LGBTQ Archives at the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith

This essay was previously published in 2018 at the archives site, Beyond Citation, created by Eileen Clancy and Steven Brier, CUNY Graduate Center.

Photo Credit: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

Before we delve into the LGBTQ digital resources of the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, it’s important to think about why they — and other archives not explicitly marked as LGBTQ — are queer resources to begin with. Differently from archives like the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society, the Chicago Leather Archives and Museum, the ONE Archives Foundation, or digital resources like OutHistory.org, that were founded to document a queer past, archives that have significant content on human sexualities, identities and genders may require a closer look to uncover collections and content that documents the LGBTQ past. As late as 1993, when Patricia Miller King, the Schlesinger’s first director, wrote an essay summarizing the first fifty years of the collection, there was no mention of queer women in the archive, even though King notes the emergence of born-digital resources — “computer disks” — and digital journals as a new challenge for the Library.[1]

Yet LGBT materials were already in the archives, providing an excellent foundation for future collecting that is now explicitly marked in digital finding aids. Both the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith have been collecting manuscripts, oral histories, video, born digital and printed primary sources of explicitly lesbian and bisexual women since the 1970s. As importantly, many of the foundational collections at both of these institutions document the lives that women made with each other long before the International Women’s Year Conference where second-wave feminists embraced the word “lesbian,” and lesbian rights, as a proud political identity. As Barbara Lefkowitz Horowitz explains, although the generations of women who began to seek educations at single-sex colleges at the end of the nineteenth century would not have recognized themselves as modern lesbians, they were often “passionate human beings who lived an intense and rich life within the emotional world of other women,” and often paired off for life. The records of these lives, and communities, accumulated at the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith collections decades before LGBTQ history established itself as a field in 1989.[2]

It is, perhaps, an artifact of how reluctant women’s colleges were to discuss lesbian campus cultures that, until quite recently, the overarching category “woman”  became both an advantage for collecting and fundraising but also served to obscure the sexual, gender, and organizational diversity of the collections themselves. In addition to many individual collections at each library, some of which I discuss below, organizational records reveal the details of ordinary and celebrated LGBTQ lives. At the Schlesinger, researchers will find woman-loving women in the Women’s Rights and College Equal Suffrage collections and the Radcliffe College Archives; lesbians in the collections of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and Women Against Pornography; and women assigned male at birth in the records of Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls. While the Sophia Smith features national organizations like Ms. Magazine, the Women’s Music Archives, and Dyke TV, it also plays a role as a regional repository for the numerous organizations such as the Greene Street Lesbian Rooming House and the Springfield Women’s Center that have drawn queer people to Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley for decades. Both repositories also have extensive collections of oral histories, rare newsletters, zines and blogs that linked LGBTQ people in a national community.

The astute researcher will recognize evidence of LGBTQ lives in many collections not primarily archived as queer history, but it is also the case that prior to the 1970s, women who might today have understood themselves as lesbians may not have seen their personal lives as being of primary interest.[3] As a result, collections of “women’s” papers at both libraries, compiled and donated at a time when queers still concealed their relationships from the public, have become LGBTQ resources over time. The Mary Dewson papers at the Schlesinger Library, for example, which document her work as a feminist labor activist and Democratic political organizer, also provided historian Susan Ware with ample evidence about Dewson’s lifetime intimate relationship with Polly Porter and a network of women partnered with other women that surrounded Eleanor Roosevelt.[4]

Arguably, the oversimplification of gender identity contained in the word “woman” can be frustrating for the modern researcher who sees gender as a complex spectrum, but it has also done useful work in drawing collections to the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith Collections that allow us to see queer women in relation to each other and in relation to the larger political, cultural and social movements where they worked with men, heterosexuals, and people who may have identified outside binary gender categories: female husbands, butches, cross-dressers, transvestites, transsexuals and transgender are but a few of these categories.

