Laura Micham, Merle Hoffmann Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture and curator of gender and sexuality history collections in the Rubenstein Library, has been selected as the 2014 winner of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Women and Gender Studies Section (WGSS) Career Achievement Award. The award honors significant long-standing contributions to women’s studies in the field of librarianship over the course of a career. Laura will receive the award at 8:30 a.m. on June 30, 2014, at the WGSS program during the American Libraries Association’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas.
Here at the Rubenstein Library we’re thrilled for Laura, but not surprised by this recognition of her achievements. Of the many possible testimonials to her efforts by donors, students, scholars, colleagues, and other Bingham Center patrons, a few will suffice here. Victoria Hesford, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University and a researcher in the Bingham Center’s collections, writes, “To say that Laura is an archival dynamo whose energy and enterprise constantly brings new people, new collections, and new ideas to the Bingham Center, would be an understatement! She has ideas, she works collaboratively, and she is not easily put off by the inevitable complexities and difficulties of bringing a project to life.”
Jeanette Stokes, Executive Director of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, whose records are held in the Bingham Center, adds, “Laura’s work has made the Sallie Bingham Center a vibrant presence on the campus of Duke University, in the community of Durham, North Carolina, and in the wider academic community nationally and internationally. The center has become a hub for information, resources, and programming on women’s history and culture. It makes creative use of its collection while cooperating with campus and community groups to provide outstanding educational programs.”
Naomi Nelson, Director of the Rubenstein Library, writes, “The award announcement cites Laura’s expertise, advocacy for archives, leadership, and vision, and it notes her collaborations across the university and her proactive work with students. Under Laura’s leadership, the Bingham Center has grown in important and dynamic ways and, at the same time, she has made significant contributions to the larger profession.”
Issues involved with the handling and preservation of ephemera—campaign buttons, stickers, scrapbooks, photo albums, brochures and pamphlets and such—have been an ongoing concern among curators and archivists, as many of our procedures and best practices concern materials commonly recognized as “important artifacts” such as art, works of prominent photographers, rare manuscripts and books. Many modern manuscript collections pose an additional challenge when they include files of clippings, the two-sided nature of which inadvertently creates an “accidental archive” of items of potential research interest. Many of the Hartman Center’s advertising collections suffer from this wealth of excess. Magazine and newspaper pages containing ads for one product frequently have an equally (if not more) useful ad on the reverse, or a provocative news article. In the example here, taken from the Doris Bryn Papers, the reverse side of a department store ad contains an article “Are Women Persons? Educators Disagree” that appeared in the Oct. 15, 1950 edition of the Sunday Herald.
As indicative of the kinds of debates taking place during the postwar re-integration of women into domestic life and the slow march toward women’s rights and gender equality, the article poses potential research utility; at the least, great fodder for an undergraduate paper. The big challenge is: how to remember where to find these little gems the second time around?
Post contributed by Rick Collier, Technical Services Archivist for the John W. Hartman Center.
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 the wake of our collections move, I came across a board game, “Women’s Lib? A Game of Women’s Rights.” As a child of the seventies, the box’s Bob Fosse-esque cover image caught my eye, as did the oh-so-1970 line drawings that reminded me of Schoolhouse Rock and other educational cartoons of my youth. However, this board game has a decidedly adult theme.
Each player selects a character that represents one of six different stances on the Women’s Liberation Movement, ranging from “Male Chauvinist” to “Moderate Woman,” to “W.O.M.B. (Women Opposed to Male Bigots).” Characters then vote on contemporary issues as prompted by playing cards. These topics are familiar to us over 40 years later: Abortion, Day Care, Employment Equality, Women’ Legislation and Domestic Issues. In fact, the only category on the election docket that we don’t hear much about today is “Male Contraception.”
Points are awarded to players who successfully campaign and debate to achieve the goals favored by the character they represent. The game sets out to educate players about controversial gender issues in a rapidly changing world. Although this piece of memorabilia seems anachronistic today, the topics it addresses are still extremely relevant.
While working on preparing print materials for the Rubenstein Library’s upcoming move, I came across a few books on American women’s etiquette. I glanced inside and found rules, rules, and more rules! Although the publication dates range from 1873-1924, the authors seemed to agree on specific social laws of conduct. For instance, one must never shout hello to an acquaintance across the street (“a certain sign of vulgarity”), and a lady should never have a man on each arm or vice versa (apparently, this is only done in Ireland). One of the books decreed never to join in a dance unless you skillfully know the steps. Otherwise, one will “bring disorder into the midst of pleasure!”
These social rules were listed under headings describing every instance of everyday life imaginable- dressing, eating, visiting relatives or friends, attending church, weddings, traveling, even how to not hurt a person’s feelings. It was very interesting to see how vastly different American society and culture were 100 years ago. We have our rules as well (whether followed or not), but nothing like these prim guidelines.
Cullen Cornett is a Holdings Management Assistant in Rubenstein Technical Services.
