Category Archives: Travel Grants

Gilded Age Cures for Soldiers Suffering from Opiate Addiction

Post contributed by Jonathan S. Jones, historian and PhD candidate at Binghamton University

In the Civil War’s wake, thousands of veterans became addicted to medicinal opiates. Hypodermic morphine injections and opium pills were standard remedies in the Civil War era for amputations, sickness, and depression, and they often lead to addiction. Take, for example, the case of A.W. Henley, a Confederate veteran, who recalled in 1878 that, “In the army, I had to use opiates for a complication of painful diseases.” The medicine soon “fastened its iron grip on my very vitals, and held me enchained and enslaved for near fifteen years.”[i]

Historians have long recognized the causative link between Civil War medical care and the high rate of opiate addiction among veterans. However, although we know that doctors were in many ways the originators of the postwar addiction epidemic, we know surprisingly little the about the medical response to the crisis. Did American doctors ignore the opiate addiction among veterans, or did physicians seek to help veterans suffering from addiction? And if so, what did those efforts look like?

These are questions I seek to answer in my dissertation, “A Mind Prostrate”: Opiate Addiction in the Civil War’s Aftermath.” My research benefited greatly from a History of Medicine Collections Travel Grant, awarded by the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library includes several manuscripts and rare items that suggest answers to elusive questions about the medical responses to Civil War veterans’ opiate addiction.

THE BLAME GAME

Physicians fell under a wave of criticism after the Civil War for causing opiate addiction crisis. Veterans and observers in the media accused doctors of overprescribing opiates to ailing old soldiers and other patients, resulting in widespread opiate addiction. This criticism posed a problem for physicians—so-called “regular” doctors—because it undermined their precarious position in the hyper-competitive Gilded Age medical marketplace. Physicians had been struggling to out-compete alternative healing sects and “quacks” for decades. Being labeled the culprits for the crisis only weakened the regulars’ footing in this struggle.

CHANGING PRESCRIBING PATTERNS

In response to this professional crisis, some physicians advocated for a move away from prescribing medicinal opiates. During the 1870s and 1880s, ex-military surgeons, in particular, exhorted their colleagues in medical journals and scientific studies to prescribe fewer opiates, to substitute the drugs with supposedly less-addictive painkillers, and even to refrain from prescribing opiates altogether. As the ex-Union surgeon Joseph Woodward surmised in 1879, “The more I learn of the behavior of such cases [of overprescribing] under treatment, the more I am inclined to advice that opiates should be as far as possible avoided.”[ii] Such proposals were truly radical, considering that opiates were the most commonly prescribed medicines of the nineteenth century up to that point.

But did physicians heed these warnings? Were radical proposals merely hypothetical, or did physicians implement them in practice? To answer these questions necessitates the close analysis of late nineteenth century clinical records. I was fortunate enough to stumble across one such record in the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library, a rare casebook from the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases, professional home of the physician Silas Weir Mitchell.

Pages with handwriting in ink.
Casebook from the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases, professional home of the physician Silas Weir Mitchell.

An eminent neurologist, Mitchell was one of the most vocal members of the anti-opiate camp. Mitchell—whose infamous “rest cure” inspired the feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman to write The Yellow Wallpaper, a feminist critique of Mitchell’s methodswas a prolific writer. In many of his medical works, he railed against the habit-forming potential of medicinal opiates and doctors’ role in facilitating opiate addiction. As Mitchell explained in an 1883 work about pain management, “often, in my experience, the opium habit is learned during an illness of limited duration, and for the consequences of which there is always some one to be blamed.” He blamed doctors who were “weak, or too tender, or too prone to escape trouble by the easy help of some pain-lulling agent” for causing their patients to develop opiate addiction.[iii] Doctors must refrain from prescribing opiates empathetically, Mitchell warned, lest the medical profession continue to be blamed for the opiate addiction crisis.

