THE HISTORY OF BERKELEY FRIENDS MEETING
compiled by miriam berg
Berkeley Society of Friends, known more familiarly as Berkeley Friends Meeting and to some colloquially as Vine Street Meeting, was formed in 1914 by a group of Friends from other parts of the world. The founding members were Dr. Elizabeth Griscom from New York Monthly Meeting, Edward A. Wright, perhaps an English Friend, Margaret Stanislawsky from Chicago Meeting, Donald Erskine from Sydney Monthly Meeting in Australia, and Hannah Erskine, Donald's daughter-in-law, from Belfast (Lisburn) Meeting in Ireland. Andrew Erskine, Donald's son and Hannah's husband, was also one of the founding group, but was not a member of the Society of Friends, though he was active in the meeting all his life.
Eleanor Vaughn was another of the founding group, but the minutes do not record if or when she was accepted into membership. According to an article written by Elizabeth W. Griscom for the 1930 issue of the Friends Bulletin, the earliest members also included Albert and Lillian A. Smith, who must have been members of another meeting. The group held its first meetings in San Francisco, but in 1915 they began meeting in the Starr King room of the First Unitarian Church at 685 14th Street in Oakland. Consequently they were known then as Oakland Meeting.
The first business meeting was held on 31st day, 12th month, 1916, and at the 1st Month meeting in 1917 Hannah Erskine was chosen as clerk, a position she held repeatedly until 1936 except for a brief period in which Edward Wright served as clerk, and after his sudden death in 1921 another two-year period in which Donald Erskine served as clerk. The minutes do not record exactly when Oakland Meeting became a monthly meeting, but they began accepting members in the fall of 1917, and Charles T. Cox of College Park Meeting (now known as San Jose Meeting) was a frequent visitor during the first years. James Stanislawsky, a son of Margaret, joined in 1918 and worked in Europe with the Friends relief effort. Robert W. Clark, an English Friend, also came in 1918 after working for four years in the internment camps for conscientious objectors
in Great Britain.
Two other early members of Oakland Meeting were William and Anna James, birthright Friends from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting who came sometime in 1919. The Jameses were mainstays of the Meeting for forty years, and helped to found both College Park Quarterly Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting. Howard Brinton and Anna Cox, the daughter of Charles Cox, also began attending in about 1919 after being married under the care of San Jose Meeting. They are first referred to in 1920 as "our Friends the Brintons" and "our lately-married friends." Dan Stanislawsky, another son of Margaret Stanislawsky, became a member in 1919 when he was 16 years old. He passed away in 1997, having joined Berkeley Meeting 78 years before, but having transferred his membership to other meetings during his lifetime, returning to Berkeley Meeting in 1974.
The activities of Oakland Meeting during this period included collecting clothing and food to send to Europe after the First World War, and contacting prisoners in Alcatraz who were conscientious objectors to the war. Bonnie Stanislawsky, Margaret's daughter, who became a member in May, 1918, began the meeting library at the same time and served for many years as the librarian of the meeting. The first list of nominated officers and committees including overseers does not appear in the minutes until 1925. Up until that time Donald Erskine and Hannah Erskine seem to have been the usual visiting committee to call on prospective members, and Dr. Elizabeth Griscom served as treasurer from the beginning of the meeting on and off until 1925, and served as an overseer after that for the rest of her life.
In about 1919 the Unitarian Church decided to use the Starr King room for other purposes, so the group began looking for their own building early in 1920. They met for several months in the home of Andrew and Hannah Erskine at 961 63rd Street in Oakland, but finally relocated to the Athens Hall of the Pacific Building at 16th and Jefferson streets in Oakland. Edward A. Wright had offered to make the down payment on a lot in Oakland but the plan fell through after he passed away in 1921. They eventually found a meeting place in the Oakland YWCA at 1515 Webster Street. Then in the fall of 1922 Robert W. Clark came to the meeting with a proposal to purchase the Methodist Church at the corner of Vine and Walnut streets in Berkeley for $5,500. Funds were raised by Charles Cox and Charles T. Cope on a tour of the Eastern meetings.
