wrote FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in 1966, alluding to the Free Speech Movement of 1964 as the original model of on-campus student civil disobedience.
By 1966, to be sure, the escalation of the Vietnam War and expansion of the military draft were sparking campus rebellions across the country quite independently of anything that had happened at Berkeley two years earlier. Moreover, Berkeley students had learned their tactics from black students in the Jim-Crow Southern states, whose early sixties sit-ins to end racial segregation were the acknowledged inspiration for all Northern campus activists. But Hoover was right to point to Berkeley students’ originality in rebelling against their own university. This essay will examine the reasons for that novelty while explaining its connections to the changing roles of women in the student body.
The story of sixties student activism in Berkeley can be told as a series of protest movements with overlapping but also shifting emphases—Civil Rights (1962-4); Free Speech Movement (1964); Anti-War Movement (1965-72); Third World Liberation Strike (1968-9)—toward the end of which Women’s Liberation emerged. It’s generally acknowledged that women played important parts in all of the political battles of the sixties, and this essay will examine their contributions. Unlike the standard accounts, though, it will also show how they were partly shaped and propelled by gender and sexual rebellions that were components of student activism throughout the decade. In the fifties, women students had remained limited by sexual prohibitions and strict standards of respectability that were translated into rules for their behavior on and around campus. It was up to the women of the sixties to overthrow those impediments to their personal freedom in what became known as the sexual revolution. This essay will trace the campaign for greater freedom of sexual expression and autonomy for women, showing its intersections, parallels, and collisions with other branches of the sixties movements.
Phase I: Before the FSM
Sexual Liberation and Free Speech
It’s well known that the Free Speech Movement was closely tied to earlier political protests but less often noticed that Berkeley students first tested UC’s revised limitations on their free expression by seizing on a sexual issue. The early elements of sexual rebellion in that first protest would eventually bring greater changes for women students than for men. In the spring of 1960, an assistant professor of Biology at the University of Illinois, Leo Koch, had written a letter to the student newspaper, commenting on a campus scandal about “petting parties”: “A mutually satisfactory sexual experience would eliminate the need for many hours of frustrating petting and lead to much happier marriages” (quoted in Van Houten, 74). There was an immediate public outcry against this endorsement of “free love” (i.e. premarital sex) on a college campus, and the University of Illinois fired Koch, prompting a wider, nationwide controversy that melded the over-heated issues of student sexuality, academic freedom, and taboos against public discussions of sex.
Koch was a UC alumnus, and the brouhaha over his firing quickly migrated to Berkeley when the Executive Committee of the ASUC, in a purposeful violation of UC’s rule against taking stands on “outside issues”, passed a resolution condemning “the actions of the University of Illinois for this firing” and strongly urging “that Professor Koch be reinstated” (Seaborg, 430). Chancellor Seaborg, recognizing that the ASUC’s executive committee action was intended to test the university’s rules, directed the students to reverse their decision, which they refused to do, and the stand-off was widely debated in the press. The Daily Cal editorials supported the students on the grounds of free speech and de-emphasized the sexual issue as incidental to the conflict. In contrast, the commercial press foregrounded the “free love” aspect, in both sensational and satirical modes, and ignored the students’ explanation that they were defending Koch’s right to endorse premarital sex, not endorsing it themselves.
1960 could be seen as a national tipping point for the debate over sexual expression and censorship. In 1959, a U. S. Court of Appeals Judge had ruled that several literary works previously banned as obscene could be published on the grounds they had "redeeming social or literary value" (“Grove Press”). The case grabbed headlines across the country and opened the way for the first U. S. editions of such modern novels as D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Moreover, since the publication of the Kinsey Reports in 1948 and 1952 had shown the large discrepancy that existed between Americans’ espoused sexual morality and their behavior, taboos on sexual topics had increasingly come to seem hypocritical. In the context of the liberalizing culture, the argument made by lawyers for the University of Illinois that Koch’s words were “offensive and repugnant, contrary to commonly accepted standards of morality” (quoted in Seaborg, 441) probably did not reflect the views of most students at the secular universities.
Thus, although in the vanguard of public opinion, ASUC’s position was not outlandish; the high-profile censorship cases in the news had already made a strong link between free speech generally and sexual expression. The press coverage of the Berkeley controversy, though, stressed that Koch recommended a change in student sexual behavior, and the ASUC advocates of free speech were not prepared to defend the substance of his recommendation. They tried to keep the focus on the issue of free speech by staying neutral on Koch’s ideas while championing his right to express them. But since Koch’s opinions about how students should behave was the fillip that drove newspaper coverage, the free-speech argument was drowned out. The conflict ended when an ASUC executive committee of a more conservative stripe was elected the next semester and reversed the original resolution. They too, however, declined to comment on the value of Koch’s advice and merely noted that the original resolution had violated UC regulations by taking a stand on an off-campus issue.
The topic of student sexuality, it seems, overwhelmed the issue of free speech, revealing a pattern that repeated itself during the decade: sexual politics and the new left were twins that could neither be separated nor fully reconciled. Although student activists could not avoid the issues of sexuality and gender relations, they were often hesitant to include them. From the defenders of Koch at the decade’s outset to the of women’s liberationists at its end, those who stressed sexual politics often found themselves either just ignored or accused of trivializing the movement by creating merely frivolous—even laughable—distractions from “serious” political purposes. Noticing this continuing tension can help us to understand why it took so long for new left activists to recognize gender-specific discrimination as a legitimate issue.
The campaign for franker sexual expression on campus, though, did not immediately go away after the Koch case. The 1959 U. S. Court of Appeals hadn’t done away with obscenity laws, although it had carved out important and enticingly vague exemptions for works with “redeeming social or literary value.” It thus inspired writers in the cultural vanguard—including Berkeley students—to test the limits. In the spring of 1961, the editor of the California Pelican, Don Wegars, caused a national stir and was almost expelled for publishing a cartoon that showed an American flag with the Soviet hammer-and-sickle in place of one of the stars; it was captioned, “Run it up yer ol’ wazoo” (Carroll, Martin). The cartoon may have alluded to the student demonstrations at the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings the previous May, but the hubbub it set off in the press centered on the possibly obscene meanings of the caption’s neologism, “wazoo”. Wegars was suspended for a semester, and the OED still attributes the first use of the term “wazoo” to that issue of the Pelican.
