Barbara Moskowitz

Barb Moskowitz was born in San Francisco in 1922. Her parents were both native Californians (second generation at that). Her grandfather came to California from Cornwall, England, where his family had all been coal mine carpenters. They transferred their skills to the gold mines, so Barb's father grew up in the gold country. Her maternal grandmother was born in Wisconsin, and came to California in a covered wagon. She married a man, a linotype operator, from Bohemia. Both parents were in the Bay Area during the quake of 1906 -- Barb's mother in San Francisco, and her father at Stanford. Her father, already "sweet" on her mother, rode up to San Francisco on his bike to see how she was. They were married five years later, and Barb was born 11 years after that.


As a child, Barb felt isolated. She feels she was born asking questions, which always got her into trouble and embarrassed her parents. She feels she inheirited this tendency to ask "unpopular" questions from her father, a man who was an inventor. She writes: "My father unconsciously egged me on. He seemed shocked by my questions, but told me stories that encouraged my questions. He invented the Wesix Electric Heater. There are still some of them at Walden. He invented them because Edison was complaining that decent light bulbs kept burning out because thay got so hot the filiments burned out. OK, said my father, forget light. Just find nichrome wire that will give maximum heat-- voila, an electric heater. He studied how air circulates in a room. Fans were noisy, so he designed a ceramic chimney, that would pull cool air from the floor, heat it in the chimney, raise it to the ceiling, an as it cooled, it would fall to the floor, only to be re-heated and re-circulated (check out the kids' bathrooms.)"

"I remember always asking questions about why the world was as it was. In the sixth grade, out Irish Roman Catholic teacher assigned an essay topic: What does "Religion is the opiate of the people" mean? I saw the churches as social places where people ignored social problems -- the poor will always be with us -- God must love the poor because he made so many of htem. Why? It is nasty to have to be poor. I remember a teacher asking a poorly dressed girl why she didn't have socks. The girl lived in a beat-up house right next to Alamo School. The teacher was just one more unacceptable adult, as far as I was concerned."

Barb's father's questions led to patents, and to money. Like him, she attended Stanford University (there was considerable pressure from the family to do so), majoring in journalism. There she began to get involved in exposes and other "muckraking" activities. She felt like she was a fish out of water at Stanford., having come from the San Francisco public school system. She graduated a year early. Normally, Stanford graduates would do a tour of Europe after graduation, but Europe was at war -- it was 1942 -- she only got as far as the East Coast. There, she went to Smith College School of Social Work, where she studied to be a psychiatric social worker. She writes:

"At Smith, I was expected to use psychiatric social work to 'adjust' clients to accept their poverty. I had to drop out after a year (because I couldn't stand that approach)."

The next year Barn lived in new York, and worked putting out a magazine for the Congragational Churches. The following year, she began doing similar work for the Fellowship for Reconciliation (FOR). It was in FOR that she discovered pacifism, and that there were other people besides herself who thought that war was stupid. FOR had been started during World War I by A. J.Muste and others who thought war wasn't the way to go. They were a very anti-communist group, although they were socialist. They were so anti-communist, says Barb, that they couldn't cooperate with other pacifist, who thought the ends justified the means. The believed strongly in face-to-face communication between people as a means of influence, rather than imperiously manipulating people for their own ends. Barb worked with FDR for two years. During this time, she met Alison's and Roger's father, Saul Stevens. There were married in 1947 in New York. He was getting a PhD in psychology, and had found work at a state hospital in Middleton, Connecticut. They were living on the hospital grounds, which was very unsatisfactory to both of them. So, they decided to leave, and in the winter of 1947-48, they moved to California -- driving just ahead of a south-moving blizzard that paralyzed the entire East Coast.

Saul worked for Barb's father's company, and then began teaching retarded children. Barn became very interested in the children she worked with -- she found them to be "perfectly normal, but slower." This added to her notions of education in general, and introduced an element of curiosity about how people learn. She decided that some learn slowly, some quickly -- but the sociability about, the interchange, isn't all that different. (This also led to an idea that teaching "manners" comes about from the way people are treated, and developed into the idea at Walden that respect for the child is of utmost importance -- a five-year-old can have an opinion, but it deserves to be listened to.)