So learning to navigate existing digital finding aids, online exhibits and any digital primary sources — and using those sources to locate onsite collections that must be visited — becomes particularly important. It also becomes important to see each collection as potentially “queer,” even though the rationale for its existence might be lodged in a category that reflects gender, sexual or racial categories that may seem theoretically or politically anachronistic to the modern researcher. Thus, materials that have been collected because they were created by women, some of whom are lesbian, transgender, bisexual or queer identified — in the Schlesinger, this would include `zines and blogs, and at the Sophia Smith, local as well as national feminist organizations — allow the researcher to look at gender and sexual fluidity as “women’s” identities shifted, solidified and changed in real time, and new words became attached to them. 

While LGBTQ digital databases exist at both libraries, because they require cross-referencing in other collections, they are not likely to be comprehensive for some time. Such a task, if it were to be undertaken, would require a detailed survey of existing archives, and then constant updating. This might best be done as a collaborative, crowd-sourced project between the researchers and the archivists as new knowledge, new identities, and the possibility of new meanings attaching to the documents, arise through their use. In fact, LGBT history itself, barely 40 years old, came to life in exactly this way. Pioneering researchers like Jonathan Ned Katz, John Boswell, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Martin Duberman, Lillian Faderman, and Susan Stryker located, and named, LGBTQ people in archives where they had been overlooked or erased, sometimes for hundreds of years. These forms of retrieval, like much social history research, laid the foundation for the emergence of LGBTQ history as a recognized specialization in the field of professional history in the 1990s.[5]

Most of these collections will need to be used on site. Because of privacy issues attendant to more modern collections, it is unlikely that full digital access to LGBTQ collections at the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith, will occur any time soon, although both institutions have ongoing digitization projects. While cost is a factor, lingering stigma in relation to non-normative genders and sexualities that may seem less and less relevant to the twentieth century researcher can cause privacy restrictions to disproportionately affect LGBTQ collections, even when other barriers — cost, intellectual property, labor — have been overcome. Yet some of the damage of homophobia cannot be overcome. As Estelle Freedman found while working in the papers of prison reformer Miriam Van Waters, when lesbians’ life’s work was threatened by discovery, they destroyed valuable evidence of their intimate lives. A journal entry in which Van Waters noted that “The Burning of Letters continues” signaled to Freedman the loss of these precious documents.[6]

Thus, the digital guides available at both the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith Collection are more likely to help the researcher create a strategy for accessing materials onsite and creating a tagging structure for a digital research platform like Zotero than they are to allow for work done at a distance. In addition, as someone who has worked in collections at both sites, and is a long-time member of the Schlesinger Library Council, I am aware that each repository’s collections speak to each other, as well as to other collections at archives such as the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Duke University); The New York Public Library (NYPL) Gay, Lesbian and HIV/AIDS collections; The Human Sexuality Collection (Cornell); the archive at the William Way Community Center (Philadelphia); the archive at the LGBT Community Center (New York); the Lesbian Herstory Archives (Brooklyn);  and the 50 collections listed as LGBTQ in the Online Archive of California.

A researcher would, therefore, be wise to consult at least one comprehensive LGBTQ database to establish these connections as early as possible in the research phase of a project. These databases include the universally accessible National Union Catalogue of Manuscript collections (NUCMC), a national program based at the Library of Congress, where a keyword search will help make connections between participating archives. Researchers may be able to dive more deeply with commercial subscription services that may be restricted to those with a university affiliation or access to a robust public library like the NYPL. The best of these are  EBSCO Information Services LGBT Life, a comprehensive index of books, articles and reference works; and Gale’s Archives of Sexuality and Gender database, which links archives, secondary and printed primary sources after 1940. Your own library may subscribe to other databases, or catalogue its own LGBTQ resources in a separate, searchable database.

These digital tools can all give the researcher a range of possibilities, including: a sense of the people, events and organizations to look for at both the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith; help map relationships between them; extend the map to other collections; and reveal the overlapping activists and constituencies between LGBTQ organizations and other advocacy, political, cultural, or community groups primarily focused on feminist, racial, ethnic and/or class activisms. A researcher interested in the radical lesbian activist Andrea Dworkin, for example, will learn through a keyword search that although her own papers and the papers of her collaborator Catharine MacKinnon are at the Schlesinger (as well as a large collection of their radio interviews and videos),  a visit to the NYPL will yield important interviews in the Karla Jay collection; a trip to the Sallie Bingham Center at Duke will yield extensive correspondence in the collections of poet Leah Fritz; and time spent in the Steinem collection at the Sophia Smith will reveal extensive correspondence about Dworkin’s writing.