Far from bringing student publications into line, though, the administration’s punishment of Wegars stimulated a competitive drive for notoriety, according to Wendy Martin (’62), who was then editing Occident and is now a professor of English at the Claremont Graduate University. She recalls, “wanting to publish something in the literary magazine that would be even more provocative than the Pelican’s cartoon” (Martin). For the fall of 1961, she deliberately sought some transgressive, attention-getting content, which she received and published in the form of a short fictional piece featuring inter-racial fellatio. Martin remembers being bitterly disappointed when the story failed to cause a scandal or draw university censorship. One can imagine, though, that the administration was not eager to attract more attention to its rebellious student publications, especially if the question of “redeeming literary value” might be at stake.
The students who made these links between erotic expression and free speech had various motives—satirical, political, and literary—but they all registered long-term changes in the culture that had already begun by 1960. By the end of the decade, Koch’s advocacy of “mutually satisfactory” premarital sex as a healthy alternative to endless foreplay would be seen as completely uncontroversial. The rebels at the beginning of the sixties were still early in the process of creating a general consensus that sexual liberation and freedom of expression were related aspects of personal autonomy. The changes, though, did not come automatically, and their meaning, especially in women’s lives, would be redefined several times throughout the decade. Moreover, the students would continue to cast the university as an impediment to both political and sexual change, and the administration often played that role with gusto. The two issues of sexual freedom and free speech were an unstable compound, but they would develop along interwoven paths as complaints against the university mounted.
In the middle of the decade, the question of sexual freedom was subtly broached by women students in the dormitories, who lived under stricter rules than the men. It’s one of the ironies of Berkeley’s history that major improvements in student facilities and services set the stage for rebellion. For the first time in its history, the university in the early sixties used public funds to build large dormitories for housing both men and women while also helping to finance a new student union complex—complete with a ballroom, lounges, meeting rooms, cafeterias, and offices for student government. Four sets of high-rise residence halls for undergraduates of both sexes were raised in the four years between 1960 and 1964. When the FSM erupted, therefore, students had learned to expect university facilities for their use on campus and affordable housing nearby. Those were things that other American universities had provided for decades, but at Berkeley they were new, and they altered student life. The change was especially dramatic for women because, as we’ve documented in previous essays, housing for them had always been scarce, forcing many to commute from home. Two of the buildings in each of the four new dormitory complexes were for women. Pictured here are the namesakes for the first two high-rise women’s buildings—former Dean of Women Mary Blossom Davidson and Alice Deutsch—posing with a model of Unit One, which opened in 1961. As the dormitories opened in the early years of the decade, the percentage of women in the student body climbed out of its postwar lows in the 30%-range to around 42%, where it stayed during the sixties and seventies.
The new student spaces certainly had a democratizing and liberalizing effect on the campus. They created the conditions for organizing student groups that could challenge the dominance of fraternities and sororities, which had controlled both student governments and extra-curricular activities in the postwar years (Kerr, 105-109). Moreover, the new student facilities opened at the very time when the Greek-letter houses were becoming politically problematic because they practiced racial and religious exclusion. Indeed, in 1959, California Attorney General (and soon to be Governor) Edmund Brown ruled that “the university can in no way officially recognize groups which practice discrimination”, and the general counsel for the Regents recommended “a wall of separation between the university and the fraternity and sorority system” (Kerr, 383). Although eventually the Greek-letter houses agreed to sign non-discrimination pledges in the mid-sixties, by that time their reputation for bias had caused a steep slide in their popularity.
In contrast, several of the student groups recruiting dormitory residents were also trying to draw attention to broader issues of social justice. Organizations like SLATE (a left-leaning group that backed a slate of candidates for each ASUC election) offered an organized progressive political campus agenda but also found themselves constantly brushing up against the UC rules, as we saw in the Koch case. Despite the limitations, the dormitories helped shift the center of political gravity away from the Greek-letter houses toward more open spaces, like the large dining commons near the student union, where currents of thought from inside and outside mixed informally on the edge of campus. Across Bancroft Way, the YMCA and YWCA continued their traditional roles of sponsoring forums for political organizing and recruitment still forbidden on university property. In short, the left-leaning student organizations found larger residential constituencies and centers of activity.
While these new facilities created the spaces for students to congregate, they simultaneously limited the kinds of activity allowed; groups could not, for example, advocate, plan, or raise money for off-campus causes or campaigns. Restricted use of the buildings thus became a source of grievance in itself. When Clark Kerr became President of UC statewide in 1958, he modified the rules against political activity somewhat, but they were still more restrictive than those at most universities. Indeed, students at both Stanford and San Francisco State had greater latitude in using campus venues for political purposes than Berkeley students had (Stadtman, 442-3). Moreover, some of the new facilities actually encroached on areas that were not under university control earlier. When the student union was built and Sproul Plaza created, the space south of Sather Gate, where students had earlier promoted their causes, was lost. Political activity was displaced south and confined to a narrow band of pavement between Bancroft Way and the plaza (Finacom). That strip of land would become the flash-point that ignited the FSM. In a complicated dynamic, which historians call a revolution of rising expectations, giving the students what they’d been requesting for decades prepared the way for rebellion.