Accordingly, Mitchell’s clinical records confirm that he stopped prescribing opiates to chronic pain patients, those at greatest risk for addiction, in his own clinic. Mitchell’s clinic, the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital, was the cutting edge of American neurology in the late nineteenth century. Doctors working there alongside Mitchell specialized in treating chronic nervous pains, headaches, and other symptoms classified under the diagnostic category of neuralgia. During the previous decades, most of these individuals would have been treated with opiates. Indeed, Mitchell prescribed opiates heavily during the Civil War, witnessing the genesis of opiate addiction in several of his patients. Yet by the 1880s, Mitchell reversed course. The clinic’s casebook reveals Mitchell did not prescribe opiates to a single patient among the 62 individuals for which he recorded clinical notes between 1887 and 1900.  Other physicians, I suspect, mirrored Mitchell’s increasingly conservative approach to prescribing opiates during the Gilded Age.

THE COMPETITION

But physicians like Mitchell were not alone in responding to the Gilded Age opiate epidemic. Ailing Americans could choose from a vast spectrum of treatments and healers to remedy their medical woes during late nineteenth century. Unlike today, regular physicians were often outcompeted by alternative healers during the Gilded Age. So-called “quacks”—at least, that is what physicians dubbed them—often impinged on physicians’ customer bases.

Dozens of entrepreneurial healers spotted new commercial opportunities amidst the rising rates of opiate addiction. They invented and marketed a diverse array of treatments for opiate addiction between the late 1860s and the turn of the twentieth century. John Jennings Moorman, the proprietor of a nineteenth century West Virginia hot springs resort, exemplified this trend. I encountered a rare copy of Moorman’s 1880 advertising pamphlet for his White Sulphur Springs resort in the Rubenstein Library. Founded in the late 1830s, Moorman marketed his exceedingly popular hot springs as a cure for a diverse spectrum of diseases during the antebellum years, from rheumatism to neuralgia, jaundice, scurvy, and others.

Blue pamphlet
Front cover of Dr. J. J. Moorman’s pamphlet about the curative properties of White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia, 1880.

Always looking to expand his enterprise, Moorman perceived an opportunity in the rising rates of opiate addiction after the Civil War. Naturally, he expanded his operation to cater to opiate addicted customers desperate for a cure. Moorman began marketing White Sulphur Springs as a treatment for “opium eating” in 1880. Prior versions of Moorman’s marketing material do not include references to opiate addiction.[iv]

Paragraph titled "Use of the Water b Opium Eaters"
Page from Dr. J. J. Moorman’s pamphlet: White Sulphur Springs, with the analysis of its waters, the diseases to which they are applicable, and some account of society and its amusements at the Springs, 1880.

As Silas Weir Mitchell’s casebook and John Jennings Moorman’s advertising pamphlet indicate, Gilded Age medical practitioners responded to the opiate addiction crisis in diverse ways, from prescribing fewer opiates to marketing hot springs therapy for addiction. The rare medical manuscripts held by the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library thus made significant contributions to my research, unlocking answers to elusive questions about the various medical responses to Civil War veterans’ opiate addiction.

—————————————————————

[i] Basil M. Woolley, The Opium Habit and its Cure (Atlanta: Atlanta Constitution Printer, 1879), 30.

[ii] Joseph Woodward, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Pt. II, vol. I (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1879), 750.)

[iii] S. Weir Mitchell, Doctor and Patient (Philadelphia: Lippincott Company, 1888), 93.

[iv] J.J. Moorman, White Sulphur Springs, with the analysis of its waters, the diseases to which they are applicable, and some account of society and its amusements at the Springs (Baltimore: The Sun Book and Job Printing Office, 1880), 25-26.

 

Applications Now Accepted for the 2019-2020 Travel Grant Program

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2019-2020 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, the Human Rights Archive, and the Archive of Documentary Arts, will each award up to $1,500 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 Library also awards up to $1,500 for individuals who would benefit from access to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history collections through the Harry H. Harkins, Jr. T’73 Travel Grant.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, North Carolina, 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, 2019. Recipients will be announced in March 2019.

Researching Migrant Exclusion in the Human Rights Archives

Post contributed by Llana Barber, Associate Professor of American Studies at the College at Old Westbury (State University of New York) and author of Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000She was a recipient of a 2018 Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant.

Political cartoon depicting Haitian migrants
National Coalition for Haitian Rights Collection

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that all people have the right to emigrate – to leave their country. There is, however, no corollary right to immigrate – to enter another sovereign nation – inscribed in international law. I wondered what it means that people have the right to leave their country of origin, but all other countries have the right to deny them entry? Does that effectively just give people the right to die at sea, as thousands of migrants do each year, or in treacherous desert borderlands?

