Barbara Berger

Barbara Berger
Photo credit: University Archives

Up until the 1960s, Penn had gender-separate student government organizations—a male Undergraduate Council and a Women’s Student Government Association (WSGA).

The Undergraduate Council abolished itself in the early 1960s in favor of a Men’s Student Government. But that didn’t last long. In the winter of 1967, the men and women’s student organizations merged to form the unified University of Pennsylvania Student Government (UPSG), the first student organization at Penn for all students.

In the spring of 1967, senior Barbara Berger, former president of the WSGA, was elected the UPSG’s first president. She is pictured here in a 1967 photo. Berger’s election was groundbreaking, making her the first female president of an Ivy League student government.

After graduating from Penn with a Bachelor of Arts, Berger received her Juris Doctorate from Fordham University School of Law. She returned to Penn as Barbara Berger Opotowsky in October of 1980 as a Dean’s “Visiting Fellow” in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Berger Opotowsky has served as assistant commissioner of New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs and is the past president of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York.

Since 1997, she has been the executive director of the New York City Bar, where she is responsible for overseeing the 23,000-member organization. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, she helped recruit volunteers to assist 9/11 families with legal issues.

Berger Opotowsky is also vice president of the City Bar Justice Center, which provides pro bono assistance to low-income New Yorkers, and a committee member at the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice.

For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at

Originally published on February 4, 2010