International House Berkeley was part of the larger “International House Movement” founded by Harry Edmonds who, as a young man working for the Young Men’s Christian Association in 1909, had a chance meeting with a Chinese student. Edmonds’ casual “Good morning” on the steps of the Columbia University library provoked the startled response: “I’ve been in New York three weeks, and you are the fi rst person who has spoken to me.”
Moved by this experience, Edmonds investigated the situation of foreign students in New York City. Attempting to counter the loneliness and isolation of these students, Edmonds and his wife, Florence, started to have teas and Sunday Suppers in their home. By 1911, this practice led to the development of the Cosmopolitan College Club. By 1919, the Club included over 600 students representing more than 65 countries, and its activities consisted of excursions, social events and housing assistance.
Convinced of the need to find a place where foreign and U.S. students could live together and
thereby promote international understanding,
Edmonds encouraged John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
to build International House
in New York City. Funded by
Mr. Rockefeller at a cost of
$3,000,000, it opened in 1924
as a residence and program
center which served about 500
students. As its first director,
Edmonds saw it as a place
where people of diverse national
and cultural backgrounds
– without restrictions as to color, race, creed or sex – could
share the common experience of everyday life;
a place where person-to-person contact would
contribute to combatting ignorance, prejudice
and is understanding.
John D. Rockefeller Jr.
The immediate and exciting success of International House New York spurred Rockefeller to extend the idea. In 1926, Edmonds traveled west to evaluate possible locations for a second International House. Berkeley, California was selected because the Bay Area was the U.S.point of entry from the Orient and claimed the largest number of foreign students on the West Coast (in those days about 200). John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s gift of $1,800,000 to the University of California resulted in the establishment of International House Berkeley in 1930.
The Berkeley House, while owned by the University, was leased to a separate corporation whose Board of Directors, men and women of standing in the community, would be responsible for seeing that the purposes of the institution would be fulfilled. Later in the ‘30s, Rockefeller established similar institutions in Chicago and Paris. He hoped that contact between the Houses would facilitate an exchange of ideas and experiences that would assist the carrying out of a kindred purpose.