underpaid at less than $5,000 a year, lacked adequate office space and had access to just three phones between the twelve of them. So Lilly, with help from administration, created an office space: 

And what we did then was—and then Bob Kerley made arrangements for me to go down to the surplus area and to get some desks, because we didn’t even have desks for the coaches. So what we did was we put two desks together with one of the bathroom partitions for a wall. And then we just went down that whole great big area that we had and made little cubbyholes for the coaches. These things weren’t even attached; they were just between two desks. And then we cut out a hole at one end of them and made a little flap so you could put a telephone on it. And then the telephone was passed back and forth from one coach to the other for the various sports, so that there was a little platform for them to be able to put the telephone, but we only had three telephones. There were twelve sports.

At various points throughout her oral history, Lilly points to instances in which she might have made a very different decision but chose not to. For example, in the early 1980s, recruiting became even more competitive. Some recruits began to ask for free cars in exchange for their commitment, a request that she suspected other schools fulfilled. Lilly says she refused to give in, and her women’s programs lost out on excellent recruits as a result. 

Similarly, when administration disallowed some women’s coaches from working under multiple departments at the same time, Lilly considered challenging the decision but ultimately chose not to. 

They weren’t going to let the women coaches—for basketball, and Joan Parker for tennis—be able to be in our department and Physical Education at the same time. And yet at the same time, the wrestling, water polo, and tennis coaches and—a lot of them were coaching in the men’s sports and teaching— but I would have made a major men’s/women’s issue right at the very, very beginning, and I knew I had to get things established better than making that particular fight. So I didn’t fight with that particular issue, but I did go to Bob Kerley and say, “Since everything is in such turmoil right now, could we have a one-year extension on that particular issue?” So Joan Parker was able to coach tennis the first year, and Barbara Iten was able to coach basketball the first year that I was there, but with the idea that they would not be able to coach the next year because I would accept whatever their previous ruling was, because like I said, I wasn’t going to make that a major issue. I really had to tiptoe lightly, when I made an issue out of something and when I didn’t, and what things I let slip and which ones I didn’t, and where I took a really, really strong stand. And I had to try to think about what was best for women’s sports and then what was best for Cal.

Separate success

Even while Lilly had to grapple with some of the pitfalls of having separate mens and women’s athletic departments, she expresses discontent at the trend in collegiate athletics towards combining the departments. Cal Women’s Athletics merged with the men’s athletics department in 1992. Lilly points out that several women’s programs experienced a sudden downturn after the merger, dropping from national title contention year after year to irrelevance for quite some time. With separate leadership, Lilly argues, female athletes and women’s coaches are more well-represented. A single athletic director can’t represent everyone well. 

I think a lot—again it has to do with leadership, and feeling that—you conveyed a lot of this to the recruits, that this was—you were in charge and this was what was going to happen, and so forth. And they could come and see [that a] woman is director at this time. I think it’s much more difficult, again, if you’ve got twenty sports, to pay the same amount of attention as you could get when you’ve got two leaders as opposed to one trying to do a bigger job… When they’re combined, I feel that anyone who would be in charge of a combined program would have the same difficulties. In other words, you are expected, for men’s football and basketball, no matter what, to be there. And yet, at the same time, you’ve got to try to balance all these other sports. But if you had—let’s say both [the men’s and women’s basketball] teams make it to the Sweet Sixteen, and you’re the athletic director, you know where you’re going to be.

Natalie Coughlin pictured swimming for the Bears wearing a silver Cal swimming cap.

Lilly’s legacy was and is still visible in the form of elite Cal female student athletes and alumni. Natalie Coughlin, for example, swam for Cal in the early 2000s. She’s now a 12-time Olympic medalist, including three gold medals. Photo: UC Berkeley

With the merging of the men’s and women’s departments, Cal Athletics relieved Lilly of her duties. But 30 years later, Lilly’s legacy lives on in the form of elite women’s athletics programs. For progress to be made, Lilly hoped to predict the future and act quickly in order to stay one step ahead of other institutions. She managed the growth of coaching staff personnel and salaries with both budget constraints and trends in college athletics in mind, accelerating Cal Women’s Athletics’ rise to prominence. 

