My current book project, Southern Sapphisms: Sexuality and Sociality in Literary Productions 1969-1997, considers how queer and feminist theories illuminate and complicate the intersections between canonical and obscure, queer and normative, and regional and national narratives in southern literary representations produced during a crucial but understudied period in the historical politicization of sexuality. The advent of New Southern Studies has focused almost exclusively on midcentury texts from the Southern Renascence, largely neglecting post-1970 queer literatures. At the same time, most scholarship in women’s and feminist studies continue to ignore the South, or worse, demonize the South as backward, parochial, and deeply homophobic. Southern Sapphisms argues that we cannot understand expressions of lesbianism and feminism in post-Stonewall era American literature without also understanding the explicitly southern dynamics of those writings—foregrounding the centrality of sexuality to the study of southern literature as well as the region’s defining role in the historiography of lesbian literature in the United States.
Vital archival work completed at the Sallie Bingham Center this past May strengthened my arguments about the formations of lesbian identity and community in the North Carolina lesbian-feminist journal Feminary (1969-1982). Feminary has been lauded by one scholar as “the source and backbone of contemporary Southern lesbian feminist theory,” due in part to the forum it provided for southern lesbians to voice their inimitable outlooks on race, regionality, and social justice[i]. At a local level, Feminary forged and grounded a community of Durham/Triangle feminists, lesbians, and women writing and printing as a collective. At a national level, I show how the women of this journal were actually inspired by the increasingly turbulent battles over civil rights in the South. This revelation upends prevailing notions that the Stonewall riots in New York were the watershed that changed lesbian and gay politics and culture in the nation. My work on Feminary recasts dominant national narratives about queer lives, histories, and activism in the region by illustrating how lesbian feminist politics gained their inspiration and momentum not only from Stonewall, but also from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and massive resistance against civil rights and gay and lesbian rights in the South. Access to rare archival documents—only available at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library—prove that Second Wave feminism and modern lesbian politics have extensive southern roots. To ignore the distinctly regional dynamics of those roots is to misunderstand the complexity of those movements across the nation and beyond.
The popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black, based on the memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, has brought renewed attention to the conditions inside U.S. women’s prisons. While prison reform has not been contemporarily understood as a priority of the LGBTQ and feminist communities, the special collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, illustrate the degree to which prison reform and anti-prison activism have, since the 19th century, operated as a cornerstone of both LGBTQ and feminist movements.
In the 19th century, charity efforts led by white middle-class feminists led to the creation of prison reform organizations such as the Women’s Prison Association (WPA) and the Gilbert Library and Prisoners’ Aid Society. These organizations advocated for separate women’s reformatories, the decriminalization of prostitution, rehabilitation programs for former inmates, and the creation and expansion of prison libraries.
These early reform efforts are reflected in the ledger and scrapbook of Linda Gilbert, the founder and president of the Gilbert Library and Prisoners’ Aid Society. The ledger details Gilbert’s fundraising efforts on behalf of the organization and the expenses it incurred from roughly 1868 to 1894, as it helped to establish libraries in institutions such as the New York House of Detention, Ludlow St. Jail, and Sing Sing Female Prison. A pamphlet included in the Linda Gilbert scrapbook speaks to the particular significance of prison libraries and literature to reformers of this period, who saw increasing literacy among prisoners and increasing access to reading material as central to their moral improvement.
The incarceration collections held in the Rubenstein Library, however, reflect the importance of circulating periodicals to prison reform efforts more generally, and the changing role of reading and writing in prison reform movements over time. In the 1960’s and 70’s, prison libraries and education programs helped to instigate an expanding prisoners’ rights movement both within and beyond prison walls. These efforts are reflected in several women’s prison newsletters and pamphlets that were published by lesbian feminist organizations in the late 20th century, including “No More Cages” and “Through the Looking Glass,” which are held in the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals Collection and the Women’s and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Movements (LGBTQ) Periodicals Collection, respectively.
These newsletters were the collaborative projects of lesbian feminist and anti-prison activists in the late twentieth century in the context of neo-liberal economic policies, intensifying restrictions on access to welfare, and a corresponding rise in incarceration rates. The newsletters that grew out of these coalitions often aimed their critiques at increasing restrictions on access to welfare that, while initiated by the Nixon administration, were part of a larger conservative backlash against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 that continued through the 1990’s, making women of color, in particular, vulnerable to mass incarceration.
