Thursday, March 17, 2011

California Women and Politics

I attended the California Studies dinner last night in Berkeley and was treated to the perfect blend of expertise and conviviality that I associate with these monthly events. Bob Cherny and Mary Ann Irwin discussed their new book, California Women and Politics (University of Nebraska), and as usual, I learned a lot in the most pleasant way possible.

The book, a compilation of essays, covers various aspects of women's activism and political participation from the Gold Rush through the 1920s. But many of the essays focus on the Progressive Era, when California women won the right to vote, and the talk last night paid special attention to the ways women put that right to immediate use. The chapters cover, among other topics, the temperance movement, Phoebe Apperson Hearst's philanthropy, settlement work, environmental activism, women's clubs, and trade unionism.

Bob and Mary Ann's presentations were followed by questions and discussion, and this is where these dinners really stand out. Those on hand last night included Bob's colleagues at San Francisco State, Charles Postel and Bill Issel; host and Berkeley City College historian Chuck Wollenberg; author and Berkeley blogger Frances Dinkelspiel; UC Berkeley historian Mark Brilliant; UC Berkeley oral historian Lisa Rubens; and Jewish historian Ava Kahn. Most have presented their own latest work at these dinners, and just listening to their exchanges is a form of higher education.

Kudos to Matt Bokovoy, this book's editor at the University of Nebraska Press. He originally signed the project during his tenure at the University of Oklahoma Press. When he moved to Nebraska, his successors at Oklahoma wavered in their commitment to the book, and he was able to pick it up again.

Ironically, attending the dinner last night meant that I missed two episodes of Saving the Bay, an excellent documentary (narrated by Robert Redford) on Bay Area history. It includes comments from many regulars at these dinners, including Bob, Chuck, Dick Walker, Malcolm Margolin, and Gray Brechin.

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