Remarkable Prytaneans

An Incomplete List of Past Cal Prytaneans Who Have Left an Imprint on the World


Clara Mortenson Beyer (1892 – 1990)

A Director within the U.S. Department of Labor and part of the “Ladies Brain Trust”, a group of four women who advised Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins during the 1930’s and 1940’s, and shaped labor policies of the New Deal Era including the development of the establishment of worker safety, maximum hours, minimum wages and social security.

Marian Diamond (1926 – 2017)

A pioneering scientist and educator who is considered one of the founders of modern neuroscience. She and her team were the first to publish evidence that the brain changes with experience and improves with enrichment, what is now called neuroplasticity.

Mary Blossom Davidson (1883 – 1968)

Dean of Women at UC Berkeley from 1941 to 1951. Campaigned for university-owned and operated residence halls for both men and women. She oversaw the construction of the first women’s residence halls on campus, including Stern Hall. A UC Berkeley dormitory, Davidson Hall, is named after her.;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&

Mary Chase Freeborn (1889 - 1946)

An advocate for women’s housing, she was a leader in the Associated Charities of Women’s Clubs and YWCA. As President of the Prytanean Alumnae Association, she spearheaded the founding of Ritter Hall, one of the first cooperatives for women undergraduate students. A UC Berkeley dormitory, Freeborn Hall, is named after her.

Eleanor Gates (1875 – 1951)

A novelist, film company founder, and playwright who created seven plays that were staged on Broadway. Her play, The Poor Little Rich Girl, was made into a movie for Mary Pickford in 1917 and Shirley Temple in 1936, and imitated by Andy Warhol in 1965.

Irene Strang Hazard Gerlinger (1876 – 1960)

Fundraiser, Vice-President, and first woman regent (1914 -1929) on the University of Oregon Board of Regents.  She was active in the building and financing of the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, the Women’s Building, Prince Campbell Memorial Art Museum (Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art), women’s dormitories and other buildings on the Oregon campus. Gerlinger Hall was named in her honor.

Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001)

An influential writer who reinvented the form of film criticism. She wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1969 to 1992. She began writing reviews about movies that came to The UC Theater on University Avenue.

Catherine “Kay” Kerr (1911 – 2010) 

Environmentalist whose efforts helped spark the environmental movement in the United States. Co-founded the San Francisco Bay Association in 1961 which eventually became Save the Bay. She also co-founded the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the first coastal protection agency in America. She fought to protect the San Francisco Bay from development and landfill, and to restore wetlands and the estuary.

Herma Kay Hill (1934 – 2017)

The second woman to join Berkeley’s law school’s faculty in 1960, and the first women dean at a major law school. She was Dean of the Law School from 1992 to 2000. She changed the practice of family law by promoting no-fault divorce law in California. Today there is some form of no-fault law in every state.

Marion Janet Harron, (1903 -1972) 

First woman member of the U.S. Court of Tax Appeals (now the Tax Court of the U.S.), served from 1924 until 1960; had many New Deal appointments under President Roosevelt and was a frequent social visitor to the White House; worked on the legal staff of the National Recovery Administration (NRA).

Margaret Mackprang Mackay (1907 – 1968)

Writer of 18 novels, and at least 350 articles, poems and short stories that appeared in leading publications including The New Yorker, Punch, Saturday Evening Post, The Times, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. In the 1930’s and 1940’s she lived in Tianjin (Tientein) and Beijing (Peking), and is known for her creative writing that is set in China.

Sylvia McLaughlin (1916 – 2016)


Pioneer environmentalist and co-founder of Save the Bay--the organization that worked for legislation that stopped raw sewage from being put into the San Francisco Bay and established a landfill moratorium. She inspired other urban preservation projects. A tree-sitter when she was 91 years-old, she protested the removal of oak trees to renovate the UC Memorial Stadium.

Maude Marion Meagher (1895 - 1977)

Writer of four novels, foreign correspondent and actor.  After the first World War, she acted for various companies in the U.S, Germany and England, and traveled throughout France, Algeria and Italy. From 1922 -1933 she reported for the London Sunday Express and the San Francisco Chronicle. She co-founded and published World Youth magazine. In 1947, she co-built the largest secular adobe house in North America (13,000 square feet) and made its sun-dried bricks on-site.

Theresa Meikle (1893 – 1967)


Judge at the San Francisco Superior Court. In 1955, she became the Presiding Judge of that Court, the first women elected to such a position in any major American city. Earlier in 1931, she presided over the San Francisco Women’s Court as Judge, the first time a San Francisco Court had a female judge. The San Francisco Women’s Court began in 1916 to provide “social justice for women.”      

