Robert L. Byrd
Associate University Librarian for Collections and User Services
Good evening. I’ve been asked to speak about the founding of the Bingham Center. So I want to invite you to travel with me back in time. Imagine that it’s December 1987. The Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library doesn’t yet exist. In fact, there’s not a rare book and manuscript library at Duke. Instead there are two separately administered departments in Perkins Library, the Rare Books Department and the Manuscript Department. For the past seven years I have been responsible for collection development in the Manuscript Department. Jean O’Barr is director of the Duke Women’s Studies Program. Anne Firor Scott is the William K. Boyd Professor of History. Sallie Bingham lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the editor and publisher of an independent feminist quarterly The American Voice, which in its winter 1987 issue included an essay by Professor Scott, entitled “Whose History Are We Talking About, Anyhow?”
December 1, 1987. Sallie Bingham writes to Anne Scott—
“Dear Professor Scott:
“Thank you for allowing us to publish your essay in the winter issue. I found it extremely interesting. I hope you will see next summer’s issue, which will contain an essay by Deborah Davis…entitled ‘How to Write About Americans.’
“I wonder if you could help me with a personal matter. I am trying to find an archive of women’s papers to which to leave my own papers, including about 40 years’ worth of diaries, letters, manuscripts, etc. I am aware, of course, of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, but I am curious to know whether possibly Duke would be interested. I want to leave the papers where they will be easily accessible to women, both scholars and undergraduates...Do let me know of any ideas you may have on this subject.”
Anne shares Sallie’s letter with me. We talk with Jean.
December 14, 1987. Anne writes to Sallie:
“Dear Sallie Bingham:
“I can imagine persuasive arguments that as a Radcliffe graduate you might give your papers to Schlesinger, or that as a Kentuckian you might want to have them in Kentucky. Having made this bow to logic I can now say that the Manuscript Department of the Perkins Library at Duke would be a splendid choice for several reasons:
“1. We have a very strong women’s studies program here—both the Duke-UNC Center for Research on Women and the Duke Women’s Studies Program are flourishing….
“2. We have already the beginnings of what we would like to see develop into a Southern Women’s Archive which could provide for the South something comparable to what the Sophia Smith Collection offers for the study of New England women….
“3. A collection such as yours would provide a magnet for additional gifts from leading southern women….
“I have talked this over with Robert Byrd, the Director of the Manuscript Department, and he will write his own letter with more specific information as to what we might be prepared to do. We are absolutely delighted that you have thought of Duke in this connection.”
December 16, 1987. I write to Sallie:
“Dear Ms. Bingham:
“Professor Anne Scott shared with me your letter of December 1, since I am responsible for the acquisition of manuscript collections at Duke. The Duke University Manuscript Department (which has been headed by women for fifty-one of its fifty-seven years) has long sought to preserve women’s papers. As Professor Scott indicated in her letter of the 14th, Duke is the repository for her own papers and the papers of prominent 19th-century southern women such as Virginia Clay and Ella Gertrude Thomas, 20th-century social reformers such as Orie Latham Hatcher and Lucy Randolph Mason, authors such as Anne Tyler…, public officials such as Nancy Hanks and Juanita Kreps, and numerous other women. Your own papers would be a welcome addition to these holdings and would be complemented by many of the collections I have mentioned….We believe we provide excellent care for archival collections at Duke, and we make a point of promoting their use by undergraduates and other students as well as by advanced scholars.”
December 21, 1987. Sallie responds by letter to Anne and to me. In her letter to me she writes, “I believe the best thing might be for us to plan a visit next spring at Duke,….”
Sunday, March 27, 1988. Sallie arrives at RDU. I pick her up at the airport. She has dinner with Anne Scott at Anne’s home. Monday, March 28. Sallie visits the Manuscript Department; has coffee with undergraduates from the Women’s Studies Program, tours an exhibit in Perkins Library on “Reclaiming the Past…Rewriting the Future: Women Theorists”; attends Anne Scott’s class on Social History of Women in America; visits the Women’s Studies Program office; attends a lecture by Carroll Smith-Rosenberg on “Domesticating Virtue.” A dinner for Sallie and Women’s Studies faculty and supporters is held at Jean O’Barr’s home that evening. Tuesday, March 29. Sallie attends an interdisciplinary course on women’s studies and then has coffee with Jean and me. I drive Sallie to the airport, and we discuss the possibility of creating an Archive for Women’s History at Duke. Sallie invites me to write her and describe the idea more fully, and I do so.
April 7, 1988. Sallie responds to my letter:
“Thank you for your letter, which I found extremely helpful. You should go ahead with plans for a Women’s Studies Archivist for the 1988-89 fiscal year….I will make a personal contribution…as soon as you are ready to fill the position.”
From this remarkably quick beginning in 1987 and 1988, the position of Women’s Studies Archivist has evolved to become the Merle Hoffmann Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for History and Culture. The position has been held by three individuals, Ginny Daley, Christina Favretto, and since 2002, Laura Micham. All three have been energetic, dedicated, and remarkably successful leaders for the Bingham Center. In fact, this year the Women and Gender Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries recognized Laura with its Career Achievement Award, honoring her for significant long-standing contributions to women’s studies in the field of librarianship over the course of her career.
For me it has been a great pleasure to work with Sallie and with colleagues here at Duke to create the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. I believe that we have accomplished something of enduring significance and value. So, before I turn the podium over to Laura, I would ask you to join me in applauding Sallie, Anne Scott, Jean O’Barr, Ginny, Christina, Laura, and all those who have contributed to forming the Sallie Bingham Center.