There was a progression, but one of my favorite sayings which I think I made up myself is, “You don’t try to keep up with Joneses. You figure out where the Joneses are going to go and get there before they do.” And that was my philosophy. And so I always tried to figure out where sports were going, where were salaries going, where was the pressure going to be, and so forth, and then try to get all that into one big picture and then do what I could do within the money that we had.

More than 21 of the 45 oral histories in the Oral History Center’s Athletics at UC Berkeley project mention Lilly and her work. 

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

William Cooke recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in  political science and a minor in history. In addition to working as a student editor for the Oral History Center, he was a reporter in the Sports department at UC Berkeley’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Californian

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

The Bancroft Library has hundreds of materials related to athletics in California and beyond. Here are just a few.

Lilly’s oral history is part of the Oral History Center’s project, Oral Histories on the Management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkeley: 1960-2014. This project comprises forty-five published interviews, conducted by John Cummins. Cummins was the Associate Chancellor and Chief of Staff who worked under UC Berkeley Chancellors Heyman, Tien, Berdahl, and Birgeneau from 1984 through 2008. Intercollegiate Athletics reported to Cummins from 2004 to 2006. Among the interviewees are longtime Chair of the Physical Education Department Roberta Park and former Assistant and Associate Athletic Director in the Women’s Athletic Department Joan Parker. 

Articles based on this oral history project

William Cooke,  “Title IX in Practice: How Title IX Affected Women’s Athletics at UC Berkeley and Beyond” 

William Cooke, “Heavy hitters: the modern era of athletics management at UC Berkeley” 

William Cooke: Luella Lilly: Cal’s first and only Director of Women’s Athletics

Other resources from The Bancroft Library

Cal women athletes hall of fame. Inauguration ceremony… May 24, 1978. Bancroft Library/University Archives. UC Archives ; 308m.p415.hf.1978

Cal sports 80’s. A program to improve the environment for Intercollegiate athletics at the University of California, Berkeley. Bancroft Library/University Archives. UC Archives ; 308m.p41.csp.1980

A celebration of excellence : 25 years of Cal women’s athletics. Bancroft Library/University Archives. UC Archives Folio ; 308m.p415.c.2001

About the Oral History Center

The UC Berkeley Oral History Center preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. You can find all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.

Primary Sources: Feminism in Cuba, 1898-1958

The Library recently acquired Feminism in Cuba, 1898-1958 a digital archive of documents relating to feminists and the feminist movement in Cuba between Cuban independence and the end of the Batista regime.

According to the collection description, “in the decades following its independence from Spain in 1898, Cuba adopted the most progressive legislation for women in the western hemisphere. This collection provides a documentary explanation of how a small group of women and men helped to shape broad legal reforms, by describing their campaigns, the version of feminism they adopted with all its contradictions, and contrasts it to the model of American feminism.”

The archive includes a wide range of primary sources, including letters, journal essays, radio broadcasts, and personal memoirs.

Primary Sources: Women’s Studies Archive

Through the California Digital Library, our Library has access to three modules of Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive.

cover of magazine showing women protesting vietnam warWomen’s Studies Archive: Women’s Issues and Identities  provides the opportunity to witness history from the female perspective. Offering coverage of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the digital archive allows for the serendipitous discovery of commonalities among a variety of archival collections. Global in scope, it presents materials covering the social, political, and professional aspects of women’s lives and offers a look at the roles, experiences, and achievements of women in society. A wide range of primary sources provide a close look at some of the pioneers of women’s history, a deep dive into the issues that have affected women, and the many contributions they have made to society. Within the archive can be found historical records from Europe, North and South America, Africa, India, East Asia, and the Pacific Rim with content in English, French, German, and Dutch.

drawing of women surrounded by words comision femenil mexicanaWomen’s Studies Archive: Voice and Vision  explores critical areas of study including the abolition of slavery, alcohol and temperance movements, pacifism and political activism, domestic service, education, health and hygiene, divorce and social reform, and much more. A vast range of primary sources from 1780 to 2000 span multiple geographic regions, providing an abundance of perspectives on women’s experiences and impact on society around the world.

Cover of book: Memoirs of Mary A. MaverickWomen’s Studies Archive: Rare Titles from the American Antiquarian Society (1820-1922) covers the nineteenth and twentieth centuries across multiple disciplines, including literature studies, women’s history, gender studies, cultural studies, critical theory analysis, American history, media and journalism, politics, and sociology.


