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Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
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Dreamers & Dissenters: Women’s Marches, The Long View

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 15:00

Dreamers & Dissenters: Women’s Marches, The Long View

This is the first post in a series entitled Dreamers & Dissenters, in which we will highlight Rubenstein Library collections that document the work of activists and social justice organizations. In this series we hope to lend our voices, and those of the people whose collections we preserve, to the reinvigorated spirit of activism across the United States and beyond.

Drawing by Robin Morgan, ca. 1968. From the Robin Morgan Papers

On Saturday, January 21st, 2017 massive demonstrations took place in over 670 cities in the United States and throughout the world in one of the largest displays of global protest in modern history. A tweet by Kera Lovell about a week before the Marches caught the attention of the Bingham Center. Lovell, an American Studies scholar at Purdue University, drew a connection between a Huffington Post article about the posters being created for the upcoming Women’s March on Washington and the imagery of the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s captured in the Sallie Bingham Center’s digital collection, Women’s Liberation Movement Print Culture. The collection includes documentation of the protest of the 1968 Miss America Pageant, the first major U.S. women’s movement protest to attract national media attention. The protest was also the beginning of the woman symbol-with-fist image, which was drawn by co-organizer Robin Morgan for the occasion. Morgan was inspired in part by the Black Power movement’s clenched black fist that emerged in the late 1960s—as well as the Columbia University demonstrations at the same time—suggesting synergies between the movements.

Lovell’s comparison took on even greater significance when Saturday, January 21st arrived, as demonstrations unfolded in every U.S. state and on every continent. A striking pattern emerged in both handmade and professionally printed signs across the globe. The woman symbol-with-fist popped up on signs, shirts, buttons, and more in far-flung marches from Raleigh, NC to Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA and beyond. Organizations and websites such as CBC/Radio-Canada even offered DIY sign templates featuring glittering variations of the symbol to take to the marches. A symbol that debuted for around 400 women in 1968 was now being seen and shared by millions of women, men, and children in what might be the single largest day of demonstration in United States history, according to Erica Chenoweth, professor of international relations at the University of Denver.

Women’s March in Raleigh, January 21, 2017. Accessed from http://www.wral.com/organizers-estimate-17-000-gather-in-raleigh-for-women-s-march/16456580/ on January 26, 2017

What inspired these protesters? The organizers of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington declared that its mission was to “stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.” Their website offers the list of “Unity Principles” that guided the March, including ending violence and upholding reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice. More than 500 organizations and groups from all over the country joined the March.

Institutions across the country have rushed to document and analyze the marches, from preserving abandoned protest signs to creating programs exploring the movements emerging from the marches. The Sallie Bingham Center, home of the Robin Morgan Papers and the now-even-more iconic woman symbol-with-fist, remains dedicated to documenting and providing access to women throughout history, from those who marched for women’s rights in Atlantic City in 1968 to those who marched throughout the world on January 21, 2107.

On Monday, February 6th at 11:45 a.m., the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke will host “Women’s March: The Long View,” a wide-ranging panel discussion with Duke University scholars Laura Micham, Jocelyn Olcott, Deondra Rose, and Ara Wilson. The panel will discuss the place of the event within longer histories of feminist organizing, the cultural and symbolic politics at play in the march, its broader political and policy implications, and the possible futures of the movement. Optional Facebook RSVP.

Post submitted by Jennifer Scott, Public Services Intern, and Laura Micham, Merle Hoffman Director, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

The post Dreamers & Dissenters: Women’s Marches, The Long View appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Meet the Staff: Megan Lewis, Processing Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

Fri, 12/02/2016 - 18:46

Megan Lewis joined the Rubenstein staff in 2002 as a rare book cataloger. In 2009, she became the Technical Services Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

My B.A. is in English, so I’m particularly interested in our literature collections. It’s fascinating to make connections between the materiality of what we collect with the published product. I’m also interested in popular culture. Show me your popular culture, and I’ll show you who you are. Since I started working at the Bingham Center, I’ve become interested in the ways we as archivists can serve various activist communities by documenting their work.

What led you to working in libraries? How did you know you wanted to be an archivist?

I was genetically destined to work in libraries, since my mom was a librarian and I loved to shadow her at work when I was a kid. After working at my college library as an undergrad, I was lucky to get my first job in special collections at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Once I started learning about rare books there, there was no turning back.