The purchase was made in 12th month of 1922, and the first meeting for worship of the now-Berkeley Meeting was held there on February 4, 1923. The first minute-book of the meeting in fact records the business meeting in 1st month, 1923 as the "LAST Monthly Meeting held at the Young Women's Christian Association"!
Elizabeth Griscom, the founding light of the meeting, passed away in 9th month, 1933. Her memorial meeting was held on 28th day, 9th month of that year, and the minutes report that many people spoke of her devotion to the meeting and her love of children. Donald Erskine passed away sometime in the 1930s, but the minutes do not record the date. Robert W. Clark, the discoverer of the Meeting house, passed away on 18th day, 1st month, 1938. Robert and Frances Ellen Starkey (later Fallgatter) became members in 1931. Robert Starkey passed away in 1937, but Frances lived until 1999 when she passed away at Friends House after 68 years of membership.
Throughout the 1920s the meeting was very active, making clothes to be sent to Europe for the relief effort, sponsoring a peace essay contest in Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda public schools, and writing letters against the death penalty and compulsory military training at the University of California at Berkeley. Walter T. Mills served as clerk for a few months in 1925 but then removed to the East Coast, and Hannah Erskine was again reappointed as clerk.
Peter Guldbrandsen served as clerk of the meeting in 1936 and also in 1937. He had come from Denmark Yearly Meeting to Berkeley in 1925 and transferred his membership to Berkeley Meeting in 1928. In 1931 under the inspiration of Howard Brinton a call for a Pacific Coast Association of Friends was sent out to western unprogrammed meetings and the first gathering was held at Berkeley Meeting House in the fall of that year. In 1938 William James became clerk and served until 1945. Virginia and Otto Heck became members in 1941, Russell and Mary Jorgensen joined in 1946, and Edwin and Madeleine Stephenson became associate members in 1949 and full members in 1956. Ellis Jump, a sojourning Friend from Indiana, served as clerk in 1946, and Anna James served as clerk from 1947 to 1952. Allen Longshore served as clerk from 1953 until 1956, followed by Clarence "Ted" Cunningham (1957-1959), Russell Jorgensen (1960-1962), Madeleine Stephenson (1963) and Harriet Schaffran (1964-1965). Martin White was clerk in 1966 and 1967, but moved to Seattle shortly after his term. Madeleine had another turn in 1970-1971, and Virginia Heck was clerk in 1968 and 1969. These were some of the giants of Berkeley Meeting's history.
In 1947 the meeting incorporated under California corporation law as the Berkeley Society of Friends. The title to the building which had been in the name of College Park Association of Friends was transferred to the new corporation. The articles of incorporation required a group of trustees to hold responsibility for the corporation, and for two decades a group of weighty Friends, including William James, Otto Heck, Richard Jay, and others served as the trustees of the Meeting. In 1954 William James, who had kept his birthright membership in Birmingham Monthly Meeting of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and was now clerk of the trustees of the Meeting, formally transferred his membership to Berkeley Meeting, and Anna transferred hers from 4th and Arch Street Meeting in Philadelphia. Hannah Erskine had formally transferred her membership to Berkeley Meeting in 1950.
In 1950 after the second world war the meeting had a strong need for more space for the children's program, and the nursery in the basement of the Meeting House was built in that year. It was paid for largely from the savings of Andrew Erskine, because a fundraising appeal sent to meetings around the country had produced little result. Andrew died in 1961, and Hannah one year later in 1962. Their portraits hang in the library of the Meeting house, a silent tribute to them as founding members of the meeting.
In 1953 the State of California passed a loyalty oath law which required churches to sign a declaration of loyalty to the state and the nation. The meeting refused to sign the declaration, X-ing it out on their church exemption application, and being denied their property tax exemption as a result. Berkeley Meeting paid their taxes but continued to protest the law. 11 other East Bay churches also refused to sign the declaration. The law was ruled unconstitutional in 1957, and was repealed in 1958.
During the 1950s also the Meeting was active in the movement to end discrimination in Berkeley schools, which was finally accomplished by a system of busing children to different schools in about 1963.
In 1959 the meeting had 96 members.