Sara Bard Field: The Making of an Early Suffragist

By Shannon White

Sara Bard Field, born in 1882 to a strict orthodox Christian family, was a poet and prominent early member of the suffragist movement. A series of interviews with Field, conducted by the UC Berkeley Oral History Center in the late 1950s through the early 1960s—barely a decade before her death in 1974—reveals a woman of striking political acuity and deep concern about the world’s inequities. In her oral history, Sara Bard Field (Wood): Poet and Suffragist, Field recounts her storied life: from a childhood stifled by her father’s overbearing presence, to disillusionment with orthodox religion in her adult life, to a growing interest in local politics that eventually culminated in her involvement with suffragist activism at a national scale.  

“I kept saying to myself again and again, until women get the vote they’re not going to be much of a power in society.” 

Sara Bard Field
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. [ca. 1915] Title: Mrs. Sara Bard Field, of San Francisco, is one of the most eloquent and gifted speakers of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and the National Woman’s Party. She is a kinswoman of Eugene Field, the well known poet. Collection: Records of the National Woman’s Party. (Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C., Photographer)
Field spent much of her early adult life abroad; she was married in her late teens to her first husband, Reverend Albert Ehrgott—a relationship with an almost twenty-year age gap—and accompanied him on his ministry work overseas. Upon returning to the US, Field became involved in local politics in Cleveland, Ohio before assisting with several national suffrage campaigns and joining the National Women’s Party. Following a move to Portland, Oregon, Field became acquainted with lawyer and political activist Charles Erskine Scott Wood; the two later married and lived together on their estate “The Cats” in Los Gatos, California. 

Field speaks frequently of her interest in the arts, a fascination which began at a very young age. “My mother tells of me at four,” she says, “of hearing me improvise as I sang my baby brother to sleep. I’d begin with a song that was known and that had been taught to me, then I would start improvising.” In her later years, Field published several poems and poetry collections, evidence of a lifelong passion for poetry which began in childhood with, if not “a knowledge of its beauty, at least a sense of the beauty” that poetic writing conveys. 

Aside from her longstanding interest in writing, Field remained invested in politics and social issues. Field’s later activism was informed in part by her travels in India and elsewhere with Albert Ehrgott, where she developed insights about social inequity and what she referred to as the “almost frightening sense of the inadequacy of the capitalist system.” 

According to Field, “hard as it was, I feel it was one of the great, at least if not turning points. . . in my thinking, it was a curse on my mind to think about social conditions in the world, because for the first time in my life I saw starving people mingling in the crowd.” She recalls feeling a sense of inherent wrongness at witnessing the mass exportation of food and other goods from India while the country’s colonial administration remained “indifferent to people who were starving in a land in which they lived and were exploiting.”

At the same time, Field was also wrestling with the dissolution of her steadfast relationship with faith. Field describes her dissatisfaction with the widespread practice of conversion in predominantly Buddhist countries and the idea that people “had to become Christian to be good. They were already good.”

These experiences formed the foundation for Field’s further involvement with women’s suffrage campaigns in the US and prepared her for activism at the national scale, first as a state campaign organizer in Oregon and later as a country-wide spokesperson for the National Women’s Party. Thinking back to the origins of the suffrage movement and lack of support initially available to the movement’s members, Field offers her perspective on the early days of the fight for suffrage:

I want to say again, you who are young and have been born into a time when women are in politics, when they have the power of the vote, I think you can’t realize what an obstacle it was to women, not only to action but to learn more, because they didn’t have any reason, as it were, or any field to exercise their interest, and this I kept saying to myself again and again, until women get the vote they’re not going to be much of a power in society.

When discussing the motives behind her decision to join the suffrage movement, Field recollects her own childhood, which was marred by shame and the extreme lack of clarity surrounding women’s roles that defined her family life. She recalls learning from her own experiences as a young, naive minister’s wife and advocating for educating young women about the world. Speaking specifically about marriage and the expectations it entails—children, sex, and the responsibilities of a spouse—Field expresses her wish that young women not struggle the same way she did as a result of a lack of knowledge:

I told women that in the course of my days, young as I was. “They should be told,” I said, “and they should be told thoroughly and not given any impression that you are afraid of telling them because then they’ll get it mixed in crazy ideas and they’ll learn it from sources they shouldn’t learn it from.”