I am a historian of migration to the United States, but it has become clear to me through my research that U.S. immigration and border policies are actually designed to keep most of the world out. To truly understand those policies and practices, it isn’t enough to study the history of those small numbers of people who immigrate; we must write the history of those turned away.

My current research explores the incarceration, interdiction, repatriation, and deportation of Haitian migrants, including asylum seekers, from the 1970s to 1990s. I argue that this militarized migrant exclusion was central to the formation of the U.S. as a nativist state – a political economic system centered on controlling human mobility across national borders – beginning in the 1980s. Other nations adopted similar policies of excluding or periodically expelling Haitian migrants in this era, particularly the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. In concert, these practices functioned to deny most Haitians the fundamental right to emigrate.

Photo of Haitian migrants from Caribbean Sea Migration
Haitians watch anxiously as INS agents and USCG personnel from cutter Chase board their 35-foot craft on 25 October 1981, Caribbean Sea Migration Collection

A generous Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant enabled me to begin exploring several relevant and rich collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University. While I was only able to spend a week at the Rubenstein Library on this initial visit, I plan to return for another month of research, and it will take even longer to work my way through the stunning digitized Radio Haiti and Caribbean Sea Migrations collections.

A major strength of these collections, from what I have seen so far, is that they cross national and linguistic borders. The National Coalition for Haitian Rights collection, for example, contains activist records and investigative reports from Haiti, the U.S., the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and an array of other countries. Material is in English, French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish. Research in this collection truly gives a sense of how central Haitian asylum seekers became to global political struggles around racism, imperialism, and migrant rights in the late 20th century.

Most importantly, the voices of individual Haitians on the island and in diaspora resonate clearly in these collections.

Understanding the Eye through Pictures

Post contributed by Wenrui Zhao, a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at Columbia University and a History of Medicine Collections travel grant recipient

What did people know about the anatomy of our eyes and the causes of eye diseases in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How did they understand vision and think about the sense of sight? My dissertation “Dissecting Sight: Eye Surgery and Vision in Early Modern Europe” tries to answer these questions. Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, I could consult the wonderful collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to support my project.

The absolute highlight of my visit is the book Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst by the German surgeon Georg Bartisch, published in 1583 in Dresden. It is one of the earliest publications on eye diseases and eye surgery, and is written in vernacular German. Bartisch was a man of modest upbringing who never received university medical training, yet he was appointed oculist to the Elector of Saxony late in his life.

Bartisch’s treatise is about the mechanism of seeing, but also enacts an experience of seeing. The most striking feature of this book is the great number of finely-executed illustrations alongside the texts. These woodcuts depict various subjects related to ocular disorders and surgical techniques. The Rubenstein Library has one of the very few hand-colored copies of this treatise. While I have already seen this edition in black and white elsewhere, examining this beautiful hand-colored copy was a very different experience and brought new insights.

Color photo of movable flap illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing the interior of the head.

Two sets of the illustrations are movable flaps, representing the internal structure of the head and the anatomy of the eye respectively. The red blood vessels, light brown iris, and the meticulous shading and cross-hatching help distinguish different parts of the eye. They evoke the ocular surgical procedure, and prompt the readers to ponder their own faculty of vision when they lift these sheets layer by layer.

Color photo of movable flap illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing the anatomy of the eye.

Color photo of illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing a pair of scissors highlighted in gold and silver.Some of the images representing surgical tools were even heightened by gold and silver, such as this pair of scissors, thereby accentuating their intricate and elegant design.

Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia represents an emergent interest in the anatomy and physiology of the eye from the late sixteenth century. It also serves as a great example of how medical knowledge could be visualized and communicated at that time.

Educational Opportunity and Legal Strategy: Exploring the ACLU of North Carolina Records

Post contributed by Esther Cyna, doctoral student in History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, a recipient of a 2018 Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant.

How did advocates for equal educational opportunities for children in North Carolina shift their legal strategies when desegregation battles became increasingly difficult to wage in the mid-1970s? It is with this research question in mind that I explored the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (NCCLU) records, which are part of the Human Rights Archive at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. I spent a week exploring this rich collection to get a better understanding of civil rights attorneys’ thinking.