Barb didn't work during this period, but instead helped build a house in San Francisco with her uncle, a carpenter. She found it to be great fun. She learned lots about construction, and after the house was built, in the do-it-yourself spirit of the 50s, she built a potters wheel and a kiln, learned about glazes, and started potting. this attitude of learning and doing, she feels, also carried over into the the developing philosophy of Walden -- if something needs to be done, one can find out how to do it and then teach the children how they can do it.

Barb had Roger in 1950 and Alison in 1952. She stayed home with the children until Roger was two, and then became involved in his nursery school, a parent cooperative, Presidio Hill in San Francisco. As the nursery had to move, and Barb had just built a house, she took on the job of helping with that move -- fundraising, official dealings with building and health inspectors, etc. Once again, she learned much of a practical nature that she could later use when Walden built its buildings.

It was at Presidio Hill's building, renamed Laurel hill Nursery, that she met Audrey and David, who had enrolled Diva there. At this time, Barb realized she wasn't satisfied with the prospects of sending their children to a public school and found in Audrey and David people with similar feelings. Since they had already formed their connection with the Wilchers and McRaes in Berkeley, it seemed a logical extension to invite Barb to be in on the planning of the new school with them. During this planning time, and when Walden first opened, Roger and Alison were in public school, and Barb's decision to pu the children in Walden resulted in a split with Saul, who objected to the whole idea of Walden and favored leaving the children in piblic schools.

Although they still lived in San Francisco, Alison and Roger changed to Walden. After a lear of commuting, Barb bought a house and moved to Berkeley.

Barb had met Moe at a party at Audrey and David's house, and in the fall of 1960 they were married. In 1961, they started the Paperback Book Shop on Shattuck Avenue (just north of University, the present site of a fish and chips restaurant). Barb says of their vision:

"I agreed with Moe that good used books should be bought fairly, priced fairly and made available to students and the public alike. That plan has worked and I am proud of my part in it. Audrey Goodfriend, as a bookkeeper, has certainly played an important role in the management of Moe's Books money. Do anarchists make the best bookkeepers?"

Barb describes the birth of Walden as coming from many meetings and discussions about what they wanted to do. They talked lots and argued lots. They felt it wasn't a good idea to write anything down (although the "Fourth Draft," contained in the Handbooks, somehow survived). so that it couldn't become rigid. They discussed the school with perspective parents face to face rather than creating brochures. (I asked Barb if this was a carryover from her involvement with FOR, and she said it was in part, but also some of the dominant themes of the day involved the existential philosophy of Sartre and Buber, and that Buber's ideas of I-Thou relationships were very important to them then. She described it as the closest to anything "religious" that Walden has been about -- but quickly added that religious terms could not be used for these ideas).

For the purchase of the school site, some of the money came as a donation from Barb's father's foundation, as well as from the sale of some stock that she had. The Wilchers and McRaes provided more money, and, pooled together, they were able to buy three lots on which the school is located. Paul Williams, an East Coast architect and pacifist who had inherited his money from the Winchester Rifle Company -- loaned the money needed to build the buildings. Barb noted that he gave money to lots of organizations and that, to her knowledge, Walden is the only one to ever repay him. Williams drew up the plans; Alan McRae made sure the plans matched Berkeley specifications. The middle group building was built first, followed by the studio, the upper group building, and finally the art room, office and music room.

Barb was never herself a classroom teacher, although she helped with pottery and props for the dramatic presentations. In the years before that art room was built, she set up carpentry, clay work and a printing press in a three-car garage at her home. She also taught printing skills to the children, who learned to print their own books.

