Delaine Eastin, First Woman To Serve As California’S Superintendent Of Public Instruction, Dead At 76 Obituary

Delaine Eastin, California’s First Woman Superintendent, Dies at 76

Delaine Eastin, California’s First Woman Superintendent, Dies at 76

Delaine Eastin, the first woman to serve as California’s superintendent of public instruction, has died. She was 76.

Eastin was elected to the state office in 1994 and served two terms, overseeing 6 million students in more than 10,000 schools, her representatives said in a statement.

No other woman has held the post since her.

“As the beloved daughter of Hank and Dottie – who emphasized the value of education above all – Delaine will be remembered for her boundless intellect, infinitely compassionate spirit, sharp sense of humor, and courageous leadership in local, state, national, and international realms,” the statement read. “Her love of education, children, animals, gardens, and the arts shined through everything that she did.”

Born in San Diego, Eastin grew up primarily in San Carlos. She attended Brittan Acres Elementary School and graduated from Carlmont High School. Eastin later earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis, according to The Davis Enterprise.

Following stints in the education and private sectors, Eastin went on to join the Union City City Council in 1980, the newspaper reported. She was then elected to the state Assembly in November 1986, winning the 18th District seat over Republican Martin “Leo” Mehan.

An early legislative victory for Eastin came in 1987 when the governor signed a bill she authored to give a share of state lottery proceeds to the California School for the Blind and the California School for the Deaf, schools that sat on adjoining campuses in her district.

Eastin said she had learned while she was campaigning door-to-door that the special schools were not receiving a share of the lottery money.

“It appeared to be an oversight” in the lottery law, Eastin told Mercury News reporter Lori Eickmann at the time. “The money goes to K-12 programs, community colleges, the California State University, the University of California. So it seemed that special schools should get it, too.”

Distribution of the funds began the next year.

The California governor’s office, in a statement posted to social media Wednesday, recalled Eastin as a “trailblazing leader” in education and women in politics.

“Eastin remains the only woman to have served as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, where she fought for CA students,” the post read. “Our hearts are with her loved ones during this time.”

Tony Thurmond, the current superintendent of public instruction, lauded Eastin for championing universal preschool and school nutrition, as well as honoring educators by establishing the state teacher of the year awards.

“Her dedication and foresight to nurturing and preparing students for the future laid the foundation for what has been possible for our students today,” he said in a social media post.

In the mid-1980s to early 1990s, Eastin was among a small group of women serving in the state Legislature. An oral history from her was added to the State Archives just a year ago, in March 2023, after Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced the re-launch of the archives’ oral history project.

“Women were especially close to each other in those days,” Eastin, a Democrat who served parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties in the Assembly from 1986-1994, recalled in a virtual presentation covered by Orange County Register reporter Hanna Kang. “Women did look after one another because we sort of had to, because we would be dismissed or spoken down to in some instances unless we stood up for each other.”

Examples of sexism were plentiful.

“I remember in the early days, there were people who wouldn’t let me on the members’ elevator because I was a girl, and I couldn’t possibly be a member,” she said.

And then there was that time that an Assembly leader referred to the Women’s Caucus as the “Lipstick Caucus,” Eastin said. “All hell broke loose,” she recalled. “The women were furious.”

Eastin left elected office in 2003 but dipped her toe back into politics in 2017, when she made a run for governor.

A public celebration of life will be held this summer, Eastin’s representatives said.