“Break ‘de Chains of U.S. Legalized Slavery,” a joint publication between the Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists’ Prison Book Project and inmates at the North Carolina Correctional institute for women, documents a prison rebellion at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women in 1975 that began as a work stoppage in the prison laundry. The pamphlet not only critiques healthcare and labor conditions in the prison, but contests media accounts of the rebellion itself. Additionally, the Rubenstein Library also holds a publication from Action for Forgotten Women, a feminist organization that was also active in the Triangle in the 1970’s.
Gay and lesbian publications such as Feminary, Lesbian Tide, RFD, and Gay Community News, which frequently reported on conditions inside prisons and incidents of police brutality, gave advice to gay and lesbian readers about how to protect themselves from law enforcement, and published letters from prisoners that also circulated widely both inside and outside of prisons during this period. These publications helped to galvanize support for prisoners, and encouraged readers to understand the policing and criminalization of gender and sexual non-normativity as intersecting with the policing and criminalization of people of color, immigrants, and the poor.
More recently, zines distributed by prison books programs, anti-prison zine distros, and collectively owned bookstores and activist centers have done similar work, attempting to fill a gap left by increasingly restrictive policies and funding for prison libraries and education.
Many of the most widely circulating zines are included in the Incarceration Zine Collection, part of the Human Rights Archive, which was acquired from the Chicago Anarchist Black Cross Zine Distro. The collection spans the years from 1995 to 2007, and includes 103 zines distributed inside and outside of jails and prisons, with writing by notable inmates and anti-prison activists, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Ashanti Alston Omowali, David Gilbert and his son, Chesa Boudin, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Dennis Kyne, Anthony Rayson, Bobby Sands, Sean Swain, and Harold H. Thompson. Zines related specifically to the concerns of women and LGBTQ people, including The Invisibility of Women Prisoners’ Resistance, Reaching through the Bars, Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, and Queers Bash Back can be found in the Bingham Center Women’s Zine Collection.
These resources offer researchers insight into the dialogue amongst prison reformers and anti-prison activists both inside and outside of prison, and into the particular role of reading and writing in the expansion of prison reform and prisoners’ rights movements.
Submitted by – Jennifer Ansley, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow, Thompson Writing Program, firstname.lastname@example.org
I was awarded a Mary Lily Research Grant in 2014 to travel to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture to consult The Kathy Acker Papers. In April 2014 I carried out research in the archive for my book manuscript, Kathy Acker: Writing the Impossible, which is under contract with Edinburgh University Press.
Critics and scholars in the field of contemporary literature have largely understood Kathy Acker as a postmodern writer. My monograph challenges such readings of the writer and her works, paying close attention to the form of Acker’s experimental writings, as a means to position Acker and her work within a lineage of radical modernisms.
Consulting The Kathy Acker Papers, the extensive archive of Acker’s works housed at the Sallie Bingham Center, shaped my research in a number of ways. Most striking, and perhaps the aspect of the archive that has been most formative to my work, is what the archive revealed in terms of the materiality of Acker’s various manuscripts. The original manuscript of Acker’s early and most renowned work, Blood and Guts in High School (1978), is a lined notepad with text and image pasted onto the pages. It is a collage, an art object. The dream maps, which punctuate Blood and Guts in High School, are archived as separate framed objects. Dream Map Two is an artwork measuring 56 inches by 22 inches. Such archival discoveries enabled the development of my book. The monograph takes a specific work of Acker’s for each chapter as a means to explore six key experimental strategies in Acker’s oeuvre. A substantial knowledge of Acker’s avant-garde practices would not have been possible without the research carried out in the archive.
The Kathy Acker Papers also illuminated a related line of enquiry taken in my monograph: the importance of Acker’s early poetic practices to an understanding of her later prose experiments, which often dislimn the distinction between poetry and prose. The repository of unpublished poetic works provided rich material for the first chapter of my book, which explores Acker’s engagement with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets in the 1970s. Acker’s unpublished poetry can be understood as both a significant autonomous body of work, and as juvenilia that was a catalyst for her later writing experiments. The box that houses these early works also contains typed conversations between Acker and her early mentor, the poet David Antin. Written under Acker’s early pseudonym, The Black Tarantula, these conversations point to the discourses that emerged between Acker and various writers and poets concerning the uses of language. In this 1974 text, ‘Interview With David Antin’, which reads in part, and perhaps intentionally, like a Socratic dialogue, Acker and Antin interrogate issues of language and certainty. Acker and Antin draw on their writing experiments, alongside a discussion of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, as means to interrogate language and perception. Such materials are rich when read in conjunction with Acker’s poetry.
