Extra! Extra! Read All About It: Newspaper Clippings in the Maine Media Women Records

May 27th, 2014 by Gabrielle Daniello

I have the good fortune to be processing the collection of the Maine Media Women, a statewide organization dedicated to supporting women who work in communications. Materials from 1952, when MMW was founded as Maine Press Radio and Television Women, to the early 2000s document the organization’s history and shed light on the challenges women have faced in this field. A lot could be written about these challenges and about the fascinating women of this group, but what has snagged my attention at the moment is the role of the lowly newspaper clipping. Brittle, yellow, often crookedly cut, many collections have them, folder after bulging folder of clippings, and this collection is no exception.

Maine Media Women sponsored a scholarship program, hosted lectures and workshops, and found other ways to facilitate networking and educational opportunities for its members. (They still do. Check out the present-day incarnation of the organization at http://www.mainemediawomen.org/) Much of this is documented in the usual ways – meeting minutes and agendas, correspondence, newsletters and other publications, and, of course, in newspaper clippings. Where the correspondence about a particular event might be messy and perhaps incomplete, the news item that describes the event is tidy, succinct, and complete.

Perhaps the newspaper clipping represents the public face the organization (any organization) hopes to present to the world. It is the event encapsulated and idealized, minus the drama of pulling the event together – the worries about attendance, the logistics, the behind-the-scenes tension and the post-event dissection of what went wrong, what went right, and what could have been done better. This drama comes out in the archival materials: the letters, the emails, the financial reports.

Another aspect of the newspaper clipping phenomenon that intrigues me is the irony: the paper on which most newspapers are printed is an inherently unstable medium that deteriorates quickly, and yet people save clippings to document their lives (or the lives of organizations) for posterity. Once committed to newsprint, what was fleeting or personal becomes part of the historical and public record, bearing witness for all to see and read that this particular thing happened at this particular time.

As a processor and as a researcher, I admit that I prefer the scrawled note on the back of an envelope or the hastily typed memo to the tidiness of the press clipping. The former seems more real, the latter – the clipping – more processed and therefore somehow less true. But thinking of the two kinds of material as mirror images of each other gives me a greater appreciation for the yellowed scraps of newsprint and reminds me to listen to the collection. It is through the scraps of paper, the memos, the photographs, the newspaper clippings – in short, through all the items in an archival collection – that an organization speaks to us and tells its story. Both sides of the story – the idealized version that persists in the pages of the paper, and the passing, untidy version of the story that is revealed in the other documents.

 

Preserving Ordinary Lives

May 20th, 2014 by Sophie Glidden-Lyon

What deserves preservation? Any archive has a mission statement so to speak, a set of criteria used to decide what materials should be sought out, saved, or passed on. Here at the Maine Women Writers Collection, the goal is two fold – to preserve the work of new, established and historical women writers, and to encourage the use of archives in scholarly work, particularly in women’s and gender studies. The beauty of a collection with these goals is that while the collection houses the works of people like May Sarton and Sarah Orne Jewett, it also provides space for the voices of women like Lucy C. Williams to be honored.

There are many obvious answers to my original question. Manuscripts and letters from well known authors are vital to collection like this, but what do we risk losing if we don’t also save material like Lucy’s diaries? Her life was not full of excitement, she was never published, and I would venture to say she never would have considered herself a writer. However, having now read through decades of her diaries, I would argue that her daily entries are anything but ordinary. Her writing has provided insight into a particular time and place, into the life of a Maine islander, of a devoted grandmother, of a woman struggling with depression and isolation.

Over time, I’ve found myself more and more captured by the aspects of archival work that don’t have much to do with the famous stories. I don’t think the value of material like Lucy’s diaries can be overstated. There is so much to be learned from the words of ordinary people, especially considering it is the average person who creates the bulk of archival material, and who would contribute a lot to historical narratives given the chance. The words of ordinary people – the people who took part in movements, but didn’t lead them, who lived through the events we think of as historical moments – those words shape our understanding of those events as much as the people we consider big names. Reading how Lucy dealt with the HIV-related death of her grandson’s partner, for example, told me worlds about the AIDS epidemic, although she likely would not have considered herself a part of the much larger community that was dealing with the catastrophe.

That the MWWC was founded with the intention of providing space for writers who were otherwise sidelined due to their gender makes it a remarkable place. That it has evolved and expanded to include women like Lucy makes it all the more special. She never made a name for herself, but that doesn’t change the value of her writing. In fact, I would challenge anyone to find any ordinary person’s diary that doesn’t give us something priceless, that doesn’t contribute to our understanding of any given historical narrative. Lucy’s life, simply because it is a life, is worth preserving.

The Power of Words: Archival Advocacy and Storytelling

May 13th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

Why do archives matter to you?  What value do they have in your life?