She remembers in particular an interaction with a woman whom she met in Huronia Beach as a young adult, whose name she cannot remember but whose words stuck with her and helped inform her perspective on liberation. Says Field, “Here was a woman who was a person in her own right regardless of anybody else and that’s what she wanted everybody else to be, of course. I remember she said to me that day—she talked to me about my fear of my father. She said, ‘You know, you can’t imagine how bad it is for a person to feel that anybody else could hurt them inside. Your father can’t hurt you inside. You’re a person.’”

“I think few young people in their lives, especially a girl who had wanted to go to college and didn’t get to college, have such a chance for awakening experiences outside of books, outside of the academic world.”

Field’s insights illuminate the reality of many suffrage activists, who often struggled to establish a balance between devoting themselves fully to a cause while at the same time meeting the requirements of personal and family life. Reflecting on the commitments required by the movement, Field notes the expectation of “utter impersonality when there is a work greater than ourselves to be done,” something that requires “much sacrifice and effort.”

Sara Bard Field’s oral history is long—the final publication numbers just under 700 pages—and provides an incredible amount of insight into the life of an intelligent and politically active woman in a time that was not always welcoming to Field and her contemporaries. In her own words, “I think few young people in their lives, especially a girl who had wanted to go to college and didn’t get to college, have such a chance for awakening experiences outside of books, outside of the academic world.”

Field’s testimony is full of observations about the social and political reality of the world in the early twentieth century. She details the record of her travels in Southeast Asia and later across the US as a suffrage activist, preserving a wealth of information useful for historians and curious readers alike. 

Shannon White in front of trees
Shannon White

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

Shannon White is currently a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying Ancient Greek and Latin. 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 an editorial assistant for the Oral History Center.

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

This interview is part of the Suffragists Oral History Project. For interested parties, these interviews also tie in quite nicely with several other projects in the Oral History Center’s collection, including the Women Political Leaders oral histories and the Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project. Many of the interviews from these projects coincide in time, presenting detailed and intimate accounts of women’s careers and lives during the twentieth century. My article “Voices of a Movement: The Oral History Center’s Suffragists Oral History Project” offers an overview of several narrators involved in the Suffragists Oral History Project, including Sara Bard Field. In addition, The Berkeley Remix podcast has a season dedicated to women in politics, and Episode 1, “Gaining the Vote,” makes use of several oral histories from the Suffragists project.

The Bancroft Library contains several collections of material from Sara Bard Field and Charles Erskine Scott Wood, including photographs, personal papers, speeches, and published writing. Here are some:

Sara Bard Field papers, 1927–1956 (BANC MSS 79/46 c)

The Speech of Sara Bard Field, presented to Congress on behalf of the women of the nation, 1921. p JK1896 .F5

Charles Erskine Scott Wood papers, 1914–1942 (BANC MSS C-H 106)

The Pale Woman by Sara Bard Field. Bancroft (NRLF) ; x F855.2 .F436 1927 Copy 2

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter  featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.

Shirley Chisholm, Women Political Leaders, and the Oral History Center collection

By Mollie Appel-Turner

On Jan 25, 1972, Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm, representative for New York State’s Twelfth District and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, announced her candidacy for president. With this announcement, Chisholm became both the first African American to run for a major party’s presidential nomination and also the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The UC Berkeley Oral History Center has several interviews that address Chisholm’s trailblazing candidacy. In addition, the Center has numerous interviews with other ground-breaking female politicians.

Shirley Chisholm speaking at microphone.
Shirley Chisholm thanking delegates, Democratic National Convention, Miami Beach, Fla., 3rd session (Photo: Library of Congress)

“Anything that black women do like that, they’re pioneering; they’re the first, or one of the first. Because it takes a lot of guts and militancy and sacrifice to do those things when it isn’t popular.”
— Frances Mary Albrier

Frances Mary Albrier was a woman of numerous accomplishments. A graduate of UC Berkeley, she was an indefatigable opponent of racism, a civil rights activist from the 1920s onward, the first woman elected to Alameda County’s Democratic Central Committee, as well as the first black woman hired by Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. She founded the East Bay Women’s Welfare Club, and her efforts led to the hiring of black women teachers in the Berkeley public schools. Albrier discussed Chisholm’s then-recent candidacy when she was interviewed in 1977 and 1978 as part of a series on women political leaders.

