Locked Down and Speaking Up: Prison Riots, Reform, and Writing from The Alternative Press Collection

Patrick Butler, Assistant Archivist for the Alternative Press Files Collection and Human Rights Collection, is a 2018 Ph.D. graduate of the UConn Medieval Studies Program.  During his time as a graduate student he worked in the UConn Archives to broaden his materials handling experience and develop skills as an archivist.  He has specialized training in medieval paleography and codicology.  

On August 21, 1971, African-American activist and author George Jackson took hostages in order to escape San Quentin State Prison.  Five of Jackson’s hostages: three prison guards and two inmates, died in the ensuing violence.  The attempted escape ended with a prison guard shooting and killing Jackson.

Two weeks later, on September 9th, 1971 approximately 1000 inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility rioted and ultimately took control of the prison facility.  The inmates took 42 staff members of the facility hostage in a bid to negotiate for prisoners’ rights.  During the four days of negation, prisoners made 27 demands among which included: better medical care, better sanitation, the end of racial discrimination, updated labor policies aligned with New York State law, and the end of the violent abuse of inmates by guards and prison administrators.

While negotiations with Corrections Services Commissioner Russel G. Oswald and the Attica inmates had initial success, the dialogue would ultimately breakdown when Governor Nelson Rockefeller refused to appear at the prison in a bid to help quell the riot.  In the wake of the Governor’s refusal Oswald stated that they would retake the prison by force; Rockefeller agreed.

When the New York State Police had regained control of the prison 43 people were killed, 10 of which were hostages.

These two moments served as a flash point to bring prison conditions and prisoners’ rights into sharp focus during the seventies.  However, part of the danger that comes from thinking of prisons and prisoners exclusively in terms of the violence is that it risks reducing the bodies of prisoners as little more than sites for violence.  The aim of developing this exhibit has been to examine how materials within the Alternative Press Collections focus on the vulnerability of prisoners to the violence of the systems that shape their incarceration, how they respond to the systematic pressures that seek to justify subjecting their bodies to abuse and neglect, and the power that comes from forging communities in response to these pressures.  A quote from an Attica inmate Roger Champen distills the physical, social, and bureaucratic pressure of incarceration succinctly and eloquently, “Everything is done to you, not for you.”

We Are Attica, 1972.

While the killing of George Jackson and the Attica Prison Riot serve as a starting point for the exhibition’s historical and social context, the materials in this exhibit come from a broad historical range and include a focus on documents produced by and for Connecticut Prisons.  The Alternative Press Collection contains a wealth of material that document how prison communities develop and sustain themselves through creative writing, activism, correspondence, and even revolt.  In order to accomplish this, I looked at the materials prisoners created while in prison, or shortly after leaving prison: newsletters, protest writing, creative writing, and original artwork.  Even work published under the auspices of prison administrators allows for an avenue of expression and solidarity centered on vulnerability;

“To Be Black”

To be Black is to be seated

in Jim Crow vain

in the lonely south on a bus or

train

Because you’re Black and

your Blackness is symbolic of shame

To be Black is to hear a baby’s

screams in the rain

while be eaten by rats

in some dilapidated tenement

in Harlem

or some other place the same

To be Black is to see your mother’s

brow

after caring for another person’s home

somebody else’s child

the long lines of distress

strain

as they disfigure the make-up of her

frame

To be Black is to search in deep

despair

some other place

Freedom somewhere

Abdur Rahman (Clinton Fields) from Inside: Writings by Attica Inmates 1977-1978.

While the specific concerns of an individual piece of writing vary between violence against inmates, unjust imprisonment, political oppression, and basic human rights concerns, the language used throughout these writings, creative or otherwise is a desire for their concerns to be legible to others – to understand and to be understood.  Distinct from sympathy, the specific vulnerabilities that emerged among prison writers seems to stem from a lack of acknowledgement of their embodiment as genuinely human.  Almost reflexively, there is a recurrent theme to dismiss sympathy as a pressing desire among inmates.  Sympathy is antithetical to the goals of these writers, a source of dismissal that does not seek to understand a fundamental connection between the prison author and the audience of the text.

