By Mollie Appel-Turner
On Jan 25, 1972, Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm, representative for New York State’s Twelfth District and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, announced her candidacy for president. With this announcement, Chisholm became both the first African American to run for a major party’s presidential nomination and also the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The UC Berkeley Oral History Center has several interviews that address Chisholm’s trailblazing candidacy. In addition, the Center has numerous interviews with other ground-breaking female politicians.
“Anything that black women do like that, they’re pioneering; they’re the first, or one of the first. Because it takes a lot of guts and militancy and sacrifice to do those things when it isn’t popular.”
— Frances Mary Albrier
Frances Mary Albrier was a woman of numerous accomplishments. A graduate of UC Berkeley, she was an indefatigable opponent of racism, a civil rights activist from the 1920s onward, the first woman elected to Alameda County’s Democratic Central Committee, as well as the first black woman hired by Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. She founded the East Bay Women’s Welfare Club, and her efforts led to the hiring of black women teachers in the Berkeley public schools. Albrier discussed Chisholm’s then-recent candidacy when she was interviewed in 1977 and 1978 as part of a series on women political leaders.
Mrs. Chisholm pioneered when she ran for Congress in New York as a black woman. Anything that black women do like that, they’re pioneering; they’re the first, or one of the first. Because it takes a lot of guts and militancy and sacrifice to do those things when it isn’t popular, and it wasn’t popular for a black woman in the East or anywhere. Now, when Mrs. Chisholm ran for president, she did it again. She’s pioneered the way for [others]. Eventually, we’ll have a woman president of the United States. Those doors have been opened. People had looked at her and they’ve talked about a woman running for president. They heard what she had to say. It will be much easier for the next woman who has the ambition to run for president to do so.
Janet West was also interviewed for the women political leaders series, focusing on her work as a Santa Barbara Board of Education member. In the multi-interview volume Women in Politics Volume II, West spoke about how her experiences as a parent influenced her desire to run for office, and both motivated and informed her decisions as a board member. In her 1972 oral history, West discussed the significance of Chisholm’s then-contemporary candidacy:
I think if you’re talking about a large political office, people have the idea that you know, a woman couldn’t stand up under the pressures and maybe couldn’t take all that guff or whatever it is. I think we really have to overcome that type of thing and I’m not sure how many votes Shirley Chisholm will get just because she’s a woman, certainly not because she’s black but because she’s a woman and I don’t think people really feel that a woman can do all that hard work. It’s a lot of hard work.
Professor Harry Edwards joined UC Berkeley’s department of sociology in 1971. He conducted scholarship in the area of sociology of race and sport and is also renowned for his involvement in the famous Black Power salute on the victory podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. In “Harry Edwards: An Oral History,” he discussed his early life and upbringing in addition to his role as a scholar-activist, his time at Berkeley, and his work as a consultant to national football and basketball teams. When he was interviewed as part of the UC Berkeley African American Faculty and Senior Staff oral history project in 2005, Edwards spoke of Chisholm with both the knowledge of a contemporary and the perspective of a sociologist. Edwards discussed Chisholm’s extraordinary independence:
Shirley Chisholm, first of all, she had one phenomenal liability, and what I call it is the Stevenson syndrome. She was extraordinarily bright. She was extremely intelligent. That’s a phenomenal liability in the convention of the American political scene. She also had an independence to her that put her outside of the authoritative black leadership influence and control circle. The authoritative black leadership influence and control circle tried to get her not to run. They did not feel that it was “time” for a black woman to step out and run for President. She ran without the endorsement of the NAACP, without the endorsement of the Congress of Racial Equality, without the endorsement of SCLC, without the endorsement of Operation PUSH and Jesse Jackson. She ran on her own.
Shirley Chisholm is one of many women politicians discussed in the Oral History Center’s collections. The Oral History Center contains a wide variety of interviews on women in local, state, and national politics. For more on ground-breaking female politicians, the Oral History Center’s Women Political Leaders collection contains interviews that cover almost the entirety of the 20th century, from the suffragists onward. Interviewees include March Fong Eu, the first Asian American woman in the United States to be elected to a state constitutional office; Helen Gahagan Douglas, the first Democratic woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; and Hope Mendoza Schechter, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee and an activist for both the labor movement and the Mexican American community. The Oral History Center continues to preserve the histories of women leaders in the political sphere and is currently conducting new interviews with female political leaders in the Bay Area Women in Politics and California State Archives projects. For those who wish to learn more, a good place to start is the Oral History Center’s Women in Politics podcast, which has episodes on a variety of important female political leaders of the twentieth century — at the local, state, and national levels — including Francis Albrier.
