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Kansas Lesbian History Underrepresented in NYC Archives

By Michelle Monger
Advocacy | January 8, 2010

NEW YORK, New York - My past two weeks in New York has inspired me to delve into the world and history of feminism and lesbianism in the United States.

I thought to myself, where did I come from? What's my history, my background? Instead of visiting Ellis Island and searching for my ancestors' names, I chose to visit the Lesbian Herstory Archives in the Park Slope Area of Brooklyn.

The Lesbian Herstory Archives is completely volunteer-run and has been accepting donations of items from lesbians around the world since the 1970s. The archives' purpose statement is as follows:

The Lesbian Herstory Archives exists to gather and preserve records of Lesbian lives and activities so that future generations will have ready access to materials relevant to their lives. The process of gathering this material will uncover and collect our herstory denied to us previously by patriarchal historians in the interests of the culture which they serve. We will be able to analyze and reevaluate the Lesbian experience; we also hope the existence of the Archives will encourage Lesbians to record their experiences in order to formulate our living herstory.

The evening I visited the archives, it was only open from 6:00 until 9:00 pm. I was warmly greeted by a volunteer who gave me an in-depth tour of the archives' various collections, including books, posters, buttons, stickers, newsletters, periodicals, visual art, films, and more.

After my hour-long tour, I began to search. First, through the Kansas file. General Kansas file: newspaper clippings of Westboro Baptist Church's pickets from the late 90's, bulletins published by the First Unitarian Universalist Church, an enticing article about a lesbian couple in the early twentieth century featured in the Wichita Beacon (I especially remember the word "queer" describing the ladies' behavior), and a publication promoting Wichita Pride 1995. I opened the Pride magazine and immediately discovered my friend and current editor of Liberty Press, Kristi Parker, in the front inside cover.

I kept flipping through the publication, stumbling across advertisements for since-closed gay bars in Wichita and other parts of Kansas, lesbian groups I've never heard of before and that probably no longer exist, and an even an advertisement for the Wichita Chapter of National Organization for Women. Of course, when I saw the NOW ad, I immediately acted on my excitement and took a picture with my phone and texted it to Kari Ann Rinker, Kansas NOW's current State Coordinator.

While many other states' files overflowed with material, Kansas' file was probably an inch or so thick. I was thinking that, wow, Kansas' lesbian history is completely underrepresented.

With that said, when I get home, I'm going to see if I have any copies of Liberty Press I can mail to the archives. I think I will dig to unveil the hidden "her"story of Kansas so that it will be kept safe in a well-known archive that people use for research and that lesbians from around the world seek out to discover the lives of others.

To visit the Lesbian Herstory Archives' website for a virtual tour, contact information, and information on how to donate (money or materials), visit lesbianherstoryarchives.org.

Also, feel free to contact me by commenting on this article if you are knowledgeable about Kansas' lesbian history.


6 Comments

This is a cool article that you wrote. It's so interesting when people write about how Kansas is viewed outside of Kansas. I would never have known about that website if you hadn't gone to the museum and written this piece. Thank you.


I'm thrilled that you are writing from NYC! Yay!


Thanks for 'writing home' and sharing your trip with us. If you find the time, I'd love to hear more about your travels here.


While it's not lesbian-specific, there is a great collection of LGBT items from Kansas's history at KU. Bruce McKinney has spent over 30 years collecting memorabilia from all over Kansas. He has all but one issue of the Liberty Press and other papers long since gone. He donated his amazing collection last year to join what else KU had. There are also a couple of people in Kansas working on collecting stories from our history for a documentary. I believe it is called "Over the Rainbow".

Did you know in 1977, Wichita was one of the few places in the country to have a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGB people? At the time, they also added marital status; and it's the only one ever to have used "sexual preference" instead of "sexual orientation". The next year, it was overturned in a referendum. San Francisco had a riot on our behalf! Of the six municipalities to overturn their ordinances in 1978, Wichita is the only one who has not yet re-introduce it. At one time, a psychic predicted Wichita would become the to-be place for gays, similar to San Francisco. They missed, but in the late 70s, it seemed to be true -- to people who weren't in Wichita!

While our history isn't as rich as others, it is quite rich indeed. Unfortunately, it hasn't been largely talked about. So many people moved away with many others dying, sadly so common. Many still remain, and it's important that their stories be told.


Carolyn, thank you for connecting those dots. I only know about the 1977 San Francisco connection to Wichita from watching the movie 'Milk' - and I've been meaning to ask people from Wichita more about this. Maybe you'll write even more about here sometime for those of us that haven't heard all the history.


Late responding to your article, but here's inforrmation on Pete's Pub, a lesbian bar in KCK back in the 60s.

http://lostwomynsspace.blogspot.com/2011/06/petes-pub.html


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