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An Activist Archives: The Sophia Smith Collection at 70

A Celebration in honor of Sherrill Redmon,
Director of the Sophia Smith Collection, 1993-2012

February 3, 2013

Event Speakers:

Alison Bechdel | Marianne Bullock | Katsi Cook
Anna Holley | Loretta Ross | Gloria Steinem

Moderators: Susan Van Dyne; Jennifer Guglielmo

View Schedule



Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel is author and artist of the syndicated comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, and two acclaimed graphic memoirs, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) and Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama (2012).

Alison Bechdel

She grew up in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. After earning a B.A. from Oberlin College in 1981, she worked in various publishing industry office jobs in New York City and as a production writer for Equal Time in Minneapolis. Her strip, Dykes to Watch Out For had its genesis in a single drawing labeled "Marianne, dissatisfied with the morning brew: Dykes to Watch Out For, plate no. 27." In 1983, an acquaintance recommended she send her work to WomaNews, which began publishing the strip in its July-August issue. Other outlets began running the strip in 1984 and it was syndicated in 1985.

Ms. Magazine called DTWOF "one of the preeminent oeuvres in the comics genre, period." It ran regularly in over fifty LGBT publications in North America and the UK and a series of award-winning book-length collections published by an independent feminist press, and translated into several languages. The success of DTWOF allowed Bechdel to quit her day job in 1990 to work on the strip full-time.

Bechdel gained wider recognition for her work with the publication in 2006 of her groundbreaking graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, Fun Home was named Best Book of 2006 by Time Magazine. Time called the tightly architected investigation into her closeted bisexual father's suicide "a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other." A second graphic memoir, Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in May 2012. An October 2012 piece in Publisher's Weekly listed the Bechdels among "The Most Dysfunctional Families in Literature."

Bechdel has said she is interested in "the overlap of the political and the personal spheres." Dykes to Watch Out For was an explicitly community-based and politically engaged project. But in her deeply intimate memoirs about her father's life before the gay rights movement and her mother's life before the women's movement, she turns a microscopic lens on the internal mechanisms of oppression and liberation.

Bechdel edited Best American Comics 2011. She has drawn comics for Slate, McSweeney's, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Granta. Her work is widely anthologized and translated. She is the recipient of a 2012-13 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Alison Bechdel's papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection (contact us for more information)


Marianne Bullock

Marianne Bullock is a mama to a wild 6 year old, a doula, and an Ada Comstock scholar at Smith College. She is co-founder and Lead Doula with The Prison Birth Project, a reproductive justice organization, working to provide support, education and advocacy with women and girls at the intersection of the criminal system and motherhood. She has been a birth-worker for over 10 years as a midwife's apprentice and birth attendant. She has used Katsi Cook's papers in her work at Smith. Bullock is the recipient of a Kahn Institute Fellowship and is currently working on an oral history project with formerly incarcerated mothers.

Marianne Bullock
Marianne Bullock

Katsi Cook

Sherrill Elizabeth Tekatsitsiakwa "Katsi" Cook is a midwife, environmentalist, and Native American rights activist who grew up in the Akwesasne community on the St. Regis Reservation, which straddles the U.S.- Canada border along the St. Lawrence River. She is a member of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk tribe. Cook attended Skidmore College for two years then transferred into the first class of women accepted at Dartmouth College, but soon left to join the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Katsi Cook
Katsi Cook

In the 1970s and '80s Cook and her husband Josť Barreiro, a Cuban-born activist and academic, worked with the Kanienkehaka Longhouse Council of Chiefs at Akwesasne, where she was Women's Health Editor of Akwesasne Notes, a clearinghouse of information for the emerging Indian consciousness movement. She toured the U.S. and Canada with White Roots of Peace, a group she describes as "a traveling university" through which participants learned Native knowledge from elders and imparted it to others.

Cook took up midwifery after participating in the 1977 conference at Loon Lake, NY, where traditional chiefs, clan mothers, and young activists from the Six Nations worked to define sovereignty for Native peoples. In 1978 she did an apprenticeship in spiritual midwifery at The Farm in Tennessee, followed by clinical training at the University of New Mexico Women's Health Training Program. Struck by Pueblo and Navajo women's lack of knowledge regarding reproduction in general and Native birthing traditions in particular, Cook recognized this loss of self-knowledge and cultural ways as a consequence of colonization.

