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.