’On equal terms:’ UC Berkeley celebrates 150 years since women were first admitted

UC Berkeley’s 150W celebration kicked off on Jan. 12 when Berkeley played Stanford in a rematch of the world’s first women’s intercollegiate basketball game, played 125 years ago. (Photo by Al Sermeno/KLC Fotos)

The women’s rights movement of the early 19th century set the stage for a cultural shift and a reexamination of what it meant to be a woman in America. But while many elite private universities across the country didn’t admit women as students until women’s suffrage was accepted and ratified in the early-to-mid-1900s, UC Berkeley refused to wait.

On Oct. 3, 1870, just two years after the University of California was founded, the UC Board of Regents unanimously approved a resolution proposed by Regent Samuel F. Butterworth to open the university’s doors in Berkeley to women, and "on equal terms" with men.

This year, the campus will commemorate the 150th anniversary of that resolution and recognize the countless women who have studied, worked and researched at Berkeley since then.

An archival photo of UC Berkeley’s women’s basketball team from 1904. (Courtesy the 150W History Project)

The celebration, "150 Years of Women at Berkeley," or 150W, for short, will feature a yearlong series of events and activities that compile and present an archive of historical information covering the last 150 years of women at the university. The festivities officially launched last Sunday, when the women’s basketball teams at Cal and Stanford squared off at Haas Pavilion. The two teams competed in 1896, 125 years ago, in the world’s first women’s intercollegiate basketball game.

"This commemoration is a time to celebrate women and their contributions to the university, while also taking the opportunity to support and organize efforts to explore the history of women on the Berkeley campus," said professor Oliver O’Reilly, chair of the Berkeley division of the Academic Senate, which, along with Chancellor Carol Christ, is sponsoring the observance.

For example, O’Reilly and Sharon Inkelas, Special Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, are members of the 150W Executive Committee are among those helping to organize the 150W History Project, a comprehensive online archive that will chronicle the stories of Berkeley women within the broader context of gender diversity. It will include historical photos, watershed moments, "firsts" by Berkeley women, a timeline of women in Cal sports and major public service contributions by students and alumni.

Among the women to be highlighted are Rosa Scrivner, the first woman admitted to Berkeley, who graduated with a degree in agriculture in 1874, and alumna Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman, also known as "Lady Tennis," who in 1915 became the first mother to win a professional tennis championship. Stories of Berkeley’s many outstanding female graduate students also are being collected; an example is Milicent Washburn Shinn, who in 1898 earned a Ph.D. in education. She was the first woman to do so at Berkeley.

La Dawn Duvall, executive director of Berkeley’s Visitor and Parent Services and a member of the 150W Executive Committee, says sharing stories of campus women from the past and present is a way to reflect on Berkeley’s diversity.

"I have loved contributing to this campus and making a mark for nearly 30 years; to be a part of this legacy is amazing," Duvall said. "It means a lot. My heart is full every time (the executive committee of five) sits down to coordinate the yearlong series of events."

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, left, was an honorary coach at Sunday’s basketball game. (Photo by Al Sermeno/KLC Fotos)

The campus also will honor remarkable women on banners across the campus.

"There is a difference between saying we aspire to diversity and equality and actually doing it and celebrating it," said Inkelas. "This is our way of doing it."

The 150W project will include an effort to welcome new women to campus, whether they be faculty, staff or students. The project’s logo will be featured on acceptance letters sent to new students and play a prominent role on April 18, during Cal Day, when newly admitted students are welcomed to campus.

Student Briana Kaler is a member of the 150W Executive Committee and has shared her perspective during the planning process. Kaler, 21, is an economics major and the first woman in her family to go to college.

She says the celebration at Cal Day will show prospective students Berkeley’s commitment to celebrating its history of gender diversity in all forms.

"I am grateful to be able to be a part of our historical celebration," said Kaler. "As a student, I have learned about how historic and current Berkeley women have impacted our campus and world. It’s an experience I’ll always carry with me."

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