One case in particular captures many of the tensions that my work seeks to disentangle: Leandro v. State of North Carolina, the major school finance case in the state, tackles issues of educational inequalities in the state and sheds light on structural inequities exacerbated by an inequitable funding formula, and provides a fascinating example of how legal strategy changed over time.[1]

While at Duke University, I had the honor of interviewing a leading scholar and attorney in the field, Prof. John Charles Boger, former Dean of the UNC Law School, whose name appeared in the NCCLU papers on several occasions, and who was involved in writing amici briefs for the Leandro case in the 1990s and 2000s.[2] I was immersed in the NCCLU papers, and then had a long conversation with Prof. Boger in the Von der Hayden Pavilion, just a few feet away from the archival research room, in a wonderful dialogue between written sources and human accounts.

One of the major themes in this research is the relationship between funding inequities and test scores, and implications for poor students’ opportunities. The period that I study witnessed the rise of standards-based reform and standardized testing, most notably promoted by Governor Jim Hunt. Attorneys in the Leandro case underlined the disturbing correlation between low-wealth—and therefore low funding, since school funding relies on property tax—and low achievement as measured by standardized tests. The following excerpts from the initial Leandro complaint points out that students in poor, rural counties in the state often failed on the state’s own standards because of a chronic lack of resources in their districts.[3] Attorneys claimed this was evidence of the state’s failure to honor its constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education to all children in the state:

“The inadequacies of the educational opportunities for schoolchildren in the plaintiff districts may also be seen from the State’s designation of the school systems of Halifax, Hoke, Robeson, and Vance Counties as being on either low performing or warning status for 1991, 1992, and 1993.” (Complaint draft, Leandro v. State, May 25, 1994, p. 21)

“A further indication of the inadequate educational opportunities available to schoolchildren in the plaintiff districts is student performance on the State’s own standardized tests.” (Complaint draft, Leandro v. State, May 25, 1994, p. 76)

Delving into these issues thus provides us with necessary context to understand what many have called the “achievement gap,” as well as labels such as “low performing” and “failing,” which became increasingly used to designate poor, struggling school districts at the end of the 20th century.

In the Common Sense Foundation records of the Human Rights Archive, I found that in 2001, a commission sponsored by the Durham Public Education Network studied the discrepancy between test scores of white students and black and Hispanic students in the public schools of Durham, North Carolina. 90% of white and Asian students performed at or above grade level in reading and math, compared to 60% of African American students. The report included the following sentence in bold, capital letters: “the achievement gap is no one’s fault, but it’s everyone’s responsibility.”[4] The statement suggests that differences in test scores between students could not be traced to the decisions and policies of historical actors. The commission agreed that the difference should be addressed, but it presented it as a disembodied reality: the “achievement gap”—as measured by standardized testing in 2001—had no history, no context, and no fixed meaning. Yet understanding the history of unequal funding and chronic disadvantage for poor school districts and poor students sheds light on a true, documented opportunity gap.

The Marshall T. Meyer travel grant allowed me to delve into archival sources that will be the backbone of a chapter on legal strategy in my dissertation, and I want to thank Patrick Stawski and the entire staff at the library for their support. Not only did I gather important archival sources, but I was also able to really gain a much better understanding of the legal and economic context of the period I am investigating. I left the library with a lot of pictures, but more importantly with a deeper and much more nuanced understanding of people’s actions, discourse, and beliefs.

[1] American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Records, Box 323, Folder: “Paralegal Office Cases, Leandro (4 of 14), Complaint / Super Ct.,” David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[2] See for example NCCLU papers, Box 284, Folder: Legal Committee Meeting Minutes, 1987, July 17-1997, Dec. 6. Prof. Boger’s work was praised in a NCCLU meeting document: “Leandro v. State – amicus brief was filed at the NC Supreme Court. Kudos were given to Ann Hubbard and Jack Boger for their fantastic job on the brief.”

[3] Complaint draft of Leandro v. State, May 25, 1994, American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Records, Box 323, Folder: “Paralegal Office Cases, Leandro (4 of 14), Complaint / Super Ct,” David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[4] “Closing the Achievement Gap Through Community Action” Spring 2001, Common Sense Foundation Records, Box 14, Folder: “Achievement Gap,” David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. I also found a copy of this document in the Theresa El-Amin papers. “Closing the Achievement Gap Through Community Action” Spring 2001, Box 4, Folder “Durham Public Schools: Education+Testing,” sub-folder “Closing the Achievement Gap,” Theresa El-Amin papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript, Duke University.