Frances Albrier on sidewalk with picket sign
Frances Albrier leading picket at corner of Sacramento and Ashby, 1939. (Photo: Berkeley Plaques)

Mrs. Chisholm pioneered when she ran for Congress in New York as a black woman. Anything that black women do like that, they’re pioneering; they’re the first, or one of the first. Because it takes a lot of guts and militancy and sacrifice to do those things when it isn’t popular, and it wasn’t popular for a black woman in the East or anywhere. Now, when Mrs. Chisholm ran for president, she did it again. She’s pioneered the way for [others]. Eventually, we’ll have a woman president of the United States. Those doors have been opened. People had looked at her and they’ve talked about a woman running for president. They heard what she had to say. It will be much easier for the next woman who has the ambition to run for president to do so.

Janet West was also interviewed for the women political leaders series, focusing on her work as a Santa Barbara Board of Education member. In the multi-interview volume Women in Politics Volume II, West spoke about how her experiences as a parent influenced her desire to run for office, and both motivated and informed her decisions as a board member. In her 1972 oral history, West discussed the significance of Chisholm’s then-contemporary candidacy:

I think if you’re talking about a large political office, people have the idea that you know, a woman couldn’t stand up under the pressures and maybe couldn’t take all that guff or whatever it is. I think we really have to overcome that type of thing and I’m not sure how many votes Shirley Chisholm will get just because she’s a woman, certainly not because she’s black but because she’s a woman and I don’t think people really feel that a woman can do all that hard work. It’s a lot of hard work.

Professor Harry Edwards joined UC Berkeley’s department of sociology in 1971. He conducted scholarship in the area of sociology of race and sport and is also renowned for his involvement in the famous Black Power salute on the victory podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. In “Harry Edwards: An Oral History,” he discussed his early life and upbringing in addition to his role as a scholar-activist, his time at Berkeley, and his work as a consultant to national football and basketball teams. When he was interviewed as part of the UC Berkeley African American Faculty and Senior Staff oral history project in 2005, Edwards spoke of Chisholm with both the knowledge of a contemporary and the perspective of a sociologist. Edwards discussed Chisholm’s extraordinary independence:

Closeup view of Dr. Harry Edwards at University Hilton. Photo dated: June 12, 1984.
Harry Edwards, 1984 (Photo: Toru Kawana, Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library via Calisphere)

Shirley Chisholm, first of all, she had one phenomenal liability, and what I call it is the Stevenson syndrome. She was extraordinarily bright. She was extremely intelligent. That’s a phenomenal liability in the convention of the American political scene. She also had an independence to her that put her outside of the authoritative black leadership influence and control circle. The authoritative black leadership influence and control circle tried to get her not to run. They did not feel that it was “time” for a black woman to step out and run for President. She ran without the endorsement of the NAACP, without the endorsement of the Congress of Racial Equality, without the endorsement of SCLC, without the endorsement of Operation PUSH and Jesse Jackson. She ran on her own.

Shirley Chisholm is one of many women politicians discussed in the Oral History Center’s collections. The Oral History Center contains a wide variety of interviews on women in local, state, and national politics. For more on ground-breaking female politicians, the Oral History Center’s Women Political Leaders collection contains interviews that cover almost the entirety of the 20th century, from the suffragists onward. Interviewees include March Fong Eu, the first Asian American woman in the United States to be elected to a state constitutional office; Helen Gahagan Douglas, the first Democratic woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; and Hope Mendoza Schechter, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee and an activist for both the labor movement and the Mexican American community. The Oral History Center continues to preserve the histories of women leaders in the political sphere and is currently conducting new interviews with female political leaders in the Bay Area Women in Politics and California State Archives projects. For those who wish to learn more, a good place to start is the Oral History Center’s Women in Politics podcast, which has episodes on a variety of important female political leaders of the twentieth century — at the local, state, and national levels — including Francis Albrier.

Mollie Appel-Turner
Mollie Appel-Turner

Mollie Appel-Turner joined the Oral History Center as a student editor in fall 2021. She is currently a fourth-year history student with a concentration in medieval history.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We preserve voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public.

