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.


[added by nkbickel 3 August 2018 along with Rosen articles copied  below]

“The Berkeley League of Women Voters seems to have been the first organization of white women in Berkeley to admit black members when Ruth Scheer, LWVB president 1941 and LWVC president 1942, invited Frances Albrier, an outstanding leader in the black community and in the Democratic party, to join in the late 1930’s.”

1. [attributed to Linda [Rosen], found in Nancy Bickel’s computer, where it was “created ” Oct 28, 2011 for “women-vote-exhibit” probably  for one of two Berkeley Historical Society exhibit mentioned below ] titled  “California Civic League, Berkeley Center: Berkeley Center of the California Civic League–First Years, 1911-1913”  and

2. by Linda Rosen apparently from “Early Women of Berkeley Chronology:1841-1953” by Linda Rosen [probably for or related to] one of two Berkeley Historical Society exhibits  on Berkeley women’s organizations


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.


Copies of two articles by Linda Rosen are below

  1. California Civic League, Berkeley Center
    Berkeley Center of the California Civic League— First Years, 1911-1913

After their successful campaign, most members of the Associate Council of the Berkeley Suffrage Campaign, including Hester Harland and Mary Keith, were eager to consolidate and use their new power. “To follow up the recent victory of Women’s Suffrage in California with effective civic work,” they gathered at the home of Mary Corbett Hall (Mrs. Charles Crocker Hall) on Hillside Avenue in Berkeley on October 30, 1911. Thus was born the Berkeley Center of the California Civic League, which became the Berkeley League of Women Voters in 1921 when the California Civic League joined the newly founded national League of Women Voters.


Organizing Itself  The Berkeley Center was active and vigorous from the start. It publicized its purposes, made alliances and recruited members. For example, the first president, Miss Blanche Morse, visited the January 1912 meeting of the Federation of Mothers Clubs to talk about the Civic League. By 1914, the Center had over 400 members. It held a general meeting twice a month, except in summer. It experimented with ways to attract mothers by briefly hiring a kindergarten teacher to watch children during afternoon meetings and considered holding evening meetings to attract businesswomen. Annual dues rose from $0.25 to $1.00 in 1913. Members were organized into neighborhood, or precinct, groups and within three months, 12 groups were created.


Broad Scope The Civic League interpreted its charge broadly to include: enlisting women as voters and voting officials; educating members about how government worked at all levels; studying and sometimes adopting policy positions on a wide array of political issues, particularly those concerning women; providing pro-and-con election information to voters; campaigning for and against some measures on the ballot; and investigating public problems.


Voter Registration & Election Services Convincing women to register, vote, and take active roles in the election machinery was the Center’s early focus. In its first month, it asked the election authorities to appoint women as deputy registrars, and by February 1912, there were four. The Center offered to send registrars to other women’s organizations. At their request, two women from each precinct were appointed to serve on the Election Board. By January 1912, twelve precinct captains had been recruited to serve as captains at election polling places. The members organized a registration drive that covered the city block by block, repeating the effective methods of their suffrage canvassing. In March 1913, the Center did a survey of the number of women voters and by 1924, more women than men were registered to vote in Berkeley.


Voter Education—Candidates and Pros & Cons At election time, candidates for the local School Board and other offices were invited to speak. Ballot measures were explained without favoring either side. Before the 1912 election to recall Elinor Carlisle and other members of the Berkeley School Board, both a supporter and an opponent of the recall spoke at a Civic League meeting. In 1913, they organized a civic affairs class for immigrant women, covering such topics as naturalization and voter registration.


Public Policy Education: Assemblies, Speakers, Discussion Groups To educate their members about how government structures worked and current political issues, the Center organized “assemblies” or role playing sessions—mock hearings and legislative committee meetings and sessions. Professors from the University, public officials and other experts spoke on local, state, national, and international issues.. They organized 12 neighborhood, or precinct, study and discussion groups in the first few months. Lecture topics included: initiative, referendum and recall, reorganization of the state Board of Education, municipal ownership of street railways, modern health legislation and local food inspection. Prof. Reid taught a University Extension class for them on effective public speaking.


Public Policy Research & Policy Decisions Special committees studied a wide range of issues concerning child welfare and education, such as establishing a juvenile court and a new detention center building and creating a state girls’ training school. They considered bills to establish a Federal Children’s Bureau, to regulate child labor and immigration, to provide free school textbooks and to reorganize the state Board of Education. They also collaborated with the Federation of Mothers Clubs to investigate conditions in the Berkeley schools.


The Center studied and voted to support measures giving women equal rights, including the right to be guardians and to serve on juries. The County Board of Supervisors asked the Center to investigate the Alameda County infirmary. Areas of interest ranged from community property rights, taxation in Berkeley, municipal ownership of street railways, modern health legislation and food inspection, a proposed new water district, and U.S. intervention in Mexico.