I never actually planned to become an archivist, but fell into it at Duke after working as a rare book cataloger. A position opened at the Bingham Center, and I applied for it. I’d first heard about the Bingham Center when its director visited my class in library school. She gave an inspiring talk about how the Bingham Center “saves women’s lives,” and as a lifelong feminist, I thought it would be a dream job to work there. I was right.

What are the main projects you work on at the Rubenstein and Bingham Center?

I process and catalog manuscript collections. That means that I arrange them in a coherent fashion and create collection guides, as well as a catalog record, so people can find what we have. I’ve worked almost exclusively with large modern collections, but lately I’ve also been cataloging small, older manuscripts from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. As a Bingham Center staff member, I also participate in events, outreach, and donor relations.

How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party?  To fellow librarians and library staff?

I tell laypeople that I’m a women’s history archivist. Usually, they say “cool!” and that’s it, but sometimes they want to know details.

To fellow library folks, I say that I’m a technical services archivist at the Rubenstein, because that gives them an idea of where I fit into Duke Libraries’ organizational structure.

What does an average day look like for you?

On an average day, I might check in with my library school intern and my undergraduate student assistant. I’m lucky to have an intern who also processes collections.  My student assistant helps me rebox and folder incoming new materials, and creates boxlists that are part of the collection guide. Much of my job entails moving materials along so we don’t get backed up. Right now my shelves are almost full, which means that it’s time to send as many boxes as possible to our Library Service Center. I also meet weekly with my Bingham Center cohorts so we can discuss our work with each other.

What do you like best about your job? What excites you most?

I love that I get to help document women’s history. It’s a privilege to work with our donors, many of whom are tremendously accomplished women whose work has changed the world for the better in palpable ways.

I get excited when I see young women, who might not consider themselves feminists, use our collections and be able to connect their present-day struggles with the work done by activists who came before them.

What might people find surprising about your job?

It’s not always quiet, and it’s not without stress. When I tell people I work in a library, they often say, “Oh, that must be nice and quiet and calm.”

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to keep up with new acquisitions and increase our processing capacity. Some donors like to send us things on a frequent basis, which has a mushroom effect.  Sometimes I feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice trying to beat back the water.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

Right now, I’d have to say the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, which has been transformative for the Rubenstein. It’s an amazingly rich and deep collection based around the theme of working women. Each small manuscript collection I catalog is a mini history lesson.

Where can you be found when you’re not working?

Walking my dog and consuming culture in and around Durham.

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993). Leslie was a transgender activist ahead of her time, and was also the partner of writer/activist Minnie Bruce Pratt, whose papers are held by the Bingham Center.

The post Meet the Staff: Megan Lewis, Processing Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Helen Allingham in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 17:36

The materials in the Lisa Unger Baskin collection celebrate more than five centuries of women’s work. One of the highlights of describing and cataloging these collections is the remarkable talent that is often showcased by these women.

For example, we received four sketchbooks from English watercolorist and illustrator Helen Paterson Allingham.

Helen Allingham, born near Derbyshire, England in 1848, studied at the Birmingham School of Design and the Royal Academy School in London.  In fact, she was the niece of the first female student at the Royal Academy School, Laura Herford. Allingham began her career as an illustrator, but eventually became well known for her watercolors, usually of cottages. Her renderings often showed so much detail that they have been studied by architects interested in the construction of these buildings.

Following her studies, she supported her widowed mother with her work as an illustrator for publications like The Graphic. She was a founding staff member of the newspaper, and the only woman on staff. Her other work includes the original illustrations for Thomas Harding’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd.

She married William Allingham, an Irish poet and editor, in 1874. After their marriage, Helen shifted her career focus to watercolor painting. Her work was widely praised by the art community in London. She had paintings accepted at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and was eventually the first woman granted full membership to the Royal Watercolour Society. After the family’s move to Surrey in the early 1880s, Allingham began painting the cottages for which she is best known.

The collection includes sketches and drawings made in graphite, watercolor, and pen and ink, dating from 1868-1916.

Subjects in the scrapbooks from the LUB collection are varied, and include English cottages and buildings, architectural features, sailboats and coastal scenes, figures, landscapes, and botanical items. Essentially, Allingham drew or painted anything that she came across during her travels, from a simple pile of rope to a vestry door. Many of the images are only about two inches wide.