Obviously, such a search will not reveal subjects who have deliberately flown under the radar, who were perfectly frank about their sexual and gender non-conformity in their own lifetimes but were not prominent enough to have been written about yet, or who were, in the words of Judith Bennett, “lesbian-like.”[7] As they peruse these collections, researchers may wish to point out to archivists when important evidence surfaces that a subject not listed in an LGBTQ finding aid or data base has had a complex sexual history, or one that was carefully concealed. For example, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture site features a downloadable .pdf of its collections, divided into more than 100 categories, with a section that is somewhat anachronistically named “Gay and Lesbian Studies.” Yet this listing does not include a number of collections donated by people like singer and activist Lena Horne, now known to have been bisexual; club owner Ada “Bricktop” Smith, who was gender non-conforming; singer Mabel Mercer, who counted numerous lesbians among her most intimate friends; and Claude McKay, a Jamaican-born Marxist, writer, and activist who openly pursued relationships with both men and women.

If twentieth-century figures require expert and up-to-date knowledge to find, the problem grows more difficult as the researcher explores the sexuality of pre-twentieth-century figures. Because of this, it is important to stress the modern bias of the researcher’s most comprehensive digital tools for searching across and within LGBT archives. The Gale Archive telegraphs explicitly that it will do little for the historian of queer life who is exploring anything before 1940. Nevertheless, for the period after World War II, when consolidating communities, the sexual rights movement and organization building increasingly made LGBTQ people visible to each other, these databases can establish the networks of relationships through which a targeted search in the archive itself, or a well-placed question in an oral history, reveals, amplifies or opens up a  new chapter in LGBTQ history.

So let’s get started.

LGBT Archives Hidden in Plain Sight

The origin of women’s archives is embedded in a late nineteenth-century educational vision, often promoted by men, that resulted in a network of elite women’s schools in the Northeast after the Civil War known as the “Seven Sisters.” Five of these colleges remain devoted to women’s education to this day and have extended their mission to include trans students. While women’s love for other women was often a contentious theme in these schools (as historian Barbara Horowitz has noted, nearly all the colleges explicitly designed living quarters to discourage it), the college archives at the Schlesinger and at the Sophia Smith Collection are a treasure trove of cross-dressing, homosocial play, and disciplinary records that help us understand the relationship between sex, gender, love and the decisions that educated women made about how to live their lives. As lesbian students began to organize on campus in the 1970s, their materials reflect dimensions of activisms that exceeded their own schools, and the more recent militancy of transgender students at historically women’s schools has the same promise.[8]

The Seven Sisters were also places where elite women who became feminists directed their philanthropy, seeking to establish a memory of feminisms past and a resource for the future. Located in the former Radcliffe Yard, now the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America was born when Radcliffe alumna Maud Wood Park donated the Women’s Rights Collection, later known as the Women’s Archive, to Radcliffe College, on Women’s Equality Day, 1943. It moved to the Radcliffe College Library in 1965, and in 1967 the collection and the building were renamed after Harvard history professor Arthur Schlesinger and Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger, in 1967.[9] In 2018, the Library, now led by Director and Harvard history professor Jane Kamensky, has over 4,000 collections, and growing (Executive Director Marilynn Dunn estimates that the archive acquires about a mile of new papers every year), and is actively engaged in collecting born-digital collections, particularly the email records of women and organizations that are already part of the Schlesinger library.) 

It was no accident that the Schlesinger first emerged as a project in the 1940’s: despite the demands of World War II, alumnae and administrators were preparing for the Seneca Falls centenary in 1948. Thus, at about the same time, Smith College Archivist Margaret Storrs Grierson was charged with assembling an archive of materials that might support the college’s mission of promoting women’s education. Beginning her task with the idea that the archive would document the lives of women writers, Grierson quickly learned that eager alumnae would support a project that placed women properly in all realms of American history. In 1946, flooded with collections documenting the lives of artists, suffragists, social workers, and ordinary women, the collection was rededicated to the college’s founder, Sophia Smith. After the college built a new gymnasium in the early 1970s, alumnae activism to preserve the historic old gymnasium resulted in its re-designation as a library annex, where the Sophia Smith Collection and the Smith College Archives were moved after a 1976 renovation. As of 2017, the collection is on the move again until 2020, housed in the Young Science Library while Smith renovates Neilson, its central library facility. Another change associated with the renovation will be the consolidation of Special Collections at Smith: unlike the Schlesinger, also under renovation between 2018-19, the Sophia Smith will no longer have a dedicated reading room, perhaps demonstrating that women’s and LGBT history is at last moving to the center.