Campaigning on Issues When the Center adopted a policy position, it worked hard to implement it. For instance, it pushed for school bonds and opposed a bill to allow liquor to be sold at the Claremont Hotel. The Center surveyed property owners about and then supported a red-light abatement bill.


Political Organizing The Center, like the earlier suffrage campaign, used a wide range of innovative methods. In October 1912, the general meeting discussed how best to campaign against an anti-racetrack ballot amendment. They considered many tactics: working with the Berkeley Federation of Mothers Clubs and local ministers, posting placards, writing letters or publishing a report in local newspapers, handing out leaflets, sending a postcard to every household, door-to-door canvassing, and getting the measure off the ballot by legal action.


In a 1913 election to pass bond issues for playgrounds, sewers, and the fire department, the Center used up-to-date methods of recruiting volunteers to reach voters by telephone and arranging for automobiles to take voters to the polls, and they spent $10 for leaflets to be distributed at the polls.


The 1911 Civic League & the 2011 League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville Members of the League will find the methods and the issues of the Civic League deeply familiar. Supporting school bonds, finding the best methods of raising and spending government funds, and protecting and educating children have come up again and again throughout the League’s 100-year history. These concerns are probably eternal.


Imperfect Reformers: Limited by their Times and Society Although they sometimes campaigned together for suffrage, white Berkeley women did not include black women in the Civic League, nor later in the Berkeley League of Women Voters. Black women joined the Colored Women’s Center of the California Civic League and, over the next thirty years, black women created many effective women’s organizations of their own. The Berkeley League of Women Voters seems to have been the first organization of white women in Berkeley to admit black members when President Ruth Scheer invited Frances Albrier, an outstanding leader in the black community and in the Democratic party, to join in the late 1930’s.


2. What about Black Women Voters? [by Linda Rosen]

Women won the right to vote in California on October 10, 1911, but the victory was bittersweet for black women. They found that they were not welcome in the California Civic League (CCL), which was created to help women become informed voters, so they started their own Colored Women’s Alameda County Center. African Americans, a small minority in Berkeley at the time, joined clubs in Oakland.


The Northern California Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began in Oakland in 1913, representing Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. This group advanced civil rights and backed legislation against lynching and “separate but equal” laws. That same year, business came to a standstill and one member resigned at the all-white Oakland CCL when five women from the Colored Women’s Alameda County Center attended their luncheon. The following year, the Colored Women’s Center asked members of other CCL centers, “as individuals,” to fight against the segregation of black prisoners in San Quentin.


These so-called “race women” formed parallel clubs, such as the Fanny Jackson Coppin Club, the Mother’s Charity Club, and the Phyllis Wheatley Club of the East Bay, founded by Hettie B. Tilghman, who later moved to Berkeley. They united in 1914 under the Northern Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Black women honed political strength through these clubs and through church and war work. “Lifting as we rise” was the motto of the National Association of Colored Women. W.E.B. Du Bois called Western black women’s clubs the “divine fire” of collective activism.


Black women formed the Alameda League of Colored Women Voters after being excluded yet again when the California Civic League joined the California Unit of the League of Women Voters in 1921. They met in Oakland’s Linden Street YWCA, founded by African American women, and organized to counter pervasive discrimination. Tilghman, who became their president, also served on the local NAACP board. During the Depression, the League joined the NAACP lobby for equal distribution of New Deal assistance.


In 1921, Marcus Garvey inspired local blacks to join his Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), a self-help organization encouraging racial pride and success. Berkeley activist Frances Albrier became vice-president of the Oakland UNIA women’s auxiliary. In 1924, she formed the Swastika Club (later Berkeley Civic Study Club) with Ida M. Jackson and Vivian Osborne Marsh to foster civic study and good citizenship. They met in the South Berkeley Library and conducted early social welfare studies in the East Bay. In 1938, Albrier became the first black woman elected to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, where she created an alliance between blacks and whites. Then she served as a non-member on a study committee for the League of Women Voters. The time was ripe with Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential campaign so with support from liberal member Ruth Scheer, Frances Albrier integrated the organization and was accepted by the board. Margaret Nottage was the next black woman to join.


In 1939, Albrier started the East Bay Women’s Welfare Club. When their survey disclosed over 5,000 local black taxpayers, she became the first black woman to run for the Berkeley City Council in a lobby to hire black teachers and to encourage minority involvement in civic affairs. She also led successful “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaigns in 1940 and 1955. Her persistent efforts over the years eventually broke down barriers to employment and housing for others.


– Linda Rosen

From “Early Women of Berkeley Chronology: 1841-1953

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