A Letter from the Curator
Why Radical Women?
The Radical Women in Gainesville collection and exhibit sites represent radical feminists involved in the grassroots and separatist strands of the local movement, while excluding the more bureaucratic feminist organizations that have chapters around the nation and well-documented histories accompanying them. Radical feminist organizations are less likely to have coherent histories as most of their institutions quickly close down in resistance to mainstream values, leaving the task for the ethnographer to compile the historiography from movement documents and participants.
Why Gainesville, Florida?
I chose Gainesville as the setting for the collection because the small north Florida college town holds great significance in the national 1970s women's movement. Gainesville residents not only wrote the first theoretical framework for the movement in 1968, they also formed one of the first five Womens Liberation groups in the country.14 Gainesville has since operated as a feminist Mecca, attracting activists from around the nation as a home away from home, including pioneering feminists Carol Hanisch, Kathie Sarachild, and Rita Mae Brown, not to mention others.
The Radical Women in Gainesville collection, not only validates the women who participated in the movement, but also contributes to the cultural memory of the local community, which has either forgotten or never known about the women who helped establish rape crisis centers, domestic abuse shelters, natural birth clinics, and other social institutions.
The Curator's Process
This collection is the product of more than a year's worth of listening to women's stories, collecting their newsprints and papers, reading books and articles, and collaborting with the Digital Library Center to digitize it all. The outcome is an efficient collection site that allows for the user to view, zoom, search, and download images of archival documents, and an educational exhibit site that contextualizes the collection by providing a comprehensive history of the local movement community.
I began collecting oral histories from women involved in the Gainesville women's movement in November of 2006 under the auspices of the Ronald E. McNair Scholar Program and the guidance of Dr. Trysh Travis at the UF Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research.
My first interviewee was CWSGR affiliate and UF Associate Dean Emerita Phyllis Meek, who gave me a three-hour crash course on the history of women's activism in Gainesville. Over the course of the next year, I would interview several more local women, including former WomaNews columnist Sallie Harrison; former feminist bookstore owner, Gerry Green; former Women's Center director, Rosalie Miller; and co-founder of the Rape Information and Counseling Service, Jacquelyn Resnick.(Addendum 1) For my last interview in November of 2007, I would travel to South Florida to interview Beverly Jones, co-founding mother of the Gainesville women's movement. Furthermore, in the summer of 2007, I began collecting archives from these women and others, including former movement participants Abby Walters and Nancy Breeze. For a list of the collection materials, click here.
With each oral history and archival document I collected, I became increasingly more aware of the significance of the history I was recovering. I also came to terms with the fact that the history I was collecting differed greatly from the one that has been conveniently nested into our cultural memory by mass media, schools, churches, and political administrations that, despite the gains of the women's movement, continue to foster misogyny and anti-feminist consciousness in our society today.
In response to the bombardment of misinformation, even researchers, for example, tend to default to the errors of the movement, holding it up to an impossible standard, and construing its history in the process.
As a result, the value of the 1970s women's movement was far from being fully realized.
The more I understood radical feminists and the social and political climates they lived in, however, the more I valued their oral histories and archives, and the greater responsibility I felt as an archivist to broadcast their hidden history to the public through pervasive forms of media that were more likely to penetrate and revise our prosaic ahistorical imaginations with a true historical narrative. Online exhibits and digital collections seemed to be the best way to accomplish this goal.
While browsing the exhibit and historical documents, one should keep in mind that the 1970s Gainesville women's movement was an experiment on social change. It was merely a group of women, mostly white, but also consisting of some highly-influential African American women and ranging in class, who began to do something about their dissatisfication with the way in which men and male-dominated institutions treated them. "Their motivation was unfocused - composed of anger, inchoate need, confusion, and frustration - and their purpose was equally unclear."15 In the same process, women gained some clarity and explored the possibility of owning their own organizations and creating programs to address the issues they felt were most important, like rape, spousal abuse, improved mental health services, and reproductive rights. The Radical Women in Gainesville collection and exhibit site affirms the women who participated in this history and welcomes others to engage it.
Radical Women in Gainesville Digital Collection