Until the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture was endowed at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1993, the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith collections were the only two libraries devoted to archiving the history of women.[10] Embedded in these foundational collections were the seeds of what would become the beginnings of lesbian history: the documenting of women’s intimate friendships and loving partnerships while in college and working in the suffrage and abolitionist movements. Significantly, the Sophia Smith preserves the distinction between the past and modern identities these women would not have recognized: one index is devoted to “Lesbians and Bisexual Women,” while a second guide is labeled “Women Companions and Female Friendship.”

The fact that, in the 1940s and 1950s, when documenting LGBTQ lives was the last thing a library might have raised money for, such women (some of whom often lived a chapter of their lives married to men) were already “queering” the feminist archive. This  suggests, as I mentioned earlier, the ongoing and evolving quality of all potential resources for doing LGBT history. By the early 1970s, when women’s studies was creating a new audience for a usable past that might inform a feminist present, these nineteenth and early twentieth century records of these women were there to be used by researchers. These collections were  mined and re-interpreted by a new generation of historians who were themselves in the midst of women’s, black and gay liberation movements in which LGBT people were at the forefront of radical politics. If “we” were “everywhere,” these early activist historians reasoned, why wouldn’t lesbians — or women-loving-women, as some in the movement  called them, also be in the archives?

In other words, activating an archive — and the early twentieth century turn to transgender history represents a similar moment — is often an act of recovery and re-interpretation that is made necessary by the emergence of new identities and political movements, as well as a process of overcoming the unwillingness of many to see LGBTQ relationships at all.[11]

LGBTQ Archives — Hidden, and Not So Hidden Histories

One critical figure in the reinterpretation of “women’s” archives as a potential trove of lesbian histories was Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, whose 1975 article “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth-Century America” reconsidered numerous well-read collections of women’s letters, a number in the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith, to understand the range of intellectual, emotional and sensual intimacies that fell outside a proper social trajectory that led middle-class women to marriage and family. Yet the passionate intimacy that defined women’s attachments to other women often existed alongside marriage and motherhood. “The question on female friendships is particularly elusive,” Smith Rosenberg hinted; “we know so little, or perhaps have forgotten so much.”[12]

This emerging project of women’s history, the feminist recovery of women’s lives, dovetailed nicely with the documentation of lesbian lives at the Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith, both of which were undergoing rapid expansions as archivists reached out to grassroots feminist activists, artists, writers, scholars and politicians in the last decades of the twentieth century. This, in turn, pushed forward the project Smith-Rosenberg had outlined, as new cohorts of women’s historians began to connect the suffrage generation, sometimes called the “first wave,”  with the second wave of women’s liberation.[13] When researching her dissertation on women in the New Deal at the Schlesinger library in the 1970s, then-Harvard graduate student Susan Ware quickly realized that the networks of working women who surrounded first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (often referred to as Boston marriages, or households of convenience for unmarried women) were actually networks of female intimate couples who regarded themselves as married. In 1981, when she revised this project into a book, Ware noted that  “Single professional women of this generation often shared their homes and their lives with like-minded women on a fairly permanent basis.” Sometimes they were sisters and friends, but “Sometimes the bonds were even stronger.” Ware then described the partnership between New Dealer Molly Dewson and her lifetime partner Polly Porter, and the barriers to understanding them as modern lesbians.[14]

