While the Class of 1900, numbering 282, was entirely Anglo-Saxon (with a smattering of Jewish names), the Class of 2000 is 40 percent Asian/Asian American. Caucasians make up 30 percent of the class, Hispanics/Latinos 15 percent, African-Americans 7 percent, Native Americans 1 percent, and "other/unknown" 7 percent.

The president of the University in 1900 was Benjamin Ide Wheeler, a professor of comparative philology and Greek recruited from Cornell. He rode around the sparsely populated campus on a white horse at a time when a classical education, stressing Greek, Latin, and Philosophy, still reigned supreme.

Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, a Chinese immigrant and professor of mechanical engineering, leads Cal today.

When asked what they plan to major in, it seems most freshmen today say molecular and cell biology in preparation for med school. Many plan on a double major to increase their competitive edge, mentioning economics and computer science.

Both centennial classes include many students representing the first generation in their families to attend college. UC continues to play a major democratizing role in the state and the nation - a leg up in an ever-more competitive world.

"Gender equity" not new at Cal

"It is to be noted that co-education was introduced into the University as early as the autumn of 1870, without opposition, by a very conservative Board of Regents. It seemed the only sensible course to take, in a state so far removed from eastern institutions established for young women. The next Constitutional Convention took care to make this privilege secure to the daughters of the State." - from the Blue and Gold yearbook of 1900.

Setting a precedent for inclusiveness that continues to this day, UC in 1900 was very unusual in its almost equal numbers of men and women students.

In 1976, Cal became one of the first schools in the country to establish a Program in Women's Studies, which graduated to departmental status in 1991.

Social life: more freedom, less certainty

"The fraternity system obtains largely at Berkeley, perhaps more largely than in any other college of its size in America. All the more desirable and popular men are gathered together into clubs - "Greek letter societies." - from The Wave (a San Francisco periodical), Aug. 21, 1897

Because there were no dorms in 1900, and none of the student services of today, fraternities became the focus of social life for the Class of 1900. Fraternity connections, as today, often translated into good jobs after graduation and lifelong friendships.

Today only 10 percent of Berkeley students belong to a Greek society, but they are still a focal point for socializing, most notably - and noisily - at weekend parties. Just as the Class of 1900 managed to get around the "one-mile limit" for alcohol sales (men only, that is), today's freshmen don't seem to have much trouble getting a drink or two at a frat house party.

But today's students also have the daily option of socializing at coed residence halls, where 90 percent of freshmen live. What would the Class of 1900 think of today's residence hall coed bathrooms? It boggles the mind.

"U.C. Century! Rah! Rah! Rah! Nineteen hundred! California!!"

If anything, sports were even more important, though much more limited, in 1900 than they are today. Competition was limited to men (except for basketball), and the Golden Bears' sole serious foe was Stanford. Thus, rivalry with The Farm was far more ferocious and consuming than today. The Stanford Axe was first stolen in 1899 after Cal beat Stanford at baseball.

Spirited pep rallies preceded competition and everyone got involved, from faculty on down. "It was a democratic way of coalescing the student body," notes history professor Paula Fass. "There was minimal national identity at the time, so people placed more emphasis on local allegiances."

Today, thanks to gender equity mandates by the federal government, Cal has an equal number (13 each) of intercollegiate men's and women's teams.

Academics: from Greek to PC's

".... I think we may safely affirm that our University ranks among the first eight or 10 in the United States." - from Blue and Gold yearbook, 1900

UC has always been concerned (some might say obsessed) with competing favorably in every way with the best East Coast private schools. As a latecomer to the fold of elite universities, it recruited most of its early faculty from them.

Graduation requirements in 1900 included Greek, Latin, French, German, Philosophy, and, for men, Military Science. Today's requirements include American Cultures, biological science, and international studies.

Asked in September to list some of the challenges they face, Cal freshmen most often mentioned competition - for jobs, for education, to maintain cutting edge skills in computers and technology. They feel a Cal education will help keep them competitive.

[Table of Contents] [Berkeley Magazine Home] [UC Berkeley Home]

Copyright 1997, Regents of the University of California, All rights reserved.
Please e-mail your comments to