Seventy-five years ago, Thursday, March 23, 1939, was Charter Day, commemorating the founding of the University of California in 1868 by act of the state Legislature.
The principal speech "Is European Democracy Going to Collapse?" was delivered by Jan Masaryk, the former Czechoslovakian diplomat, on behalf of Edvard (sic) Benes, the former president of Czechoslovakia, then living in exile in England.
"I have observed your happiness today and beg you to hold close to the principles of liberty. Don't let them go for a minute!" Masaryk told the capacity crowd in the Greek Theatre.
He traced the development of authoritarian governments in Europe after the World War, and concluded, "I don't deny the many mistakes and failures of European democracy. But I see that a few years of authoritarian regime in many states in Europe are sufficient to prove to an impartial observer that their mistakes and their failures are greater, more dangerous and more fatal for their future and therefore their outlooks today are incomparably worse."
He reassured the audience that, "No, Europe will not collapse. Europe is just now in the new great fight for democracy and freedom, and this fight will finish sooner or later in an inevitable and decisive victory of the principles of the high, free and democratic civilization."
The Berkeley Daily Gazette reported that "Before and after reading his address he received a prolonged ovation from the crowds which overflowed to the hills back of the Greek Theatre."
The university concert band played both the Czech and Slovak national anthems.
UC President Robert Gordon Sproul told the crowd that the university had received nearly $1.5 million in private gifts in the past year, equivalent to about $25 million in 2014 dollars. "We must prepare to play our part as a university in the drama of the years that lie ahead," Sproul said.
Two friends on their way to the Charter Day ceremonies, Mrs. Sigmund Stern and Albert Bender, missed the event because her chauffeur suffered a heart attack on the campus. They took him to Berkeley General Hospital, where he died.
Stern would later give the university the funding for its first women's dormitory, Stern Hall. Bender was an art patron who had helped bring about the creation of the University Art Gallery in the early 1930s.
"Three 15-year-old youths who escaped from the Alameda County Detention Home early yesterday are believed by Berkeley Police to be responsible for breaking into Willard Junior High School and committing a considerable amount of damage last night," the Gazette reported March 21.
The next morning the janitor discovered broken windows, emptied desks, and "ripped lids from ice cream cans" in the school cafeteria.
The joint "Berkeley History Chats" series co-sponsored by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and Berkeley Historical Society is off to a good start. The first lecture, by Daniella Thompson, sold out and so has the second, scheduled for next week. There are still tickets available for the April 8 and April 22 talks.
Norwegian writer Karin Sveen speaks April 8 on her biography of Peder Sather, namesake of iconic structures on the Berkeley campus but otherwise a largely overlooked Gold Rush era banker and promoter of education.
On April 22 Stephen Barton speaks about J. Stitt Wilson, Berkeley's Socialist Party mayor from 1909-11.
I've heard both Sveen and Barton give earlier versions of these talks, and I encourage readers to attend. Both of them have done significant primary research and uncovered considerable forgotten or overlooked information, and have put together fascinating and thoughtful studies that are not only about their biographical subjects but also about the times in which they lived.
Both talks are at 7 p.m. at the Berkeley History Center, in the Veterans Memorial Building, 1931 Center St., and admission is $10.
For more details visit www.berkeleyhistoricalsociety.org/news.html.