Part 2: The first graduate

The First African American Woman to Graduate from the University of California, Berkeley: Vivian Logan Rodgers (1884-1914), B.L., English '09

Vivian Logan Rodgers

Vivian Logan Rodgers was the daughter of Moses Logan Rodgers, one of California’s first African American Pioneers. Moses Rodgers was born into slavery in Missouri and made his way to California in 1849 during the onset of the Gold Rush. He became a prominent mining engineer in Mariposa County and he and his wife Sarah had five daughters. Vivian Rodgers was the second born. After graduating from Stockton HighSchool, Rodgers, befitting her upbringing in a pioneering African American family, became the first African American woman to graduate from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor of Letters degree in English in 1909. The NAACP was formed that same year.

Being the first in those early days could not have been easy. Rodgers did not have a group of African American women to bond with as did those who followed her. However, she did have the support of strong family and community ties. Due to the notoriety of her father, the Rodgers family often found mention in Stockton, California newspapers. In fact, the local newspaper, The Evening Mail, proudly announced Rodgers on the list of “Stocktonians” who graduated from Berkeley in 1909.[1] Only five years later, that same publication would summarize her achievements while announcing her death. “After her graduation from UC Berkeley, Vivian Rogers [sic] accepted a teaching position in Hilo, Hawaii in the autumn of 1913. Soon after that she was stricken with Sciatic Rheumatism which developed into Typhoid Fever and for three months she was confined to a Sanitarium at Hilo.”[2] The article goes on to say that Rodgers recovered enough to return home. Indeed, she did travel to San Francisco on the SS Lurline[3], as shown in the “Passengers Departed” section of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 12, 1914.[4] She endured the long journey home, where her health improved. However, she suffered a relapse and passed away at the young age of 29 after being stricken with paralysis.

The Rodgers family home in Stockton was added to the Register of National Historic Places in 1978.

[1] The Evening Mail (Stockton, California) May 13, 1909, 5

[2] Ibid, August 6, 1914, 5

[3] Wikipedia: Matson Navigation Company built a steamship named SS Lurline in 1908; one which carried mainly freight yet could hold 51 passengers along with 65 crew.

[4] Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) May 13, 1914, 12