This project began in 2017. We have much more to do. We want to hear your voice. We encourage people who want to add to this page, contribute edits to an existing bio, or author a bio for the page to contact us at email@example.com. We would like to especially highlight the diversity of women* at Cal.
*“We welcome all who experience life through the lens of woman in body, spirit, identity – past, present, future, and fluid” (Gender Equity Resource Center).
UC Berkeley began admitting women in 1871, two years after it first opened its doors. The class of 1873 had only 22 female students compared to 169 male students. In 1874 UC President Gilman noted that the number of women who had gained a high rank in scholarship had surpassed the number of men. By 1900 the number of women enrolled at the University had surpassed the number of men.
An alumna of the class of 1883, May Cheney fought to improve the UC Berkeley experience for women. Around 80 percent of female students at the University were studying to become teachers. Cheney helped standardize teaching certifications and placements to improve the status of women in the profession and in the classroom. An active suffragette, she worked to extend voting rights to California women, which were legalized in 1911.
Morgan was the first woman to become a licensed architect in California in 1904. She graduated from Berkeley in 1894 and went on to be the first woman accepted at l’École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She was the main designer of the Hearst Greek Theater and Hearst Gymnasium, and helped design the Hearst Mining Building and Sather Gate. Overall, she designed over 700 buildings in California, including Hearst Castle. Her employer, John Galen Howard, once told a colleague " [Morgan is] an excellent draftsman whom I have to pay almost nothing, as it is a woman.”
Source: Sara Holmes Boutelle’s "Julia Morgan, Engineer and Architect"
1897 Phoebe Hearst
Phoebe Hearst became the first female regent of the University in 1897. When Harmon Gymnasium was built, only five hours a week were allotted for use by women. Phoebe Hearst funded Hearst Gymnasium and social center for women in response. While the original building burned down, it was redesigned by the architect Julia Morgan. Phoebe Hearst also supported multiple programs at the University and funded Hearst Memorial Mining Building and the Hearst Museum of Anthropology.
The Prytanean Society is the oldest collegiate women's honorary society in the U.S. Students founded the organization in 1901. Those same founders, Adele Gerard Lewis and Agnes Frisius, helped launch a student infirmary which later became the Tang Center. Today the Tang Center provides healthcare and many related resources to students and staff. To learn more about the Tang Center visit https://uhs.berkeley.edu/.
Annie Alexander was a premier scientific collector who important founder and financer of the Museum of Vertebraate Zoology and the Museum of Paleontology. She is also regarded as half of one of the earliest known lesbian couples (the other half being Louise Kellogg).
This iconic landmark was gifted by Jane Sather to the University in 1910.
1910 Elizabeth Jocelyn Boalt
Boalt built the first law building at UC Berkeley and added a room for female students hoping to incentive women who might otherwise be hesitant “to study law on account of the forced association with men."
Professor Morgan was the first woman chemist at UC Berkeley. She was hired by the Home Economics Department despite her background in chemistry. Her starting pay was just 75% of what male faculty were paid. She went on to pioneer research on vitamins, nutrition and digestion.
The most honored costume designer in Oscar history and labelled as one of the most influential people in the history of fashion, Edith Head earned her BA in letters and sciences with honors in French in 1919 from the University. She won a record eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design.
Jackson came to UC Berkeley in 1920. At that time there were only 8 black women on campus and 9 men. Her father was a former slave. In 1925, she became the first black teacher in California. She is the founder of Alpha Kappa Alpha- the first black sorority in the western United States. At the time UC President Barrows (after whom Barrows Hall is named) refused to add the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority photo to the Blue and Gold yearbook, stating that these women of Cal "were not representative of the student body.” She went on to receive the Berkeley Citation in 1971, an award to celebrate those “whose contributions to UC Berkeley go beyond the call of duty and whose achievements exceed the standards of excellence in their fields.” She created a fellowship for African-American doctoral students. She earned her PhD at Columbia.
