I knew Miss Smith intimately the last thirteen years of her life. […] Life was serious, real, to her. She walked with her feet on terra firma, not in the clouds. She was a woman of high sentiment, but not sentimental. She never uttered diatribes against married life, but she always commended it; yet she was content to remain unmarried, fully persuaded that was the life God meant for her.
John M. Greene, “An Address at the Centennial of the Birth of Sophia Smith,” 27 May 1896, p. 17f.
I began keeping a diary in 1963, the same year my mom took me downtown to hear Martin Luther King’s magnificent speech. A natural historian, I love to document events and cherish others who do so. Part of my original motivation that summer was wanting to chronicle what was happening around me. I was also motivated by the sheer idiocy of the local news media which had described the upcoming March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom as a lawless dangerous occurrence, liable to “cause unrest and riot among the Negros and imperil the windows of downtown storefronts.” No violence occurred at that march, the newspaper pundits were proven wrong. In fact it ended up being a hugely positive turning point, ushering in the Voting Rights Act and much more social progress, until King’s brutal murder in 1968.Now someone will save my journals, and collected papers, for posterity, and I’m thrilled. I just signed an agreement with Smith College to house my papers – collected articles, correspondence, and other filed documents, which represent my 40+ years of activism in a wide span of social justice (housing, peace, Latin American solidarity, environmental, LGBT, women’s, civil rights) movements. Some of my articles from the 70s are already deposited at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, founded by one of my long-time heroines and literary inspirations, Joan Nestle. But I’m not a lesbian nor is my life’s work only focused on lesbians so while I’m proud my papers from the early 1980s about the Seneca Women’s Peace Camp are there, it didn’t make sense to ask them to take any more of my collection. Then I thought about donating the papers to one of several bisexual history archives (east or west coast) but there are more than bisexual papers in my collection. I also thought of donating them somewhere in my hometown, Washington, DC. But the Rainbow History Archives does’t currently have the capacity Smith does, and it felt great to be among so much women’s history, nestled in those mountains of Western Massachusetts among all those women’s schools.
It wasn’t easy getting to this place. In fact it took over three years of agony, dealing with a storage unit several miles from my house filled with file cabinets, bookcases and boxes that I poured through month after month, with the assistance of several valiant college interns. We weeded and winnowed, saying goodbye to precious photographs and one-of-a-kind rare ‘zines, etc. Finally, at the end of this past August, I successfully shipped 29 boxes up to Smith and the next stage of my life, sans boxes and storage unit began. Hurrah, hurrah ! The folks at White Oak Storage Plus, Zack and Gloria and their assistant Sarita, were grand. They held my hand through the whole process, even helped me avoid scheduling the boxes shipping date so it didn’t coincide with one of their famous auctions (see Storage Wars, a reality tv special on this strange American phenomena of what happens when hoarding meets death, bankruptcy and the consequent blind bidding on other peoples’ “stuff”).
as well as Katie Meixner (intern extraordinaire) and Claudia Ramos (earlier intern who helped with the first stages several years ago), to Heather Harts’horn who inspired this whole project to begin with, and to Joan Biren, my long-time neighbor, colleague, and friend, whose earlier relationship with Smith’s collection originally inspired me to send my papers there.
Sometime soon I hope to have a fun citation on Smith’s special collections website like Joan Biren’s link , after the wonderful Sophia Smith Archives staff unpack my boxes and figure out how to describe what’s in them for future researchers to harvest. The collection will house my writings and research files, and eventually hold my 50+ years of journals, after I’m gone. I confess I do fantasize about young researchers finding treasurable nuggets in a way distant future, after I’ve long ago joined the ranks of the ancestors and my legacy is complete.
For those of you wanting to see more of this marvelous collection, check out these links: http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/ssc/video.html