With generous assistance from a 2013 Mary Lily Research Grant, I visited the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture last summer to do research for an article and for my book, now under contract with Harvard University Press, The Lost History of the Abortion Debate.
The Bingham Center offers researchers access to many forgotten voices from the abortion wars, from pioneering feminists to founding members of the women’s health movement. I focused on materials documenting the policies and struggles of abortion providers in the years after Roe v. Wade. My search uncovered documents chronicling the work of individual clinics and the activities of political organizations, like the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, that lobby for those working in clinics. These documents revealed a complex legal discourse forged by lay actors—women, clinic staff, providers and activists seeking to redefine what abortion rights meant. Non-lawyers routinely interpreted Supreme Court decisions, using them as raw material for new visions of reproductive freedom.
The story told by the documents housed at the Bingham Center differs substantially from the conventional narrative of post-1973 abortion politics. We often believe that the Supreme Court set the course for the abortion wars of future decades. In particular, by defining abortion as a privacy issue, the Court supposedly short-circuited popular debate about what abortion rights ought to mean. The materials I found complicated this narrative. Far from leaving constitutional issues to the courts, providers, patients, and political activists drew on judicial decisions in creating bold, new ideas about the rights women deserved. The documents I found at the Bingham Center provide indispensable evidence of the true impact of Roe, since the Bingham collections recapture the often-neglected voices of abortion providers. We stand to learn a great deal from studying these materials. I certainly did.
Post contributed by Mary Ziegler, an assistant professor of law at Florida State University College of Law.
Anyone reading this blog knows that archives are full of wonderfully weird ephemera just waiting to be discovered and discussed, of conversations waiting to happen. This is the story of two archives that, it turns out, have a lot to talk about.
Ostensibly, this is a doodle, maybe an early comic. It depicts an ordinary meeting between preachers and parishioners. Only one thing stands out: the stocky girl just off the center dressed in bright pink and orange, while everyone around her wears drab brown. Look closer and you see that she her awkwardness is not limited to her dress: oblivious to the women gossiping behind her, our young heroine “stands, patiently, while her papa shakes hands with all the colliers, not knowing but she must do so too – a perfect pattern! Dear lady!” This oblivious fool is also the artist.
Cut to our own archive: Two summers ago, I was working in the Frank Baker Collection of Wesleyana and British Methodism when I came upon some poems. Having cataloged plenty of manuscript materials within the collection, I wouldn’t have thought much of them, except I noticed that they were tied together with string. Fanciful English student that I am, I recalled that Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts had been likewise fashioned together, and so began my grandiose visions: had I stumbled upon the British Emily? Could these poems help to reinvigorate the field of 18th-century women’s poetry – revolutionize it, even? It’s the fantasy held dear by every budding academic: to discover the next Milton or Frost, to shake the scholarly world to its core. Needless to say, literary scholarship remains unshaken, but it does have a new name on its register: Sarah Wesley.
The poems I found were written by our pink-and-orange artiste, the daughter of Charles Wesley, a co-founder of British Methodism. What is so fascinating about Sarah Wesley is her outright resistance to the restrictive practices of her every-day life – and how, perhaps as a result of that resistance, she has since all but disappeared from most histories of British Methodism.
Her poetry in particular served as an outlet for questioning her father’s religion, as well as engaging with emergent conversations about the rights of women. Even while Wesley’s social commitments were progressive, she remained a devout Methodist throughout her life. But through her writing, most of which she kept hidden away from the judgmental eyes of her community, Wesley takes us to a place we don’t often think of when we read the eighteenth century: the private mind of the teenage girl.
Caitlin Flanagan’s recent book Girl Land (Little, Brown and Co., 2012) makes a compelling case for the fundamental significance of a particular marker of female adolescence: that time when a girl recedes into her room for a few years and emerges a brooding melodramatic for a few more. Flanagan posits that as a society, we take too lightly “a girl’s sudden need to withdraw from the world for a while and inhabit a secret emotional life” (1). But in fact, this is time and space that young girls need in order to come to terms with the world and their place within it. And so, Flanagan urges us to celebrate, rather than denigrate, the importance of this space she calls “girl land.”
Flanagan’s study is predicated on a particular reading of the history of the teenager. But even before “adolescence” became a discrete intellectual category in the twentieth century, Sarah Wesley was, in many ways, a typically modern teenage girl.
She wrote poetry that was evocative, romantic, and highly self-reflexive:
The Pilot Reason stays on Shore, The boisr’ous Passions more, Youth is the Ship and Hope the Oar, And O! the Sea is Love!
~from “Sonnet,” 1770
In particular, much of her work is preoccupied with exploring her budding sexuality:
Her Eyes enraptur’d shall your Beauties own Her snowy Fingers be your Virgin Lone! Her Lips shall bid Thee with a sigh Adieu! Her Lips shall greet Thee with ambrosial Dew! Descending showers shall fall from Heaven to gaze! Within your silken Folds shall Graces lie And panting Zephryss on your Bosom die! The Muse shall stamp Thee with Idalia’s Crest, And Venus court Thee to adorn her Breast.