A Special Report from behind the walls of Massachusetts Prisons 1972.

The relentless desire for community, intelligibility – to not be forgotten or silenced by their isolation – makes the writings of prisoners within the Alternative Press Collection a powerful and humbling selection of materials.  It holds its audience accountable for the undeniable connections that are present between individuals despite legal and societal practices of separation.

You can do two things in prison. You can be a man or you can be a robot.  See, if you be a robot, you stand a very good chance of going home.  But notice this, all the papers record this is a fact, that those who stay in here become submissive.  When they get outside, all the things that they have inside, boil over onto society after they come back.

Roger Champen We are Attica, 1972.

The exhibition: “Locked Down and Speaking Up: Prison Riots, Reform, and Writing from The Alternative Press Collection” will be on view in the John P. MacDonald Reading Room of the Archives & Special Collections at the Dodd Research Center from June 15th – August 20th.

For more information on the Cal Robertson Papers please consult the Archives & Special Collections Finding Aid.

The Search and Struggle for Intersectionality Part II: Other Minorites and the Feminist Movement

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  As a student writing intern, Anna is studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is the final post in the series.

The feminist movement has long struggled with incorporating different groups’ concerns and modes of oppression into the movement. This problem was exacerbated by the multifaceted, turbulent U.S. political atmosphere that characterized the 1960s and 1970s. The differences between black and white women’s views of the movement clashed on several essential dimensions. But the issues of other minority groups were given less attention by the feminist movement, and by society in general, due to the fact that their ethnic/racial factions were much smaller than African Americans’.

Another marginalized group that galvanized in the activist culture of the 1960s and 1970s in America were Native Americans. These men and women sought to have their tribal autonomy recognized. They were also fighting issues such as environmentally harmful mining practices on their resource-rich lands and high rates of substance abuse and poverty within their communities.

Native American women had a unique relationship with the feminist movement because the issues this minority group faced were different from those that white or black women faced, and the ethnic population of which they were a part was a severely marginalized minority. U.S. Census data from 1970 shows that a whopping 98.6 percent of the total population was either white or black/African American (87.5 percent and 11.1 percent respectively). Native Americans constituted less than .004 percent.

Native Americans were fighting for their unique political rights as well as larger environmental concerns during this period.

The March 1977 issue of “Off Our Backs” includes an article summarizing the findings of a report by the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA), a non-profit organization founded in 1922 to promote the well-being of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. The report found that Native American children are placed outside of their families at a rate 10 to 20 times higher than that for non-Native American children.

The AAIA argued that this practice deprives Native American children of the ability to be raised with a proper awareness of and appreciation for their culture. This concern emphasizes the fact that Native American women who were involved in the feminist movement during this time were simultaneously combatting the United States government’s systematic efforts to diminish their independence and culture as well as the wide-spread sexism that was the feminist movement’s main concern.

Native American culture celebrates its strong connection to and appreciation of nature. When Native American tribes were forced off their lands in the nineteenth century, they were put on reservations in states like Oklahoma and South Dakota. The U.S. government later came to realize these areas were rich with natural resources such as oil and uranium.

“In the days of diminishing U.S. energy resources, the push is on to take what’s left of Indian land,” according to an article in “Off Our Backs.”

The U.S. government used environmentally hazardous practices to extract these resources, exposing people living on the land to cancer-causing radioactive materials. It also paid the Native Americans working in these hazardous mines very low wages. These practices led to outcry by Native American men and women.

The Longest Walk was a major event in the Red Power movement.

In 1978, thousands of Native Americans participated in The Longest Walk, a protest organized to bring attention to threats to tribal lands pose by several pieces of proposed legislation.

“In effect, these bills could force Native Americans to complete assimilation into the U.S. mainstream and destroy all sovereignty of the Indian nations,” the article on the march said.

