Category Archives: Bingham Center

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

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.

221860_7121041290_2470_n

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.

273065_10150318868371291_2951311_o

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.

Helen Allingham in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

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.

allingham2
Detail of window, with Allingham’s notes on construction.
allingham8
Upton Bales[?] cottage, in graphite.
allingham6
Pile of rope found in Lymm, England, in 1874, graphite.
allingham3
Sailing vessel in watercolor.
allingham4
Fishing basket in St. Andrews, England, graphite.
allingham5
Crab found in St. Andrews, England, graphite.
allingham1
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.

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

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:

2
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.

3
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. 

Applications Now Accepted for the 2017-2018 Travel Grant Program

t1867-1The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2017-2018 travel grants. If you are a researcher, artist, or activist who would like to use sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers for your work, this means you!

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, the History of Medicine Collections, and the Human Rights Archive (new this year!) will each award up to $1,000 per recipient ($2,000 for international applicants to the Human Rights Archive) to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein also offers the Eleanore and Harold Jantz Fellowship, a $1500 award for researchers whose work would benefit from use of the Jantz Collections.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, NC, and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers listed above.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Applications must be submitted no later than 5:00 PM EST on January 31, 2017. Recipients will be announced in March 2016.

Movers and Shakers: Robin Morgan and Ms. Magazine

wonder-womanDate: Thursday, October 20
Time: 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Location: Breedlove Conference Room, 349 Rubenstein Library
Optional Facebook RSVP

Please join us for a conversation with Linda Lumsden, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, about her research project, The Ms. Makeover: The survival, evolution, and cultural significance of the venerable feminist magazine. Dr. Lumsden received a Mary Lily Research Grant recipient to conduct research at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History.

Light refreshments will be served.

Uncovering Women’s History at Duke: A Scholars’ Brownbag with Hayley Farless and Elizabeth George

Date: Thursday, October 27, 2016
Time: 12:00-1:30 PM
Location: Rubenstein 249 (Carpenter Conference Room)
RSVP via Facebook (optional)

Five Women at Duke University, 1976. From the University Archives Photograph Collection.
Five Women at Duke University, 1976. From the University Archives Photograph Collection. (View on Flickr.)

Join two Duke undergraduate researchers from the Duke History Revisited program as they share their discoveries about women’s past experiences at Duke University.

Hayley Farless, ’17, will share highlights from her project “Right to Access: A History of the Duke University Abortion Loan Fund.” Elizabeth George, ’17 (and Rubenstein Library student worker), will share highlights from her project “Success of the Second Sex: Duke University’s Demonstrated Efforts to Empower Women.”

Please bring your own lunch; drinks and cookies will be provided.

This talk is sponsored by Duke University Archives and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

Duke History Revisited was sponsored by a grant from Humanities Writ Large, with additional funding from the Dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.

The Naked Truth: Jean Kilbourne on Advertising’s Image of Women

Date: Thursday, September 15
Time: 3:30-5:00 p.m.
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library 153
Optional RSVP on Facebook

jean kilbourne headshotFeminist activist and advertising critic Jean Kilbourne’s pioneering work has helped develop and popularize the study of gender representations in advertising. Her presentation will show if and how the image of women has changed over the past 20 years and powerfully illustrates how these images affect us all. She is the creator of the renowned Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women film series and the author of the award-winning book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel.
Kilbourne gaultier001

This event is part of the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History’s 25th anniversary lecture series focusing on women in advertising, and is co-sponsored by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and CultureJean Kilbourne’s papers are held by these two centers.

Scholars’ Tea with the Sallie Bingham Center, June 29th

Date: Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Time: 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Location: Rubenstein Library, Room 249 (Carpenter Conference Room)
Contact: cwhc@duke.edu

The Managing Editors of RFD at Short Mountain Sanctuary. From the James T. Sears Papers.
The Managing Editors of RFD at Short Mountain Sanctuary. From the James T. Sears Papers.

Please join the staff of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture for a Scholars’ Tea. Three recipients of Mary Lily Research Grants will present brief remarks about their research projects and allow time for conversation with library staff and other attendees.  Light refreshments will be served.

Presenters:

  • Jason Ezell, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies, University of Maryland, “Queer Shoulders: The Poetics of Radical Faerie Cultural Formation in Appalachia”
  • Margaret Galvan, Ph.D. candidate, English, The Graduate Center, CUNY, “In Visible Archives of the 1980s: Feminist Politics & Queer Platforms”
  • Yung-Hsing Wu, associate professor, English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, “Closely, Consciously Reading Feminism”

Mary Lily Research Grants support researchers in their use of women’s and LGBTQ history collections at the Bingham Center.

Post contributed by Jennifer Scott, Bingham Center Public Services Intern.

 

Lois Waisbrooker in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

Photo May 20, 2 38 19 PMThe Lisa Unger Baskin Collection is filled with well-known names and gorgeous examples of books, but as I was looking through the recently cataloged books from the collection, I was excited to see three rather plain-looking books written by Lois Waisbrooker in the late-nineteenth century: Helen Harlow’s Vow, Perfect Motherhood, and My Century Plant. Never heard of them? Don’t worry, that’s kind of the point. Back in college as a history major, I studied Waisbrooker, and while she was never particularly well-known, she’s a fascinating example of how writing and books impacted women’s lives in the nineteenth century.

