Our Historic Building

The Anna Head Complex

The institute occupies part of the historic Anna Head School for Girls, a few blocks from central campus. Two notable UC Berkeley alumnae, Anna Head and Mary E. Wilson, served as the first two heads of the school (more on them below). The Anna Head Complex (built between 1892 and 1927) has a significant place in the history of women's education and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a City of Berkeley landmark; thus the university has a legal responsibility to prevent “demolition by neglect.” The first building of the school, Channing Hall, was designed by the architect Soule Edgar Fisher, and it is one of the first of the classic Berkeley brown-shingle buildings. The National Trust for Historic Preservation published an article with more details on the site's architectural and historical importance. The complex was taken from the school by the University of California, Berkeley, in 1957 via eminent domain. The Anna Head School then moved to Oakland and is now the Head-Royce School.

While parts of the Anna Head complex have been renovated by the university, the ISSI buildings are extremely run-down and one part of it is no longer wheelchair accessible due to decades of neglect by the university. Having a physical space to create an intellectual interdisciplinary community has been a key feature of ISSI, but since the coronavirus pandemic started, we have adapted by creating new forms of community online via working groups, writing groups, events, and workshops. If the university is not willing to invest in a wheelchair ramp, we can use the part of the building that is still wheelchair accessible.

There is an active campaign to save the Anna Head School complex. Please learn about that effort and more about the building here. The organizers are not ISSI affiliates, but we applaud their work and encourage you to sign their petition.

Anna Head

Anna Head (May 6, 1857 – December 25, 1932) was a pioneering educator who established the Anna Head School for Girls. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Education Administration from UC Berkeley in 1879, being one of only 23 women out of 177 graduates. She opened the school in 1887.

Her innovative educational philosophy is evident in the early catalogs that describe a rigorous core curriculum, including four years each of English, math, a foreign language, and history. Her love of nature led her to recommend a fifth solid in science (botany, zoology, and physics), courses “determined on the principle that one fact learned from nature is worth a dozen learned from books.” She recognized the value of the arts “to increase the powers of observation of each student.” Her goal was to prepare young women for the most outstanding colleges and universities in the nation.

Logo for the "150 Years of Women at Berkeley" campaign


UC Berkeley is celebrating 150 years of women at Cal with essays and profiles of notable alumnae, faculty, and staff. The material about Anna Head on this page is drawn from "Anna Head: Pioneer for Women's Education" by Paul Chapman.

Mary E. Wilson

After 22 years as headmistress, Anna Head secured her legacy when she passed the baton of leadership to another UCB alumna. In 1909 Anna Head sold the school to Mary E. Wilson (1869-1949), a Smith College graduate who earned a master’s degree in English from UC Berkeley in 1896.

Serving as headmistress for 29 years, Mary E. Wilson enhanced the campus with additional buildings, and she helped develop a national reputation for the Anna Head School, serving as one of the first presidents of the National Association of Principals of Schools for Girls (NAPSG).

Mary E. Wilson embraced Anna Head’s progressive educational philosophy, offering a program centered around a “well-balanced life of earnest study, outdoor sports, and the cultivation of a delight in music and the other arts.” She also emphasized her strong “desire to develop character.”

The Green Cities Fund has set up a GoFundMe for restoration of our historic building and kicked things off with a $5K contribution! Please donate if you can! (tax-deductible!)

Thanks to Paul Chapman, Emeritus Head of School, Head-Royce School, for sharing his knowledge of Head, Wilson, and the Anna Head School.
Sources: Paul Chapman, School Matters: The Transformation of Head-Royce (Berkeley CA: Edition One Press, 2018); Patricia Adler, Myra Mossman Brocchini, and Susan Wilde Wait, eds., The Head-Royce School: A Centennial History, 1887-1987 (Albany CA: The Albany Press, 1988); Frederic Knapp, Historic Structure Report: Anna Head School, University of California, Berkeley, California (San Francisco CA: Knapp Architects, 2008); Laken Brooks, “Anna Head School for Girls Influenced Generations of Women—and American Architecture,” National Trust for Historic Preservation, July 31, 2020.