Cook attended the founding meeting of Women of All Red Nations (WARN) in 1978 and went on to work at the Red Schoolhouse Clinic, a WARN project in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where she trained an Anishnabe Birthing Crew and created the Women's Dance Health Program. After returning to Akewsasne, Cook obtained grant from the Ms. Foundation for Women to establish a Dance Health Program there. In 1983 Cook launched the Mother's Milk Project to monitor the environmental impact of industrial development created by the St. Lawrence Seaway Project of the 1950s. Mother's Milk provides direct services and advocacy in Akwesasne, which Canada has singled out as the most contaminated of 63 Native communities. As a result of Cook's efforts, Akwesasne became the first community to include human health research in the Superfund Basic Research Program.

Cook has served as a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Health and Toxicology at the University of Albany School of Public Health. As a Visiting Fellow at Cornell University's American Indian Program, she worked on environmental justice issues within the Six Nations Iroquois communities. In 2001 she served as the Dr. T.J. Murray Visiting Scholar in Medical Humanities at Dalhousie University, and has lectured on the subject of alternative and complementary therapies at the State University of New York at Buffalo Medical School and at Cornell University.

Cook has participated in national and international women's health movements, including service on the board of the National Women's Health Network, involvement in the Nestle boycott, and work with Mayan midwives in Guatemala. She monitors indigenous rights in the drafting of midwifery legislation and is the founding aboriginal midwife of the Six Nations Birthing Centre where she assists with student training, curriculum development, and community education. Cook is director of the Iewirokwas Midwifery Program of Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Supported by a Ford Foundation grant, she is currently developing the First Environment Institute to restore indigenous puberty rites as means of advancing maternal and child health on the Akwesasne and Pine Ridge reservations. She is also conducting research with the Indian Health Service and writing Daughters of Sky Woman: A Cultural Ecology of Birth.

Katsi Cook's papers and an oral history are in the Sophia Smith Collection.


Anna Holley

Anna Holley graduated from Smith in January of 2012 with a major in the Study of Women and Gender and a concentration in social justice. She joined the academic rigor of Smith after transferring from a small school in rural Iowa. She describes leaving the humble cornfields of Iowa as challenging, but describes her Smith career as "transformative." Holley worked in the Sophia Smith Collection both as a student assistant and a researcher, writing several academic papers analyzing the oral histories of Loretta Ross and Katsi Cook.

Anna Holley
Anna Holley

In the summer of 2010, she interned with Loretta Ross at SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in Atlanta. Arriving during the "endangered species" anti-abortion billboard campaign, Holley spent much of her time doing political research and writing to be used in SisterSong's response. She also identified and organized SisterSong's founding materials, transferring the organization's records to the Sophia Smith Collection for preservation. After graduating from Smith, Holley worked as a research assistant for Study of Women and Gender professor Carrie Baker, aiding in the creation of a course on Reproductive Justice. She also worked as a communication and outreach coordinator for the Five College Women's Studies Research Center. She hopes eventually to pursue a graduate degree in Women and Gender Studies.


Loretta J. Ross

Loretta J. Ross is an internationally known organizer, speaker, writer and activist whose areas of expertise include reproductive rights, human rights, women's issues, diversity issues, hate groups and bias crimes.

Ross became active in Black Nationalist politics in the 1970s as a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1979, she became director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, the only center at the time run primarily by and for women of color. In that capacity she organized the first National Conference on Third World Women and Violence in 1980.

Loretta Ross
Loretta J. Ross
© 1987 Charles Eldridge Wheeler

While serving as Director of Women of Color Programs for the National Organization for Women (1985-89), she organized women of color delegations for the pro-choice marches NOW sponsored in 1986 and 1989, and organized the first national conference on Women of Color and Reproductive Rights in 1987. In response to the Supreme Court's Webster decision in 1989, Ross co-coordinated production of the path-breaking statement "We Remember: African American Women Are for Reproductive Freedom." As Program Director for the National Black Women's Health Project (1989-90), she coordinated the first national conference of African American women for reproductive rights. From 1980 to 1988, she was a member of the Washington D.C. Commission on Women.

From 1990 to 1995, Ross served as the national program research director for the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), formerly the National Anti-Klan Network. CDR is a national, non-profit clearinghouse for information on hate groups and bigoted violence, including the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi movement. Ross directed specific projects on far right organizations in South Africa and Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi involvement in anti-abortion violence in the U.S.

