Sherrill Redmon Retires
After nineteen years leading the Sophia Smith Collection, Sherrill Redmon worked her last day on August 31st, 2012. She left behind an organization transformed. As the staff contemplated her legacy for a final-day sendoff, it was hard to remember the Alumnae Gym she entered in the fall of 1993.
Sherrill Redmon, Director of the SSC, 1993-2012
Then more than fifty years in the making, the Collection Sherrill inherited was large and very rich, but also very much centered on the lives and work of white women, many of them elite and from the northeastern United States. SSC staff had been working to address this imbalance, but Sherrill determined that a more intentional effort was needed to expand the scope of the holdings. With the help and urging of Gloria Steinem and Collection Development Coordinator Joyce Follet (along with very generous financial support from the Ford Foundation), the SSC launched Voices of Feminism, an ambitious documentation strategy designed to pave the way for scholars to fill yawning gaps in the historical record. We sought out new collections which document important and underrepresented voices.
Through this project, we videotaped in-depth oral histories of sixty women labor, peace, and anti-racism activists; lesbian rights advocates; grass-roots anti-violence and anti-poverty organizers; women of color reproductive justice leaders; and cultural workers in music, film, writing, and photography. As part of the Voices project, these women were asked to place their personal papers and/or the records of their organizations in the Sophia Smith Collection.
Their reactions ran the gamut from incredulity that anyone would think their "stuff" constituted history, to wariness about Smith's elite origins. Through the careful work of the Voices staff, the incredulous started to think about their work in a new way and many of the skeptical overcame their hesitations and began sending papers.
Sherrill on her last day, walking out the door
The new collections are especially strong in resources for documenting the perspectives of African American, Native American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander and other women of color and their activist organizations. This process has reinforced our growing understanding of the pervasiveness and continuity of women's activism for equality. These new materials provide strong evidence that women of color worked for gender equality long before 1963, participated in the so-called Second Wave of feminism, critiqued it for not adequately reflecting their concerns, and incorporated some of its practices into their own women's movements that burgeoned in the 1980s and continue to thrive in the first decade of the 21st century.
And if that wasn't enough, Sherrill also took advantage of some incredible (if somewhat daunting) opportunities that cropped up along the way, most notably acquisition of the incomparable and very large records of the YWCA of the U.S.A.
In addition to searching out 292 new collections and around 6,000 linear feet of new materials, Sherrill was also remarkably successful at finding funds to help make some of these marvelous materials research-ready through grants and donations both large and small.
"An Activist Archives: The Sophia Smith Collection at 70":
On February 3, 2013, there will be a celebration in honor of Sherrill Redmon and the 70th Anniversary of the SSC. View event schedule.
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