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.
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.
As part of the continuing partnership between the Media Resources Center and the Pacifica Radio Archives, MRC is developing a new online audio collection devoted to women’s history. These recordings include interviews, panel discussions, literary and musical performances, news coverage, and other programing broadcast on various Pacifica affiliates (including Berkeley’s KPFA) between the mid-1950s and the 1980s.
The first 26 sound recording files are now available for listening at: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/womenpacifica.html Other files will be added to this collection over time.
Listening to these files requires the free Real audio player (www.real.com)