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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Access Restrictions
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Chronology
  • Chronology
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Stephens Family papers
    Dates: 1896-1952
    Collection number: MS 5
    Collection Size: .25 linear feet (1 box + 1 oversized box)
    Repository: African American Museum & Library at Oakland (Oakland, Calif.)
    Oakland, CA 94612
    Abstract: The Stephens Family Papers consists of photographs and ephemera documenting Stephens Restaurant, Virginia's winning entry in a 1915 newspaper contest, and Virginia Stephens Coker's achievements as a lawyer.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    No access restrictions. Collection is open to the public.

    Access Restrictions

    Materials are for use in-library only, non-circulating.

    Publication Rights

    Permission to publish from the Stephens Family Papers must be obtained from the African American Museum & Library at Oakland.

    Preferred Citation

    Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

    Acquisition Information

    No donor information available. Originally part of the Northern California Center for Afro-American History and Life Collection.

    Biography / Administrative History

    William Stephens was born in 1870 in Accomack County, Virginia. He moved out to California while still a child and attended school in Oakland and San Francisco. After graduation, he completed coursework at Heald College before taking a job with the Southern Pacific Railway in 1886. Beginning as a Sleeping Car Porter, he worked his way up to a clerkship under H.E. Huntington, assistant to the company's President.
    In 1898, Stephens resigned from Southern Pacific and took a position with the Crocker family, traveling with them throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Through these travels, Stephens learned about the hotel and restaurant business. In 1901, he married Pauline Logan of California, a granddaughter of Peter Burnett, the first governor of the State of California. Pauline gave birth to one daughter, Virginia, on April 7, 1903. Due to his daughter's health problems as a young girl, Stephens resigned from his post with the Crockers and began working at an Oakland social club. He moved on from this position in 1915 to manage the Club House at the Hotel Del Monte Golf and Country Club in Monterey County.
    Eventually Stephens opened his own restaurant in Oakland. Known as Stephens' Restaurant, it grew from small quarters into a large establishment seating over 200 people, occupying three locations near Lake Merritt. During the 1920s and 1930s, the restaurant enjoyed great success and was usually filled to capacity. Stephens took great delight in employing African American high school and college students so they could earn money for their education. On source implies that William died in 1932, but this information has not been verified.
    Stephen's daughter, Virginia, won acclaim at the age of fourteen when her name "Jewel City" was selected for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition buildings in a competition sponsored by the San Francisco Call-Post. After receiving a Bachelor of Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1924, she became the first African American woman to receive a law degree from University of California Berkeley's Boalt School of Law in 1929. While at Berkeley, Virginia also helped Ida L. Jackson found Rho Chapter in 1921 and Alpha Nu Omega, a graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. These were among the first Greek sororities for African American women west of the Mississippi.
    Virginia married attorney George Coker (1906-1970). The Cokers helped tutor African American students for the State bar exams. After working in private practice for ten years, Virginia received an appointment as Attorney in the State Office of the Legislature Council in Sacramento in May, 1939. In this capacity, she helped with drafting and amending legislative bills, and worked under four different legislative councils: Fred Wood, Ralph N. Kleps, Angus C. Morrison, and George Murphy. Upon her retirement in 1966, Virginia had attained the position of Deputy of the Indexing Section. Virginia died in Sacramento on February 11, 1986.


    Significant events:


    1870 William Stephens born
    1901 William Stephens marries Pauline Logan
    1903 Virginia Stephens born, April 7
    1915 Virginia's "Jewel City" entry wins San Francisco Call-Post competition for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition
    1921 Virginia helps found Alpha Kappa Alpha Rho Chapter, the first graduate chapter of AKA west of the Mississippi
    1929 Virginia is the first African-American woman to graduate from University of California at Berkeley Boalt School of Law, May 15
    1929 Virginia becomes the African-American woman admitted to the State Bar of California, October
    1986 Virginia dies, February 11

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Stephens Family Papers consist of photographs and ephemera documenting Stephens Restaurant, Virginia's winning entry in a 1915 newspaper contest, and Virginia's achievements as a lawyer. Menus, tape receipts, and photographs from the restaurant provide a glimpse into one of Oakland's busiest establishments. The papers also include a typescript draft of a letter William wrote in 1931 regarding opposition to his purchase of a house in Oakland, an example of unfair housing practices common to the era. Virginia's materials include the letter of congratulations she received upon winning the Panama-Pacific International Exposition naming contest, middle school report cards, her law school graduation announcement, and several State bar membership certificates.


    I. Virginia Stephens Coker II. William Stephens III. Stephens Restaurant

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    African American business enterprises.
    Minority women lawyers.
    Oakland (Calif.)--History.