Ronald Reagan's choice for attorney general, William French Smith, lists among his accomplishments in "Who's Who in the West" his membership in the Bohemian Club and the California Club, two private clubs that have been critized in the past for their exclusioary policies.
San Francisco's Bohemian Club -- which some have compared to a secret college fraternal society or a summer camp for corporate executives -- prides itself on excluding women nearly as much as it boasts of its three most prominent members these days: Smith, President-elect Ronald Reagan and Vice President-elect George Bush.
A member of the Bohemian Club for the last eight years, Smith is also a member of the old-line, elegant California Club in Los Angeles. During the 30 years he has been a member, it has been picketed by civil rights groups and women lawyers in Los Angeles for what they consider discriminatory membership practices.
William French Smith said through his spokesman John Herrington that he wasn't aware of any discriminatory policies at either the California Club or the Bohenian Club.
"Mr. Smith has sponsored successfully a number of minorities for membership at the Calfifornia Club. It does include minorities," Herrington said, but he declined to say how many were sponsored or who they were.
Smith is "still wrestling" over whether to resign from the California and Bohemian Clubs, and three other private clubs he belongs to now. "We have to determine whether they are restricted first," Herrington said.
In December 1976, Griffin Bell, Jimmy Carter's attorney general-designate, voluntarily resigned from the Piedmont Driving Club and Capital City Club, two private Atlanta clubs with exclusive membership practices, even though the Piedmont Club president said there were no rules prohibiting any minority from membership.
At the time, Bell said he was resigning, after much criticism from civil rights groups, because the attorney generalship "is a symbol of equality before the law."
"I know of no women members of the California Club and they've never had any to my knowledge," Timi Hallem said. She is the past president of the Women Lawyers of Los Angeles, one of the groups that picketed the club in 1978 on Valentine's Day because of its alleged policy of excluding women and minorities.
Other groups protesting at the time, according to newspaper reports, included the California Women Lawyer's Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the women's rights chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"There's no question they've discriminated for years," one prominent California politician said, "but they may have changed their rules recently under pressure."
Al deBlanc, president of the Langston Law Club made up of minority attorneys, said he did not know of any black members in the California Club and he himself "never bothered to apply."
And what does the California Club say about it? "We don't answer any questions over the phone," A.M. Lucha, general manager of the California Club, said this week. "I can't tell you anything. You'll have to put it in writing," he said when asked how many women and black members they have.
At the Bohemian Club, which has 2,000 blue-chip male members, women cannot be sponsored for membership according t their rules, said one Bohemian Club source.
William French Smith said through his spokesman, "We are unaware of anything in the bylaws that is anti-woman."
As one member of the Bohemian Club put it, "Don't get me wrong, we love women, but it sure is fun to be away from them from time to time."
The Bohemian Club does allow blacks and Jews. "We have no class or racial prohibitions. We have all kinds of males," the source said. "We have some black members and some candidates for membership who are colored." The only requirement for its members, which include politicians, businessmen, artists and a few actors, is that they must have an interest in the arts.
Past and present members of the Bohemian Club, according to newspaper reports, included Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.), incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; columnist William F. Buckley; Stephen Bechtel, president of Bechtel Corporation; and former president Richard M. Nixon, a member since he was vice president under Eisenhower.
One of the legends surrounding the Bohemian Club's summer encampment is the elaborate ritual called "Cremation of Care," a burining of effigy of a wooden skeleton in a coffin representing the end of the cares of the world.
In fact, the Bohemian Club is so exclusive it grudgingly allows Secret Service agents protecting high-ranking visitors and members to enter its Bohemian Grove resort 65 miles north of San Francisco, the site of its yearly summer encampment. "But we only take in a couple agents at a time; we don't allow 20 secret service agents in."