Reading the materials in the archive, letters, early drafts of published works, speeches, Acker’s teaching notes and notebooks on philosophy, as well as Acker’s handwritten annotations on various texts, and her invaluable collection of small press pamphlets, was illuminating. Numerous texts disclosed the self-conscious nature of Acker’s experiments. A number of early poetic experiments are entitled ‘Writing Asymmetrically’, and several notebooks gesture specifically to the influence of William Burroughs and Acker’s experiments with the cut-up technique. Other notebooks are streams of consciousness, and are evidently comprised of material that Acker then cut up for use in her experimental works. Most of Acker’s novels originated this way, as a set of handwritten notebooks.
Archival research at the Sallie Bingham Center cultivated a rich understanding of the diversity of Acker’s experimental work and the writer’s remarkable lifetime achievements, many of which remain unpublished. The extent of the material and its uniqueness brought home the importance and centrality of the archive in the formation of knowledge regarding an experimental writer’s oeuvre. In the context of the female avant-garde writer, Acker stated that Gertrude Stein, as the progenitor of experimental women’s writing, is ‘the mother of us all.’ The remarkable experimentalism and the linguistic innovation of a great number of the texts that comprise The Kathy Acker Papers reveal Acker to succeed Stein as one of the most important experimental writers of the twentieth century.
Post contributed by Georgina Colby, Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, University of Westminster, UK.
The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has acquired one of the largest and most significant private collections on women’s history, documenting the work and intellectual contributions of women from the Renaissance to the modern era.
Carefully assembled over 45 years by noted bibliophile, activist and collector Lisa Unger Baskin, the collection includes more than 8,600 rare books and thousands of manuscripts, journals, ephemera and artifacts, including author Virginia Woolf’s writing desk.. Among the works are many well-known monuments of women’s history and literature, as well as lesser-known works produced by female scholars, printers, publishers, scientists, artists and political activists. Taken together, they comprise a mosaic of the ways women have been productive, creative, and socially engaged over more than 500 years. The collection will become a part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture within the Rubenstein Library.
The materials range in date from a 1240 manuscript documenting a respite home for women in Italy to a large collection of letters and manuscripts by the 20th-century anarchist Emma Goldman. The majority of materials were created between the mid-15th and mid-20th centuries. Other highlights include correspondence by legendary American and English suffragists and abolitionists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emmeline Pankhurst and Lucretia Mott; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s publicity blurb for Sojourner Truth’s Narrative, written in Stowe’s own hand; exquisite decorated bindings by the celebrated turn-of-the-century British binders Sarah Prideaux, Katharine Adams, and Sybil Pye; and Woolf’s writing desk, which the author designed herself.
Baskin and her late husband, the artist Leonard Baskin, were both avid book collectors. Leonard also founded The Gehenna Press, one of the preeminent American private presses of the 20th century. Lisa Unger Baskin began collecting materials on women’s history in the 1960s after attending Cornell University. She is a member of the Grolier Club, the oldest American society for bibliophiles.
“I am delighted that my collection will be available to students, scholars and the community at Duke University, a great teaching and research institution,” Baskin said. “Because of Duke’s powerful commitment to the central role of libraries and digitization in teaching, it is clear to me that my collection will be an integral part of the university in the coming years and long into the future. I trust that this new and exciting life for my books and manuscripts will help to transform and enlarge the notion of what history is about, deeply reflecting my own interests.”
Materials from the collection will be available to researchers once they have been cataloged. Some items will be on display in the renovated Rubenstein Library when it reopens to the public at the end of August 2015.
The Rubenstein Library’s research centers annually award travel grants to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and independent scholars through a competitive application process. Congratulations—we look forward to sharing our collections with you!
History of Medicine Research Grants
Lindsey Beal, MFA, for photographic research on late nineteenth and early twentieth century obstetric and gynecological instruments.
Elaine LaFay, PhD candidate in History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania, for dissertation work on “Weathered Bodies, Sickly Lands: Climate, Health, and Place in the Antebellum Gulf South.”
Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi, PhD, for work on “Deafness is Misery: Advertised Cures for Hearing Loss in Early 20th Century America.”
