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Bird (Rose) Papers
BANC MSS 2016/237  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Accruals
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • System of Arrangement
  • Processing Information
  • Content Description
  • Conditions Governing Use

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: The Bancroft Library
    Title: Rose Bird papers, 1930-1999
    creator: Bird, Rose Elizabeth
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 2016/237
    Physical Description: 27 linear feet (22 cartons, 2 boxes, 2 oversize boxes, 1 oversize folder)
    Date (inclusive): circa 1930-1999
    Date (bulk): 1959-1996
    Abstract: This collection contains the papers of Rose Elizabeth Bird, the 25th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California (1977-1987) and first female justice, attorney, writer, educator, political commentator and humanitarian. The papers document Bird’s personal life and professional career primarily from the time she moved to California to attend University of California, Berkeley in 1959 through shortly before her passing from complications of breast cancer in 1999.
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Collection is open for research.


    No future additions are expected.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Rose Bird's papers were gifted to The Bancroft Library by Bird's friend and colleague Raj Chabra in 2016.


    Rose Elizabeth Bird was the 25th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, first female justice and first female Chief Justice (1977-1987). Bird was also California’s only chief justice to be removed from office by voters, after multiple attempts to unseat her by opponents were ultimately successful in the 1986 California recall election.
    Born outside of Tucson, Arizona on November 2, 1936 to Harry Dalton Bird and Anne Walsh Bird, Rose Elizabeth Bird was raised on a chicken ranch near the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation (then called the Papago Indian Reservation) along with her two older brothers, Jack and Philip. Having been born into a family of few means toward the end of the Depression and on the eve of President Franklin Roosevelt’s overwhelming re-election victory greatly affected Bird. She wrote about her birth, “My mother was pleased not only at the outcome but also at the fact that this was the birth of her first (and as it turned out, only) daughter.” When Roosevelt died in 1945 shortly before the war ended, Bird recalled some of her earliest memories as being the reactions of sadness and fear of an uncertain future exhibited by family, friends and teachers in her life.
    Harry Bird was born in New Jersey in 1873 to English immigrants and worked as a traveling salesman until the 1929 stock market crash caused him to lose his career and savings. Anne Walsh Bird was born in New York around 1903 and worked as a teacher before marrying Harry around 1930 in New York City. Harry's marriage to Anne was his second, as he had been married since age 21 with five children. The Birds moved to Arizona shortly after their marriage and Harry turned his attention to farming while Anne worked as a laundress and at other odd jobs while raising their three children. At the onset of World War II, Anne Bird was one of the first women hired at Davis Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson. By that time, Anne was unhappy with the marriage to Harry and left him for good one day while he was off at work, moving herself and the children across town. Rose never saw her father again, although he lived until 1953.
    With the loss of her job at the base once the war ended, Anne struggled to find comparable work and eventually moved the family across the country to her home state of New York in 1950. The Birds resided in Sherburne, in upstate New York, and Sea Cliff, in Long Island, New York, where Rose Bird concentrated on her high school studies and received scholarships to attend Long Island University. As an undergraduate Bird at first chose a career in journalism, and majored in English graduating magna cum laude in 1958. For about a year, Bird worked as a secretary at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in New York to save money for graduate school. She then decided to move to Berkeley, California in 1959 to focus on a political science degree at University of California, Berkeley in the hopes of entering a career in public service.
    After studying political science at Berkeley for two years, Bird entered the university's Boalt Hall School of Law and graduated with a J.D. in 1965, one of only eight women graduates in a class of over 200 students. While at Berkeley, Bird worked as a research assistant and teaching assistant and received a Ford Foundation Fellowship grant for 1960-1961. On the Ford grant she was selected to intern as a legislative assistant with state lawmaker Gordon Winton in the California State Assembly. In 1965, Bird became the first woman to clerk for the Chief Justice of the Nevada State Supreme Court and the following year, she became the first woman to serve as Deputy Public Defender for the County of Santa Clara, California. From 1972 to 1974, Bird taught at Stanford University Law School, one of the first women to do so. Bird conducted clinical courses in criminal and consumer law, some in conjunction with notable clinical law educator, Anthony Amsterdam.
    While studying at University of California, Berkeley, Bird became acquainted with future California governor Jerry Brown and when he won the democratic primary for the gubernatorial race in 1974, Bird volunteered to help. By the summer of 1974, Bird had left the Santa Clara County Public Defender's office and began what was to be a short-lived career in private practice in the offices of San Mateo attorney Joseph W. Cotchett. Bird quickly became an asset to Brown's campaign organization and upon winning the election, Governor Brown appointed Bird as the first female Secretary of Agriculture and Services Agency for the State of California. She served in this role from 1975-1976 advocating for expanding the rights of consumers, labor and migrant worker rights. Notably, under Bird's leadership in 1975 the short-handled hoe (El Cortito) was banned for use in California's agricultural industry, thereby creating better physical working conditions for farm laborers. Bird also served as temporary director of the Department of Commerce during 1975.
    Governor Brown nominated Bird as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California in 1977, a controversial move at the time since Bird was a woman who didn’t have the typical expected professional experience leading up to this position. After a period of often contentious confirmation hearings, Bird was invested on March 26, 1977 and served as Chief Justice until January 5, 1987, suffering defeat following a brutal recall election campaign in November 1986. During Bird's term as Chief Justice she sought to bring greater efficiency to the administration of the court through implementation of improved operating procedures and work flows and current computer technology. Her papers reflect not only her abilities as an adept and accomplished attorney and judge, and as a prolific and humorous writer, but also her capacity to inspire loyalty and respect from staff and colleagues.
    After serving as Chief Justice, Bird wrote newspaper commentary and articles, co-authored a book on constitutional law, presented speeches, and made appearances as a political commentator. Bird also taught law at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and University of Sydney in Australia during the early 1990s, and volunteered in her community at both legal and non-legal related charities helping underserved populations and animals in need. Since 1976, Bird suffered several bouts with breast cancer and she died from complications from that disease at Stanford Medical Center in Stanford, California on December 4, 1999.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Rose Bird papers, BANC MSS 2016/237, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    System of Arrangement

    Arranged to the folder level.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Lisa Marie Monhoff in 2018.

    Content Description

    This collection contains the papers of Rose Elizabeth Bird, the 25th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California (1977-1987) and first female justice, attorney, writer, educator, political commentator and humanitarian. The papers document Bird’s personal life and professional career primarily from the time she moved to California to attend University of California, Berkeley in 1959 through shortly before her passing from complications of breast cancer in 1999. Contains correspondence, biographical materials, research, writings, speeches, Supreme Court of California administrative files, legal opinions, gubernatorial campaign documentation, teaching materials, editorial cartoons (about Bird), clippings and periodicals, photographs and audio visual materials. Personal materials are mostly limited to correspondence (primarily with Anne Walsh Bird), high school yearbooks, interviews, autobiographical writings and photographs.
    Bird's papers were in a state of some disarray upon receipt and had been subject to the elements. Consequently, preservation measures were taken to clean up the collection and remove problematic materials, while maintaining original order, binder and file titles. Researchers may need to look in various series as there is some overlap in materials.

    Conditions Governing Use

    Some materials in these collections may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). In addition, the reproduction of some materials may be restricted by terms of University of California gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and publicity rights, licensing and trademarks. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user. All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley 94720-6000. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Bird, Rose Elizabeth
    Brown, Jerry
    University of California, Berkeley. School of Law
    California. Supreme Court
    Women judges -- United States
    California--Politics and government--1951-
    Audio recordings
    Video recordings