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UC Berkeley Press Release

California women's "Collective Voice" exhibit opening at Doe Library

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– An exhibit opening April 4 at the University of California, Berkeley, will feature two centuries' worth of contributions by California women - some household names, and many not - who have made their marks on the state as artists, educators, explorers, activists, scientists, philanthropists, and more.

This special program on the steps of Doe Library featured prominent local women reading material by and about women honored in the "Our Collective Voice" exhibit. View Webcast

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"Our Collective Voice: The Extraordinary Work of Women in California" will also salute the centennial of The Bancroft Library, whose extensive collections on the history California and American West were mined for the exhibit.

"Undaunted by discrimination and closed doors, the women in this exhibit opened windows instead, raising their voices for their respective causes and pursuits," reads an exhibit announcement. "We celebrate their tenacity and fortitude, raising our collective voice in honor of these women, whose memories live on in the collections of The Bancroft Library."

Journals, maps, oral histories, dance cards, photos, letters, manuscripts, little moccasins, oral history transcripts, posters, paintings, sketches and life-size cutouts will fill the displays in Doe Library's Bernice Layne Brown Gallery through June 3.

The eight women who work at The Bancroft and the UC Berkeley Library curating the exhibit found a wealth of material about women who have contributed their talents, skills and love to California life over the past 200 years, but they realized they couldn't include all of it in the limited exhibit space, said Theresa Salazar, the library's curator for its Western Americana collection.

"So, we focused on people and areas that represent The Bancroft's strengths, such as the Gold Rush, World War II and women's suffrage," Salazar said.

By concentrating on materials produced by women - writings, photos, posters and other artwork - the exhibit will reflect the proud, brave and productive lives of women, without the derogatory slant sometimes found in commentary about women and other minorities, she said.

Those lives are sorted into various categories, which include Alta California, the "Be-Mused" artists, "Cal Grrrls" (women students and their mentors), advocates such as Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers' Union, "Designing Women" such as Julia Morgan and Catherine Bauer Wurster, "Literary Lionesses" such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Gertrude Stein, "Pioneering Women" such as Lillie Coit (whose bequest built Coit Tower), Lola Montez (who danced in mining camps and kept a pet grizzly bear), and Lorena Lenity Hays (the self-taught author of the 1850s newspaper column, "The Mountain Lassie").

The exhibit is likely to whet visitors' appetites for yet more information about these women's lives and accomplishments. Below is a sampling of a few of the women featured in "Our Collective Voice."

Mary Ellen Pleasant

Much of Pleasant's life is shrouded in mystery. Called the "Mother of Civil Rights in California," she was said to have been born a slave in Georgia. Ultimately, she became a successful and wealthy businesswoman in San Francisco, helping to free slaves via the Underground Railroad. Her successful 1868 lawsuit against city trolley car companies to prevent racial discrimination set a precedent. She was an influential and often controversial member of San Francisco's high society in the Gold Rush era.

Annie Montague Alexander

An amateur naturalist/markswoman/farmer/philanthropist, Alexander used the financial resources of her father, founder of a Hawaiian sugar empire, to underwrite numerous expeditions throughout North America and elsewhere. She and her partner conducted field work, retrieving specimens of disappearing flora and fauna. Alexander established UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and its Museum of Paleontology, but shied away from public recognition for her good deeds.

Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia

Ynes Mexia turned to botany after a successful career in social work. At age 59, she began collecting plants in remote areas of Peru and Brazil, bringing home more than 150,000 plants for the UC Berkeley Herbarium.

Jane Sather

Among Sather's gifts to the UC Berkeley campus was an arched gate at one of its original campus entrances. She ordered stone carvings of naked men and women removed from the gate in 1910 because "uncultivated" students had attached oak leaves and scandalized the gate. Sather said "there is a difference between nude and naked." The carvings were returned to the gate about 70 years later.

Sara Bard Field

Field spent 10 years as a suffragist, driving cross country around the turn of the century and lobbying for support for the 19th Amendment. She later became California's poet laureate.

Catherine Bauer Wurster

Wurster is considered a founder of American housing policy. Her classic "Modern Housing" made her an authority on housing and a leader for New Deal housing policy. She was instrumental in setting up the country's first permanent low-rent housing program. She also was married to the distinguished architect William Wurster, who became dean of the UC Berkeley School of Architecture in 1950.

Yoshiko Uchida

Within weeks of graduating from UC Berkeley in 1942, Uchida and her family were suddenly sent to an internment camp. She kept a scrapbook of her experiences there, clipping newspaper stories about the graduation she missed and saving letters and cards. The Bancroft Library has the scrapbook and numerous watercolors she painted to document daily life first at the Tanforan Relocation Center in Belmont, and later at the Topaz Internment Camp. Uchida and her sister worked as teachers in both locations.

Theodora Kracaw Kroeber-Quinn

The late UC Berkeley anthropologist is probably best known for her book, "Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America." Kroeber-Quinn said she wrote about Native Americans "because I find their stories beautiful and true and their way of telling a story to be also my way." Her daughter, Ursula la Guin, also included in the exhibit, is a best-selling science fiction writer.

Beverly Hickok

The librarian for UC Berkeley's Institute for Transportation Studies for 40 years, she wrote "Against the Current: Coming Out in the 1940s," long before the Bay Area championed gay and lesbian rights.

Ida Louise Jackson

When Jackson came to study at UC Berkeley in 1920, she was one of 17 African American students. In 1921, she and friends co-founded the local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation's first black sorority. She and her sorority sisters led efforts to bring education and health care to rural areas of the Deep South. Jackson became the first African American to teach in the Oakland Public Schools. She established a fellowship for African American students pursuing their doctorates at UC Berkeley. Her oral history is one of The Bancroft's most popular with students.

Eulalia Perez

Of the 100 interviews with Californios commissioned by The Bancroft's founder Hubert Bancroft, just 12 were with women. Perez's story recounts life at Rancho San Isidro near the San Gabriel Mission, where she worked as a manager, cook and midwife before dying at the age of 104.

A special exhibit program at 5:30 p.m., Friday, April 29, on the steps of Doe Library's North Terrace will feature prominent local women reading portions of material by and about women honored in the exhibit and others.

Participants will include Kimberly Bancroft, an educator and great-great-great-granddaughter of Hubert Howe Bancroft, the founder of The Bancroft Library; Marian Diamond, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology known for her studies on the brain; Save the Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin; photographer Judy Dater; Janeen Antoine, executive director of American Indian Contemporary Arts, a leader in many Native organizations, and the producer and co-host of KPFA Radio's weekly "Bay Native Circle" show; shipyard welder Phyllis Gould; author Terry McMillan; UC Regent Velma Montoya; disability activist Susan O'Hara; writer Ayelet Waldman; and Tabitha Soren, who has worked for network TV, MTV and print media.

The California Golden Overtones, the UC Berkeley women's singing group, will perform.

Doe Library is open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, and 1-9 p.m. on Sunday.