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Story of a Political Life: Harman Papers in the SSC

Those interested -- for research purposes or simple curiosity -- in the myriad details of operation of the modern United States Congress will have at their disposal an extensive compendium of materials to peruse thanks to the donation by U.S. Representative Jane Lakes Harman ’66 of her papers to the college’s Sophia Smith Collection (SSC).

Harman, who will deliver the commencement address during this year’s exercises on Sunday, May 21, recently donated an array of documents from her first three terms in Congress -- some 270 boxes worth of papers. And that’s only the first installment.

“The Jane Harman papers are a gold mine to students, particularly government majors,” says Karen Kukil, reference archivist in the SSC, who is organizing the papers and curating an exhibition. “They will be able to see firsthand how Congress works, particularly the 103rd through the 105th congresses,” those in which Harman first served, from 1992 to 1998, representing her Southern California district.

Samples from "Jane Lakes
Harman: A Woman of Intelligence"

Smith Democrats 1966 (President Jane Lakes, second from left)

Harman with President Jimmy Carter, 1978

Harman with American troops in Bosnia, 1995

Harman with Nelson Mandela, 1993

Getting her daily exercise

Scholars might glean, for example, the multi-step process of the path of a bill from its introduction through to ratification, Kukil explains, or gather details about governmental actions during the Clinton presidency.

Those interested in future political careers might pore through the Harman papers for inspiration, says Kukil. “You can see how she kept building on her various experiences. One of the most interesting things about these papers is that you’re able to trace what it takes to become a Congresswoman. Jane Harman is a role model for students who are interested in public service.”

Kukil is curating an exhibition, “Jane Lakes Harman: A Woman of Intelligence,” of selections from the papers, which will open on Saturday, May 20, at 4 p.m., in the Sophia Smith Collection, Alumnae Gymnasium. Harman will give brief remarks at 4:30 p.m. The exhibition borrows its name from an article on Harman in the 2005 Smith Alumnae Quarterly by Karin Fischer ’96.

The exhibition will include some 75 items, such as photographs from Harman’s youth and her political life, published papers, Congressional writings, speech scripts, letters, and other documents. Photos in the exhibition of Harman with President Jimmy Carter, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, South African President Nelson Mandela, and other world leaders illustrate the breadth of her political service and the prominence to which the Congresswoman has risen. By contrast, photos of Harman visiting public schools and interacting with citizens from her district underscore her commitment to remaining close to her constituency.

Part of the exhibition will also be displayed in the Morgan Gallery in the Neilson Library entryway.

Jane Harman began her political life in the early 1970s as a legislative director to U.S. Senator John Tunney, a California Democrat. In 1977, she was appointed Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet in the Carter administration. Harman practiced law until she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992.

Harman left office in 1998 to run for governor of California (unsuccessfully), and was re-elected to Congress in 2000. She has since become a leading Congressional expert on terrorism and security issues, and is the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Harman received an honorary degree from Smith in 1994.

Harman’s papers include a vast array of correspondence, reports and research, articles, photographs, videos and audiotapes. The collection is arranged in nine categories: biographical materials, professional activities, political activities, legislative files, constituent services, media activities, office administration, photographs, and audiovisual materials.

One area of particular strength in the papers is Harman’s consistent and tireless support of women’s rights, says Kukil, including bills she introduced supporting abortion rights. Other issues of focus in the papers include defense and intelligence, public education, energy conservation and progressive environmental policies, space sciences, and tax law.

Harman’s donation is the most extensive catalog of political papers in the Sophia Smith Collection, says Sherrill Redmon, director of the SSC. It is likely to remain so as Harman continues adding the papers that document her distinguished career.

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