How to Define A Successful Synagogue and Other Practices of Activism

Post contributed by William R. Benner, Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Speech, and Foreign Languages at Texas Woman’s University, a recipient of a 2018 Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant.

Bet-el Pamphlet from the Marshall Meyers Papers
“Bet-el pamphlet 1984”, Marshall T. Meyer Papers, Box 14, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

How do we fight for truth and justice in a market driven present? This is an ethical question that is central to my current research on the post-dictatorship generation’s brand of activism in the Southern Cone and it is a question that drew me to the Marshall T. Meyer papers in the Human Rights Archive housed in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University. My trip was made possible by a generous Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant. I would like to thank Patrick Stawski and Eric Meyers for their expertise and enthusiasm in my research. I would also like to thank the staff at the Rubenstein and Perkins Libraries for their professionalism.

After a week of diving into the Marshall T. Meyer and the Abraham Joshua Heschel archives, I began to notice a curious difference between Heschel’s and Meyer’s usage of synagogue pamphlets. While Heschel’s pamphlets emphasize the progressive vision of Jewish life within the current cultural, philosophical and political atmosphere, Meyer’s Bet El pamphlets include a wider range of local and international political and cultural topics. Further, Bet El’s pamphlets were clearly written for adolescents as there is a section at the back that asks the youth about a variety of topics. Interestingly, Meyer even included advertising for local companies whose employees supported the synagogue.  When asked in the magazine Nueva presencia about the success of the Bet El synagogue during the repressive military dictatorship in Buenos Aires (1976-1983), Marshall Meyer responded by insisting “éxito” or “success” was an inappropriate term to describe the growth of Bet El. He explained that the term is used for commercial reasons and puts synagogues in competition with each other. Instead, Meyer states that it is the congregation’s collective search for an authentic spiritual identity that has encouraged the community to grow.

Bet-el pamphlet from the Marshall Meyer Papers
“Bet-el pamphlet 1984”, Marshall T. Meyer Papers, Box 14, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

I am currently working on an article examining Meyer’s use of pamphlets to distribute his progressive vision of religious activism. Meyer’s ‘success’ and his discomfort with the notion of commercial success is a conflict that I observe in the recent artistic productions by the post-dictatorship generation in Argentina. For example, in the blog Diario de una princesa montonera, the author and child of the disappeared Mariana Eva Perez confesses “Luchás por la identidad y la justicia y al mismo tiempo acumulás millas/ You fight for truth and justice and at the same time you accumulate [frequent flyer] miles”. Perez, like Meyer before her, struggles with the idea that she is in some way profiting off of the suffering of others. In the future, I hope to incorporate my archival work on Marshall T. Meyer in a larger book project that will attempt to articulate different practices of human rights activism during and after the last dictatorship in Argentina and how these practices addressed the ethical issue of ‘success’.

 

 

“Why Are You Constantly Harassing Us on the Street?”

Post contributed by Molly Brookfield, a Ph.D. candidate in the departments of History and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She is writing a dissertation about the history of sexual harassment in public places in the United States. Her research at the Sallie Bingham Center was generously funded with a Mary Lily Research Grant.

Imagine you are a young woman walking down the street on a sunny summer day in New York City. The sidewalk is crowded with people and you are thinking about the day ahead. You’re so absorbed in your thoughts that the shouted remark from a fellow passer-by jolts you unpleasantly back to your surroundings. The remark comes from a man who is also hurrying down the sidewalk. Maybe he shouts, “Looking good, honey!” or “How’s it going, sweetheart?” The specifics of the remark aren’t what’s important; it’s enough to know that he’s tried to grab your attention in a loud and public way that has startled you and forced you to acknowledge his presence. Annoyed, you turn to face the man, reach into your bag, and grab hold of a stack of cards you’ve had made for this occasion. You hand a card to the catcaller, and his eyebrows arch as he reads the first lines: “Brother, I feel insulted and oppressed by your comment. You and men like you make it unpleasant and difficult for all of us women, including your mothers, sisters and daughters, to leave our houses alone. Why are you constantly harassing us on the street?”

