Doris Margaret Ward was born in Chicago on January 27, 1932, to Robbie Floyd and Jesse Keys. She was raised by her grandparents Joseph and Julia Floyd, who lived in Gary, Indiana, and managed a family owned grocery store. From kindergarten through 12th grade, Ward attended Frable School where she was an active member of the debate team. She was also nominated the Queen of the Bud Billiken Parade, an event that has been hosted annually in Chicago since 1929 and is the largest African-American parade in the United States. During her youth, Ward was very active in the burgeoning civil rights movement and participated in sit-ins at bars. In 1980, Ward explained to the San Francisco Examiner that “Even though I recognized from a very early age what racism was, I didn’t let that daunt me. When they closed one door, I opened another.” This statement highlights the resilience that Ward carried throughout her life.
Upon graduating from high school, Doris Ward attended Indiana University and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in education. During this time, she continued to further her lifelong battle against social injustice at the Indianapolis NAACP, where she opposed the hateful rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan. Ward spent ten years as a teacher in Indiana before deciding to move to California where in 1968, she attended San Francisco State University. After receiving her PhD in education at SFSU, Ward began her political career. She ran a successful campaign in 1972 and was appointed as a trustee for the San Francisco Community College District. Ward also took on several more positions including County Supervisor in 1979, President of the Board of Supervisors in 1990, and the San Francisco County Assessor-Recorder in 1996. While on the Board of Supervisors she wrote rent control legislation, worked for better oversight for police and pushed for more affordable housing. In 2000, she also became a delegate for the Democratic National Convention as a representative for California before she retired in 2006.
Doris Ward remained committed to social justice while serving as the President of the Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco County Assessor.
Ward centered her political career around social justice and equity for all. “The accomplishments that brought her the most joy included her sponsorship or co-sponsorship of legislation governing minority business set-asides, rent control mandates for San Francisco apartment vacancies, and the divestiture of investments in apartheid South Africa.” Ward dedicated herself to fighting for the rights of underrepresented and marginalized people on both a local and global scale. She never shied away from taking action on issues that mattered and dedicated herself to the promotion of legislation that would improve the lives of others. Ward was also “a founding member of the San Francisco chapter of 100 Black Women Inc., and Black Women Stirring the Waters. She led the African American Action Network and served as Board Vice President of the Black Coalition on AIDS, which became the Rafiki Coalition for Health and Wellness.”
Ward was active in many social and political organizations around the Bay Area and she inspired others to engage in politics that were focused on equality and justice. Former Mayor Mark Farrell described Ward as a “fearless political leader” who possessed a “trailblazing presence whose courage and resolve helped inspire countless others to follow in her footsteps.” Current San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the city’s first African-American woman mayor, has been inspired by Ward since meeting her in high school. Breed had even worked for Ward on a campaign and praised her for her positive attitude, spirit, and kind nature.
Doris Ward passed away at the age of 86 in her San Francisco home on Saturday April 15, 2018. Rev. Amos Brown, a prominent pastor and civil rights activist in San Francisco, had kind words to say about Ward, fondly praising “her respect for education and hard work, and her respect for the dignity and worth of all people—from the high and mighty to the drunk on the corner.” Reverend Brown explained that “Whenever there was a controversy and people were running around in circles, she would always raise the piercing question, ‘What are you doing to deal with this matter?’ She was a doer.”
— Teresa Fishman and Grace Jackson
“The Honorable Doris Ward.” The HistoryMakers. 2 May 2017.
Fagan, Kevin and Sarah Ravani. “Doris Ward, first African American to lead SF Board of Supervisors, dies at 86.” SF Gate. 18 Apr 2018.