Frances Albrier: First African-American Member

Frances Mary Albrier receiving proclamation from Mayor Shelley. UCB Library

Frances Mary Albrier receiving proclamation from Mayor Shelley. UCB Library

We’re celebrating Black and Women’s History Months by remembering Frances Mary Albrier, the first black member of the Berkeley League.  She was a civil rights activist, the first woman elected to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee in 1938 and the first woman elected to the Berkeley City Council in 1939.  She also took action to hire Berkeley’s first African-American teacher. She was brought into the League by Ruth Scheer, LWVB president, 1941, who went on to be LWVC president.

In her vivid oral history, recorded in 1977-78, Frances Albrier describes the separation between the League of Colored Women Voters and the League of Women Voters. “So, in the League of Women Voters, there were no black members, until President Roosevelt ran and a great many black people got in on the scene to see that he was elected, because he promised to open the doors to so many things for all of the citizens of the United States…The League of Women Voters began to expand. There was one lady in the league that worked in the Democratic party with me, and she always gave me ideas to bring up in the central committee… At that time, there were women like Mrs. [Ruth] Scheer and other women in the league. She had the program of children. She was to find out all the activities and needs of children in the Bay Area. One of the needs of children had to do with the newsboy. The newsboys—a great many of the mothers had reported to her that their children didn’t have insurance. The newspapers were not insuring the newsboys who were carrying the papers and delivering the papers. Any number of them had gotten hurt and there wasn’t any insurance for them.

“She wanted to take it up through the league to see that these newsboys became insured. She asked me if I would join her committee. I informed her that the league does not take in black members. She said, ‘That’s done away with; they will now, because I’m going to suggest that you be a member and be a member of my committee.’ She brought it up to the board and told them, ‘Now, Mrs. Albrier is a member and has been elected to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. She’s the only woman on that committee. I think it’s time we open our doors to black members.’ So they accepted me as a member. I became the first [black] member of the League of Women Voters.”  nkb

My sources: Mrs. Albrier’s account of how she came to run for City Council quoted from her oral history in http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/give/bene68/bene68story1.html & a published excerpt of her oral history, Determined advocate for racial equality : oral history transcript / and related material, 1977-1979, is at UCB’s Bancroft Library, but apparently not on line.

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