Barb feels a great deal of satisfaction from the creation of Walden. The founders envisioned something, and even though people didn't believe they could do it, it happened. She appreciates being able to continue with the Walden ideal in her role on the Foundation and Finance Committee. When she began with the founders, she took it on as a lifetime project, and she is grateful to be able to continue even after her four children have passed through the school. She says that Walden is the kind of place where the more energy one puts into it, the more one gets out of it. She also notes that some things have not changed over the years. She thinks that, essentially, the same type of people choose Walden for their children now as did in the early days. Also, she seen a continuance in the interaction between boys and girls as friends -- "before sex hits tham" -- as strongly now as ever.

Since keeping Walden afloat is one of Barb's important goals, she is also very pleased to have a functioning Finance Committee which she says has taken years to bring about. It has also established a precedent, that people didn't have to be on the Foundation in order to be on a committee or have opinions about the school. She feels that is good, because otherwise it can take three or four years before people feel they are listened to.

Barb feels that at Walden there hac been a succession of wonderful people she has met and known. there seems to be many roles available at Walden, and "sometimes someone will do 17 roles, and then they leave, and someone else takes over, and the roles are divided. It's almost like it has a life of its own. It's been around long enough to have developed traditions.

Barb now spends time with the bookstore and managing property in the area. She has just about "launched" all her children. She is enjoying being a loner after so many years of social involvement. she likes not feeling she has to be rushing about and can do what she wants to do. Recently, she's been getting very interested in the ideas of Joseph Campbell, which for her as "like a warm bath -- a present from the i=universe."

Barb feels that the most important thing about Walden is the respect of the teachers for the children, children for teachers, parents for teachers, teachers for parents. She believes one can't expect someone to be respectful if that person hasn't been respected his or herself. Even so, she feels we need to be more respectful of each other. She feels it happens more with children at Walden than with teachers and parents, and that there needs to be more attention paid to that. She sees signs that children at Walden feel respected, and are treated with care, but it isn't always so with parents and teachers.

This originally was printed in Currents, the collected writings about Walden School, in Berkeley CA. The interviews were conducted by Pam Blair in 1987-88.

Moe's, Walden School Founder dies
By Judith Scherr
The Berkeley Daily Planet, June 5, 2001

Known for her straight talk, determination and generous spirit , Barbara Ann Hicks Moskowitz died of natural causes at her Berkeley home May 24.

Co-founder of Moe's Books on Telegraph Avenue and founder of the Walden School in Berkeley, Mrs. Moskowitz was 78 years old at the time of her death.

"She was tough," said Gene Barone, manager of Moe's Books. "She was her own person."

Mrs.. Moskowitz's political activism in the realm of civil rights, rights for Central American refugees and women's rights, stands out to those who knew her. "She was left wing, counter culture," Barone said. "She had refugees at her home and gave them financial assistance."

Her political activism tied her to the group of people who created Pacifica Radio in 1949. The vision of these pacifists did not stop at founding a radio station. " The original idea of the Pacifica Foundation was to have a school," said Marie Switkes who works at Walden School, the arts-focused school Mrs. Moskowitz founded in 1958.

Less than one week before she died, Mrs. Moskowitz attended an event with jazz singers and arts and crafts sale at the school. "She came in a wheelchair and sat in the sun," Switkes said.

Mrs. Moskowitz leaves behind a son, Roger Stevens, and daughters Doris Moskowitz, Alison Booth and Katy Pearre. Memorial services were held on Saturday.

Barb Moskowitz & Printing

Although many customers at Moe's Books did not know her, the store would not exist without Barb Moskowitz. Besides being an ardent supporter of Moe's sense of fun and hard work, this Stanford graduate born in 1922 was the daughter of the engineer William Wesley Hicks, who invented the first electric heater. She started Moe's Books with Moe Moskowitz over 50 years ago. She was a founder of Walden School here in Berkeley and taught printing to the little kids, including her own children. Her interests included politics, books, and education, but her real hobby was printing. Along with being Moe's partner for the whole history of Moe's Books, keeping everything running behind the scenes, she kept her trays of type and her beautiful press in our basement. It was wonderful. People often fondly remember their time in her print studio, recalling her careful attention to their work and her warmth. According to Peter Koch of the Codex Foundation, it was in the 1990s that she donated her press to the San Francisco Center for the Book. I miss examining fonts with her!

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