Bay Area Political Women Leaders Panel: The Importance of Networks

Support networks point to the generations of activists, staffers, fundraisers, and more who have helped the Bay Area become an incubator for powerful political women. 

This is an exciting moment in women’s political history! Not only does August mark the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, the recent announcement of Senator Kamala Harris as Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate on the Democratic ticket ensures that women’s political work is at the front of our minds. And Harris’s prospects on the national stage also highlight the Bay Area’s outsized influence in fostering women political leaders. This makes for the perfect atmosphere to celebrate the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project from UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center!

In the spirit of this celebration, on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, the Oral History Center hosted the Bay Area Political Women Leaders Panel with guests former San Francisco Supervisor Louise Renne, Pittsburg City Councilmember Shanelle Scales-Preston, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. This all-star lineup of Bay Area politicos shared their personal journeys to elected office, as well as stories about local political women’s challenges and achievements. 

Of particular note in this conversation was the importance of networks. Panelists explained how personal connections not only helped build leadership experience and fuel campaigns, but also pushed them to run in the first place. For Councilmember Scales-Preston, who is in her first term on the Pittsburg City Council, her relationships with other political staffers brought years of expertise to her campaign. And for Mayor Schaaf (and indeed Senator Harris), the women’s political recruitment and training organization Emerge America had a profound impact on her preparedness to seek elected office. 

But these support networks also point to the generations of activists, staffers, fundraisers, and more who have helped the Bay Area become an incubator for powerful political women. For example, each panelist shared stories about those who paved the way for them and acted as mentors in political environments sometimes hostile to women. In addition to charismatic elected officials, it is the stories of these behind-the-scenes political players who form the basis of the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project.

As for what we should expect for the Bay Area’s political future, all panelists agreed: more women!

Now is the time to support this project and celebrate generations of the Bay Area’s political women. Join us in documenting this important history through the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project! The UC Berkeley Oral History Center is committed to putting voices in the historical record that might otherwise be lost, and providing the oral histories to the public at no cost. We are currently raising funds and need your help to undertake the expansion of this ambitious oral history collection. You can support this project by giving to the Oral History Center. Please note under special instructions: “For the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project.” To learn more about this project, please contact Amanda Tewes at

To catch up with the conversation with former San Francisco Supervisor Louise Renne, Pittsburg City Councilmember Shanelle Scales-Preston, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, watch the panel here!



Louise Renne is a lawyer with the Renne Public Law Group, former San Francisco Supervisor (19781986), and former City Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco (19862001). She previously served as the General Counsel for the San Francisco Unified School District and as the City Attorney for the City of Richmond. 

Shanelle Scales-Preston is a first-term member of the Pittsburg City Council, and District Director for Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. She previously worked for Congressman George Miller, and has been working in public service for nearly twenty years.

Libby Schaaf has been the Mayor of Oakland since 2015, and served on the Oakland City Council from 20112015. She was previously the Public Affairs Director for the Port of Oakland, and has a background in law.

Primary Sources: Expanded access to ProQuest’s digital archives

The California Digital Library is piloting an arrangement with ProQuest that provides access to 45 History Vault modules.  At the end of the calendar year, UC may elect to purchase perpetual access to some of this content. Your feedback on which resources are most useful to you is welcome.

In the Library’s A-Z databases list, these resources have been grouped thematically into these categories; in some cases there are links to individual modules that we previously purchased. Once on the ProQuest platform, you can search within a single source or across multiple sources.

ProQuest History Vault – search across all ProQuest History vault collections

American Indians and the American West, 1809-1971 – Contains a large variety of collections from the U.S. National Archives, a series of collections from the Chicago History Museum, as well as selected first-hand accounts on Indian Wars and westward migration.

