Liz Frenkel


Liz Frenkel Interview Video

Born in 1927, Liz Frenkel has spent much of her adult life serving her community through many organizations including the League of Women Voters and The Sierra Club. Born in Sheridan, Wyoming, Frenkel later moved with her family first to to the northern part of state near Jackson Hole and then to Douglas, Arizona with her father, an Episcopal minister, her mother, a school teacher, and her sister, Katherine (Mills) Forrester.

With two parents who valued education and a home filled with books, Frenkel pursued higher education. She attended college with a growing cohort of women in the postwar decades and reports that many of her women classmates dropped out to get married, a phenomenon that was not uncommon at the time. She explains that society at the time viewed college for men as a step toward a good job but college for women as a way to find a good husband. Frenkel was accepted at Stanford University, where she earned her Bachelors degree and began a graduate degree before running out of money.

Shortly after World War II, Frenkel worked in library run by Special Services, a civilian organization under the control of the U.S. Military, on the island of Okinawa. She got the job from the State Employment Bureau because she had experience working at the Bender Rare Book Room while attending Stanford University. Her duties in Okinawa included keeping the Machinato Library open daily with the assistance of a serviceman. She ordered books, decorated the library, and organized programs. When she returned to the United States, she worked as an expediter in a purchasing office but left the job when she and her husband moved to Berkeley, where he got a faculty position. Frenkel withdrew from the labor market while raising her children. Her first child was born in 1960, a time in which the social ideal mandated male breadwinning and female homemaking.

Frenkel’s commitment to justice found expression throughout her life. While working in Okinawa, she reprimanded a lieutenant for unfairly chastising a young man. As a result, she received a formal reprimand (yet she had many friends, and the reprimand disappeared from her file). Around 1945, while attending Stanford, she worked packing oranges, and many of her women co-workers lived from paycheck to paycheck. When the employer failed to pay the women on time, Frenkel demanded the women be paid and succeeded in convincing the employer to issue checks immediately. Frenkel also responded strongly to the widespread anti-communism of the 1950s. Once, while giving testimony for the League, she was accused of being a Communist. “And, I suppose that you support Marx?” Liz replied, “Why would I be supporting Marx?” The man said, “Well, he’s a Communist.” She asked the man if he had ever read Marx. The man said, “No.” She said, “Well, good time to start!”

In 1972, after spending a year in England during her husband’s academic sabbatical, Frenkel met with the dean of the University of Oregon School of Law and told him she wanted to go to law school; he advised against it, warning her that she would have a difficult time getting a job. Looking back, she realized she should have never listened to him.

Frenkel has been an active member of the League of Women Voters for over fifty years with a particular interest in water issues. She served as the League’s State Natural Resources lobbyist from 1997 to 2008 and has been very involved in land use and water committees. She also served as a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, from 1980 to 1997. She lobbied in Washington, D.C. for the NW Regional Power Act, the Hatfield Wild and Scenic River Bill, and for auto emission regulation. She was the natural resources coordinator for LWVOR until 2008. Along with her husband Bob, she won the 1983 Oregon Chapter The Nature Conservancy Service Away. In 1989-90 she was awarded the Siuslaw National Forest Public Service Award, and she was awarded University of Oregon’s Distinguished Service Award in 2005.

Frenkel does not want people to come up and thank her for her volunteerism. What she would rather see is that people get out there and get involved in solving issues. She urges young people to get involved with politics, noting, “the whole world is our world.” While Frenkel no longer lobbies in Salem (she doesn’t drive anymore), she remains very involved in issues around  local parks and recreation.

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