Anger against the curtailment of political speech rose with the dorms, and women residents were additionally irritated by the surveillance and regulation of their private lives. Those were the conditions that thrust sexuality and gender disparity into the foreground. Imagining itself to be in loco parentis (in the place of parents) vis-à-vis its students, the university thought it had a duty to supervise their behavior. As one university administrator later regretfully recalled, “While the new residence halls were attractive, they had many rules and regulations that restricted the freedom of students who lived there”, (Van Houten and Barrett, 27). And the women’s dorms were the most restrictive places of all. Some vestiges of early-twentieth-century regulations surviving in the new dorms applied to both men and women, like the “parietal” rules forbidding members of the opposite sex from straying from the common rooms (where visitors were received) to the residents’ rooms. But women were additionally required to “sign out” when leaving the premises at night and sign back in by specific hours (midnight on weeknights and 2:00 a.m. on weekends), or be locked out. The rules were ostensibly made by the Associated Women Students, the organization that had represented women before they became full members of the ASUC in 1923. The AWS had not disbanded in the early twenties when it merged into the ASUC, though; instead it had continued a separate existence in which one of its main functions was to make rules—and rubber-stamp the Deans’ rules—about how undergraduate women should conduct themselves. Women students, it had been thought, needed to safeguard their collective reputation by making and enforcing a code of behavior.
When dormitory residents objected to the restrictions in the sixties, Dean of Student Housing Ruth Donnelly could therefore deny responsibility, insisting in 1966 that the university had never imposed different rules on women: “These rules have been made by the women students and are now made by the women” (Donnelly, 91). The AWS, though, was not really a representative organization by the 1960s; it tended to be controlled by the sororities, whose ideas of proper behavior came to seem petty and outdated. Dorm women, for example, were not allowed to wear pants to dinner in the early sixties; then the Dean of Women relented and said they were allowed but only at meals where the students served themselves cafeteria-style. Thus, at the majority of dinners, they were still required to wear stockings, high-heeled shoes, and dresses. In the spring of 1964 (before the FSM), the Daily Cal reported that Davidson Hall residents planned a boycott of the Sunday meal, complaining that the dress code interfered with their ability to work continuously in the library, to take courses with late-afternoon laboratory requirements, or attend evening courses (“There’s Unrest in the Dorms Again”). The dress code, they claimed, hindered their academic work and distorted their priorities, but it was also just the most obvious symbol of the university’s attempt to control women residents’ lives minutely. Perhaps when such rigid enforcement of class and gender norms was practiced in private sororities, where group conformity was an accepted principle, they might have been regarded as self-imposed and therefore, even if annoying and old-fashioned, tolerable. However, when applied to women who never chose to submit themselves to their peers’ control in such matters, they seemed intrusive and dictatorial.
Moreover, when unequal rules were instituted in the dormitory context, where large numbers of men and women lived close together in clusters of buildings, which shared some common social spaces, they appeared downright discriminatory. The stringent sign-out and curfew rules, which were aimed at controlling the women’s private lives, became the most deeply resented restrictions. Why should the men be free from curfews if the women had to sign back in by midnight? The lockout rules were an obvious instance of the sexual double-standard, in which women’s extramarital sexual activity was judged much more negatively than men’s. The double standard was evaporating in the mid-1960s, but the dormitories required women to prove they were not spending the night elsewhere by getting back to the dorm in time for the curfew, which served as a form of reputational certification. Even in the first years of the 1960s, the women rebelled against the university’s double standard by their “yearly exodus from the halls into less restrictive living environments”, which “left the high-rise dorms devoid of upper-class leadership and put additional students into the community without significant ties to the campus” (Van Houten and Barrett, 27). Paradoxically, by the middle of the decade, Dean Donnelly had to admit that a higher percentage of women lived outside of approved housing in apartments than ever before, a situation she blamed on their “permissive” parents’ willingness “to sign their residence cards if they are under 21. They weren’t so willing to before” (Donnelly, 100).
The university was clearly lagging behind the general culture’s willingness to acknowledge that women students should be entitled to as much freedom as men. Rather than simply opting out of university housing, some residents stayed and continued to organize for gender parity. By the spring of 1964, before the FSM, they had convinced the ASUC to ask for revised rules, allowing each living unit to make its own visitation policy. In response, Dean Towle explained that the students couldn’t govern themselves in this very delicate matter because the university had “an obligation to the student himself, his parents, and society at large to leave no doubt as to what kind of social standards and cultural values it endorses” (quoted in Morrow, 39). Towle concisely stated the in loco parentis position: the university enforced the sexual values not of some individual parents but of social authority in general. Not imposing the standards would give students the false impression that they don’t—or shouldn’t—exist.
After the FSM, as the university slowly backed away from its in loco parentis dormitory policy, student efforts resulted in a few adjustments regarding who could visit student rooms and for what length of time. However, it wasn’t until 1968, after years of friction with the university housing administration, that the residents of each dormitory were allowed to determine the guidelines democratically. They immediately ended the discriminatory curfews and greatly liberalized the visitation policies. Toward the end of the decade, moreover, the first co-educational residence opened for upper-class undergraduates and graduate students, in which men and women lived on alternate floors. By that time, students were finding ways of obtaining contraception and premarital sex was losing its stigma. For most of the turbulent years of the 1960s, though, dormitory life forced hundreds of UC women to face the daily reality of sexual discrimination, an experience that prompted some to fight for the rights their male peers already enjoyed. Most upper-division women students, though, simply moved out of campus housing. As we’ve seen in earlier essays, there had always been more women than men living at home and commuting to campus, but in the sixties more women lived independently in the Berkeley community.
The struggle for gender equality in the dorms hastened several other important changes. It increased women’s awareness of sexual inequality and allowed for the articulation of an important new principle: that sexual autonomy was an essential component of women’s empowerment. Later in this essay, we’ll take a closer look at other routes through which that insight spread on campus post-FSM. The slow collapse of the special rules for women’s residences demolished the last vestiges of official sexual segregation in UC’s administrative structure. With the ending of the parietal and curfew rules, the separate Dean of Women’s positions and the AWS lost their rationale; thus, several institutions originally put in place to raise the status and improve the living conditions of women students fell into obsolescence as the decade went on. The student body became more sexually integrated, and many male and female extracurricular activities also began to merge; even the notoriously rowdy masculine preserve of the men’s football rooting section was penetrated by women in the mid-1960s.
