In October 1911, California became the sixth state to embrace equal suffrage for women, one of the reforms of the Progressive Era that eventually resulted in the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Meanwhile, women at the University of California were pursuing their academic careers with vigor—and glaring inequality. Although the Regents had decreed in 1870 that "ladies" should be admitted "on equal terms in all respects with young men; women at the university, in comparison with their male counterparts, had limited access to the university's intellectual, social, recreational, and athletic resources. For example, some of the male faculty systematically discouraged or banned women from their classrooms, even though for decades women were outranking the men academically. Women faculty did not attend faculty meetings for fear of antagonizing their male colleagues.
Nevertheless, by the turn of the century, stimulated by the Progressive Era as well as by their personal sense of fairness and equality, powerful and resourceful women philanthropists, faculty, staff, and students had begun to build a community. Notable among these was Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who provided scholarships and funds for social events and recreational activities, as well as work opportunities and living spaces for women. Hearst also hired and paid Mary Bennett Ritter, M.D., the first woman appointed to the faculty (part-time) who served as a lecturer in hygiene, the women's physician, and an unofficial dean. Students themselves organized the Prytanean Society, the oldest collegiate women's honorary society in the United States; the Associated Women Students, which sponsored an annual "Woman's Day;" and the Sports and Pastimes Association (forerunner of the Women's Athletic Association), which organized the first formal program of interclass athletic competition (two years before men did the same).
The exhibition explores the themes of women as donors, faculty, and staff; women students' academic, athletic, and recreational activities; and the living and recreational spaces they inhabited. The materials exhibited here are drawn largely from collections of archival records and manuscripts, including correspondence, publications, pictorial images, realia, and scrapbooks. These include the records of the Academic Personnel Office, the Office of the President, the Section Club, the Women's Dormitory Association, and the Women's Athletic Association; and publications including The Berkeleyan, the Blue and Gold, the California Pelican, The Centennial Record of the University of California, The Daily Californian, and the Occident, which provide interesting historical accounts of women as academics and women's education at the University of California before, during, and after the period of the present exhibition.