In the same August/September 1978 issue that covered the march, “Off Our Backs” included coverage of a conference in New Mexico that addressed the upsurge in domestic violence against Navajo women. This increase was attributed to a “pressure cooker syndrome” created by white culture: “women-battering and child abuse (were) once practically non-existent…and has now reached crises proportions.”

The attempted forced assimilation of native people into white culture created a class system that did not exist in Navajo tribal society. This led to high poverty and unemployment rates which in turn came to be correlated with high rates of substance abuse and domestic violence.

The writers draw attention to the fact that few of the speakers at the conference were from the Navajo or from any other Native American community. Calling attention to the lack of authentic representation at this conference may be an indication of the evolution of “Off Our Backs” in how it dealt with minority issues. When the paper first began in 1970, it struggled to expand their coverage to minority women’s issues, as evidenced by its problematic coverage of a black feminist group’s conference in 1974.

Similar to black women who were involved with groups like the Black Panthers, politically active Native American women were part of efforts led by men. Women of All Red Nations (WARN) was a Native American women’s group that brought attention to issues that affected their community including the displacement of their children, forced sterilization, tribal rights, resource exploitation and racism in the educational system. The group invited several Native American men to speak at a conference it held in South Dakota in 1978 as it did not “believe in the separation of men and women who were working for the same objective.” This serves as a perfect parallel to black women activists who wanted to be a part of the black and feminist movements.

Burning Cloud’s letter serves as a quintessential example of a woman’s struggle to find a way to be politically active as someone with a complex set of oppressed identities.

In the December 1978 issue of “Off Our Backs,” the editors printed a letter from Burning Cloud, a self-described “Filipina/Indian Dyke.” In the letter, Burning Cloud shared a sentiment common with those expressed by black women — that she was “Indian first and above all other matters.”

Burning Cloud felt she could not be both an Indian and a gay woman in society. She also expressed frustration with the fact that non-black minorities’ concerns are much more widely disregarded because there are comparatively few of them in number.

Burning Cloud’s letter included a call to action for environmental activism which, from her perspective, was something of which native people were much more conscious due to their spiritual cultural connections to the earth.

“If Mother Earth is to die WE ALL DIE. Think about that one. What is the future of your children and sisters and mothers to be?” she wrote. “Are we not killing each other because we allow such things as racism, classism, separatism right here in the Lesbian community. How shall wimmin be totally free when three-quarters of the (Coloured Wimmin) are dying?”

(Feminists took to using alternative spellings of “women” and “woman” in order to avoid using the masculine root of those words.)

Native American women also faced the issue of forced or coerced sterilization. In “Off Our Backs” article from December 1978, WARN said that 25 percent of Native American Women were forcibly sterilized.

During this period, the United States government instituted polices of population control that targeted minority, underclass women. One third of Puerto Rican woman of reproductive age had been sterilized in 1976. This policy was veiled as a necessary method of population control that would help Puerto Rico develop economically. However, many argued that the problem was not overpopulation, rather that the available resources were concentrated in the upper echelons of society.

In her 1976 University of Connecticut Ph.D. thesis “Population Policy, Social Structure and the Health System in Puerto Rico: The Case of Female Sterilization,” Peta Henderson found that in addition to medical reasons, the law in Puerto Rico regarding female sterilization allowed for women to be sterilized or use other contraceptive methods in cases of poverty or already having multiple children. Henderson found that most sterile Puerto Rican women said they voluntarily chose to have the operation. However, she explores how this choice was corrupted by the fact that government actors worked to persuade these women that sterilization was in their best interest.

The U.S. Government put forth the idea that having fewer children was the surest path to wealth for minority women, ignoring institutional issues including racism and sexism that impeded their social mobility.

These kind of population control polices were also implemented elsewhere in Latin America.

The April 1970 issue of “Off Our Backs,” a female member of the Peace Corps who went to Ecuador said, “Providing safe contraceptives must be a part of a comprehensive health program,” Rachel Cawan said. “Most importantly, however, there must be available other emotionally satisfying alternatives to child raising.”