Photo May 19, 2 39 18 PM
Portrait of Waisbrooker from Helen Harlow’s Vow

Historian Joanne Passet has done an excellent job tracing Waisbrooker’s life in her book Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women’s Equality. Waisbrooker was born to a poor family in Upstate New York in 1826, and by age twenty she had been pressured into a marriage she didn’t want after getting pregnant, widowed, and forced to place her two children with other families as she didn’t have the economic means to care for them.1 These early experiences shaped Waisbrooker’s political views and her work: she was a spiritualist and then became interested in free love and sex radicalism.

Without a well-off family to fall back on, Waisbrooker struggled to make a life that allowed her to commit fully to advancing the cause of free love and women’s right to self-determination.2 It was never easy for Waisbrooker, but through writing she was at least able to eke out a living. These are just three of more than a dozen books she published, in addition to number of periodicals she founded or helped edit.

"I demand unqualified freedom for women as woman, and that all institutions of society be adjusted to such freedom"
Title page of My Century Plant. Waisbrooker founded Independent Publishing Company herself after struggling to find publishers willing to publish books dealing with sex.

Of course, the life Waisbrooker forged was possible because there were readers eager to read what she wrote. Waisbrooker’s writings validated their own experiences and  helped these women connect with a community of people whose views aligned with their own. In her analysis of readers’ letters published in the newspapers and journals founded or edited by Waisbrooker, Passet found that most of the women writing were working-class and rural, commonly from Midwestern and Western states.3 Isolated in their home communities, Waisbrooker’s work gave these women room to discuss topics like marital rape and women’s sexual fulfillment, literature that resonated with their experiences, and a way to imagine new economic and social models.4

Photo May 19, 2 39 44 PM
Newspaper clipping about Waisbrooker’s arrest on obscenity charges that was pasted in Perfect Motherhood

We get a glimpse of Waisbrooker’s readers in this copy of Perfect Motherhood: Or Mabel Raymond’s Resolve. A previous owner has pasted in a newspaper clipping describing Waisbrooker’s arrest in Topeka, Kansas “on the charging of sending obscene material through the mails.” This suggests the owner was not just a casual reader, but someone who followed Waisbrooker’s career and thought this clipping worth saving with Waisbrooker’s writings.

Having Waisbrooker’s works along side books like Of the Friendship of Amis and Amile speaks to the depth of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection and to the variety of ways women have engaged with books and the written word. For Waisbrooker these books were a means of survival, for both herself financially and the ideas she championed. For women readers, these books offered a vital intellectual connection with like-minded women and a path towards their own sexual and economic liberation.

Footnotes
1. Joanne Passet, Sex Radicals and The Quest for Women’s Equality (Urbana,Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 112-113.
2. Ibid., 116.
3. Ibid., 47, 55, 119.
4. Ibid., 153.

Post contributed by Kate Collins, Research Services Librarian

“Daisy, Daisy…”

Spring, and a woman’s thoughts turn to…bicycles? Apart from sudden showers and the onslaught of inchworms and allergens, spring is perhaps the finest season to ride. Trees are filling out, flowers are a’bloom and the birds are a’tweet: in short the whole planet has its hormones on fine display. What’s a girl not to like—especially on a bicycle built for her, equal in every way to a man’s?

1900 Columbia bicycle from Baden
Ad from the Gary and Sandra Baden Collection of Print Advertisements

This 1900 ad for Columbia’s chainless bicycle makes the progressive argument that women are entitled to the same quality bike as a man. The copy goes on to show how the bike’s frame accommodates the latest in women’s biking fashions, and how the chainless design facilitates mounting and dismounting while eliminating the possibility of one’s skirt getting caught in a chain—or soiled by it, a concern that persists among our current-day urbanites rolling along with the right pant-leg rolled-up out of harm’s way. Actually, this basic frame design is still with us, in unisex “Dutch” and townie bike styles like the Breezers that Zagster provides for rent. Not only that, but the “bevel gear” drive system was the precursor to today’s eclectic shaft-driven bicycles (still trumpeted as “innovative.” Hah!). All in all, the Columbia was a triumph of engineering in its day, especially with the available option of a coaster brake, which is also still in use in kids’ bikes and beach cruisers.

Columbia additionally had the marketing vision to realize that the bike and rider formed a single ensemble, where the lines of the frame “Contribute to the Graceful Appearance of the Rider…”  That came at a price, though. $75 in 1900 roughly equates to around $2000 today, which would put a modern woman in the market for a top-of-the-line bike from today’s major manufacturers. On the other hand, grace is priceless, and the freedom and autonomy provided by the bicycle was likely well worth the investment. In fact, the bicycle has occasionally been praised as an instrument of liberation, and early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony were also advocates for cycling, as much for gender-political as for its health benefits. Liberate the body and the mind will follow!

Post contributed by Rick Collier, Hartman Center