That shift intensified what was already a strong feeling of generational identity and peer-group solidarity among the students: women and men were henceforth to be considered equally competent to manage their own private lives. While consolidating the generational group, though, the shift ruptured lines of continuity that had linked generations of women. Perhaps every generation imagines itself to be revolutionary, but sixties women truly were unique in this one regard: they publicly and collectively sought sexual self-determination. No matter what their personal, individual choices were, they refused as a group to remain subject to separate norms. Although there had always been women who broke the rules, no previous generation had made it a matter of explicit principle that separate regulations would not be tolerated. Because that aim seemed to repudiate many of the standards of behavior on which their mothers and grandmothers had prided themselves, generational tension between women increased. In her oral histories, for example, Dean Ruth Donnelly uses tactful language when judging the conduct of sixties women, but her disapproval is nonetheless palpable. The turmoil in the dorms was just one manifestation of that pivotal change in women’s lives, which often seems too private to make it into the history books. For women’s history, though, it’s hard to overestimate the transformative significance of this turning point.
Berkeley’s “Second Culture” and Civil Rights
In the first half of the sixties, the university administration seemed unwilling to acknowledge that its student body was changing, even though many of the changes were caused by the university itself: students were more independent of campus culture. Exodus from the dorms was only on cause; another was the California Master Plan for Higher Education, which was signed into law in 1960 and called for an expansion of all three tiers of public post-secondary education: Community Colleges, which were to be open to any high-school graduate; the State Universities, which would accept those in the top third of their classes; and University of California campuses, which drew from the top 12½%. Although it created a pyramidal structure, transfers between the tiers were to be facilitated; a student could move from a community or state college to a UC campus without losing credits. Since Berkeley’s enrollment was capped at 27,500 and its graduate population was rapidly increasing, the plan had the effect of decreasing the proportion of lower-division students.
The overall student population was thus getting older and more sophisticated; undergraduates came to Berkeley after one or two years of college elsewhere, and they viewed themselves as adults. Apartment dwellers were the majority in the sixties, so to understand the history of UC in those years, we need to get a sense of the larger context they inhabited, which historian Verne Stadtman has called “Berkeley’s second culture”. “Its members”, he explains, “attended classes on the campus and used its facilities for study and recreation. But they were beyond the reach of campus tradition and student government” (p.430). They were alienated, he admits, “but alienated by choice.” Above all, they “resented the invasion of their private lives by University authorities” (Stadtman, 430). The university administration nevertheless clung to its in loco parentis policies and increased the students’ antipathy by forbidding the use of the campus for political advocacy.
The culture in which most of the students lived, though, was being rapidly politicized. In the early 1960s, Berkeley went through a dramatic transformation into a left-liberal polity; the City Council had a majority of liberal democrats for the first time in decades, partly owing to the racial diversification of the postwar period. They soon embarked on initiatives to outlaw housing discrimination and integrate the public schools. Both changes prompted opposition, so the city experienced a local struggle over civil rights, which attracted student interest and participation (Wollenberg, 126-34). Student and community activism almost completely merged in 1963-4, during an even bolder, multi-city campaign to force Bay Area businesses to hire black people. That campaign was launched by a coalition of community and student groups, and it differed from the earlier civil rights protests by introducing the tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience, borrowed from Southern Black students.
The coalition, called the Ad Hoc Committee to End Racial Discrimination, was typical of Berkeley’s second culture, and its charismatic leader was a recent Berkeley High School graduate named Tracy Sims. She had joined the W.E.B. DuBois Club as a teen-ager. Although Sims was not a UC Berkeley student (she started at SF State like many black high-school graduates), her energy and eloquence put her at the forefront of the Bay Area’s aggregated student movement in the spring of 1964, a time when various campus, religious, and community groups had joined forces. Sims became the spokesperson for the large regional coalition, which set up picket-lines around the Sheraton-Palace Hotel to protest the discriminatory employment practices of the hotel industry. The protests culminated in a mass demonstration and sit-in, where approximately 1,500 people (mainly college students) occupied the lobby and 167 were arrested. As a result of the sit-in, Sims and her team were able to negotiate a pact with the hotel-owners association, which agreed to hire Black people in higher paying jobs with greater visibility.
Later that spring, the coalition used the same tactics to win a negotiated deal for more Black employees at the auto dealerships. At the age of nineteen, Sims had become the main spokesperson for the largest and most successful civil rights campaigns in Bay Area history. For those opposed to the protests, her age and sex became a sign of the movement’s illegitimacy; one San Francisco Chronicle columnist asked how “responsible Negro leaders” could “allow themselves to be represented by an eighteen-year-old girl in the full flush of adolescent arrogance” (quoted in Freeman, 78). But for the many young women she inspired to join the movement, including numerous Cal undergraduates like the writer of this essay, Sims embodied its youthful vitality and openness to female leadership. She heralded change in both the racial and gender hierarchies.
Phase II: The Free Speech Movement
Women Leaders in the FSM
The Free Speech Movement, which began and ended in the fall of ’64, grew out of the springtime civil rights protests (Freeman, 1997, passim). Many of the FSM’s participants fought their first skirmishes for social change at those demonstrations, committed their first acts of nonviolent civil disobedience there, and won their first political battles through those tactics. They had gained a strong sense of their own power and responsibility for making social change. Moreover, some of those protestors (most famously, Mario Savio) had been so deeply impressed by their experiences that they answered the national call of the organizers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to undertake the far more dangerous work of Black voter registration attempts in Mississippi, where they had gained a visceral knowledge of how important it was to end racial injustice throughout the country. So when the university administration suddenly barred political advocacy by students on the strip of land at the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph, a free speech zone used by students of all political stripes, the shock reverberated throughout the student body but was most strongly resented by the civil rights activists, who were renewing the spring’s momentum. Moreover, they were the students best prepared to put into practice the lessons learned in the previous six months.