John Hope Franklin Center for African and African-American History and Culture Research Grants
Wangui Muigai, Princeton University, “An Awful Gladness: Infant Mortality and Race from Slavery to the Great Migration”
Jessica Parr, University of New Hampshire at Manchester, “’Saved from My Pagan Land:’ the Role of Religion in Self-Making in the Black Atlantic, 1660-1820.”
Whitney Stewart, Rice University, “Domestic Activism: The Politics of the Black Home in Nineteenth-Century America”
Brandon Winford, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, “Building New South Prosperity: John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights”
John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History Research Grants
Dana Alsen, Department of History, University of Alabama, “Changing Patterns of Food Consumption in North Carolina, 1945-1989”
Dr. Makeda Best, Dept. of Visual Studies, California College of the Arts, “Sensing Memory: Kodak Cameras, Class, the Haptic, and the Labor of Memory in Late Nineteenth Century America”
Cari Casteel, History of Technology, Auburn University, “The Odor of Things: Deodorant, Gender, and Olfaction in the United States, 1888-2010”
Dr. Victoria Greive, Dept. of History, Utah State University, “Childhood and the Ideology of Domestic Security: Advertising During the Cold War”
Kira Lussier, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto, “Managing Your Self: Personality Testing in Corporate America, 1960-present”
Dr. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Visiting Scholar, Institute of Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Columbia University, “Ad Women in a (Mad)Men World: Negotiating Gender in the Advertising Business 1910-1930”
Dr. Rebecca Sheehan, United States Studies Center, University of Sydney, “The Rise of the Superwoman: How Sex Remade Gender in America’s Long 1970s”
Dr. Mark Tadajewski, Professor of Marketing, Durham University, “Jean Kilbourne: Recalling the Contributions of a Feminist Critic of Advertising”
Seth Tannenbaum, Department of History, Temple University, “Take Me Out…To the Concession Stand: Baseball, Food, and Citizenship in the Twentieth Century”
Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, Mary Lily Research Grants
Meaghan Beadle, Ph.D. candidate, history, University of Virginia, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like! Photography and Feminism, 1968-1980.”
Hanne Blank, Ph.D. candidate, history, Emory University, “Southern Women, Feminist Health: Activist Health Service and Communities of Radical Conscience in the Southeastern U.S., 1968-1990.”
Samantha Bryant, Ph.D. candidate, history, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, “‘Black Monster Stalks the City’: The Thomas Wansley Case and the Racialized Cultural Landscape of the American Prison Industrial Complex, 1960 – 1975.”
Jaime Cantrell, Visiting Assistant Professor of English, The Sarah Isom Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Mississippi, “Southern Sapphisms: Race, Sexuality, and Sociality in Literary Productions, 1968-1994.”
Ariel Dougherty, Independent scholar, for book research on film teaching programs for young women, women of color, and queer women.
Anne Gray Fischer, Ph.D. candidate, history, Brown University, for dissertation research on the politics of prostitution in the US from 1960s – 1980s.
Anna Iones, Ph.D. candidate, English language and literature, University of Virginia, “Shocking Violence, Contested Consent: The Feminist Avant-garde from Kathy Acker to Riot Grrrl.”
Catherine Jacquet, Assistant Professor, history, Louisiana State University, Responding to Rape: Contesting the Meanings of Sexual Violence in the United States, 1950-1980.
Whitney Stewart, Ph.D. candidate, history, Rice University, “Domestic Activism: The Politics of the Black Home in Nineteenth-Century America.”
Mary Whitlock, Ph.D. candidate, sociology, University of South Florida, “Examining Forty Years Of The Social Organization Of Feminisms: Ethnography Of Two Women’s Bookstores In the US South.”
Leah Wilson, Master’s student, English, Iowa State University, “Fleeing the Double Bind: Subverting the ‘White Trash’ Label through Female Solidarity and Erotic Power in Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller.”
Join us for a round table discussion on how the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) impacts research conducted in libraries and archives.
Thursday, April 16, 5:30 pm, Room 217 of Perkins Library
Cynthia Greenlee, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Richards Civil War Era Center and the Africana Research Center, Penn State
Phoebe Evans Letocha, Collections Management Archivist of the Alan Mason Chesney Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Laura Micham, Merle Hoffman Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University Libraries
Stephen Novak, Head of Archives & Special Collections at Columbia University’s Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library
Kevin Smith, Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communication, Duke University Libraries
Scholars and researchers encounter issues with accessing information when researching 20th century materials containing sensitive health information. Archivists grapple with how to collect and describe sensitive health information. This roundtable discussion will discuss the legal and ethical implications of HIPAA and how to move forward in a scholarly community.
