When March Fong Eu became the first American of Asian heritage and first woman to serve on the Alameda County Board of Education, it was just the beginning of an impressive list of “firsts” in a distinguished career of public service.
A third-generation Californian born in the small Central Valley community of Oakdale, she pursued education to achieve her goals. She received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, a Master’s degree from Mills College, and a Doctorate of Education from Stanford University. She taught and served as an educational consultant in the Oakland Public Schools, Alameda and Santa Clara County schools, at Mills College, and was a division chair at the University of California at San Francisco.
When March Fong Eu won election to represent Oakland and parts of Castro Valley in the California Assembly, she was the first Asian-American woman to serve in that body and one of only three women serving in the Legislature. During her tenure in the Assembly, she worked on behalf of consumers, environmental protection, and the rights of women. She was reelected every two years with ever-increasing majorities, winning with 78% of the vote in 1972, the last year she ran for the Assembly seat.
One of her most memorable pieces of legislation she authored was a bill to ban pay toilets in publicly-funded buildings in 1969, arguing that they discriminated against women since urinals were free. During her campaign to ban pay toilets she wrapped a toilet in chains on the steps of the capitol building and assaulted it with a sledgehammer.
In 1974, she was elected by a record-setting three million votes as California’s first woman Secretary of State and first Asian American in statewide office.
On July 14, 1976, she became the first woman and Asian-American to serve as acting-Governor of California, when all other officials in the order of succession were out of state.
In 2019 California’s Secretary of State building in Sacramento was named the March Fong Eu Secretary of State Building. This recognition made it the first state-owned building to be named for an Asian-American woman