Mollie Appel-Turner joined the Oral History Center as a student editor in fall 2021. She is currently a fourth-year history student with a concentration in medieval history.
About the Oral History Center
The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We preserve voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public.
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 email@example.com.
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 (1978–1986), and former City Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco (1986–2001). 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 2011–2015. She was previously the Public Affairs Director for the Port of Oakland, and has a background in law.
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
By Deborah Qu
“It was naive, but it wasn’t as naive as it sounds.” — Lucy Sprague Mitchell on chasing her dream to expand career prospects for women
One hundred and fifty years ago in 1870, the UC Regents first declared that the university’s doors were open to women students, giving them the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Access to student facilities, housing, and resources were still far from equal for women. Thus began an era where thousands of young women pioneered for positive change, making their mark on the university, as well as transforming society at large. One of these women was Lucy Sprague Mitchell, the first dean of women from 1906–1912, and one of the first women instructors in UC Berkeley’s Department of English. Mitchell, an advocate for educational reform, had observed that “public opinion reacts very slowly. And there’s always been something that irritates me, and that is the voices against are so much louder than the voices for.” Yet her unrelenting optimism and her passion for education allowed her to introduce a more holistic framework for child learning and expand career prospects for women outside the limited field of teaching.
Born in 1878, Lucy Sprague Mitchell grew up in a traditional household where any sort of play was seen as “a waste of time.” In a 1962 interview with the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, Mitchell recalls a multitude of happy childhood memories, but they were also mixed with conflicting feelings of unworthiness and loneliness caused by her family’s strict Puritan modes of discipline. It is possible that these childhood learning experiences were great influencers in her later experimental work in education. In her autobiography, Two Lives: The Story of Wesley Clair Mitchell and Myself, she explained how she believed that the entire learning process is not complete without the “intake” of experience transforming into an “outgo,” or some living, creative action caused from the development. Perhaps these mixed childhood memories had also inspired her to take positive action through childhood education reform.
After graduating from Radcliffe College, Lucy Sprague Mitchell was appointed as Berkeley’s first dean of women at only age 23. In her oral history, Mitchell recalled a conversation she had with the university President Benjamin Ide Wheeler. His instructions were “to find out what needs to be done and to do it.” While terrified and confused, this is exactly what Mitchell did. As dean of women, Mitchell did not succumb to the “motherly” role to students that was expected of her in the early 1900s. Instead her youthful perspective allowed her to expand beyond the traditional housing and counseling needs to truly connect with students at Cal. She initiated community trips, poetry readings, and sex education discussions. She organized Parthenia, which she fondly called greek for “women of the Parthenon,” a performative showcase about various historical women and imagined female characters.
In her oral history, Mitchell reflected on why she wanted to leave her role as dean of women; Mitchell explained that her interests truly were rooted in education, not administration. During her years working with women students, she had become, she says, “extremely concerned about the lack of professional training for women excepting in the field of teaching. She explained how “not everybody is equipped to be a teacher, nor wants to be a teacher.” At the time, Mitchell found it jarring that over 90 percent of the women students she surveyed had planned to become a teacher after graduation. While Cal was progressive for its time, teaching was the most socially acceptable profession and “the only thing that the University offered to women.” In retrospect, Lucy Sprague Mitchell believed that her real reason for requesting a leave from Berkeley “was to try to explore different fields of work that women could enter and for which the University could train them.”