There were, nevertheless, differences among the students about applying those lessons, and this section will look at the women leaders of the FSM, asking how they differed from the men as the free-speech battle unfolded. We’ll examine the gendered division of labor in the FSM leadership as well as the women’s individual contributions. And we’ll reflect on why they’ve tended to be obscured and get a new angle on the FSM by using their experience as the window.
The night after learning that they had lost their free-speech zone, representatives from all of the campus’s student organizations met and formed a united front, choosing Jackie Goldberg to be their primary spokesperson. Goldberg (who would later serve as a California State Assemblywoman as well as member of the L.A. School Board and City Council) was a senior, active throughout her college career in SLATE and Women for Peace; and she was a veteran of the spring civil-rights demonstrations. The administration had consulted no student organizations when it issued its ban, not even the ASUC. The newly appointed Dean of Students, Katherine Towle, merely sent each group a letter announcing the fait accompli. The leaders of organizations across the political spectrum thus felt betrayed and humiliated, and thus they came together for the first time. As Goldberg explained decades later, “Groups that would shout at each other from card tables at Bancroft and Telegraph were suddenly potential allies. Only the University administration could have accomplished that” Goldberg, J. 2002, 107). After a debate lasting for hours, Goldberg stepped into the leadership partly because, although on the left, she had a reputation for being able to build consensus. It didn’t hurt that she belonged to a sorority, albeit one of the few that allowed Jewish members (Goldberg, J., 2002, 107-8).
Goldberg had many advantages as a leader in the earliest phase of the crisis. She’d completed three years at Berkeley, knew the students in the other organizations, and had a firm base of support. Moreover, she knew and was known by people in the administration. Just the year before, she and Dean Towle had crafted a successful strategy for convincing the sororities to sign a pledge promising not to discriminate on racial or religious grounds. She was able to reach the dean by telephone on the afternoon of the announcement, learning that Towle was personally opposed to the ban but had been outvoted and believed the decision was irreversible. Over the next few weeks under Goldberg’s leadership, the students sent a petition to the administration, which was ignored, and then took increasingly defiant and confrontational actions, setting up tables deeper into campus territory, collecting hundreds of names on further petitions, and arriving at deans’ offices with large delegations of students demanding free speech, but the administration remained obstinate (Cohen, 84-5). Goldberg, soon accompanied by Savio and others, continued to parley with Towle, but the dean produced only a weak concession: putting the tables back but still not allowing political advocacy (Cohen, 106-7). Rejecting the offer, the student leaders decided they should only speak to the highest administration officials, Chancellor Strong and President Kerr (Cohen, 109-10).
As the rallies and public displays of defiance progressed, Savio’s extraordinary talents as an orator emerged, and he became the de facto spokesperson and charismatic leader of the movement, eclipsing Goldberg. Thus, by October 1, when the administration committed the outrage of calling the police to arrest Jack Weinberg, leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter, for setting up a table in front of Sproul Hall, the center of power inside the FSM seems to have been already shifting away from Goldberg. It continued to shift as the administration kept blundering; calling the police onto campus undercut the administration’s claim to be protecting the university from outside interference and handed the more militant members of the FSM, who had the greatest contempt for the administration, a public relations victory. The spontaneous sit-in of over a thousand students, forming around the police car and keeping it immobile for two days, was a turning point for the movement. The roof of the car was the platform from which the students exercised their first-amendment rights and articulated their demands. Savio served as the master of ceremonies, and the central aim of the movement became the abolition of all special UC regulations on political speech and activity, rather than just the restoration of the status quo ante.
In many ways, Jackie Goldberg’s ideas and tactics evolved along with those of the majority. For example, several hours into that action, she and Savio took a large contingent—around 500 students—into Sproul Hall. When Goldberg made her way to Towle’s office, and the police threatened to arrest her, she declared that if she couldn’t get into the Dean’s office, then no one would be allowed to get out. The students following her promptly sat down; it was thus under Goldberg’s leadership that the first Sproul Hall sit-in took place. The stalemate over the dean’s office was broken that evening when a group of faculty members promised to press Clark Kerr to negotiate; in exchange the students left the building and returned to the sit-in surrounding the police car, which continued through the night, the next day, and into the night of October 2, when hundreds of policemen assembled on campus in a threatening show of force (Cohen, 106-7).
Thus, while the student negotiators from the united front were negotiating with Kerr, there was real danger of violence against the demonstrators, which evoked very different responses from the two leaders. It made Goldberg anxious to reach a deal; a polite negotiator, she took a more conciliatory tone in the talks with the UC president than did Savio, who later described himself as belligerent (Cohen, 2009, 112). Kerr widened the gap between the two leaders by talking mainly to Goldberg and calling her by her first name; she was, after all, still the official spokesperson. Savio, on the other hand, contemptuously issued demands and at first would brook no compromise, even though the university’s position had obviously softened since the day before, when they refused to negotiate. Largely through Goldberg’s efforts, a pact was finally reached to end the immediate crisis: the university would try to deed the free speech zone to the city, the other issues in dispute would be referred to university committees, allowing the continuation of negotiations, and no charges would be brought against Weinstein. In return, the students would peacefully disperse, and the police would leave campus. Although Savio helped disperse the students later that night, he always privately believed that the “Pact of October 2nd” was a sell-out, for which he blamed Jackie Goldberg.
