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In Honor of Women Who Came Before
For Women's History Month, We Celebrate Campus Women Role Models and Women Who Inspired Them

By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
Posted March 3, 1999

Each year since 1987, when Congress declared it Women's History Month, March has been a time to remember the contributions of women -- both those in history who opposed slavery, fought for the vote or broke barriers, and those in our own time who have inspired or led the way.

To celebrate close to home, Berkeleyan asked a handful of campus women who have themselves blazed paths to name the women -- on campus or off -- who have inspired them.

Women's History Month, by the way, has a history of its own. From International Women's Day, March 8 -- honored today by Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam and the Berkeley Unified School District as a public holiday -- grew Women's History Week, initiated in 1978 by the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women.

Nine years later, in response to a petition from the National Women's History Project in Sonoma County, Congress set aside the entire month to honor women's contributions.

This week's survey is the first of two on campus women role models.

Ella Wheaton
Campus Ombudsperson

Photo: Ella Wheaton

Ella Wheaton

My primary role model was my mother. She was a very strong woman who gave us lots of confidence and taught us to achieve, to both give and command respect, to protect our good name and reputation and to be accepting of others. Before diversity was an issue she encouraged us to have a diverse group of friends.

My other big role model was Barbara Jordan, the first African American woman from the South to be elected to Congress. She reminded me of my mother. I admired her ability to get a point across, her unapologetic strength. And she was very good at bridging differences and commanding respect.

Christina Maslach
Professor of Psychology

Photo: Christina Maslach

Christina Maslach

One of my role models when I was a young girl was my aunt, Ann Curtis Cuneo. She was the leading female swimming champion of her time and an Olympic gold medalist. There is now a scholarship in her name at Berkeley to support women swimmers. She and my uncle, Gordon Cuneo, have done a lot to support the Cal athletic program.

Jacquelynn Baas
Director, Berkeley Art Museum

Photo: Jacquelynn Baas

Jacquelynn Baas

I've had several women mentors, but perhaps the most important was the art historian, Elizabeth Gilmore Holt (1905-87), author of several books that are the cornerstone of postwar art history.

I was fortunate to be an art history major at Michigan State University in the late 1960s when she taught there. As a woman who had "done it all" before anyone thought of this concept, Mrs. Holt made it perfectly clear to her students that anything worth having was going to be damn hard work.

Elizabeth Holt was a staunch populist who believed that art history had to democratize, and she was one of the people who instilled in me a belief that, in art, everything and everybody mattered. She was the most impressive person I had ever known and she was a woman.

At the end of her first year of teaching, Mrs. Holt was to deliver an important lecture. She had gussied herself up for the occasion -- her white hair set off by gray eyeliner, silver Mexican earrings, and a gray wool dress. "She's sexy!" whispered the young man sitting next to me.

In 1968, being sexy mattered. When I heard my friend's comment, it dawned on me that a woman could be sexy for what she knew as well as for what she wore. I also realized that art history is a cumulative profession: what you know is the sum total of what you've seen, with a few facts thrown in. Therefore, in theory, the older you are, the better you are because the more you've seen.

Suddenly, I could visualize a future for myself -- she was standing right there in front of me.

Maxine Hong Kingston
Author and Senior Lecturer, English

Photo: Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston

I only had one woman professor as a student at Cal -- Joan Bondurant. She wrote a very important book, "Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict," which Martin Luther King said was his favorite book.

I took a political science course she team-taught with Robert Scalapino, who at the time was an advisor to President Kennedy on the Vietnam War. It was wonderful to have that balance, and to see a woman professor standing up for non-violence and peace.

I never had Josephine Miles as a teacher, but reading her poetry was an inspiration.

Herma Hill Kay
Dean, School of Law (Boalt Hall)
Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong Chair in Law

Photo: Herma Hill Kay

Herma Hill Kay

My campus role model was Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong, who joined the law faculty in 1919. A 1915 graduate of Boalt, she was the first full-time woman law professor in the country.

I was hired in 1960, the second female professor at Boalt, to take her place when she retired. She was very much around as an emerita professor, though. One of my courses was California marital property, which covered a civil law subject I hadn't learned at the University of Chicago law school. Barbara tutored me in the course twice a week just before I taught it my first year at Boalt.

We became close personal friends, too. She was a remarkable woman. She had a PhD in economics and began teaching with a joint appointment at Berkeley in law and social economics. She was instrumental in drafting the Social Security Act and wrote a definitive two-volume work on California family law.

An endowed chair in her honor has been established at the law school, and I was appointed the first holder of that chair. I am delighted to be able to continue my work in her name.


March 3 - 9, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 25)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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