~from “On receiving a Nosegay,” n.d.
However, she was not without some snark when it came to matters of romance:
Both Truth and Malice on one point agree That my outside is the worst part of me Small is the censure, whilst it stands confest Bad as it is, thy outside is the Best!
~“Epigram: on receiving a rude Speech from a Crooked Gentleman,” 1777
As we saw in the drawing from the Manchester archive, she held some anxiety over her appearance and the perceptions of others.
And in perhaps the defining feature of “girl land,” she was adamant about challenging the values she inherited from her family in order to come to her own understanding of her world (for more on the particulars of Wesley’s intellectual rebellion, see my essay in the Winter 2013 volume of Eighteenth-Century Studies, which expounds on her feminist and abolitionist interests).
So did my work in the Frank Baker Collection yield the next Emily Dickinson? Not exactly. At the level of versification, Wesley’s poetry is derivative at best. But in the connections she asks us to draw between religion and the secular discourses of the key social issues at the end of the eighteenth century, Wesley’s voice raises many productive questions, which I hope eighteenth-century scholars will continue to engage. And further still, the familiar tenor of her poetry demonstrates the persistence of “girl land,” and how productive that sometimes alien-seeming place can be.
Post contributed by Deanna Koretsky, a Ph.D. candidate in the Duke English Dept. and a graduate student assistant in Technical Services.
In this post Professor Lucas Van Rompay, Chair of the Duke University Department of Religion, explains an exciting new addition to the Rubenstein’s early manuscript collections. Thanks, Professor Van Rompay!
The Rubenstein Library recently acquired a fascinating 11th-century Greek manuscript.
With some colleagues and students of the Graduate Program in Religion, we went to see the manuscript on Thursday, October 6, and were greeted by Naomi Nelson, Director of the Rubenstein Library, and J. Andrew Armacost, Head of Collection Development and Curator of Collections.
The new manuscript contains a collection of the lives of saints celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Church during the month of September. It is the first volume of what once must have been a ten-volume set, known as the ‘Menologion’ and covering the entire liturgical year (which begins in September). This particular collection is associated with the name of Symeon Metaphrastes, who in the late 10th century rewrote and collected much of the ancient Greek hagiographical tradition.
While Symeon’s collection became authoritative in the Greek Orthodox Church and is preserved in a great number of manuscripts, the new Duke manuscript stands out for its early date and for the exceptionally fine quality of its script and its lavish execution. It may safely be dated to the middle of the 11th century and must have been produced in Constantinople, from where in the 11th century a number of copies of Symeon’s Menologion were sent to churches and monasteries all over the Byzantine Empire.
Until 1960 the manuscript belonged to the library of the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, from which it was sold, and later sold at auction to the Schoyen Collection, which recently deaccessioned it. It will be part of the Kenneth Willis Clark Collection at Duke, which already contains a great number of very fine Byzantine manuscripts.
Thanks to Andy Armacost, Curator of Collections, for coordinating this post.
When most people think of screen printing they usually visualize Warhol’s “Marilyn” or an indie rock gig poster or a pastel colored beachscape print, but not many folks know that screen prints can also be found printed directly on walls. This summer I had the opportunity to make a mural on a wall in Perkins library (in a hallway leading to the Gothic Reading Room) using a vertical screen printing technique that I’ve been researching. The project is the culmination of a Collaboration Development Grant from the Duke Council for the Arts. The grant also involved bringing Dutch artist Stefan Hoffmann to Duke to share his highly-developed vertical screen printing methods with me; students; staff; and Duke Art, Art History and Visual Studies professor Merrill Shatzman.
Beyond applying newly developed vertical screen printing techniques, the mural also gave me the opportunity to take advantage, and bring attention, to the RBMSCL’s Edwin and Terry Murray Comic Book Collection. In the past four years I’ve been using the Murray Collection as a teaching tool and resource for my Art of the Comic Book and Zines class. The mural design used appropriated images taken from an assortment of comics found in the collection. These included Marge’s Little Lulu and Tubby, Classics Illustrated – The Black Tulip, The Mark of Zorro and Walt Disney’s Donald Duck. I also used images taken from books found in the Lilly Library comics and graphic novels section (A Steve Ditko monograph and Love and Rockets, New Stories No. 1 by the Hernandez brothers). The images ranged from faces/heads to a standing figure to a tulip flower. I really wasn’t thinking about content but more about interesting shapes and forms—although I did use some text that related to the location of the piece.
The concept for the mural was to make a colorful and active design that used pop culture and street art/graffiti strategies (practiced by contemporary artists like Shepard Fairey, Faile, and Bäst and pioneered by artists like Polke, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, and Warhol). This included layering, repetition, and patterning, which can be easily implemented using the vertical screen printing method—one image per screen applied to the wall over and over again. This method also yields unexpected relationships between content and shapes that I find very exciting. The viewer can make their own narrative or allow it to be purely decorative. For this reason, the mural is untitled.