Sophia Smith Collection Celebrates 70 Years and Retired Director Sherrill Redmon
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 20:01
The Sophia Smith Collection will hold a celebratory event in honor of its 70th anniversary and the legacy of Sherrill Redmon, the collection’s recently retired director.
The celebration will be split into two events. The first, called In the Archives of Fun Home: A Conversation with Alison Bechdel will be led by Smith professor Susan Van Dyne of the study of women and gender department. The second event, Activists and Archives: Allies for Social Justice, will have a keynote address by feminist activist and Smith alumna Gloria Steinem. It will be followed by Katsi Cook and Loretta Ross in conversation with Anna Holley ’12 and Marianne Bullock ’AC, and moderated by Smith professor Jennifer Guglielmo of the history department.
Bechdel is the author and artist of the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which ran for 25 years, and of two acclaimed graphic novels, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine. Ross is a reproductive justice and anti-violence activist whose work has included co-directing the 2004 National March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C., the largest protest in American history, and taking leadership of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in 2005, which is now the largest multiracial women’s collective in the country. She is currently Smith’s first Activist in Residence. Cook is an environmentalist, Native American rights activist and midwife whose accomplishments include launching the Mother’s Milk Project in 1983, which monitored the environmental impact of industrial development in her community.
Bechdel, Steinem, Ross and Cook have all donated their papers to the Sophia Smith Collection, and Steinem, Ross and Cook have contributed their oral histories. Van Dyne, who was involved in the event’s planning process and has worked with the Sophia Smith Collection for both her classes and for her book on Sylvia Plath’s papers, stated that the speakers were chosen in the hopes of engaging the student body.
“We wanted to celebrate Sherrill’s legacy in a forward-looking way that would matter to students,” said Van Dyne. “That’s why we invited Bechdel and then we really got a hit when we got Steinem. So it’s an attractive way for students to learn about the years of the archive.” Van Dyne said that planning for the event took over six months.
According to its website, the Sophia Smith Collection is an “internationally recognized repository of manuscripts, archives, photographs, periodicals and other primary sources in women’s history.” It was founded in 1942 as a collection of women writers’ work, but evolved into a historical archive of women’s histories and lives under the leadership of its first director, Margaret Storrs Grierson. Today, the Collection has over 700 collections in print, manuscript and audiovisual materials.
The event celebrates the archive’s 70th anniversary as well as the work of Redmon. Redmon was director of the Sophia Smith Collection for 19 years and retired last August. Van Dyne commented that Redmon’s work “profoundly transformed what’s in our archives” and that the Sophia Smith Collection was “always a women’s history archive, but wasn’t a feminist archive until Sherrill.”
Before Redmon, the Sophia Smith Collection focused primarily on the lives of white women. In order to combat this problem, Redmon launched the Voices of Feminism project, with 60 oral histories that are available both in the archives and online. These histories were given by lesbian activists, women of color activists, labor activists and other women who were not as well represented in the Sophia Smith Collection. Redmon searched out 292 new collections, including the records of the YWCA of the U.S., and helped the Sophia Smith Collection gain access to new funds and grants.
Emily Dennen ’13, a student who plans on attending the event, commented, “I’m really looking forward to the event in order to learn more about the archives and more about Smith’s history. The archives are an incredible resource that I’ve never used, so I’m excited to learn more about how to use them.”
When asked what a student would get out of attending this event, Van Dyne said, “I think she’ll see a living archive. Two women who gave oral histories will be there, along with students of their papers, and two creators of history will be there in the flesh. Students will be aware of archives as living and available instead of dry and dusty someplace. I hope students will have a more encompassing sense of what can be studied over at the archives and recognize, ‘This is my history. I’m going to go find it.’”
The conversation with Bechdel will be held in Weinstein Auditorium in Wright Hall from 3-5 p.m. Doors will open at 2:30. Bechdel’s books will be on sale before and after the event and there will be a book signing. Activists and Archives will now be held in John M. Greene Hall from 7-9 p.m. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are not necessary for either event and early arrival is recommended.