Way(too)Gay Archives

I was really bummed to miss the visit to the John C Wilcox archives with our class. I have worked at William Way for almost two years and I had been looking forward to watching my classmates experience what has so often felt like a second home to me. As both an organizer of Philly Dyke March and a Development Associate for the center I have worked with our public history in different forms. For the queer community having a space like the Wilcox archives and the larger community center is so meaningful. In a recent retrospective campaign celebrating the 40th anniversary of the center former executive director Claire Baker summed it up: “We can have nice things. We can do this. We can take care of ourselves. We don’t need to wait for anyone to rescue us. WE are our own champions.” (The video has Bob too! https://youtu.be/QVTBuzM6Loc)

Even forty years later our community must constantly challenge hegemony and become the champions for our human rights. Though we are rapidly advancing we are still in danger of one sided historicity. When the William Way Center changed their name to “LGBT Community Center” the John C Wilcox archives did not. Even though the most common modern abbreviation is LGBTQ for some reason the archive is named “GLBT”. I don’t know if my experience is unique but I am uncomfortable when someone uses GLBT instead of LGBT. It feels like a microaggression and I personally take the use as an active prioritization of gay cisgender males. For me it is as if the person is saying “Look, I know thousands of woman fought to be heard and now lesbians are supposed to be listed first BUT I still think gay men should be at the top of the food chain.” What does it mean that the people who hold the access to our community’s history can’t bear to give in to progress? When the very building the archive resides in uses LGBT it’s hard for me to assume that it’s a mere oversight.

I do not know what artifacts Bob pulled for Bryn Mawr’s visit but in my work with the archives I constantly had to dig to find images of people of color, transwomen, and even lesbian leaders. (If anyone is interested, I have our entire digital image directory on my Dropbox and would be willing to show it to whoever likes old queer pics!) My favorite part of the archive is the Gitting’s collection. Daughters of Bilitis founder & all around badass Barbara Gittings‘s widow Kay donated a huge amount of her personal effects which are a true treasure. They are so important in contextualizing the progress of LGBT rights in the past 50 years – she was everywhere. But what stories are still missing from the archives? As we move into a digital age it is becoming increasingly easy to make artifacts accessible online but the Center often has to fight to keep up with rising costs and limited resources. The center should reach out to people doing social movement work digitally and start to document the modern queer movement in a way that can be cheap and accessible.

On the Margins of History

Let me preface this by an acknowledgement of how witty I thought this title was. Not only will I be discussing the metaphorical margins of history (through Bryn Mawr’s Summer School for Women Workers), but through the very physical margins of archived evidence. Where to begin…

I think that one of the most interesting links that I’ve been noting through out numerous pieces of artifacts were the notes written in the margins. In documents, it’s very common for me to find handwritten anecdotes on the original paper. For example, when I was looking at the archives in the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives I came across underlines of words, doodled smiley faces, and handwritten names. What do these hand written notes mean? What was the significant to the original owners? These little things mean nothing to me. I can only guess at what importance they played in the lives of others. In some instances, it seems obvious- a heart next to a name suggest a relationship of endearment. But what about when I can’t read the text? What am I missing?

This was exactly my thoughts when I was reading the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry 11 Letter Boxes 7 feet 2 inches linear 2 Flat Boxes 3 feet linear. On the very first page, on the bottom left margin, is a note that begins with ‘No.’ (1).  The line that was bracketed off reads, “The Summer School syllabi, housed in boxes 4, 5, and 6, were transferred from the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, in February 1985.” (2) The rest of the ‘No’ is unreadable. Does the writer know something that I don’t know? Obviously, they were trying to contradict something within the bracket, and had made a hand written annotation in an attempt to write the wrong. Unfortunately, I can’t read what they had written. Could my understanding of history have been altered by the note that I don’t have access too?

Naturally, this lead me on a hunt. After googling the Sophia Smith Collection, I found two records of Bryn Mawr’s Summer School for Women Workers in their database- Eleanor Gwinnell Coit Papers (1913-1974) and Mary van Kleeck Papers (1849-1998). The Eleanor Gwinnell Coit Papers seem to contain information on her work with the American Labor Education Service, as well as education associations and councils. (3) The Mary van Kleeck Papers seem to include “a significant amount of material relating…(to) Bryn Mawr Summer School for Student Workers” (4). Both sets of papers are available thorough the Sophia Smith Collection. Regardless, the little marginal notes from my organizational box achieve papers led me on a small hunt for missing information- it arrived in the form of two women who had written on the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Student Workers, and were involved with its educational processing. Granted, I never learned what the “No” was in reference to, but I felt like I had made a small discovery instead.



(1) “File #3456: “Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry Finding Aid.pdf” Omeka RSS. (Accessed February 10, 2016. http://greenfield.brynmawr.edu/files/show/3456.) 1.

(2) “File #3456: “Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry Finding Aid.pdf” Omeka RSS. (Accessed February 10, 2016. http://greenfield.brynmawr.edu/files/show/3456.) 1.

(3) “Eleanor Gwinnell Coit Papers, 1913-1974: Collection Overview.” Eleanor Gwinnell Coit Papers, 1913-1974: Collection Overview. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss229_main.html.

(4) “Mary Van Kleeck Papers, 1849-1998 : Collection Overview.” Mary Van Kleeck Papers, 1849-1998 : Collection Overview. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss150_main.html.