This disaffection inspired innovation. Lucy Sprague Mitchell brought the issue of limited education for women to six social organizations in New York, completing statistical fieldwork from women working in nursing, to labor legislation about city tenements, to public schools. Her exposure to public school education had such a profound effect on Mitchell that she became an educator resource for teachers throughout 1922–1955. She began developing experimental methods about childhood education and classroom procedure that promoted creative expression and holistically fulfilled a child’s emotional, physical, and mental needs. Her emphasis on “relationship teaching” and “active learning” over memorization helped shape the way for “social studies,” a course widely studied in American classrooms today. Her focus on the learning environment was unorthodox at the time, and it led her to new paradigms of using childhood maturity instead of age to measure emotional intellectual development. She founded Bank Street College of Education in New York as a graduate student teacher training institution in 1916 based on this same philosophy.
From my perspective as an undergraduate student at Cal, Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s life story teaches me that to truly orchestrate change, we should not just be focusing on the various problems of the present, but rather dreaming about all the future potential. The oral history interview allowed Lucy Sprague Mitchell to recount the early dream she had formed working with Cal students in her late 20s: to provide opportunities for young women to pursue rich and nuanced fields of study. This dream certainly did not go to waste. As a young college woman with a wide selection of majors to choose from, I am grateful that she and many others helped pave the way. Reflecting on this vision for women, Lucy Sprague Mitchell said, “Now that sounds very naive. It was naive, but it wasn’t as naive as it sounds.”
Deborah Qu is a first year undergraduate student who intends to study psychology. As a part of the celebration of 150 years of women at Berkeley, Deborah is researching the Oral History Center’s vast archive to identify women in the collection with a relationship to UC Berkeley.
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.
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
Women’s International Network News 1975-1985
Additional content will be added by September 2017.
A 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.
Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon
Drop in any time, stay as long as you like!
Tuesday, March 21, 1:00pm-6:00pm
Wikimedia’s gender trouble is well-documented. While the reasons for the gender gap are up for debate, the practical effect of this disparity is not: content is skewed by the lack of female participation. This represents an alarming absence in an important repository of shared knowledge. Let’s change that! Drop by the A+F Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, learn how to edit Wikipedia and make a few changes of your own!
- People of all gender identities and expressions welcome.
- Bring a laptop.
- Drop in for half an hour or stay for the whole afternoon.
- No editing experience necessary; we’ll provide training and assistance.
- Optional: Training sessions at 1:00, 3:00 and 5:00.
- Get a headstart! Create an editing account ahead of time.
- Refreshments will be provided.
A Cal ID card is required to enter Moffitt. The Library attempts to offer programs in accessible, barrier-free settings. If you think you may require disability-related accommodations, please contact us.
Through April 18, 2017, The Library has a trial of Women and Social Movements in Modern Empires since 1820, a supplement to Women and Social Movements, International. Documents included in this digitized resource explore prominent themes in world history since 1820: conquest, colonization, settlement, resistance, and post-coloniality, as told through women’s voices.
For more information about the content included in this collection, click HERE.
Bancroft Library’s first Round Table of the semester will take place in the Lewis-Latimer Room of The Faculty Club at noon on Thursday, February 16. Cathy Cade, documentary photographer, will present “Views of the Women’s Liberation and Feminist Movements of the 1970s and 1980s: Selections from the Cathy Cade Photograph Archive.”
Cathy Cade was introduced to the power of documentary photography as she participated in the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s. In the years that followed, she took an array of images that depict the women’s liberation movement, union women, trades women, lesbian feminism, lesbian mothering, lesbians of color, LGBT freedom days, fat activism, and the disability rights movement. Cade will speak of her personal experiences with social justice causes and the connections between these movements and communities. She will feature highlights drawn from her extensive photograph archive acquired by The Bancroft Library over the past several years.
We hope to see you there.
José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez and Kathi Neal
Bancroft Library Staff
Another recent purchase of the Law Library was ProQuest History Vault: Women’s Studies Manuscript Collections
This valuable collection of materials from the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College tells the story of the fight for voting rights for women at the national, regional, and local levels. The papers of key national leaders like Julia Ward Howe, Anna Howard Shaw, and Matilda Gage are included. Equally important are the papers of lesser known state and local leaders like Catharine Waugh McCulloch of Illinois, Olympia Brown of Wisconsin, and Nellie Nugent Somerville of Mississippi. In addition to the Voting Rights papers, this module also includes records on women involved in national politics, like Mary Dewson and Jeannette B. Rankin.