THE MODERN ERA
Richard and Elizabeth Jay had become members in 1949, Orwin and Jennivieve Westwick in 1950, Stella Toogood (now Cope) transferred from Bristol Meeting in England in 1951, Ted and Elizabeth Cunningham, who were charter members of Chicago 57th Street Meeting, transferred to Berkeley in 1953, Clare Millikan joined in 1955, Frederic Balderston, a birthright member of Lansdowne Meeting in Pennsylvania, transferred his membership to Berkeley in 1957, Marshall and Meg Palley became members in 1958, Fran and Cecil Thomas transferred to Berkeley from North Columbus Meeting in 1958, and Robert Beloof transferred from Wichita Meeting in 1959. All of these Friends had been active in Berkeley Meeting long before their transfers.
In 1955 Berkeley Meeting took under its care a worship group held in Walnut Creek called the Contra Costa County worship group, which had Allen Longshore as its overseer. It was finally laid down in 1958.
From about 1955 to 1959 the Sacramento Society of Friends was a preparative meeting under the care of Berkeley Meeting. A meeting for worship had been held there under the guidance of Mabel Pound Adams, a member of Berkeley Meeting, since the early 1930s, but it had been laid down and started anew prior to 1955. In 1959 it received monthly meeting status, and several members of Berkeley Meeting transferred their membership to the new meeting.
After a search over several years for more space for the children's education program, the house at 2153 Vine Street on the property adjoining the Meeting House was purchased in 1958 with the intention of demolishing it along with the Meeting house and erecting a new building with a large meeting room, more space for children's education, off-street parking, and apartments on the second floor for elderly Friends. The Education building was built in 1960 as a preliminary step in this plan, with the design of its being incorporated into the new structure. The plans for this structure still exist.
But in the spring of 1960 Cecil Thomas came to the meeting and urged them to bring a retiring couple named Ralph and Maude Powell from North Columbus Meeting in Ohio. Ralph and Maude moved here in 1961 to live in the building just purchased which was renamed Quaker House, with the understanding that they would live there for the rest of their lives. They acted as caretakers, gracious hosts, and calendar keepers for the meeting. With the passage of the years it became evident that the original plan of tearing down Quaker House and the meeting house was no longer acceptable to the meeting, and the meeting concentrated its resources on bringing those two old buildings up to code so that it could enjoy them for many more years and also keep the Powells living in Quaker House. Seldom has a meeting been so blessed with a resident couple as Berkeley Meeting was with Ralph and Maude Powell.
In about 1966 the meeting felt a call to witness against the Vietnam war, and began holding a vigil in downtown Oakland at 14th and Broadway. This lasted several years, finally being laid down in 1971. The meeting also tried to unite on sending medical aid to North Vietnam, first by seeking a federal license to send it to them legally, and then struggling to unite in sending it illegally. A called meeting for business with a full meeting house was held in 1968 to consider such an action, but was not able to find unity. Funds were send to Canadian Yearly Meeting for that purpose instead.
Another event was the so-called People's Park riot in 1969, when the National Guard was brought into Berkeley to surround the Park, and the meeting organized a 24-hour candlelight vigil around the Park face to face with the Guardsmen. Many Berkeley residents joined meeting members in this vigil. In 1971 there was a proposal before the Berkeley City Council to use police helicopters for surveillance over Berkeley citizens, and the meeting wrote a passionate letter in protest which was presented personally to several of the councilpersons. The measure was defeated, 5-4. The meeting also refused to pay the telephone surtax which was intended to support the Vietnam war.
In 1965 Sandy Turner organized a group of draft counselors from members and attenders of the meeting. For many years the meeting offered draft counseling to high school and college men facing the draft. The ending of the draft in 1978 brought this activity to a close, but there are many of those intrepid counselors still active in the meeting and around Berkeley.
In the early 1970s during monthly meeting consideration of the report of the nominating committee, the question of the membership of the trustees was raised, and the meeting decided to reconstitute the trustees to consist of the principal officers of the meeting, rather than a special semi-permanent group of weighty Friends. The minute specified that "the trustees would have no power to carry out any action other than those assigned to them by the Meeting".