Since August of 2014 I’ve had the pleasure of arranging and describing the papers of Reverend Jeanne Audrey Powers. In 1958, Rev. Powers became one of the first women to be ordained in the United Methodist Church, and in 1995, she publicly came out as a lesbian in her most famous sermon, “The Journey.” The reactions she faced as a result of coming out were mixed. Many, like the GCCUIC (General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns) supported her unswervingly, while others, most notably the Institute on Religion & Democracy, campaigned against her, hoping to force Powers into an early retirement.
Reverend Powers was involved in organizing the Re-Imagining Conference, the Minneapolis interfaith conference of clergy, laypeople, and feminist theologians that stirred controversy in U.S. mainline Protestant denominations. “Re-Imagining: A Global Theological Conference By Women: For Men and Women,” grew out of a response to the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women 1988–1998. The conference aimed to encourage churches to address injustices to women worldwide and promote equal partnership with men at all levels of religious life. Participants met at the Minneapolis Convention Center from November 4-7, 1993. It brought together 2,200 people, one third of them clergy, and most of them women. 83 men registered. Attendees represented 16 denominations, 27 countries, and 49 states.
Rev. Powers’ papers also document her extensive professional accomplishments and contributions as well as her personal history. Photographs from her childhood, stories about her family, and even two locks of hair can be found within the 98 boxes of material. The materials related to Rev. Powers’ activism, including her support for equal treatment for all persons in the church, are my favorite feature of the collection.
For example, the collection includes Rev. Powers’ files associated with the group, Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian/Gay Concerns. In 1984, in response to “unwelcoming policies toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons,” the group issued a call to local churches to “reaffirm that their ministry was open to all persons, including gays and lesbians.” The “Open the Doors” campaign was sponsored by the Reconciling Congregation group. The goal was to go to the United Methodist Church’s 1996 General Conference in Denver, Colorado to foster discussion around creating a more welcoming atmosphere in the church for lesbian and gay members. The campaign had a moderate level of success with several hundred people attending “Open the Doors” events at the General Conference. However, the UMC policies discriminating against gays and lesbians were not changed.
The Jeanne Audrey Powers Papers is a treasure trove of materials that I have greatly enjoyed processing. It’s hard to believe that they will be ready for researchers to use quite soon—an exciting prospect!
Post contributed by Rachel Sanders, Technical Services Intern for the Sallie Bingham Center.
Join the staff of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture for an opportunity to learn how to edit Wikipedia articles, learn more about the rich history of women at Duke University, and then put that knowledge into action by creating and editing entries that document the lives and contributions of women alumnae, faculty, staff, and community members.
This edit-a-thon is part of a worldwide movement to increase the percentage of women editors and woman-focused articles within Wikipedia.
If you’re planning to attend, create a Wikipedia account in advance and sign up on the edit-a-thon’s meetup page (where you’ll also find a list of proposed Wikipedia articles that you can work on). Bring your laptop to the edit-a-thon if you can. You can also participate from anywhere in the world!
Date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 Time: 12:00 p.m. (Bring your lunch. Coffee, tea, and sweets will be served.) Location: The Edge Workshop Room, Bostock Library, First Floor Contact: Kelly Wooten email@example.com
Join the Rubenstein Library for an lunchtime program with poet, scholar, and activist Rachel Levitsky. Levitsky, who founded Belladonna*, will share its history, mission, and aesthetics and read selections from both her writings and work published by the Belladonna* collective. Levitsky will also share the collaborative work she’s done within Belladonna*, Pratt Institute, and the Office of Recuperative Strategies.
In 1999, Levitsky started Belladonna Series in order to investigate and promote feminist avant-garde poetics. Belladonna Series is now Belladonna* Collaborative, and Levitsky is a participating member. Levitsky is a faculty member at Pratt Institute in the MFA program in Writing, where she initiated the program of Creative Writing for Art and Design. With poet Christian Hawkey, Levitsky co-founded the Office of Recuperative Strategies (oors.net). Levitsky’s hybrid poetries and prose utilize politics, humor and abstraction to map the structural reality of everyday life. Her recent books are NEIGHBOR (UDP), The Story of My Accident is Ours (Futurepoem) and the chapbook Renoemos (Delete).
Sponsored by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the Program in Women’s Studies, the English Department, and the Forum for Scholars and Publics.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University