This was the tactic taken by New York feminist Marigold Arnold in 1971. That summer, Arnold handed mimeographed cards to men who harassed her in the street and the Women’s Health and Abortion Project published the full text in their newsletter—which is where I found it, while visiting the Sallie Bingham Center on a Mary Lily Research Grant. According to her mimeographed card, Arnold wanted men who catcalled to know that they “interrupt … [women’s] train of thought when we are walking alone, acting as though simply because you are a male we will be honored by your talking to us.” But Arnold was adamant, “We don’t feel honored.” In distinctly 1970s-flavored rhetoric, Arnold’s card declares, “The road of true liberation for all people is for each of us to struggle against oppressing our brothers and sisters. No more oppressive comments to women on the street.”

Arnold’s mimeographed statement was just one way that New York women resisted sexual harassment on the street in the 1970s. The New York Radical Feminists (NYRF) had a Street Harassment Committee that held self-defense workshops. Women raised awareness of street harassment with poems, stories, and cartoons in the group’s newsletter (see image). In 1976, members organized a Women’s Walk Against Rape, similar to the more recent Take Back the Night marches. When one of their members was harassed in Zabar’s, a deli on Broadway, the NYRF even started a blacklist of New York businesses where male employees harassed women.

These documents illustrate that women have experienced sexual harassment in public places since at least the 1970s (and my dissertation will show it has been a problem for much longer). While the New York Radical Feminists did not completely succeed in eradicating street harassment, their work can be viewed as a precursor and inspiration to groups like Hollaback! or Stop Street Harassment, work that is increasingly relevant as we continue to grapple with the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in American society.

All materials cited here can be found in the New York Radical Feminists Records, Box 1 at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

From the Far East to the East Side: Broadening Narratives of Immigration and Refugees in the Rubenstein Library’s Human Rights Archive

Post contributed by Jonathan Johnson, Associate Professor in the Department of Art at Otterbein University, a recipient of a 2017 Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant.

 

It was my pleasure to spend a week in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library this summer engaging with photographs, documents and videos from Duke’s Human Rights Archive.  I am in the pre-production phase of an experimental documentary film project that centers around the informal storytelling sessions between recent Southeast Asian immigrants that took place in my mother’s beauty shop in the 80’s and 90’s in St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

International Monitor Institute records, 1990-2003. Volume/Box:PH3

I was particularly interested in photographic prints from the International Monitor Institute Records (IMI) that documented human rights abuses in Southeast Asia, particularly in Burma (Myanmar).  Many of these photographs were taken near the Thai border in refugee camps and temporary outposts of various branches of the Karen National Union that oppose the Burmese government. I intend to use these materials as aids to oral history interviews that I am conducting with my mother and others in this community that formed around her beauty shop.

 

International Monitor Institute records, 1990-2003. Volume/Box:PH3

As an artist that uses archives and primary source material (and also creates them), I start with a concept but remain open to the labyrinth experience that often occurs in the archive. For instance, when the random sequencing of photographic prints in an archival folder creates an unintended narrative through formal relationships (color, line, texture) and metaphor.  In one case, the grid-like charred remains from a recently torched resistance army camp follows a wide landscape photo shot from a helicopter.  The sense of scale and context meld into one another, the vast beautiful jungle landscape absorbing the physical and psychological terror of this conflict.  As I storyboard my documentary, I am now thinking about how competing senses of scale and vantage point might stand in as visual representations of the fragmented reflections and narratives that are contained in the oral history interviews that I’m making.

 

This is just one of many examples of when creative research, chance and intuition intersected during my time in the Rubenstein Library. For an artist, this is the most rewarding experience of working in the archive.

 

 

Uncovering a Coordinated Effort to Defend Human Rights in 1980s Nicaragua

Post contributed by Erik A. Moore  Ph.D. student in the History Department at the University of Oklahoma, is recipient of a 2017 Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant.

Letter from Rep. David Bonior to Alex Wilde, 1988

This summer I had the privilege of visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to conduct research in the collection of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) records. WOLA’s records are held in the Duke Human Rights Archive. My research was made possible through generous funding from the library through the Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant. Durham is a wonderful city to visit, and the facilities and the staff at the library were great. And the research was fascinating.