The pact did, however, bring the students time to reorganize, recruit, and officially turn themselves into the Free Speech Movement; the reorganization, however, gave Savio the opportunity to “purge” Goldberg (Goldberg, J., 2002, 109). The new organization kept the united front in the form of a large executive committee, but it concentrated the leadership in a much smaller executive committee of nine people. When it came time to select that group, Savio argued vehemently against Goldberg on the grounds that she had been too conciliatory as a negotiator. Although not immediately dropped, she found herself consigned to the second tier of leadership within weeks. She stayed active on the Executive Committee and later described the hard work involved: “We were able to write, publish, and distribute ten to twenty thousand leaflets within hours. We communicated regularly with the press, with other campuses, with elected officials, and with an enormous Berkeley campus. We fed people at mass rallies and at long meetings. We were able to speak to living groups, apartment dwellers, and commuters at a variety of venues” (Goldberg, J., 2002, 109). At the final, climactic crisis of the movement in early December, after negotiations had broken down and the university had made further blunders, she was one of those arrested in the second occupation of Sproul Hall. But she was no longer in the inner circle or on the negotiating team.
Jackie Goldberg’s sidelining was emblematic of the shift away from UC’s old-guard student leadership and toward the new-left activists. The old guard, based in the campus culture of approved living groups and sometimes cozy with the administration, was viewed with suspicion by the new-left leaders, who were based in Berkeley’s “second culture” and connected with community activists (Cohen, 2009, 124-6; Stadtman, 430-31). Before the FSM, the distinction was evident even inside leftwing student organizations like SLATE, where it also seemed aligned with a gender divide. According to Goldberg, more militant SLATE members routinely used “the old apartment dwellers tactic” of dragging out debate over particularly controversial proposals “until the women in the dorms and other living groups had to go home for curfew” before votes were taken (Goldberg, 106). SLATE women living inside the paternalistic university rules were assumed to be moderates who would vote against radical motions, and their more militant peers used the university regulations to marginalize them. To be sure, not all apartment dwellers were male just as not all SLATE moderates were women, but the stereotypes of the hardline radical man and the flexible moderate female informed the way the students perceived each other. Thus, the gendered assumption that had given Goldberg the leadership in the first place (that she wouldn’t be too militant because she lived inside the campus women’s culture) probably also stoked Savio’s distrust.
Robert Cohen, Savio’s biographer, describes the episode’s consequences for women in the movement: “While not explicitly sexist, the displacing of Goldberg by Savio . . . was a setback for gender equity.” The movement, he explains, had other prominent women in its leadership, but it was undoubtedly “male-dominated—so much so that . . . women had difficulty making themselves heard in FSM Executive Committee Meetings” (Cohen, 2009, 448, N.17). Suzanne Goldberg (no relation to Jackie), the first graduate-student delegate to the FSM and a member of the Steering Committee (who would later become Savio’s wife), recalled “Frequently I would state a position in meetings that would be ignored, only to be restated later by Jack Weinberg or Mario. Then they would be taken seriously. Yes, sexism existed in the FSM” (Goldberg, S. 559). Even Bettina Aptheker, at the top of the FSM hierarchy, recalled that Savio often had to intervene on her behalf before she could get the floor at meetings (Cohen, 2009, 558).
In the next phase of the semester-long battle, when the leadership began negotiating with members of the administration and faculty as agreed in the Pact of October 2nd, the earlier gender pattern began to be repeated between Savio, who was impatient and rude, and the primary woman leader, now Bettina Aptheker, who was calm and polite. Kenneth Stampp, a professor of History, described the contrast: “Savio was always sitting on the edge of his chair . . . ready to jump up and leave if things didn’t go his way,” though “he never did go actually” Aptheker “got along best with the committee” and even “sort of apologized for Savio’s behavior” (quoted in Cohen, 2009, 140-141). Stampp attributed the difference to Aptheker’s upbringing in an old-left family, where she’d been taught political discipline. The daughter of a well-known Communist Party leader, she was certainly used to the political hotseat, and her family’s old-left brand was at that point dedicated to coalition politics and taking the long view of social progress. Savio, on the other hand, was a newcomer to politics, and (again quoting Stampp) an “undisciplined free spirit” (Cohen, 2009, 141).
The contrast no doubt partly stemmed from the difference between old-left training and new-left spontaneity, but it’s also highly probable that both Aptheker and Goldberg played the conciliatory roles in the negotiations because they’d been raised female and had been expected to develop emotional understanding and tamp down personal confrontations. Moreover, Aptheker’s politics had no angry edge of generational rebellion; her activism was instead a family inheritance. The women’s political roles were thus in some ways stereotypically female, but they were nonetheless effective; they made negotiations possible, which then allowed the FSM to elaborate and articulate its position. If Jackie Goldberg’s accomplishments went unappreciated because she was suspected of trying to make a dishonorable peace, Aptheker’s influence has also often been undervalued, partly because the progress made in the negotiations was not enough to settle the dispute. The administration’s position did soften during the talks, and it made a proposal that seemed promising to some observers: the students would be allowed to advocate on campus as long as they did not promote illegal activities (i.e., civil disobedience). That limitation was unacceptable to the FSM’s leadership, but the administration had retreated a step from its original ban on all political advocacy by the time the negotiations broke down.
When the committee disbanded, Aptheker cautioned the FSM steering committee not to resume direct action immediately, explaining that they shouldn’t appear to be acting without sufficient proximate cause. She proved right when an attempted sit-in failed because the momentum had flagged. After the aborted sit-in, she again advised that they wait and watch for some new blunder by the administration, which she thought might come soon and serve as a justification for more demonstrations. Within a week she was proved right again when the deans attempted to submit four students, including Jackie Goldberg and Mario Savio, to new disciplinary action. The arbitrariness and spitefulness of the punishment brought the FSM hundreds of new adherents, attracted many faculty members to their side, and drew a crowd of six thousand to a Sproul Plaza rally on December 2, which ended in the arrest of hundreds. It was one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in American history and made national headlines; the vindictive roughness of the police was especially noted in the press. Even Aptheker couldn’t have imagined how well her strategy would work.