Margaret Elliot Murdock (1894 - 1985)

Played the Campanile bells for sixty years from 1923 until her retirement in 1983. Her bell-ringing entertained President Harding, signaled fire warnings, recognized Lindberg flying over Berkeley, celebrated the World War II armistice, and feted the individual countries founding the United Nations. Resident of the Women’s Faculty Club. The keyboard of the carillon of the Campanile is named after her.;Institution=UC%20Berkeley::Bancroft%20Library;titlesAZ=B;descriptions=show;idT=UCb112315926  (Belle of the Sather Tower Bells: oral history)

Lilian Jeannette Rice (1889 – 1938) 

An eco-conscious, early 20th century American architect working in the California Spanish Colonial Revival style, she was the lead planner in the Rancho Santa Fe development in San Diego County. Eleven of her buildings are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Mary Bennett Ritter (1860 – 1949)

A physician and advocate for women’s rights and public health. When women were largely excluded from medical training and employment, Ritter advocated for women in medical professions, training for nurses, and sanitation standards in hospitals and doctor’s offices. She helped start free clinics for poor women and children.

Nita C. Sheffield (Blain) (1893 - ?)

Promoter of swimming.  She taught at Columbia University, wrote books on how to swim, developed a university teacher training course for swimming instructors, created the world’s first women life-saving corps, and insisted that all New York City high school students pass a swimming test. In 1911, before a crowd of 5000, she was one of the first women to swim across the Golden Gate Strait. She and her sister, Lyba, saved some men from drowning in Lake Merritt.

Carol Bates Rhodes Sibley (1902 - 1986)

Advocate for racial desegregation in education, and volunteer leader in charities and associations. From 1961 – 1971, she served on the Berkeley Board of Education, twice as President, and developed and implemented a policy to desegregate the junior high and elementary schools. Her efforts provoked an attempt to recall her from service in 1964. With her husband, Robert Sibley, she entertained thousands of UC Berkeley students at Allenoke Manor, her house and gardens located near the northern edge of the campus.

Lucy Ward Stebbins (1880 – 1955)

While the Dean of Women at UC Berkeley, enrollment of women increased six-fold. She raised money for scholarships and expanded the curriculum, encouraged women to participate in student government and created housing opportunities, and established schools of Nursing and Social Welfare, and the Departments of Home Economics and Decorative Arts. She founded the Women’s Faculty Club. The Berkeley Student Cooperative Stebbins Hall is named for her.

Abby Louisa Waterman (1869 – 1941) 

Botanist and short story writer who studied the plants of the Mohave Desert. Daughter of a California Governor, she hiked, rode horseback, and camped while gathering specimens. Her fieldnotes are housed in the University and Jepson Herbaria libraries and archives. Willis Jepson dedicated the second volume of Flora of California to her.

Florence Gillette Wessels (1899 – 1971)

Opera singer, Broadway actor, newspaper reporter, and pioneer publicist.  In the Depression, she was the Director of Press Relations for the Milk Fund, a decades-long charity that ensured a safe milk supply in New York City including free milk for schoolchildren. The charity held novel fund-raisers—a rodeo, a parade with 22 elephants and Ziegfeld Follies’ dancers, and a boxing match at Yankee stadium with 63,000 spectators.  Born in South Africa, she sung opera for two years in St. Louis and, in 1918, at the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She acted in several Broadway musicals including George White’s “Scandals.”  She reported for the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Journal American.

Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman (1886 – 1974)

Dominated American women’s tennis before World War I, won 45 U.S. Titles, and founded the Wightman Cup, an annual team competition for British and American women.


Joan Didion Dunne (1934–2021)

When Joan Didion died last December, reports from The New York Times eulogized her as “The Writer of Her Generation” and praised her precise, resonate and story-filled prose. Didion’s popular and acclaimed essays, novels, memoir, film scripts, and a Broadway play are at the core of “New Journalism”—a style that she helped develop in which the writer consciously immerses herself into reportage using imagery and subjectivity. Much of Didion’s corpus excoriates the myth that her home state of California is a golden place of prosperity and opportunity. In the face of a boom and glitter mentality, she insisted that California’s culture is one of agricultural and natural land loss, freeways and crammed suburbs, bust and class stratification, anomie, ennui, anxiety, and a fear of aging. Didion began her career writing for Cal’s literary The Occident and editing a fashion issue of The Daily Californian, preceding positions at Mademoiselle and Vogue. At the peak of her career, the 1956 Cal graduate donated her time to Prytanean Alumnae Inc. and her papers to the Bancroft Library. The film Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold documents her life. She received the National Book Award for Nonfiction, the National Medal of Arts, and a Pulitzer Finalist Prize for Biography.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929–2019)