 

I am working on my doctoral dissertation that examines how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as WOLA used arguments based on human rights to contest U.S. support of counterrevolutionaries (the Contras) in Nicaragua in the 1980s. The Reagan administration claimed the Sandinista government in Nicaragua was an ally of the Soviet Union and wanted to spread communist revolution throughout the hemisphere. Reagan used the Contras to pressure the Sandinistas to adopt democratic reforms, but, in doing so, Reagan funded and armed a guerrilla force that was accused of committing atrocities against the Nicaraguan people. I am investigating how successful NGOs were at using human rights advocacy to influence U.S. foreign policy. WOLA is as one of NGOs on which I focus in the dissertation.

 

Letter from U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Study Group, 1988

My work at the library revealed a surprising level of coordination among not only NGOs, but also government officials and Congressional staff members who opposed U.S. support of the Contras. Members of Congress such as Representative David Bonior (D-MI) worked closely with WOLA and other human rights NGOs on issues facing Nicaragua and lobbying other members of Congress to support legislation.[1] I also found a memo from a Congressional staff member, Holly Burkhalter, to the Human Rights Working Group in which she provided analysis of the then-current functioning of the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights.[2] The Human Rights Working Group was a coalition of national organizations, including WOLA, that periodically met to coordinate efforts toward common goals. WOLA seems to have operated within a large community of progressive human rights-conscious NGOs that often pooled their resources and expertise to influence debates in Congress over U.S. foreign policy. Often, representatives from various organizations met to discuss pending issues and how they could all work together.[3]

Memo from the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, U.S. Congress, 1988

This coordination is particularly fascinating for my research because I have found that many of these organizations operated with different agendas, though not necessarily conflicting agendas. One such instance that I found in which the community of human rights NGOs split was over a Contra aid proposal in 1988. Democrats offered a package based on humanitarian non-military aid that served as an alternative to what Reagan and Republicans wanted to offer. The Republican proposal would have centered on military aid. WOLA supported the Democratic aid package in order to bring humanitarian aid to Nicaragua and the rest of Central America and to prevent the Republican plan from coming to a vote and likely passing. Other NGOs, such as the Nicaragua Network, Witness for Peace, and Quest for Peace, all of which worked closely with WOLA throughout the 1980s, opposed any form of aid to the Contras and rejected the Democratic alternative.[4]

My research will continue to investigate strategies and coordination of NGOs opposing the Contra War and how the different interpretations given to human rights influenced the decisions and advocacy of these NGO in lobbying Congress

[1] David E. Bonior to Alex Wilde, Letter, (March 14, 1988), Box 27, Folder: Democratic Contra Alternative, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[2] Holly Burkhalter to Human Rights Working Group/Coalition, “The Bureau of Human Rights: Law and Implementation,” Memorandum, (June 24, 1981), Box 433, Folder: Human Rights Working Group 1981, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[3] Holly Burkhalter to Human Rights Working Group/Coalition, “The Bureau of Human Rights: Law and Implementation,” Memorandum, (June 24, 1981), Box 433, Folder: Human Rights Working Group 1981, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[4] “Special Alert: Contra Aid Packages” (Washington, D.C.: Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, March 1, 1988), Box 27, Folder: Democratic Contra Alternative, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

You Say You Want A Revolution: Revealing Lesbian-Feminist Atlanta

Post contributed by Hanne Blank, recipient of a Mary Lily Research Grant from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. 

In 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial and countless celebrations thereof, the D.A.R. set forth a Bicentennial Declaration, a four-page statement of its beliefs.  In it, they took American culture and American men to task for dozens of crimes and misdemeanors perpetrated against womankind, calling “for an end to the conspiracy against women by the Man’s church and the Man’s state… the destruction of patriarchy, the rule of men over women.”

If this doesn’t sound much like the D.A.R. you’ve heard of, there’s good reason: this proclamation wasn’t issued by the Daughters of the American Revolution, but by a cadre of firebrand lesbian feminists – Dykes for an Amerikan Revolution — who cheerfully reclaimed the über-Establishment group’s acronym for themselves.  Far from wanting to celebrate some elite patrimony, this D.A.R. wanted “full power to levy war against sexism, racism, classism and all other oppressions…with a firm reliance on the strengths of our pioneer foremothers and sisters, reborn in us, as lesbian feminists.”

