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Documenting Little-Known Feminists

By Trinity Peacock-Broyles '03

In the Second-Wave Feminism Project, Smith College is partnering with the Ford Foundation to document a part of the women’s movement that has previously been ignored -- that of grassroots, underrepresented feminists. The Ford Foundation’s $259,066 two-year grant, given in September 2002, will allow the Sophia Smith Collection to document and preserve the history of the “Second-Wave” feminist movement, which began in the 1960s and ended, arguably, with the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1982. By forming a team of interviewers, the staff at the Sophia Smith Collection will be able to collect letters and diaries as well as oral histories of these women in order to present a view of the feminist movement that encompasses women of all races and classes.

Gloria Steinem ’56, writer, editor, feminist activist and former trustee, is lending a hand by providing contacts and personal experience. “What she knows about who did what, when and where is exactly what we needed in order to amass the raw materials needed to make the historical record more inclusive and thus more accurate,” notes Sherrill Redmon, director of the Sophia Smith Collection. 

The Ford Foundation has also awarded Steinem a grant that will allow her to delve through her own papers at the Sophia Smith Collection to research a book about her 30 years of grassroots organizing. The Gloria Steinem Papers consist of 237 boxes of information ranging from 1940 to 2000. Steinem’s correspondence, writings, speeches, subject files, memorabilia, photographs and other papers provide a rich documentation of the women’s movement. As the description of her papers testifies: “Within the papers is evidence of her friendships and political work with pioneering African-American feminists such as Florynce Kennedy and Dorothy Pitman Hughes; lesbian authors and activists Andrea Dworkin, Rita Mae Brown, and Kate Millett; and labor organizers such as the United Farmworkers’ Dolores Huerta.” Steinem was not only in contact with well-known figures; among her friends were important feminists and activists who were never recognized by the mainstream media.

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