150 Years of Women in the English Department

150 Years of Women at the Berkeley English Department

2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Regents’ Resolution that “young ladies be admitted into the University on equal terms in all respects with young men.” The resolution was passed just two years after the university’s founding, and English has proved to be a popular major among women in every generation.

The English Department has been the home of many of the university’s most acclaimed women: in 1905, the first female faculty member (Lucy Sprague) was appointed in English, and in 2017, a member of the English Department faculty (Carol Christ) became the first female Chancellor. As a part of the campus-wide celebration of 150 years of Women at Berkeley, this page will profile individual English Department students, alumnae, and faculty. We will begin with profiles written by undergraduate researchers, which feature both past and present people. The student researchers chose some who are already famous and others who can help us retrieve fascinating but forgotten chapters of English Department history.

We’ll be adding to this list as the year progresses, so check back for more on Berkeley English women.

Josephine Miles: Poet and First Tenured Professor in English

Josephine Miles

By Emma Campbell, Kahyun Koh, and Anya Vertanessian

Born in Chicago on June 11th, 1911, Josephine Miles was an acclaimed poet, professor, literary critic, and a vital part of the Berkeley community. In 1947, she became the first...

Read More

Forgotten Chapters of Department History: #2 Professor Dorothee Finkelstein

by Natalie Stone

Although adversity is often considered a routine condition of human life, rarely does it forge an academic and personal strength as resolute as that of Professor Dorothee Finkelstein, the second woman to be tenured in the English...

Read More

Alumna and writer Kim Chernin remembers Dorothee Finkelstein

by Kim Chernin

The perennial question about memory: how much should we trust it? I’ve been asked to write about my favorite English teacher at Berkeley in the early 1960s, but after fifty-six years I know my memory might play tricks, might even...

Read More

Joan Didion: A Unique Sensibility in a Time of Gender Conformity

By Julia Cunningham

Joan Didion, a writer who first garnered great attention and praise for her literary essays about American subcultures of the 1960s, is one of many acclaimed authors to have started their careers at Berkeley. Sprinkled among...

Read More

Maxine Hong Kingston: The Spearhead of Asian American Studies and Literature

By Lucia Salazar

Maxine Hong Kingston, the critically acclaimed author of The Woman Warrior (1976), China Men (1980), and Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1989), graduated from UC Berkeley with an English degree in 1962 and returned as an English...

Read More

An Interview with Poet and Professor Lyn Hejinian

The Interview

Students Emma Campbell, Kahyun Koh, and Anya Vertanessian asked Lyn Hejinian a series of questions about her career and life in the English Department.

  1. Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in poetry? How would you describe...

Read More

The Zambian-American Perspective: an Interview with Namwali Serpell

By Lucia Salazar and Francesca Hodges

Professor Namwali Serpell’s debut novel, The Old Drift (2019), demonstrates her prowess as a fiction writer. It was an immediate success: a New York Times bestseller and recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize...

Read More

An Interview with Hertha D. Sweet Wong

1. What exactly is the role of associate dean of arts and humanities? How are deans chosen?

Currently, there are two Associate Deans of Arts and Humanities. One focuses on designing innovative undergraduate curriculum. My job includes three main...

Read More

An Interview with Kathleen Donegan

1. What exactly is the role of associate dean of arts and humanities? How are deans chosen?
2. What drew you to the position? Was there something particular you hoped to accomplish?
3. How did you get involved in the administrative side of the...

Read More

An Interview with Susan Schweik

1. What exactly is the role of associate dean of arts and humanities? How are deans chosen?

Associate Deans are selected by the Deans they’ll work with. I was invited by Dean Janet Broughton, and then re-invited to stay by Dean Anthony Cascardi....

Read More