Six years later, Ware took on that task, and made it a central methodological tool for understanding Dewson as a politician. Exploring a 52-year relationship was not just a project of recovering lesbian history, Ware argued, but provided “important clues for understanding the changing priorities and shifting affiliations” of a career. Ware and subsequent biographers of such women, while identifying the importance of such materials, also caution us — in the words of Estelle Freedman — to “think about the limits of sexual categories that have been read onto the past.” But we need to think of their possibilities too: Glenda Gilmore’s reading of the Pauli Murray archive at the Schlesinger caused her to believe that while Murray privately embraced her lesbianism, she struggled with her gender identity. Murray once requested, and was denied, surgery to explore her belief that male sex organs might be embedded in her body.[15]

Was Murray’s archive, unbeknownst to those who processed it in 1992, the first transgender archive to take up residence at the Schlesinger? A founder of the National Organization for Women and a prominent feminist, Murray was never comfortable sharing her disquiet about her own gender outside her intimate circle. Gilmore and Murray’s biographer, Rosalind Rosenberg, found ample evidence in the archive, Murray’s autobiography makes no mention of an intimate life at all.[16] Similarly, the Sophia Smith Collection has numerous collections from women who were, perhaps, not out in their lifetimes but are well known as lesbians now.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing collections is the papers of Dolores Alexander, a journalist who helped to found the National Organization for Women (NOW); ran a restaurant in Greenwich Village called Mother Courage, a gathering place for gay, straight and bisexual women engaged in activism; and was a founding member of Women Against Pornography (WAP) in the 1970s. Alexander is a good example of the kind of mapping one might need to do with digital tools before beginning a research project: a simple catalogue search reveals an Alexander archive across the NOW, Betty Friedan, WAP and other collections at the Schlesinger Library. But her personal collection, as yet unprocessed, is at the Sophia Smith.

Why are Alexander’s papers, which include a treasure trove of financial information about WAP, not at the Schlesinger too? When I asked archivists at both places they weren’t clear about why she had made this decision, but one possibility seems likely. While Alexander was not closeted, identified as a lesbian in her twenties, and was well known as a lesbian in the movement, she did not discuss her private life in her professional world. Unwilling to destroy her archive (which includes correspondence about several love affairs), as some women did, she also may have been reluctant, after a lifetime of self-protection, to lift the veil. So she hid her lesbianism in plain sight — at a women’s history archive almost a hundred miles away from where most researchers would be looking because of her associations with NOW and WAP. In fact, it was Alexander who chose to send the WAP papers to the Schlesinger.

Questions of privacy — that of an LGBTQ historical figure or the network of people that figure is embedded in — delineate the territory outside the database that can be hard to access. It also means that — outside of digital exhibits and selected collections frustratingly little is directly accessible online.

Finding LGBTQ History online at the Schlesinger and Sophia Smith Collections

It’s worth noting that non-governmental archives are often ambivalent about making any collection available online, regardless of what it is about. While digital access achieves the goal of making the library’s materials accessible to as large an audience as possible (especially hobbyists, undergraduates, and high school students), and it invites researchers to explore further in a site visit, online collections are expensive to create and maintain. Putting collections online can risk violating intellectual property that may be held by heirs or a literary trust. It may violate the privacy of individuals whose correspondence has made its way into the collection. It potentially exposes private information such as addresses, telephone numbers, attorney-client correspondence, and medical histories to an infinite audience. So even when a collection is said to be available through a digital search, it is rarely available in full.

In other words, LGBTQ collections only amplify the complications that modern archives bring to the table, frustrating historians of a more recent past with restrictions that are often part of the gift itself. For example, let’s take a look at the digital finding aid for the Adrienne Rich collection at the Schlesinger Library, a place where all research on Rich ought to begin, but which offers some clear indications of why putting the feminist poet’s papers online, in whole or in part, might not happen for decades to come. Donated serially by Rich from 1984-1999, and processed in 1999, the researcher will note under the section “Terms of Use” that large parts of the collection are closed, some until the year 2050. Under “Conditions Governing Use,” the researcher will learn that the copyright to the materials are held by Rich’s literary trust, that re-publication rights to archival, or even duplicating archival materials, is at the discretion of Pablo Conrad, Rich’s eldest son and literary executor; and that materials by other authors may be held by them or their literary heirs as well. Although Conrad has a reputation for generous permissions when granting rights to materials that are open, living donors, literary heirs and trusts who negotiate such restrictions have the right to restrict permissions for any reason — including interpretations that they believe are damaging to the subjects reputation.[17]