The prevailing feminist interpretation of these population control programs was that they masqueraded as liberating family planning alternatives when, in fact, many of these women were being coerced or forced to stop having children.

The Young Lords Party was founded in 1960. The men who founded the organization had a series of objectives including self-determination for Puerto Rico, liberation for third-world people and, problematically, “Machismo must be revolutionary and not oppressive.”

Early in the party’s history, the men in the movement did not listen to women’s ideas and concerns during meetings. These women were limited to essentially being glorified secretaries for the party according to a November 11, 1970 New York Times article.

The women in the movement soon tired of this dynamic and demanded to be taken seriously – and they succeeded. Several women were able to assume leadership positions in the party and the pillar relating to machismo was changed to one supporting equality for women. However, this victory did not mean women were automatically able to achieve true political and social equality within the party or on a larger scale.

In a subsequent issue of “Off Our Backs,” a black/Native American woman wrote a response to Burning Cloud’s letter, which had also said black people should support Native Americans’ issues, saying that: “There is a need for Dialogue, a conversation, between Indian people and Black people…We have been divided in order to be conquered, even though for many, our blood flows together.”

A theme that emerges again and again when studying the second-wave of the feminist movement is that by separating women into sects with seemingly irreconcilable differences, men have managed to prevent them from forming a powerful united front capable of combatting not only sexism, but racism and other social ills that afflict them.

 

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

 

I smell a RAT

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  Anna is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one in a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

In February of 1970 a terrorist group took over a prominent underground newspaper in New York.

The Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.), a direct-action political group, along with several other women’s groups and female “RAT” staffers took over the newspaper for what was supposed to be a single, token issue of the paper. The headline on this issue read, “Women Seize RAT! Sabotage Tales!”

This comic, published in the women’s issue of RAT illustrates the takeover which was enabled by numerous women’s groups including W.I.T.C.H.

The women’s issue featured an essay by Robin Morgan, an American writer and noted feminist activist, titled “Goodbye to All That.” The essay sharply criticizes the advertisements using photos of women that bordered on pornographic and the continual exclusion of a feminist viewpoint from the paper.

“We have met the enemy and he’s our friend. And dangerous,” Morgan wrote.

Morgan’s article rallied against the white, male domination of the radical anti-war/anti-establishment movement. She said, “Goodbye, goodbye. To hell with the simplistic notion that automatic freedom for women – or nonwhite peoples – will come about zap! with the advent of a socialist revolution. Bullshit.”

Grievances against male radicals were common among feminist writers during this period. A pamphlet written by Andrea Dworkin in 1973 titled “Marx and Gandhi Were Liberals” stated that men permitted women to take part in their vision of the revolution so long as they kept their own demands moderated and subsumed within the male-dominated agenda.

“Liberal gestures of good will are made when we are shrill enough or when we are fashionable enough as long as we do not interfere with the ‘real revolution.’ Increasingly we understood that we are the real revolution,” Dworkin wrote.

The January 25-February 9, 1970 issue of “RAT,” the last one published by the male editorial staff, included numerous articles on pornography and masturbation. An article by Uncle Leon Gussow argued that pornography gives young men unrealistic views of sex and creates a separation between him and the act of sex. The women who worked at “RAT” took issue with how this topic was approached by the male staff; they believed this article, and the paper in general for quite some time, promoted pornography. Many women saw pornography as problematic as it often portrayed violence against women and this became a major issue in the women’s liberation movement.

The women also disliked the fact that the tongue-in-cheek titles that appeared on the masthead of each issue were often demeaning and stereotypical to women, referring to them as “princess” or “muffin purchaser.”

The Feedback Page of “Vortex” following the Women’s Lib issue

After the women of “RAT” published their issue they were loath to return control to the men who had been running the paper since its inception in 1968. So they didn’t.

In the next issue, the women still made up the entirety of the editorial staff, but some men came back temporarily as production staffers to ease the transition. In a letter to the readers, the editors said they were trying to “work it out” with the men. All male staff members were eventually asked to leave the paper and control remained in exclusively female hands.