Active internationally, Ross is a founding member of the International Council of African Women and of the Network of East-West Women. She has been a regular participant in International Women and Health Meetings and helped organize the delegation of 1100 African American women to the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994. She attended United Nations Women's Conferences in Copenhagen, Nairobi, and Beijing, where she mobilized delegations of U.S. women of color to present their own perspectives as racial minorities. Inspired by those experiences of transnational organizing, she created the National Center for Human Rights Education in 1996 to promote a human rights approach to social change within the U.S.

Ross was co-director of the 2004 National March for Women's Lives in Washington D.C., the largest protest in U.S. history, and in 2005, she assumed leadership of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, which became the largest multiracial women's network in the country. Ross is also the co-author of Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice, published in 2004

Ross has served on numerous boards, including National Women's Health Network, SisterLove Women's AIDS Project, Men Stopping Violence, and testifies on women's health and civil rights issues before Congress and the United Nations.

Ross is presently working with students and faculty at Smith College where she is the college's first Activist in Residence.

Ross has been a key participant in the Sophia Smith Collection's Voices of Feminism Oral History project. In addition to donating her own papers and an extensive oral history, Ross conducted fourteen VOF oral history interviews, provided invaluable contacts, and has served as a exceptionally persuasive advocate on behalf of the SSC.


Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, editor, and feminist activist who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith in 1956. She travels around the world as an organizer and lecturer and is a frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality. She is particularly interested in "the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice." Steinem lives in New York City, and is currently at work on Road to the Heart: America As if Everyone Mattered, a book about her more than thirty years on the road as a feminist organizer.

Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem

Following her graduation from Smith, Gloria spent two years in India on a Chester Bowles Fellowship, wrote for Indian publications, and was influenced by Gandhian activism. In 1960 she moved to New York City where she worked for Help! magazine and wrote freelance for Life, Esquire, Glamour, and many other newspapers and magazines. Steinem co-founded New York magazine in 1968 and served as its political columnist until 1972. She was active in various civil rights and peace campaigns in the 1960s and 70s, including United Farmworkers, Vietnam War Tax Protest, and Committee for the Legal Defense of Angela Davis. She also participated in the political campaigns of Adlai Stevenson, Robert Kennedy, Shirley Chisholm, and many others.

Steinem came to the Women's Movement in 1969 after she attended a meeting of the Redstockings during which women shared their abortion experiences. Her consciousness raised, she began speaking to audiences across the country, often paired with African-American activists beginning with Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and later Florynce Kennedy and Margaret Sloan. In 1971 Steinem, with others, founded Ms. magazine, the first commercial magazine in the U.S. to unambiguously claim a feminist perspective.

Steinem's books include the bestsellers Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words, and Marilyn: Norma Jean, on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Her writing also appears in many anthologies and textbooks, and she was an editor of Houghton Mifflin's The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History.

The list of organizations and movements which Steinem helped found is stunning. Included are the Women's Action Alliance (a pioneering national information center that specialized in nonsexist, multiracial children's education), the National Women's Political Caucus, the Women's Media Center, Voters for Choice, Choice USA, and the Ms. Foundation for Women, a national multi-racial, multi-issue fund that supports grassroots projects to empower women. She was also a member of the Beyond Racism Initiative, a three-year effort on the part of activists and experts from South Africa, Brazil, and the United States to compare the racial patterns of those three countries and to learn cross-nationally.

Steinem has received numerous awards for her writing, and several honorary degrees. In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She has been the subject of two biographical television documentaries, and two full-length biographies.

Steinem's connection to the Sophia Smith Collection is long and deep. She began donating her own papers in 1984. Several years later, they were joined by the records of two organizations she co-founded, the Women's Action Alliance and Ms. Magazine. Since that time other Ms. and WAA co-founders have given Smith their personal papers and we have also added the records of Voters for Choice, Choice USA, the Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication and the Ms. Foundation for Women. In 2001 Steinem and the Ms. Foundation approached the SSC about collaborating on a proposal to the Ford Foundation for funding to document the contemporary women's movement. The resulting Voices of Feminism Collection Development Project more-or-less began with Steinem's address book and her phenomenal network of activists. Over the past three decades she has been extraordinarily generous with her time, ideas, and connections to help support the SSC.

Gloria Steinem's Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection, and her oral history is part of the Voices of Feminism Oral History project.


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