Thus, it’s no surprise that despite the resources and will archivists bring to the table, that the vast majority of the digitally-accessible manuscript collections are those of prominent nineteenth-century families. As Smith-Rosenberg demonstrated, work on sexuality and cross-gender identification might be done in such a collection: for the latter, look at the evidence of cross-dressing play between Harriet and her brother Henry Ward Beecher, heterosexual love, homosocial friendship, and the Beecher-Tilton adultery scandal of 1875. All of these subjects can be explored in the Beecher-Stowe Family Papers, fully available online. Similarly, the Smith College Libraries have a page devoted to digital collections; unfortunately, in order to find the items associated with LGBTQ history at the Sophia Smith collection, the researcher actually has to navigate away from the Special Collections pages and back to the main site.

 But explicitly LGBTQ collections won’t be fully accessible online in the near future, and not only because the cost and the time spent on a digitization project competes with the ongoing work of preservation, storage and processing of original documents. Neither the Schlesinger, with its larger resources, and the Sophia Smith collection, with its comparatively smaller resources, have put modern LGBTQ manuscript collections online; and the vast majority of audio-visual sources that are also part of modern collections are also not online (the Schlesinger will digitize materials upon request and make them available at a password protected site, but you cannot keep your own copies, as you can with photographs of documents.) So what do you have available to you as you map your research more precisely and prepare for your trip to the archive?

The Schlesinger and the Sophia Smith Collection have finding aids to the collections online, which is now more or less standard practice everywhere. Schlesinger databases can be accessed multiple ways at the library’s own site. First, a “Subject Guides” page breaks the collection into multiple categories, one of which is LGBTQ collections that date from the 1880s forward. This page also links to a site called the Transgender History Archive. Although that site contains a rich aggregation of resources to trans archives that are digitized in other collections, I found it impossible to search that site,systematically. It seems to be mostly a platform for newspaper clippings about gender transgressors beginning in the late nineteenth century and ending, significantly, in the late 1980s as the word “transgender” began to replace “transsexual” as an identity.

The Sophia Smith collection also provides a list of finding aids online. That said, a tiny widget on the left margin of the site notifies the researcher that all finding aids are not online. My experience in the Alexander papers, discussed above, suggests that some collections that are available but remain unprocessed due to funding restrictions, either have no finding aids, or very rudimentary ones. Similarly, the Voices of Feminism project at the Sophia Smith, a collection of oral histories from women’s liberation activists fully available online, describes the interview subject, but the transcripts are not cross indexed to allow the researcher to search across them. Researchers may, however, want to download .pdf transcripts and search them, using a set of keywords appropriate to the research.

Perhaps by admitting to its incompleteness, the Sophia Smith offers an unintentional word to the wise. The Schlesinger’s site architecture makes collections more visible, but a researcher will want to first utilize it and then overlook it to understand what it hides. For example, the category Sex Work — which is not explicitly marked as LGBTQ — will point you to lesbian Andrea Dworkin’s collaborator and close friend, Catharine MacKinnon, who has had intimate relations with both women and men; and the papers of two different anti-pornography organizations where out lesbians were key organizers. Sports — also unmarked — leads to the work of Bettye Lane, a feminist photographer who often chose lesbians as her subjects. Legal Professions lists the collections of Patricia Ireland, the first bisexual woman to be president of the National Organization for Women, and lesbian politician Elizabeth Holtzman. We can only speculate as to why Ireland and Holtzman are not included in the LGBTQ index, since Ireland came out in her 1996 memoir, and Holtzman’s life with women — while she has never been public about it — is well known in New York circles, as is her work on LGBT rights.[18]

The second way to access collections at both archives is through the general library catalogues. HOLLIS, the digital Harvard Library Catalogue, is a particularly good tool, since it links archival collections to other special collections in the university-wide system, as well as to books, printed primary sources, and articles that might help direct your research. Similarly, and on a somewhat smaller scale, the Smith College Libraries have a page devoted to research tools. Although many are not available to researchers outside the Smith community, one important resource is the Five Colleges Library Catalogue, which allows a guest to search across the special to search across the Amherst, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire College systems, in addition to the Smith Library. This is a particularly important feature for those interested in the LGBTQ cultures that have flourished in the Pioneer Valley, sometimes known as “Happy Valley,” since the 1970s, and to that community’s links to larger queer cultures in New York and Boston.

