History of the League

A Brief History of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville

By Emma Lue Kopp, May 13, 1995


Soon after California women were granted the vote, Mrs. C.C. Hall called a small group of women together on October 30, 1911 at her Berkeley home on Hillside Avenue. The purpose, she said, was “…to follow up the recent victory of Women’s Suffrage in California, with effective civic work.” With this in mind they organized the Berkeley Center of the California Civic League. They decided to inform themselves on all phases of government and to study the issues before action.

In 1912 they supported a local school bond after hearing “…a graphic and appalling account of the Berkeley Schools.” It lost. They protested a Constitutional Amendment to legalize prostitution and permit segregated districts. The Amendment lost, and members suggested that the Social Welfare Commission “…help the Red Light women who will be out of a job soon.” By 1914 the League had over 400 members.


On March 10, 1921, the Berkeley Center of the California Civic League endorsed becoming the California Unit of the League of Women Voters after a referendum submitted to members passed unanimously. Berkeley member, Mrs. Frank C. Law, was the first president of the LWV California, from 1920-1922; Ruth Scheer served as Berkeley League president in 1941 and then as LWVC president.  Fran Packard, the 1995-96 LWVC president, served as president of the Berkeley League and of the Bay Area League.


Incineration was the subject of the first study group. Through the years there were discussions and studies of sanitary fill, storm sewers, recycling, child labor, Indian affairs, mental health, civil service, water and the use of Hetch-Hetchy as a water source, housing, recreation, counseling and guidance in the public schools, a serious rat problem, rent control and many other subjects.


Shocked that less than 50% of the population voted in 1920, members helped increase registration in Berkeley by 11,665 from 1920 to 1924, with 1,702 more women registered than men. League members, Mrs. Carrie L. Hoyt and Dr. Agnes C. Moody were, in 1923, the first women elected to the City Council.  [For a time in the 2000’s all of the Berkeley Council members and the mayor were women.] Candidates meetings began officially in 1924 at regular meetings. Observers attended meetings of the City Council and the Board of Education. After the polls closed on election day in November 1994 the new Berkeley Community Cable TV station, created with the support of the League, produced an evening of interviews with candidates and reports of election returns.


Albany and Emeryville were added  to the Berkeley League’s name and service area in 1994.  At that time, two substantial gifts changed the financial picture. Madeleine Traynor’s gift for educational purposes was accepted in December 1991. The Soulages Fund was deposited as a restricted part of the educational, tax-deductible League of Women Voters of Berkeley Foundation set up in 1992. A bequest from the will of Albany physician, Dr. Jane Paxson, was received in July 1992 and July 1993, and placed in a new Endowment Fund.


From 1979 until the ASUC, the Associated Students of the University of California, adopted an on-line voting method, the League has monitored the elections of the Associated Students of the University of California.  The 60-90 members recruited for this popular event thoroughly enjoyed working with the students for that event.


Selections from minutes of the October 1911 and other meetings included by Dorothy Spitzer in Order of the Meeting [radio script] 1961 and League Golden Anniversary, Nov. 25, 1961. Quotations are from the latter.


Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt1n39q0k9/

The Invitation to the League’s Annual Luncheon in August 2011, our centennial year, lists all our past presidents.


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