UC Berkeley chancellor, faculty members discuss 150W History Project, legacy of women on campus

From left to right: Sheila Humphreys, Carol Christ, Catherine Gallagher.

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Berkeley Campus Conversations hosted a livestream Monday discussing UC Berkeley’s 150W History Project and the legacy of women on campus.

In 1870, the UC Board of Regents passed a resolution that allowed women to be admitted to UC Berkeley “on equal terms in all respects with young men.” The 150W History Project seeks to celebrate this occasion by creating a historical archive about women at UC Berkeley. This campuswide effort has spanned multiple departments, with more than 25 units developing online sites devoted to the cause.

By passing this resolution, the regents recognized that university-educated women would be essential to teaching the generations of students that would eventually enroll at UC Berkeley, according to 150W History Project co-chair and campus English professor emerita Catherine Gallagher.

“University-educated women have been essential,” Gallagher said during the event. “They’ve been essential, not incidental, to the state of California’s development.”

Although the regents voted to admit women on equal terms, women were not given equal treatment, according to Sheila Humphreys, project co-chair and emerita director of diversity in the campus electrical engineering and computer sciences department. The university did not provide on-campus housing for women, forcing them to commute or live in unsanitary boarding houses, she added. In certain cases, they were not permitted to join classes with men.

The panelists also discussed the role of women of color in the history of UC Berkeley. Vivian Rodgers became the first Black female undergraduate student to graduate from UC Berkeley in 1909, Humphreys said during the event. By the 1980s, UC Berkeley saw an increase in the racial diversity of its female student population, Chancellor Carol Christ added.

Jessica Peixotto, who was the first female faculty member at UC Berkeley, also faced a range of difficulties as a woman, Gallagher said during the event. Peixotto invented the field of social economics, which was aimed at addressing problems regarding poverty, according to Gallagher. Men referred to this new wing of economics as the “the female wing of economics,” Gallagher added.

Christ, who joined the campus faculty in 1970, said women constituted only 3% of UC Berkeley’s staff at the time. According to Christ, however, there was a spirit of activism that united female faculty members.

Additionally, Christ hopes that there will be more female representation among campus faculty, especially within science, technology, engineering and math departments. With a more diverse staff, students will feel more included on campus, she added.

“There is an immediate need to make these stories visible because they empower the students of today,” Humphreys said during the event. “When you read these departmental histories, when you see what kinds of obstacles the early women faculty and graduate students overcame, it is tremendously inspiring and empowering.”

Contact Kelly Suth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kellyannesuth.