If you have made it this far, you may think I have buried the lede: why get to these catalogues at the end? The truth is, there is no right way to use digital tools: If you start with the most comprehensive ones, you may miss the details, and many of us begin by defining the possibilities that a single collection holds before we map a larger program of research. It is also true that, unlike the card catalogues and printed research guides that digital tools have largely replaced, the connections between these resources will change over time. Because of that, don’t forget that the most important technology you may have at your command is the telephone: when you know what questions to ask, make an appointment to talk to an archivist.


[1] Patricia Miller King, “The Power of Presence,” American Libraries (July/August 1993), 665-7.

[2] Marjorie J. Spruill, Divided We Stand: The Battle over Women’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), pp. 222-230; and Barbara Lefkowitz Horowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women’s Colleges from their Nineteenth Century Beginnings to the 1930s (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984),p. 188. The question of when LGBTQ history emerged as a field is difficult to pinpoint: Although earlier books and articles exist, the first academic anthology was Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, eds., Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (New York: Meridian, 1989).

[3] The first academic article to acknowledge the power of dominant intellectual and social pressures to suppress gender and sexual diversity may be Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Signs vol. 5, no. 4, (Summer, 1980), pp. 631-660.

[4] Susan Ware, Partner and I: Molly Dewson, Feminism and New Deal Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).

[5] The first comprehensive  history of LGBTQ sexuality is Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (New York: Avon Books, 1976.)The first collection of academic essays was published 13 years later: Martin B. Duberman, Martha Vicinus and George Chauncey, Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (New York: Dutton, 1989.) Of the three co-editors, only Chauncey, the youngest, had begun his career as a scholar of LGBT history.

[6] Estelle B. Freedman, Maternal Justice: Miriam Van Waters and the Female Reform Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 281

[7] Judith Bennet, “’Lesbian-Like’ and the Social History of Lesbianisms,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 9 no. 1/ 2 (January-April, 2000), pp. 1-24.

[8] See Barbara Lefkowitz Horowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women’s Colleges from Their Nineteenth Century Beginnings to the 1930s (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.)

[9] King, “The Power of Presence,”665.

[10]For the origins of these collections, see “About the Library,” Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; Margaret Storrs Grierson, “Woman’s Collection,” Report written for Friends of the Smith College Library Member Frances Carpenter Huntington, October 1943, History of the Sophia Smith Collection, College Archives; “About the Bingham Center,” The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, Duke University Libraries.

[11] See Blanche Wiesen Cook, “The Historical Denial of Lesbianism,” Radical History Review 20, Spring/Summer, 1979, pp. 60-65.

[12] Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth Century America,” Signs v. 1 no. 1, 1-29.

[13] Recent work in the field argues that so-called feminist waves overlap and reference each other, and are internally diverse enough by race and class, that they may not be separable into distinct movements or historiographical periods: see Nancy Hewitt Et. Al., No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010.)

[14] Susan Ware, Beyond Suffrage: Women in the New Deal (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.)

[15] Ware, Beyond Suffrage, 26-7, and Partner and I: Molly Dewson, Feminism and New Deal Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987); Estelle Freedman, Maternal Justice: Miriam van Waters and the Female Reform Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.) A project similar to Ware’s, also grounded in Schlesinger archives not labeled as explicitly queer, is Annelise Orleck’s Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working Class Politics in the United States,1900-1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.) For the reference to Murray as a self-acknowledging transgender person decades before the term was popularized, see Glenda Gilmore, Defying Dixie: the Radical Root of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009), 288-9.

[16] Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017); Pauli Murray, The Autobiography of a Black Activist (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1989).

[17] Daniel Horowitz discusses just such a complication in the introduction to his biography of Betty Friedan, after Friedan withdrew permission to quote from her papers: see Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000).

[18] Patricia Ireland, What Women Want (New York: Dutton, 1996).


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