To top it all off, a week later, when President Kerr suspended classes and held a massive meeting in the Greek Theater to address the crisis, it was Aptheker who heightened the appeal of Savio’s dramatic attempt to speak to the crowd. He had suggested leaping up onto the platform at the end of the meeting (with a supporter to run interference) and grabbing the microphone, but Aptheker explained that such a sudden action would look so aggressive that it might lose them the sympathy they’d been gaining. She suggested he walk slowly and peacefully toward the platform and let his supporters in the crowd call for him to take the podium, which he did. But before he could speak, two policemen attacked and dragged him away. Fifteen thousand people watched the unprovoked assault on a man peacefully approaching the microphone while reporters from all over the country snapped photos. No more graphic enactment of the suppression of free speech could have been devised. The crowd reacted with loud boos, chants, and a furious rush of students onto the stage. Kerr, who was too shocked even to begin taming the chaos, retreated. Ten thousand people then marched to Sproul Plaza to hold yet another rally (Cohen, 2009, 212-13). The performance was Savio’s but the choreography was Aptheker’s.
In the wake of those events, the Academic Senate met and voted 824-115 that “the content of speech or advocacy should not be restricted by the University” (quoted in Cohen, 2009, 215). The vote was such a decisive faculty endorsement of the FSM’s position that the administration could no longer oppose it, and UC Berkeley became a campus where political speech in public spaces was regulated only by the first amendment of the US Constitution. As Robert Cohen notes in a recent essay posted on this website, the numerous key roles played by women in the FSM have not been fully understood and appreciated partly because writers prefer to tell the story from the standpoint of the heroic protagonist, Savio (Cohen, 2021). Cohen’s article is a concise guide to the most visible women FSM leaders. It helps us not only to understand Berkeley women’s history but also to see the gendered dialectic inside the student movement that changed Berkeley fundamentally. The success of the semester-long campaign—especially the sympathy it eventually won from the faculty—relied on patient negotiations and open dialogue as well as confrontations and mass mobilizations.
Phase III: After the FSM
After the success of the FSM, students by no means let up on their criticism of the university and their demands for change. The university had not, after all, entirely given up its restrictions on the behavior students, especially women students, and new campaigns were yet to be mounted on that issue. After the FSM, activist students’ views of the university became even more censorious than they had been before, the problems they saw were more various, and the solutions they proposed ran the gamut from the relatively attainable to the impossible. This section will trace the trajectories of three kinds of student activism, with special relevance to women, that dominated the second half of the sixties.
Gender in the Anti-War Movement
Women had been leaders in the peace and disarmament movements during the early sixties. Women’s Strike for Peace, the largest national women’s peace organization, held marches, fielded political candidates, and lobbied incessantly for the nuclear test-ban treaty that was finally passed in 1963. Campus Women for Peace was affiliated with the national organization, and its most prominent member, Jackie Goldberg, was a leader in the FSM. The threatened war that mobilized women’s organizations in the early sixties, though, was a future nuclear conflagration that might annihilate everyone on the planet. It didn’t seem to menace men more than women; in fact, its indiscriminate carnage put nuclear war at the apex of murderousness against civilians. It would massacre men, women, and children indifferently, doing away with the distinctions between warriors and civilians, fighting front and home front. It’s little wonder, then, that so many women joined the cause of nuclear disarmament, which accorded with their traditional roles as peacemakers and protectors of their families’ futures.
But as the campus peace movement transformed into the anti-Vietnam war movement, its gender markings changed. The issue of how best to protect American civilians was sidelined as activists confronted the realities of a present-tense war, with a growing daily toll of casualties among American men and Vietnamese civilians. Young men, both soldiers and draftees, were the most centrally concerned Americans, and perhaps inevitably the movement came to revolve around them. To be sure, the older women’s peace organizations did not disappear; indeed, they were often highly effective. A former draftee recalled being set upon by a crowd of middle-aged women at the Oakland induction center in 1968:
One woman with her dead son’s picture around her neck grabbed my ankles as I went up the steps and begged me not to give my life for the evil war. “Go to Canada,” she urged. . . The five minutes or so in that crowd seemed like a lifetime. More thought was prompted in my young mind than ever before. (May)
The mothers of soldiers and draft-aged men adjusted and found new rhetorical footholds in the movement, but college-aged women found it harder do define a role.
The first mammoth anti-Vietnam war event at Berkeley—a marathon teach-in—was held on May 21-22, 1965, toward the end of the academic year that had started with the FSM. It took place outdoors and lasted an entire week-end, featured dozens of entertainers and speakers, and attracted audiences of up to 15 thousand. The coalition of student and ad-hoc faculty organizations that organized it had asked for a large chunk of campus property—the site of the future lower Sproul Plaza, then a softball field—for the weekend-long event, and the university easily granted permission (Rorabaugh, 91-2). Thus, the difference made by the FSM in creating an open campus was vividly demonstrated. However, there were no women among the forty speakers, and neither the women of the FSM nor those of the earlier peace movement seem to have been leaders in the planning (Aptheker, 180). Jackie Goldberg recalled the rapt attention of the thousands of undergraduates in attendance, and she mentions having been a “marshal”, but she doesn’t indicate that she played a major role in the organizing (Goldberg, J., 1999).
Nor did women become prominent after the teach-in. Although present in large numbers at all anti-war demonstrations and meetings, they didn’t establish themselves as leaders. One reason for their low profile might have been the tactics of the male leadership that came to be dominant for a few years in Berkeley. The Vietnam Day Committee, founded during the teach-in by Jerry Rubin (recently arrived from New York) and mathematics professor Stephen Smale, organized off-campus demonstrations and civil disobedience to disrupt the war effort: attempting to stop troop trains and obstructing the entrance to the Oakland induction center. As the war escalated, their activities became riskier and more provocative in attempts to attract as much press coverage as possible, and some women objected to their departures from the nonviolent standards of earlier movements. Bettina Aptheker, for example, recalled a 1966 episode in which the VDC leaders had refused to ask the Berkeley police for a street demonstration permit, even though their past requests had been routinely granted, purposely inviting police violence. The police came down heavily on a Berkeley high school student:
Thin, red-haired, and freckled, he was bleeding profusely from a head wound. We carried him into a nearby bookstore. Someone called an ambulance. . .. This experience moved me greatly. I knew the violence was unnecessary. Both weary and wary of Jerry Rubin’s tactics to provide the media with an “event”, I drifted away from the campus antiwar protests. Instead, I put my energies into building the national mobilizations against the war” (Aptheker, 193).