Again in the late 1960s and early 1970s there were several attempts to start a worship group in Oakland or Walnut Creek. Finally in about 1973 meetings began to be held in the home of Larry and Barbara Perry called the South Berkeley Worship Group under the care of Berkeley Meeting. In about 1976 the group asked for preparative meeting status as Strawberry Creek Preparative Meeting, with John Ullman, Patricia Stewart, and John Fitz as overseers. In 1978 the group received monthly meeting status as 12 members of Berkeley Meeting formally became members of Strawberry Creek Meeting instead. It was called a "separation" rather than a "transfer", because at that moment there did not exist another meeting to receive the members. Today Strawberry Creek Meeting thrives as our daughter and now sister meeting.
Ralph Powell died in 1976 after an automobile accident. In 1983 the meeting realized that Maude Powell needed in-home living assistance; she had been helped by her grandson and his wife, but they were returning to China. The meeting started to look for other live-in help to take on the chores that Maude was no longer able to do, either for herself or the Meeting. Before such persons were found, Maude moved to Friends House in Santa Rosa. The meeting then decided to find caretaker-hosts to carry on the work that the Powells had done for so long. Laura Magnani and Eric Moon were the first such caretaker-hosts, and Richard Berryman has been the host-resident since 1992. Maude Powell passed away in 1987, ending an era in Berkeley Meeting's history.
The membership of the meeting was over 190 in the mid-1970s, although many of those members had lost contact with the meeting. Efforts were made to contact distant and missing Friends, and the membership was reduced to about 150. After the separation of Strawberry Creek Meeting, the membership dropped further, and today it is about 125 members. Many members who no longer live in the Bay Area still feel their primary affiliation to be with Berkeley Meeting, and the meeting tries hard to keep in touch with all its distant members. In 1999 the meeting lost 6 members and former members by death in two months: Duane Abrams, Barbara Nelson, Mel Koch, Frances Fallgatter, Frances Thomas, and Sandy Turner, who had withdrawn her membership in about 1995.
In 1972 Patricia Stewart brought a concern for gay rights to the meeting after attending a northern California gay rights conference. This became an ongoing concern of the meeting, and in 1987 the meeting held its first marriage of two persons of the same sex. This action was not taken without laboring long and hard over the matter, which lasted for two and one-half years. Another such marriage was held in 1995, but by this time the meeting had arrived at unity and in 1994 incorporated into its marriage procedures the decision that it would "accept equally and without reference to gender all applications for marriage under its care."
The clerks of the meeting since 1971 included Patricia Stewart (1972-1973), John Fitz (1974-1976), Isaiah Meyer (1977), John Merlin (1978-1979), Anton Nelson (1980-1982), Clare Millikan (1983-1984), and Vanita Blum (1985-1987). In 1988 no clerk could be found, and the ministry and oversight committee carried out the responsibilities, with Robert Jolly, Grace Buzaljko, Alice Chalip, and Connie Jolly each taking a turn. In 1989 Grace Buzaljko and Alice Chalip served as co-clerks. From 1990 to 1992 George Millikan, son of Clare Millikan, was clerk, and Fred Gey served as clerk for the years 1993-1995. Paul Mackinney, son of John Mackinney and Anne Friend, was clerk for the years 1996-1997, and Nancy Salzman (formerly of Sacramento Meeting) served as clerk in 1998 and 1999.
Since then, Catherine Anderson was clerk for two years in 2000 and 2001, and Miriam Berg was clerk for the years 2002 and 2003. Susan Stanley was named clerk in 2004 and again in 2005, and Eric Moon served three years as clerk, from 2006-2007 until 2008-2009.
(Again in the year 2004-2005 the Meeting lost 9 members and former members by death: Ernie Goertzen, member for 36 years, Stella Cope, member for 52 years, John Jory, member for 46 years, Jean Moffett, member since 1995, Otto Heck, member since 1941, Arabella Hufbauer, member since 1970, Mappie Seabury, member since 1969, Peter Trier, on and off since 1982, and Vanita Blum, who had been associated with both Berkeley Meeting and Sacramento Meeting since the 1950s. At Pacific Yearly Meeting in 2005 it was announced that for the first time in its history, Berkeley Meeting was no longer the largest meeting. Santa Cruz Meeting is now the largest by a member or two, and Strawberry Creek Meeting is the third largest.)