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Josephine D. Randall

1885 - 1975

Inducted October 1991

 "Those who are happily occupied in wholesome leisure time pursuits will never become problems to their community either as children or as adults."
~Jospehine D. Randall

One of the fi rst women in America to choose recreation leadership as a profession, Josephine Randall achieved a long and distinguished career. A native of California, she attended Stanford University where she earned an undergraduate degree (1909), a graduate degree (1910), and was a member of Sigma Chi Honorary Scientifi c Research Fraternity. While completing her Master’s degree in zoology, she developed a philosophy for “the good life.” Upon graduation, Randall chose a career in recreation to provide guidance and leadership for people to do things for the express purpose of fi nding pleasure in doing them.

In 1913 Randall became the fi rst woman director to be appointed to San Diego’s public playgrounds. Her main concern was for the children of the community, but did not exclude the needs of adults. During her six year appointment, she also organized one of the fi rst Girl Scout troops in America, one of the early Campfi re groups, and during World War I worked with the War Camp Community Service. She was a fi rm believer that recreation provides an opportunity to “re-create one’s self ” thus finding renewed energies and happiness in meeting the everyday problems of the world.

Randall joined the staff of the National Recreation Association in 1920 and served for four years as field representative in the Middle West and Pacific Coast. In her work with the Association she demonstrated a comprehensive knowledge of the field of recreation, unusual organizing ability, and a special aptitude for training recreation leaders. As a field representative, Randall became aware of San Francisco’s lack of recreation facilities in 1924, when she began a community chest survey of the city’s needs. She also organized the Group Work and Recreation Council of the Community Chest. After completion of this work, she was employed as Superintendent of the San Francisco Recreation Department, where she served from 1926 until 1951.

During the quarter century Randall was executive, the San Francisco Recreation Department developed one of the country’s outstanding community recreation services. Drama groups were organized at each of the city’s recreation centers. Augustus Zanzig, in his book, Music in American Life (1932), highly praised the department’s music program. It included a glee club of Italian boys, a boys’ harmonica club, girls’ glee clubs, and a group of singing mothers. Under her guidance, the Recreation Department grew from 22 playgrounds to over 100 recreation units including a city vacation camp, children’s day camps, a photography center, and the Junior Museum.

Harmonica Band at the Chinese Playground, San Francisco
An Album of Programs in the Early Years of Public Recreation

Randall’s innovative plan for assigning workers in neighborhoods of the heaviest delinquency, inaugurated in 1930 by the San Francisco Recreation Department, proved to be one of the most successful services. Workers came to know the people in their district, particularly the gangs. They became familiar with the functions and resources of the neighborhood agencies, and referred boys to the various public and private recreation centers in their vicinity. There were striking results in the reduction of juvenile delinquency, youth crime, and in the rehabilitation of troubled boys. A Central Coordinating Council partnering Randall, the chief of Police, the chief probation officer, and the superintendent of schools was set up to guide the plan and was an important factor in its success.

Under Randall’s leadership one of America’s most extensive and successful recreation programs in public housing developments was established. In 1941 through the cooperation of the San Francisco Housing Authority, the Recreation Department accepted responsibility for furnishing leadership in local housing developments. By 1945 the department operated 16 centers, many of them serving workers in war industries. Leadership was provided at least 12 hours per day and seven days a week in most centers. The program was of vital importance to the thousands of newcomers to the city, to the Japanese- Americans who returned to their home city from relocation centers, and to refugee families liberated in the Philippines. The Housing Authority increasingly enlisted the cooperation of the department in the planning of its recreation facilities was evidence of its success in dealing with these complex and acute problems and testified to the capability of Randall and her staff.

Inspired by the ideals of the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations, Randall developed a deep interest in the people of other nations and in the international aspects of recreation. Members of many nationality groups participated without discrimination in the recreation program of the city, which was a veritable melting pot. She brought to the people of San Francisco an understanding of other nations through the presentation of special programs built around their games, arts and crafts, customs, dances, songs, and folklore. After she retired as superintendent of recreation, Randall spent a year touring Europe as a goodwill ambassador representing the California Recreation Society.

It was Randall’s dream to create “a spot in the heart of the city where young people could spend a day in the country.” In 1937 her vision came to fruition. Simply called the “Junior Museum,” it originally opened in the city’s old jail on Ocean Avenue. Randall shepherded a $12,000,000 bond issue for recreation capital projects in 1947 which including a new museum. The museum opened in 1951 at its current facilities on a 16-acre park overlooking San Francisco Bay and was renamed the Josephine D. Randall Junior Museum, later renamed Randall Museum. The life’s work of Randall remains monumental. Her visionary efforts in addressing the needs of urban youth and the melting pot of different cultures are an example of the value recreation contributes to communities.

Adapted from: Hartsoe, C, Sanders, D & Bridges, M (eds) (2009), Profiles in Leadership: Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame. National Recreation and Park Association and American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration.

  • Butler, G.D. (1965). Pioneers in public recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company.
  • National Recreation Association (November 1951). After thirty-eight years of service, Recreation. 348.
  • National Recreation Association (April, 1957). A reporter’s notebook, Recreation. 132.
  • San Francisco Recreation Department (February 14, 1949). Our superintendent awarded American recreation fellowship, ReCreation Bulletin, 17(7). 4.

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