Aptheker went on to help found the national Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, which successfully coordinated annual student strikes against the war.
The participation of women was also played down by the local newspapers and some local authorities. The press sought sensational confrontations, and conservative politicians, especially in Oakland, were eager to depict anti-war activists as riotous draft-dodgers, so they focused on the most militant men and ignored women activists. On one occasion, even campus authorities fell into the pattern. In October of 1966, when the VDC protested the war effort on campus by surrounding a navy recruiting table with an impromptu sit-in, the administration asked the police to arrest just six well-known activists, all male and mostly not students. Karen Lieberman Wald, a leader of the Students for a Democratic Society who had been among the action’s planners, shouted at the departing police, “You ****ing male supremacists, arrest me, too! (Rorabaugh, 109). The outburst expresses the frustration many women probably felt in being considered too insignificant for detention.
Historian W. J. Rorabaugh notes that the macho self-presentation of the militant anti-war activists might also have arisen from their need to counter the accusation of cowardice attached to their refusal of military service. As their tactics became increasingly confrontational and they battled the police more frequently, however, they lost UC student followers of both sexes; by the fall of 1967, when a week-long succession of sit-ins to stop the draft at the Oakland induction center ended in a riot, there were only 15 Cal students among the 317 arrested (Rorabugh, 117-118). For different reasons, the more moderate campus anti-war protestors also focused on male students, especially when changes to the draft law threatened many with the loss of their student deferments. In the spring of 1968, a new group called Campus Draft Opposition held a “Vietnam Commencement” ceremony in lower Sproul Plaza, where 866 graduating seniors, one third of the men in the class, pledged not to allow themselves to be drafted into the war. A crowd of some 8,000 spectators attended, so the all-male ceremony was the largest anti-war event on campus since the 1965 teach-in.
A convergence of various circumstances thus gendered the anti-war movement male, and many women who were active in the cause were relegated to subordinate status. As historians have noted, women who experienced such marginalization eventually felt the need to form organizations that would focus specifically on the problems they faced. Alumna and FSM veteran Jo Freeman, for example, organized a women’s caucus at the 1967 National Conference for a New Politics (held in Chicago), the group that launched the California Peace and Freedom Party. When the caucus members attempted to present their ideas on the last day of the conference, though, they were prevented by the chairman, who exclaimed, “We have more important issues to talk about here than women’s problems!” Freeman responded by founding the first feminist newsletter of the sixties, Voice of the Women's Liberation Movement (Hall, 58-62). In 1967-68, according to Freeman, clusters of women who were active in New Left causes began forming women’s liberation groups in reaction to the sexism of their male peers (Freeman, 1973, 801-2).
Sexual Liberation After the FSM
It’s often said that the FSM ended the in loco parentis rationale for the university’s regulation of student political behavior. However, when it came to other arguably parental functions—providing health services, counseling, and advising—the students in the late sixties asked for more, not less, university involvement. Even the majority lived off campus, they pressed the administration to increase the resources that went into undergraduate services. Post-FSM students seemed to want slightly incompatible things: that the university 1) stop interfering in their lives, and 2) start helping to solve more of their problems. In some cases, like academic counseling and advising, the university easily agreed to augment its efforts; in others, though, it resisted student demands, and those became new areas of student activism.
Both sides of the new student activism are apparent in a campaign for sexual liberation that began shortly after the FSM and ran parallel to the efforts to end women’s dormitory restrictions. The issue of student sexuality was an obvious subtext in the dormitory agitations, but it was discreetly blended into the general call for personal autonomy. Emboldened by the FSM’s success, though, a far more explicit campaign for sexual liberation, often overlooked by historians of the period, began with the founding of the Campus Sexual Freedom Forum in 1965. It lasted only a few years, but the CSFF was the first campus organization anywhere to formulate the principle that the university should make all forms of contraception, including the Pill, available to its students. As historian Kelly Morrow has shown, they were the first of the country’s “’sexual liberation activists’ who offered students a new framework for understanding their sexual and emotional relationships grounded in the principle of equality” (Morrow, iii). Their ideas were later taken up by coalitions of students and physicians at universities across the country. Berkeley’s Sexual Freedom Forum thus took an initial step toward a demand that would become central to the women’s movement: the concept of reproductive rights.
The CSFF’s most general purposes were to break the taboo on discussing sex in public and to educate students on all aspects of sexuality. It sponsored panels and set up a table for the distribution of information “to help combat the widespread ignorance on homosexuality, VD and its prevention, abortion, birth control, sex laws, etc., caused by cultural taboos [on] these subjects, and to give people the information to make intelligent decisions” (quoted in Morrow, 85).
It invited openly gay and lesbian activists to speak on campus, including Berkeley alumnae Del Martin (’43) and Phyllis Lyon (’46), who decades later became the first same-sex couple to marry legally in California. When CSSF invited them to speak on campus, they were the leaders of the Bay Area’s first lesbian organization, Daughters of Bilitis (Gordon).
Although the CSFF was by no means an exclusively women’s group, one of its most active members, Holly Tannen, maintained that sexual education and liberation were especially crucial for the emancipation of women:
We were working to build a society in which individuals would feel free to engage in open, honest relationships with each other. More inhibiting than outside pressure is the inside pressure: feelings of guilt and shame; an internalized double standard whereby any woman who’ll have sex with you is a whore, therefore an object, thus not worthy of respect as a human being (Tannen, quoted in Morrow, 86).