It Could Have Been Elsewhere...

Story of how a Cotati seed farm became a college site

Sonoma State

A highly-motivated and active group of retired faculty and staff is collaborating on a history of the early days of Sonoma State University. As part of that history, the group asked for memories and recollections from retired faculty and staff as well as alumni and community members.

The memories will be included in a book to be ready for Founders’ Day on the 50th anniversary of the University, April 18, 2011. Some of the memories are from taped interviews between professor and historian Daniel Markwyn as he spoke with those who personally experienced the beginnings of the institution. The words of the early higher education pioneers clearly demonstrate the strong spirit of those faculty, staff, and students. It is no accident that SSU is the fine institution it is today. Please enjoy then-Senator Joseph Rattigan’s contribution to the history project (below).


From (1991) taped interviews with Joseph Rattigan,
former judge and California State senator


“We had all these sites in the four counties as possible locations for the new state college, and in the summer of 1959 there suddenly blossomed the Benson seed farm in Cotati, CA brought forward by Dr. William Kortum, a local veterinarian.

Everything happened at once in the 1960 Legislative session. By the time the 1960 First Extraordinary Session convened, contemporaneous with the budget session, the state college site in the North Bay counties still had not been chosen.

As Senator, I was waiting for the Public Works Board to act which they did at a meeting in Sacramento on March 2, 1960. They selected the so-called Benson Tract as the site for the college. Sonoma State's beginningsThe site selection was a major step forward but the principal importance of it was that only then could I move with the bill to actually establish the college.

I still did nothing in the Legislature immediately because I was waiting for the Master Plan for Higher Education, which had not yet been introduced. Senator Miller introduced Senate Bill 33 on March 8, 1960. That was what came to be known as the “Master Plan.” One week later, on March 15, I introduced Senate Bill 43, stating that in Sonoma County there be a state college known as Sonoma State College.

Senate Bill 33, the Master Plan, was signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown on April 27, 1960. He signed Senate Bill 43 two days later, on April 29. Sonoma State College had thus been established by law.

There were many disappointed people in Sonoma County – people from Petaluma who were disenchanted because the site was not selected in Petaluma. People from Santa Rosa were in the same situation as were other people who were interested in other sites. Some controversy developed in connection with the Santa Rosa Center of San Francisco State College, which had been functioning for some years. Many people in Sonoma County became insistent that the San Francisco State Center be integrated into Sonoma State College, which, in a manner of speaking, finally happened.

I don’t remember the groundbreaking ceremony very well. As I recall, there were no speeches or invocations. We all went out, put on our hard hats and broke ground. It was July 14, 1963, Bastille Day. There was a billboard on the property that said “Site of Sonoma State College. Senate Bill 43. Cotati, Calif.” I’ve followed the activities of the college closely from the very beginning. I think the place is just great.”

Joseph Rattigan passed away in 2007 at the age of 87.