Ursula Le Guin elevated the genres of science fiction and fantasy into established literary art forms. She wrote more than fifty books of novels, short stories, poetry, essays, and translation. Many of her books sold globally in the millions and appear in at least forty languages. Adaptations of several are in film. Influenced by her childhood reading and her parents, anthropologist Alfred C. Kroeber and writer Theodora Quinn Kroeber, Le Guin created make-believe cultures, geographies, and societies. Reoccurring themes in her internationally popular fantasies are dragons, intra-planetary group conflict, magic, wizards, and Taoist universal forces that both compete with and compliment their opposites. Le Guin is best known for a six-book series beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea published in 1968. That series features a boy who learns to use power and magic by promoting conciliation and sacrifice. Le Guin garnered eight Hugo Awards for the past year’s best science fiction or fantasy, and six Nebula Awards for the best such work published in the U.S. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a “A Living Legend” according to the U.S. Library of Congress, a National Book Foundation Medalist for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and the subject of a documentary in the PBS American Masters Series. The University of Oregon holds her papers.

Edith June Claypole (1870 – 1915)

Immunologist, Pathologist, Physician, Physiologist, Professor. In 1912, she volunteered to be a research assistant at the University of California at Berkeley. Her intention was to help the WWI British and French troops by developing a vaccine for typhoid fever. Constantly exposed to the pathogen, she died from typhoid in 1915. She had developed a method to distinguish between tuberculosis and typhoid, and advanced the research of lung disease. The author of a dozen articles in medical journals, previously she was a Professor of Physiology and the Head of the Department of Zoology at Wellesley College, a hematologist at Cornell University, and a physician in Los Angeles and Pasadena. She investigated the diseases of girls employed on the “Zone” of the Pacific-Panama International Exposition in San Francisco. And she informed Cal women students in club houses and sororities about medicine as a profession. The Edith Claypole Memorial Research Fund encouraged investigation in pathology problems by women physiologists.

Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson Hearst (1842 - 1919)


Benefactor and champion of women students at the University of California. Each semester beginning in 1900, she invited every woman student to her Berkeley house, to enjoy a musical and one other event such as a tea. She was said to be a charming, beautifully dressed, attentive host. In time, she converted her residence into a women’s gymnasium and student center because the Cal campus had no such places. The gym burned down in 1922. Her son, publisher William Randolph Hearst, commissioned the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Memorial Gymnasium that same year so that the women students could gather, play sports and swim on campus. To further benefit women, she funded scholarships and created “Hearst Domestic Industries” through which students could produce an income. She hired physician and Prytanean Society advisor, Mary Bennett Ritter, to improve the health of women students and “instruct on how to use the gym facilities.” In the 1890’s she funded a worldwide competition to produce a building plan for UC land. Her funds helped build thirty UC buildings including The Hearst Memorial Mining Building, the Hearst Hall and the Bancroft Library and its books. In 1901 she founded the campus Museum of Anthropology and filled it with over 60,000 artifacts. She was the first woman Regent of the University of California serving for twenty-two years. Nationally, she funded several libraries and the establishment of the Parent Teachers Association, and contributed to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Mills College, the National Cathedral School, and the YWCA. She funded kindergartens and related teacher training allowing for the first U.S. tuitionfree kindergarten. In 1919 she died from influenza in the pandemic of 1918-1919.

Marguerite Ogden Steele (1888 - 1918)


As a federal lawyer, she was admitted to practice law in the federal courts in 1913, thereby becoming one of two women to have been admitted to practice in the local jurisdiction. She published six articles in the inaugural volume of the California Law Review and was the first woman to practice in the criminal law courts of Alameda County. Earlier she was assistant Dean of Women at the University of California. She was a member of the Oakland Board of Education. She died in 1918, five months after she married, a casualty of the influenza pandemic.

Maude Cleveland Woodworth (1886 – 1970)


Chief of the Home Communications and Casualty Service in Brest, France during WWI. She received the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal for her “self-sacrificing service of the highest character to the American Expeditionary Forces.” At Brest, she cared for the sick and wounded, assisted at night burials, and contacted relatives. There she underwent “supreme exertion” during the pandemic of influenza and pneumonia from September to December 1918. Earlier she was the UC assistant advisor for women and the Class of 1909 where she “did gymnasium,” rowed, and played basketball. In 1910 she was Superintendent for Playgrounds in the City of San Diego. She became a prominent athlete and the first Supervisor of Athletics for Women at Stanford University when women’s sports were first consolidated at that university. As a student at UC Berkeley, she was President of the Prytanean Women Honors Society.