The D.A.R.’s “Lesbian Feminist Declaration of 1976” is just one of many lesbian feminist manifestos, mission statements, memoirs, and utopian missives tucked into the papers of the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance (ALFA), bright traces of an era not so very long ago where many second-wave feminists, not just the D.A.R., engaged in a very different American experiment.

Riffling through ALFA’s papers is a deep dive into this social and political moment. Even a cursory tour through the twenty-some years of ALFA’s newsletters, pamphlets, and papers overwhelms the researcher with a sense of a tight, sometimes contentious community full of heady politics, plans, and personalities. It is surprisingly seductive.  I did not approach the ALFA papers to research the group itself – I research feminist health care in the South, and was looking specifically to find out the extent to which it might’ve been part of the concerns of the lesbian community in Atlanta’s 1970s and 1980s – and yet in a matter of hours I fell headlong down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Imagine, if you will, a rented clubhouse to which any member could – by arrangement – get a key.  A woman, or a group of women, might unlock the doors of the ALFA house to visit the ALFA library, hold a meeting, convene a coven, or put together a potluck.  Imagine the voices, the laughter, the intensity of a small house full of passionate, thoughtful, iconoclastic, sometimes hot-headed women learning, organizing, and socializing.

In the pages of ALFA’s newsletters, notes, and other documents, we see Atlanta’s lesbian feminists dancing until they dropped at monthly Boogie Women dances and furiously typing up newsletters that featured complete monthly rosters of women’s events from concerts to consciousness-raising groups.   In what seems a perpetual whirlwind, ALFA women simultaneously created, curated, and celebrated a burgeoning by-women-for-women culture: women-owned restaurants, feminist therapy collectives, women’s self-defense classes, lesbian sexuality workshops, dyke softball tournaments, DIY gynecology seminars, political rallies, community debates over subjects like butch/femme and BDSM.  Even the ads placed by community businesswomen were, like this one, definitely and defiantly, sometimes hilariously, lesbian feminist.

Advertisement for "Lesbian Haircutter Makes House Calls - Pam Martin, P.H.D. (Professional Hair Dresser)." Above text is hand drawn cartoon, showing two women, one with scissors in her hand, the other saying "Thank Goddess you're here! Yesterday my mother said she liked my hair"

Lesbian feminist culture and community was ALFA’s raison d’etre.  As such, it often wrestled with questions of separatism.  Here and there in the newsletters and other papers we can trace discussions about whether separatism was crucial to lesbian identity and survival or not, whether lesbian-identified and straight-identified women’s loyalties were too different for them to truly share political goals, let alone cultural space.

But separatism was not always something that sprang out of an “us versus them” mentality.  Just as often, what motivated the conversation seems to have been sincere curiosity.  Like the D.A.R. — whose 1976 manifesto made its way into ALFA’s files via the era’s mimeographed, photocopied, and snail-mailed networks of feminist activist work and writing –the women of ALFA wondered what women’s lives, and lesbian lives, might be like if women had an alternative to living in a (racist, ageist, ableist, classist, capitalist) patriarchy.

If it could be escaped, maybe women would be able to access an “ovarian intellect” without the customary overlay of “male-functionalization” they perceived in their lives and thoughts.  Perhaps then women would be able to express themselves and their genders (to say nothing of their sexual desires) in genuine freedom, without falling into the tropes and traps of patriarchy.  As they struggled, strategized, and partied together, the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance, like so many other women’s communities across the country, was engaged in constant experimentation.  Atlanta’s lesbian feminists pushed boundaries, their own as well as the wider world’s, as they wove their webs of women’s community out of little more than motherwit and the desire to see if they could.

As with the world-transforming aspirations of many other 1970s radicals, ALFA eventually sputtered out.  It folded in the early 1990s, victim of the AIDS crisis and the cultural and economic retrenchment of the Reagan years.  But as the newsletters, the flyers, and the meeting minutes in ALFA’s papers tell it, ALFA was full of stalwart, soulful daughters of a distinctively American revolution.

Hanne Blank is an historian and writer of numerous books including Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality (Beacon Press, 2012) and Virgin: The Untouched History (Bloomsbury, 2007).  Currently a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University, she researches the history of feminist and womanist health in America’s Deep South during the 1970s and 1980s and is additionally at work on a book entitled FAT.