If you have no idea how to answer these questions, you are not alone.  Most people have no idea what an archivist does, let alone why what we do matters.  Beyond the experience of seeing or handling “cool old stuff,” very few people could relay an example of how archival materials changed their lives.  That is part of our problem as a profession.

These were some of the rallying points that Kathleen D. Roe, Vice President and President-Elect of the Society for American Archivists, made when she gave the plenary talk at the most recent Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference a few weeks ago on the theme of the future of the archival profession.  Her talk got us all fired up (see the tweets for #marac).

It was 9am and I was staying off-site, so I made a conscious decision to go to the talk, despite my body’s desire to move slowly that morning.  I’m so glad I got myself there.  I felt my energy toward this profession change in the course of an hour. I got there just after the talk began, and was struck by the standing-room-only crowd.  I found a seat close to the front, balancing my coffee cup and my smart phone so I could #livetweet.  Kathleen Roe stood behind a podium draped with a Hunger Games poster to give her talk “Catching Fire: Moving the Profession Forward.”

Over and over, she urged us to have conversations with each other, with her, with our colleagues, with our stakeholders.  She asked us to collect data about how our collections are used, about just why the materials we collect matter at all.  She urged us to go beyond telling the stories of the cool stuff we have in our collections.  “Who cares?” she asked.  Instead, how is the stuff being used to make a difference?

She offered examples of how archives can actually save lives, make significant personal impacts, and change policy.  (You can read a bit about this in an article Kathleen published in Provenance in 2010.)  She challenged us to light a fire to change the profession for the better.  She had helpers handing out matches at the door to anyone who was willing to talk about archives and advocate for their importance.

While it is difficult to think about stories of lives saved by literary archives, I certainly feel a passionate spark for advocacy emerge when I talk about how our archives preserve the voices of women who might otherwise have been forgotten.  Through collections of women’s private and public writing, we are filling in major gaps in the historical record.  Women’s experiences of everyday life tell very different stories than the published accounts we read in history books.  These stories have the power to change people’s minds and to change the ways that we teach history.

I will be asking researchers from now on, “why do these records matter? how did these materials change something for you?”

So, now, let me ask you:  Why do archives matter to you?  What value do they have in your life?

My internship and research at the MWWC

May 6th, 2014 by Tegan Talbot

Over the past semester I have had the opportunity to be a student intern for the Maine Women Writers Collection. When I first began my internship, I had a notion that I would be helping Cathleen in digitizing collections. My idea of an internship was that I would be working for the collection and doing anything that they needed. This idea quickly went out the window upon speaking with Cathleen for the first time this semester. 

I had done a little research at the MWWC the previous year for my history research class, so I had met Cathleen before. She remembered that I was interested in women’s political movements in the U.S. and we began discussing some of the collections they had in the library that focused on just that. She went on to tell me that I would get the opportunity to conduct research of my choosing and would have access to all of their collections. She also told me that I would be able to create my own exhibit at the end of the semester.

This was a surprise to me and I immediately began to have a little anxiety. My overwhelming feeling only grew when Cathleen asked me what I wanted to research. I was probably very easy to read as she began to suggest their National Woman’s Party and Suffrage collections as something I might be interested in. I agreed to look through their NWP collection, but still was unsure what I wanted to focus on.

The next several weeks were dedicated to going through the enormous NWP collection, the bulk of which included newspaper clippings, laws and photographs on the women’s suffrage movement, from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. My focus constantly changed. I toyed with the idea of focusing on how women were treated differently than men, where the suffrage movement got it’s influence, and even a connection between the temperance and suffrage movement.

It wasn’t until about six weeks into my research that something really sparked my interest. My research would begin to follow the National Woman’s Party and their journey towards becoming one united party. My research began to look at the two factions of the women’s suffrage movement, The National American Woman Suffrage Association and the Congressional Union of Woman Suffrage. My biggest interest was in these two factions of women working towards the same goal but with extremely different approaches.

 

I was learning new information every time I looked at the collection. My biggest obstacle was that there was so much information to learn in such a short amount of time. Fourteen weeks was truly not enough to learn everything I wished to learn. The biggest shock came in the last two days of my internship. As I was reading information in the collections I discovered that the two factions of the women’s suffrage movement did not begin as two separate entities. They began as the National Woman Suffrage Association, started by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and then later broke off into two factions, due to differing views on achieving goals.

This meant I had to quickly change and research my information in order to display an accurate exhibit.  This proved to be my biggest obstacle of the semester, other than actually deciding what I wanted to focus my research on.

My internship has been an amazing experience and I am so grateful that Cathleen Miller gave me this opportunity and for all her help and patience throughout this process. I have her, Catherine Fisher, and everyone else at the MWWC and UNE Library to thank for making my exhibit and research possible. I could not have ended my successful college career with out them.

 

The exhibit titled, “Two Kinds of Suffs” is currently on display in the Maine Women Writers Collection. Go check it out!