Detail of window, with Allingham’s notes on construction. Upton Bales[?] cottage, in graphite. Pile of rope found in Lymm, England, in 1874, graphite. Sailing vessel in watercolor. Fishing basket in St. Andrews, England, graphite. Crab found in St. Andrews, England, graphite. Vestry door at St. Mary’s Church, Leicester, England, graphite.

Stop by and spend some time with these scrapbooks!

Contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Library Specialist.

The post Helen Allingham in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

New Acquisitions Roundup- Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Ladder: A Lesbian Review

Mon, 11/14/2016 - 16:26

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture recently acquired 47 copies of The Ladder (1956-1972), more than doubling our run for a total of 79 issues of the publication spanning the years 1957 to 1972. We are especially excited about this opportunity to expand our holdings of this ground-breaking publication sixty years after the first issue was released.

The Ladder was the first nationally distributed lesbian periodical in the United States. Preceded only by a local Los Angeles newsletter titled Vice Versa, The Ladder began in October 1956 as the small publication of the group Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). The DOB was founded in 1955 in San Francisco as a social group for lesbians who wanted to avoid public scrutiny and the violence of bars that were often the target of police brutality. As their numbers grew, DOB chapters formed in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The DOB evolved into a highly influential lesbian activist organization providing a “feminine viewpoint,” educating women about “female homosexuality and positive self-image.” The DOB worked closely with groups that were primarily focused on gay men, such as the Mattachine Society and ONE, Inc.

Partners Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the co-founders of DOB, both had educational backgrounds in journalism and worked as reporters. Lyon decided to publish The Ladder as a way to advertise the group—since they were forbidden from doing so in newspapers—as well as to spread awareness about social issues affecting the wider lesbian community. The mission statement of the DOB was printed inside every cover of the magazine:

Note the use of the word “variant” instead of “lesbian,” which had a negative connotation in 1956.

According to some sources, the magazine was titled “The Ladder” to symbolize a way to escape the “well of loneliness,” a phrase popularized by Radclyffe Hall’s influential novel of the same name. The first issues featured a hand-drawn cover with two people standing beneath a ladder ascending into the clouds. There were only 175 original copies made of this issue, which were given to friends and mailed to professional women in the San Francisco telephone book and around the country. By 1957, the second year of publication, there were hundreds of subscribers on the mailing list, and the magazine was available on select newsstands in major cities. By the publication of its last issue in 1972, it had a subscription of over 4,000 worldwide. It is difficult to estimate total readership, however, because the issues were frequently shared and read aloud at gatherings.

Early content included information from DOB meetings, “Lesbiana” literature reviews, prose and poetry, social experiments, etiquette advice, community events, and reader responses. The editors avoided including any overtly sexual content, but quickly began rallying around political issues and publishing news about the Homophile movement.

This appeal appeared on the back cover of many early issues.

The Ladder was published monthly from 1956-1970 and bi-monthly from 1971-72. Over that time span, the magazine underwent drastic changes. The first major transformations began after Barbara Gittings, DOB New York chapter president, became editor in 1963. Gittings added the subtitle, “A Lesbian Review” to the cover in 1964, signifying the word “lesbian” as something that was no longer unspeakable. She changed the magazine’s size and publication quality, increasing issues from 12-15 pages to 27 and moving from a mimeographed copy to professionally printed pages. Kay Tobin Lahusen, a photojournalist who was Gittings’ partner and assistant editor, began using photographs of lesbians, rather than the illustrations typical of past issues. Regardless of the changes in its appearance, The Ladder was issued in a brown paper covering for the duration of its existence.

The last issue was published in September, 1972. In 1975, Arno Press released a nine-volume compilation of The Ladder in hardback as part of their series “Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History, and Literature.” The Ladder was a lifeline for those women who read it, providing one of the first formal spaces for lesbians to come together in dialogue and artistic expression. Today, it stands as an important artifact of 20th century lesbian and feminist movements and a valuable resource for scholarship.

Post contributed by Valerie Szwaya, intern for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. 

The post New Acquisitions Roundup- Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Ladder: A Lesbian Review appeared first on The Devil's Tale.