"I am more than ever convinced that education is the greatest factor in the upward climb of any person or people. My theme song has been: learn, study, read — continuously. The University of California has done for thousands what it has done for me. It has enabled me to realize the vast avenues of learning and culture to be explored, and strengthened a desire to try, and in the exploration to take others along on the journey."
You can learn more about Jackson by visiting the Bancroft Library’s Oral History Archives’ Ida Jackson: Overcoming Barriers in Education.
Beatrice Metcalf Bain earned a B.A. in Political Science from UC Berkeley in 1936. She was a pioneer feminist known for her commitment to helping women in higher education. She established major women’s programs at UC Berkeley, CSU San Francisco and Mills College. With the Prytanean Society, she founded the Center for the Continuing Education and Advancement of Women which later became the Gender Equity Resource Center (GenEq). To learn more about the resources GenEq provides visit: https://campusclimate.berkeley.edu/students/ejce/geneq
In the call photograph of the Boalt Class of 1942, Doris Brin Walker is the only woman. She was a labor organizer, civil rights activist, and reputed inspiration for Doby the house elf in Harry Potter.
Didion received her B.A. in English from UC Berkeley. She went on to become an award-winning journalist and writer best known for her works on American subcultures. She is known as a cultural icon and legend.
Professor Diamond is considered one of the founders of modern neuroscience. She was the first to prove the plasticity of the brain. She conducted research on Albert Einstein’s brain and helped propel our understanding of the roles of glial cells in the brain. She was the first woman science instructor at Cornell University.
Herma Hill Kay was a Boalt faculty member who co-drafted California’s 1970 no-fault divorce law. This law was the first of its kind in the nation as it made irreconcilable differences sufficient ground for divorce. It was important stopping placing legal blame on a spouse for a failed marriage. Eventually, every state in the nation enacted a version of the no-fault divorce law. Kay later served as the first female dean of the law school in 1992.
Dr. Hochschild is an alumna and emeritus professor of sociology at Berkeely who is known as the founder of the sociology of emotion. She is credited with developing the concepts of "emotional labor," "feeling rules" and the "economy of gratitude." Hochschildian sociology is named after her.
Dr. Christian was a professor who helped to establish the African-American Studies department. She was the first black woman to receive a regular faculty appointment, the first black woman to receive tenure, and the first black woman to chair a department. Her work has helped shine a light on major female authors. She fought for affirmative action. In 2000, she was award Berkeley’s highest honor, the Citation Award.
Professor Klinman was the first woman physical scientist to be hired by the College of Chemistry. She became famous for her work on enzyme catalysis. She is the only woman chair of the Department of Chemistry. She has made numerous contributions to the field and has earned many awards. In 2002, President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Science.
Professor Hoffman was the fourth female chemist at Berkeley. She researched radioactive elements and confirmed seaborgium’s existence. Gender discrimination was often a barrier she had to overcome. The Los Alamos National Laboratory’s radiochemistry division told her they wouldn’t hire a woman. She went on to become the first female division leader at Los Alamos. In the 1970s Professor Hoffman discovered that atoms of fermium could split spontaneously, which became essential in finding ways to store nuclear waste. She won the 1997 National Medal of Science for discovering primordial plutonium in nature and her pioneering studies on chemical and nuclear properties of elements.
Mary-Claire King and colleagues discover the BRCA1 gene, familiarly known as the breast cancer gene it is linked to a high risk of breast cancer in families. Her revolutionary thesis showed that humans and chimpanzees are 99% genetically identical. And her pioneering genetics work lead to genomic sequencing being used to identify victims of human rights abuses.
The Oral History and Archival Document Project of the Formative Years of the Independent Living and Disability Rights Movements in Berkeley is created based upon O’Hara’s ideas and vision. O’Hara was the coordinator of the residence program for disabled students from 1975 till 1988 and became the Director of UC Berkeley's Disabled Students' Program in 1988, serving until 1992.
The professional soccer player and Olympic Gold Medalist graduated from Cal in 2010, a semester early, with a degree in Political Economy. She became one of the first female soccer players to appear on the cover of the FIFA video games. She is an active campaigner for women’s equality and is fighting for equal pay for female athletes.