Trip in Time: Businesswomen United
At a meeting on the evening of Friday March 16, 1917, women from around the East Bay met at Hotel Oakland to form an organization that would bring camaraderie to business women.
That organization would become the Oakland Business and Professional Women’s Club, one of the oldest in the state.
Gladys Barndollar, Alice Burnell and Helen Powers headed the venture. Barndollar previously presided over the women’s bureau of the Chamber of Commerce.
Just six months before the BPWC formed, the women’s bureau started an “Oakland Label” initiative to encourage products made in Oakland be promoted as such and made distinctive so that money would make its way back into the city. This initiative to sell Oakland was carried on by the BPWC.
Burnell was the club’s first president and the first female court reporter appointed in 1919 in Alameda County Superior Court. She presented a petition signed by several hundred women noting that no woman had ever held the position.
In 1922, Oakland hosted the third annual convention of the California Federation of Business and Professional Women, where noted lawyer and suffragist Gail Laughlin gave a fiery speech calling for the federal government to give women the same legal rights as men.
In addition to boosting economic stability for the city, the club also advocated to protect its beauty and published their own newsletter — the “Business Women’s Herald.”
The club began to outgrow its home in Hotel Oakland and for three years the club’s holding company financed to build a clubhouse at 15th and Webster streets. On July 14, 1924, a parade of business women carrying shovels and banners — some reading “Once women got what they wanted by crying, we of today got it by trying” — marched through Oakland’s business district. Meanwhile, 100 women turned their shovels alongside architects Carl Warnecke and Chester Miller and local business associations. The two-story colonial building still stands at 1608 Webster.
The BPWC’s dreams of women’s equality and a better Oakland live on.
Business Women’s Herald Volumes 1 and 2
Articles from the Oakland Tribune used to research this story
A previously posted photo of the groundbreaking was posted last year
(Note, upon groundbreaking the address was listed as 1550 Webster but is now 1608. It is still the same building. )
Photo by Edward “Doc” Rogers