American Politics and Society – includes the collections: Thomas A. Edison Papers, Law and Society since the Civil War: American Legal Manuscripts from the Harvard Law School Library; Progressive Era: Reform, Regulation, and Rights; Progressive Era: Robert M. LaFollette Papers; Immigration: Records of the INS, 1880-1930; Records of the Children’s Bureau, 1912-1969; New Deal and World War II: President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Office Files and Records of Federal Agencies; American Politics in the Early Cold War: Truman and Eisenhower Administrations, 1945-1961; FBI Confidential Files and Radical Politics in the U.S., 1945-1972; Students for a Democratic Society, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the anti-Vietnam War Movement; American Politics and Society from Kennedy to Watergate

Civil rights and the Black Freedom Struggle – includes the collections: Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Federal Government Records and Supplement; Organizational Records and Personal Papers Parts 1 & 2; and the NAACP Papers

International Relations and Military Conflicts – includes the collections: U.S. Military Intelligence Reports, 1911-1944; U.S. Diplomatic Post Records, 1914-1945; World War I: British Foreign Office Political Correspondence; World War I: Records of the American Expeditionary Forces, and Diplomacy in the World War I Era; Creation of Israel: British Foreign Office Correspondence on Palestine and Transjordan, 1940-1948; World War II: U.S. Documents on Planning, Operations, Intelligence, Axis War Crimes, and Refugees; Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – State Department Intelligence and Research Reports, 1941-1961; Confidential U.S. State Department Central Files, Africa and Middle East, 1960-1969, Asia, 1960-1969, Europe and Latin America, 1960-1969; and Vietnam War and American Foreign Policy, 1960-1975

Southern Life, Slavery, and the Civil War – includes the collections: Slavery and the Law; Slavery in Antebellum Southern Industries; two modules of Southern Life and African American History, 1775-1915, Plantations Records; Confederate Military Manuscripts and Records of Union Generals and the Union Army; and Reconstruction and Military Government after the Civil War.

Women’s Studies – includes the collections: Struggle for Women’s Rights: Organizational Records, 1880-1990; Women’s Studies Manuscripts from the Schlesinger Library: Voting Rights, National Politics, and Reproductive Rights; Women at Work during World War II: Rosie the Riveter and the Women’s Army Corps; and Margaret Sanger Papers: Smith College Collections and Collected Documents

Workers, Labor Unions, and Radical Politics – includes the collections: Labor Unions in the U.S., 1862-1974: Knights of Labor, AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO and
Workers, Labor Unions, and the American Left in the 20th Century: Federal Records

Lucy Sprague Mitchell: Child Education Reformer and Berkeley’s First Dean of Women

By Deborah Qu

“It was naive, but it wasn’t as naive as it sounds.” — Lucy Sprague Mitchell on chasing her dream to expand career prospects for women

One hundred and fifty years ago in 1870, the UC Regents first declared that the university’s doors were open to women students, giving them the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Access to student facilities, housing, and resources were still far from equal for women. Thus began an era where thousands of young women pioneered for positive change, making their mark on the university, as well as transforming society at large. One of these women was Lucy Sprague Mitchell, the first dean of women from 1906–1912, and one of the first women instructors in UC Berkeley’s Department of English. Mitchell, an advocate for educational reform, had observed that “public opinion reacts very slowly. And there’s always been something that irritates me, and that is the voices against are so much louder than the voices for.” Yet her unrelenting optimism and her passion for education allowed her to introduce a more holistic framework for child learning and expand career prospects for women outside the limited field of teaching.

Lucy Sprague Mitchell teaching students
Lucy Sprague Mitchell teaches graduate students. Photo courtesy of the Bank Street College of Education. Records Group 4 – Institutional Advancement, Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY.

Born in 1878, Lucy Sprague Mitchell grew up in a traditional household where any sort of play was seen as “a waste of time.” In a 1962 interview with the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, Mitchell recalls a multitude of happy childhood memories, but they were also mixed with conflicting feelings of unworthiness and loneliness caused by her family’s strict Puritan modes of discipline. It is possible that these childhood learning experiences were great influencers in her later experimental work in education. In her autobiography, Two Lives: The Story of Wesley Clair Mitchell and Myself, she explained how she believed that the entire learning process is not complete without the “intake” of experience transforming into an “outgo,” or some living, creative action caused from the development. Perhaps these mixed childhood memories had also inspired her to take positive action through childhood education reform.

After graduating from Radcliffe College, Lucy Sprague Mitchell was appointed as Berkeley’s first dean of women at only age 23. In her oral history, Mitchell recalled a conversation she had with the university President Benjamin Ide Wheeler. His instructions were “to find out what needs to be done and to do it.” While terrified and confused, this is exactly what Mitchell did. As dean of women, Mitchell did not succumb to the “motherly” role to students that was expected of her in the early 1900s. Instead her youthful perspective allowed her to expand beyond the traditional housing and counseling needs to truly connect with students at Cal. She initiated community trips, poetry readings, and sex education discussions. She organized Parthenia, which she fondly called greek for “women of the Parthenon,” a performative showcase about various historical women and imagined female characters.

