The Interview That Started It All: Alice B. Toklas in 1952
Alice B. Toklas, left, with her companion Gertrude Stein and their dog
Basket II, near Belley, France, ca. 1941.
Photo courtesy of The Bancroft Library.
Two years before the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) was established, James D. Hart, then director of The Bancroft Library, commissioned an interview with Alice B. Toklas. Ms. Toklas, already in her mid-70s, was still residing in an apartment she once shared with Gertrude Stein in Paris. The interview, which took place at the end of
Autumn 1952, was relatively long—more than six hours—and covered a wide variety of topics, including Toklas's and Stein's childhoods in California, the Paris arts scene, and the difficulties of living under Nazi rule in wartime France. The most compelling element of this interview, though, is Toklas herself, who emerges from Stein's long shadow and proves herself to be a remarkably thoughtful, intelligent, opinionated, and feisty woman in her own right. Some attribute this interview as establishing a "proof of concept" which soon led to the founding of ROHO. Although available to researchers in the Bancroft archives for decades, this interview transcript was made available broadly to the public only this year in junction with The Bancroft Library Gallery exhibit, “A Place at the Table: A Gathering of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Text, Image & Voice.”
Listen to a clip from the interview or read the entire transcript.
From the Archives—Fall 2013
Leaking National Secrets Then and Now:
Ben Bagdikian on the Pentagon Papers
Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden, who recently leaked millions of bits of data exposing cover ups by the military and the wholesale gathering of personal information of US citizens, have touched off a fierce debate on the public's right to know and the state’s right to secrecy on issues of national security.
A similar debate dominated American discourse more than 40 years ago, in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg leaked 7,400 pages of government documents revealing a secret history of US involvement in Vietnam. In a pre-digital age, these were documents he had laboriously and surreptitiously xeroxed while he worked as an analyst for the Rand Corporation. Ellsberg had sent the papers to the New York Times, but a federal court enjoined the newspaper not to print them.
Ellsberg then turned to Ben Bagdikian, national editor of the Washington Post with whom he had worked at Rand in the late sixties. In Bagdikians’s 2010 interview for ROHO, he recounts a cloak and dagger tale of Ellsberg getting a copy of the papers to Bagdikian, who then spent the next forty eight hours in the home of Post publisher Katherine Graham preparing the documents for publication. The interview provides an eye-witness account of Graham’s and managing editor Ben Bradlee’s discussions with legal council and board members about the political and moral implications of publishing the Pentagon Papers, and then narrates the subsequent legal consequences. The interview situates the story in the context of the polarized political climate over the War in Vietnam and the Nixon administration’s attack on the press. See, especially, interview 5 on the Pentagon Papers.
Bagdikian is a former dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, with an extensive background as an investigative reporter who wrote about the civil rights movement, exposed horrendous conditions in prisons and became a leading critic of how media became controlled by monopolies.
Ben H. Bagdikian, “Journalist, Media Critic, Professor and Dean Emeritus, UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.” Conducted by Lisa Rubens in 2010. Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley, 2011.
From the Archives—Summer 2013
Health and Disease in Saudi Arabia:
The Aramco experience, 1940s-1990s
In June 1947 American medical entomologist Richard Daggy stepped off a plane in Dhahran onto a tarmac strip melting in the over-100-degree heat. The airport was a quonset hut separated from the runway by a sand dune. It had taken him several days of air travel to get there and he knew almost nothing of the famously private desert kingdom. He was sent there to help eradicate malaria, but there was only sand as far as he could see. “I was puzzled as to why a good, self-respecting malaria mosquito could make it in Saudi Arabia,” he recalled.
He joined a small group of doctors who were building a western-style health care system from scratch. Aramco’s original medical mandate had been to provide health care for their foreign workers, but it quickly grew to include local hires and their families, then everyone in the area. Basic health care for young, healthy adult workers quickly morphed into large-scale health initiatives to benefit the entire region and population. Diseases nearly eradicated in the US were still common in rural eastern Saudi Arabia. Infant mortality, malnutrition, malaria, tetanus, small pox, and trachoma took terrible tolls on the population.
Soon Daggy would be joined by his equally adventurous family and several other Aramco nurses, doctors, researchers, and epidemiologists who would become his colleagues. ROHO’s Carole Hicke interviewed more than a dozen Aramco medical professionals in 1996. Their experience spanned decades, from the early years after World War II when most of the local population were either nomadic bedu or oasis villagers, to the early 1980s when oil wealth had created modern cities, highways, and universities. Their stories capture unique perspectives of an isolated, old culture in transition and the doctors who moved half-way around the world equipped with little more than a sense of adventure to treat them.
This collection of interviews can be read online.
Our office conducted an earlier set of oral histories, “American Perspectives of Aramco, the Saudi-Arabian Oil-Producing Company, 1930s to 1980s” which can also be read online.
-- Julie Allen