In the “Early Days”

Accipiter striatus velox collected by Ameila S. Allen

Accipiter striatus velox collected by Ameila S. Allen

I came across three unnamed field notebooks from the same author. I tried searching our database for individuals collecting in the places and years described in the notebooks but that was a dead end. Most of the journal entries took place in and around the UC Berkeley campus. Finally I found my clue. The author entered one line for January 20th, 1916, “Elected Secretary of Cooper Club.”

It just so happens that MVZ’s Staff Curator of Birds, Carla Cicero, had kindly lent me her copy of Harry Swarth’s, The C.O.C. 1893-1928. The volume details the history, personalities, and activities of the Cooper Ornithological Club. My mystery author was found: Amelia S. Allen. The one line entry in her notebook suddenly looked a bit more pronounced and with a certain amount of pride. Swarth’s candid description of Mrs. Allen is worth quoting in full:

Early in the history of the Northern Division one or two women were elected to membership at different times. On rare occasions they attended meetings, but the atmosphere was evidently not congenial and feminine membership at that period did not last long. But times have changed! Mrs. Ameila S. Allen was elected to membership in 1913, and was elected secretary of the Northern Division in 1916. For eight years she remained in this arduous and thankless position, giving such secretarial service as the Northern Division had never had before. No wonder that the termination of this period called for a year of rest abroad! Upon her return in 1925, Mrs. Allen was elected vice-president, and in 1926, president, in recognition of her notable contribution to the Club’s welfare, the first woman to hold such office in either Division. Lady secretaries have since functioned in both Divisions, Mrs. Grinnell in the North, Mrs. Ellis in the South, and the feminine contingent at the meetings has grown to such proportions that the ladies could easily carry all before them if they were organized, and if the far-sighted male members had not created a carefully arranged Board of Governors to transact most of the Club’s business. This ruling body has all the appearance of being a desperate last stand of retreating masculinity.

Ameila S. Allen collecting tag

Ameila S. Allen collecting tag

And so Mrs. Allen had a long and fruitful membership at the Club. She was also a prolific and detailed note taker. The museum holds 12 notebooks written by her. The volume from 1930 contains field notes and a memoir of her remarkable life. An interesting tidbit from her narration is a description of Berkeley in the “early days.”

Shattuck Ave. was the only business street and the steam trains that ran to the mole to connect with the ferries to San Francisco, carried passengers free from Vine St., and the northern trains to Dwight Way – the southern boundary of the city. There were three miles of meadowbanks between Berkeley and Oakland along College Avenue – Piedmont Avenue was the eastern boundary…

She goes on to describe in detail the locations of buildings and other landmarks in Berkeley which are now gone. It paints a landscape that we can only imagine but that we can easily reconstruct through detailed first person accounts such as Mrs. Allen’s. We hope to have her collection processed by the summer.

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