Women performing in costume 1923
A Thing of Dust, Parthenia, 1923. University Archives.

In her oral history, Mitchell reflected on why she wanted to leave her role as dean of women; Mitchell explained that her interests truly were rooted in education, not administration. During her years working with women students, she had become, she says, “extremely concerned about the lack of professional training for women excepting in the field of teaching. She explained how “not everybody is equipped to be a teacher, nor wants to be a teacher.” At the time, Mitchell found it jarring that over 90 percent of the women students she surveyed had planned to become a teacher after graduation. While Cal was progressive for its time, teaching was the most socially acceptable profession and “the only thing that the University offered to women.” In retrospect, Lucy Sprague Mitchell believed that her real reason for requesting a leave from Berkeley “was to try to explore different fields of work that women could enter and for which the University could train them.”

This disaffection inspired innovation. Lucy Sprague Mitchell brought the issue of limited education for women to six social organizations in New York, completing statistical fieldwork from women working in nursing, to labor legislation about city tenements, to public schools. Her exposure to public school education had such a profound effect on Mitchell that she became an educator resource for teachers throughout 1922–1955. She began developing experimental methods about childhood education and classroom procedure that promoted creative expression and holistically fulfilled a child’s emotional, physical, and mental needs. Her emphasis on “relationship teaching” and “active learning” over memorization helped shape the way for “social studies,” a course widely studied in American classrooms today. Her focus on the learning environment was unorthodox at the time, and it led her to new paradigms of using childhood maturity instead of age to measure emotional intellectual development. She founded Bank Street College of Education in New York as a graduate student teacher training institution in 1916 based on this same philosophy.

Deborah Qu
Deborah Qu is an undergraduate research assistant with the Oral History Center

From my perspective as an undergraduate student at Cal, Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s life story teaches me that to truly orchestrate change, we should not just be focusing on the various problems of the present, but rather dreaming about all the future potential. The oral history interview allowed Lucy Sprague Mitchell to recount the early dream she had formed working with Cal students in her late 20s: to provide opportunities for young women to pursue rich and nuanced fields of study. This dream certainly did not go to waste. As a young college woman with a wide selection of majors to choose from, I am grateful that she and many others helped pave the way. Reflecting on this vision for women, Lucy Sprague Mitchell said, “Now that sounds very naive. It was naive, but it wasn’t as naive as it sounds.”

Deborah Qu is a first year undergraduate student who intends to study psychology. As a part of the celebration of 150 years of women at Berkeley, Deborah is researching the Oral History Center’s vast archive to identify women in the collection with a relationship to UC Berkeley.

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

Primary Sources: Women’s Magazine Archive

Covers rom women's magazines A recent acquisition is Proquest’s Women’s Magazine Archive, a searchable archive of women’s interest magazines, dating from the 19th century. It provides access to the complete archives (with some exceptions) of Good Housekeeping (1885-2005), Ladies’ Home Journal (1885-2005), and Woman’s Day (1937-2005). Other titles include:

Better Homes and Gardens 1925-1978
Chatelaine 1928-2005
Cosmopolitan 1965-1993
Essence 1970-2000
Parents 1949-2005
Redbook 1903-2005
Seventeen 1970-2005
Women’s International Network News 1975-1985

Additional content will be added by September 2017.

Primary Sources: Women at Work during World War II: Rosie the Riveter and the Women’s Army Corps

images from databaseA new Library acquisition is Women at Work during World War II: Rosie the Riveter and the Women’s Army Corps. This module contains two major sets of records documenting the experience of American women during World War II: Records of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, and Correspondence of the Director of the Women’s Army Corps. Primary sources document a wide range of issues pertinent to women during this time of turbulent change, including studies on the treatment of women by unions in several midwestern industrial centers, and the influx of women to industrial centers during the war. Topics covered in records and correspondence include women’s work in war industries, pivotal issues like equal pay, childcare and race, and extensive documentation on the women who joined and served in the Women’s Army Corps as WACs.