The personal and professional papers of writer, organizer, and leading women’s movement activist Meredith Tax came to the Sallie Bingham Center in 2010. To celebrate the acquisition of this extensive collection the Center will host a symposium in Tax’s honor on April 13 and 14 called Acting Across Borders: The Future of the Feminist 1970s. Along with Meredith Tax, distinguished African scholar and activist Patricia McFadden will present the keynote address of an event that aims to grapple with how the interventions and methodologies of the women’s liberation movement inform current and future social justice movements. In anticipation of her trip to Duke, Meredith took a few minutes to share her reasons for putting her papers here and to give a sense of what people can expect to learn at the symposium.
Why did you decide to put your papers in the Bingham Center?
I investigated several feminist archives and chose the Bingham Center because it had a much more energetic and activist approach to archival work than I saw elsewhere. I want my papers to be used not only by scholars but by young people who want to learn from the history of earlier social movements. Because the Bingham Center does outreach to inform students about its collections and gives fellowships for researchers to work in its archive, I think my papers will be most accessible there.
What would you tell students about the upcoming symposium celebrating your work?
We are at the dawn of a period of increasing political activism. Attendees at this symposium will learn from the life stories of people who shaped the women’s movement here and internationally. Speakers will talk about their own work and life experiences. They will discuss the way issues of race and class impacted the relationship between feminism and the left, the development of ecofeminism and international women’s movements, and the centrality of questions of sexuality, gender, and LGBT rights. Feminists from Southern Africa, Algeria, and India will discuss their own rich and complex confrontations with sexism, nationalism and religious fundamentalism. These stories will show that, contrary to the right wing myth that feminists are white middle class women who are just out for themselves, feminists in the US and elsewhere have always grappled with issues of race and class, war and peace, nationalism and the environment, and that these efforts continue from one generation to the next.
What are some of the topics you plan to address in your keynote speech at the symposium?
I will tell the story of my life, from a childhood shaped by the sexism of the 50s to the early days of the Boston women’s movement, battles within the left and my own struggle to overcome the ignorance resulting from class and race privilege, my participation in the reproductive rights movement, and my work in International PEN (Postsecondary Education Network International) as part of a global movement for women’s human rights which must go on in this new period to link the struggle for social and economic justice and sustainability with the fight against all forms of fundamentalism.
When you hear the word “Panko,” do you think of Japanese bread crumbs?
I did, until the Sallie Bingham Center acquired this deck of Panko playing cards. It’s named for the leader of the British suffrage movement, Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), and pits opponents and supporters of suffrage against each other in a game similar to rummy. The advertisement for the game claimed, “Not only is each picture in itself an interesting memento, but the game produces intense excitement without the slightest taint of bitterness.”
This translation of the women’s suffrage movement into card games, and also board games, helped bring the message of the cause into domestic circles where more overt forms of propaganda might not have been welcomed. These cards were designed by the well-known Punch cartoonist E. T. Reed, and published by Peter Gurney in 1909.
These particular playing cards are owned by only three other libraries and are an important, rare piece of suffragette memorabilia that joins a number of other decks of cards held by the Bingham Center that explore issues related to women and gender. Check out the Panko catalog record here!
Post contributed by Megan Lewis, Technical Services Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.
Perhaps I just run with the bibliophiles, but when I tell people I work in a library, they usually say, “You’re lucky, you get to read books all day!” For most of my colleagues this is probably not the case, but I am one of the fortunate few for whom it is true. I am responsible for cataloging small or single-volume collections. They generally arrive with little or no description, so I must read the material to some extent in order to provide access to it. I also train others to catalog these collections, and I urge them to verify any information accompanying a new acquisition. In particular, I ask them to confirm the sex of any journal or diary author. Those describing these items before they reach our library still tend to assume that creators are male rather than female. Here is a case in point.
According to the description provided to us, Rev. James Lee-Warner of Norfolk, England, was the author of this travel journal. I needed to confirm this. The wrinkle was that, although I’ve often deciphered 19th-century handwriting in both quill and pen, this hand was rather difficult to read. With a little persistence I was able to read passages, including the one that provided the confirmation I was seeking.
In the entry for Friday, March 15, the traveling party joined a crowd of 10,000 people waiting at St. Peter’s to see Pope Pius IX. The author noted that “[The pope] did not arrive punctually, so we had ample leisure to look round on the vast crowds…,” then went on to describe what happened later that day:
In the afternoon we drove with the [W?]abryns to Santa Maria della Pace where the braid of my dress formed an attachment to a tin bucket full of water—and I found myself, unconscious of the impending disaster, calmly descending a flight of steps into the church. The graceful sweep of my dress gradually tightened as I descended, and in another moment with a terrific crash down came the unfortunate bucket [tolling?] down the steps into the church with a small cataract of water preceeding [sic] it and announcing to all the world the melancholy nature of the catastrophe. The Sacristan good-naturedly rushed to the rescue with a somewhat dilapidated broom and swept back the torrent with great promptitude.
I searched the journal and found no one else’s handwriting, so the volume’s sole author was a well-educated woman. Unfortunately, despite consulting entries for the Lee-Warner family and their relations in Burke’s Peerage and his Landed Gentry, I have not been able to identify her, although I am more certain that at least some members of the traveling party were Lee-Warners. To learn more about this journal and its content, visit our library’s catalog record.
Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Archivist/Original Cataloger in the Technical Services Dept.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University