A letter to the readers from former editor Paul Simon explained that after a “stormy” meeting between the men and women of the paper, it was decided that the paper would continue to be published by the women.

The takeover at “RAT” inspired women working at other papers across the country to follow suit. In the April 4, 1970 issue of “Vortex,” an underground paper published out of Lawrence, Kansas, W.I.T.C.H. wrote a letter to the paper saying, “you are a counterfeit left male-dominated cracked-glass-mirror reflection of the American nightmare.” The letter said the group was preparing to organize a boycott of the paper.

This letter was published in the issue of the paper following issue on the women’s liberation similar to the one that initiated the permanent takeover of “RAT.” In September of that same year, “Vortex” moved to a collective model of publication. This altered the existing editorial structure at the paper and gave women a larger say in its production beyond their single issue which, unfortunately is not available at the Dodd Center Archives.

“RAT” continued its coverage of issues like the Vietnam War and the trial of the 21 members of the Black Panther Party who were charged with coordinating attacks on a series of New York City buildings. However, the new editors made sure to make women’s issues and the accomplishments of female activists more prominent.

The cover of the January 12, 1971 issue celebrated the anniversary of the women’s takeover of “RAT”

They featured letters from Mary Moylan, one of the Cantonsville Nine, a group of activists who burned draft files to protest the war. Moylan went underground, hiding from the authorities for a period and her letters about her time underground were published in “RAT” and other publications like the women-run “Off Our Backs.” “RAT” also featured articles about women’s role in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

In March of 1971, the paper changed its name to the Women’s LibeRATion.

One thing the women sought to dissemble with their takeover was the hierarchical structure that had allowed men to squelch their voices for so long. This led them to establish a newsroom that was much more free-flowing and less rigidly structured. In a letter to the readers, the editors describe the RAT work collective’s meetings as “un-chaired and chaotic.”

The paper continued publishing with relative consistency through 1972 and then stopped abruptly for several months. Then, in April of that year, a newsletter came out.

The single printed sheet explained to readers that the fate of “RAT” was in limbo due to internal fractionalization. A group of six black gay women had seized control of the paper after airing their grievances against the white feminist viewpoint that had been almost exclusively featured by the paper.

The black women writing the article said there were too many fundamental misunderstandings between the white and third-world women in the movement to be reconciled into a cohesive vision in which all voices could be heard.

 

The letter published on the back cover of the single-sheet issue asked readers to respond with feedback and monetary donations to support the continuation of the publication

The newsletter closed with a request for feedback from readers, “Your responses will determine the outcome of the almost defunded ‘RAT;”. The paper also asked for monetary donations to help keep the presses running.

Unfortunately, it appears these women were unable to keep the paper afloat either due to a lack of interest or lack of funds.

The downfall of “RAT” showcases the lack of an understanding of the idea of intersectional feminism during this time. Perhaps it also demonstrates a lack of will on the part of white feminists to create connections with minority women and engage in meaningful dialogue to understand their issues. Minority voices were not generally included in the more-prominent feminist outlets, or if they were given a space, it was still through the good graces of white editorial staffs. This is an unfortunate truth that the feminist movement continues to grapple with today.

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

Aphradisiac

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  She is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one in a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

During the 1960s and 1970s feminist writers established themselves with a distinct and demanding voice. In order to accomplish the feat of integrating a prominent female presence into the literary world, women created and utilized exclusively female publishing mediums. Women took to using alternative methods that allowed them to cultivate this unique literary culture outside the realm of the traditionally male-dominated publishing world.

In 1985, noted librarian and author Celeste West published a book titled “Words in Our Pockets: The Feminist Writers’ Guild handbook on how to gain power, get published & get paid.” The book provided an in-depth look at the publishing world through a feminist lens and provided women with resources and options for alternative paths to publication.

The cover of the book depicts a woman’s portrait composed of the words of a poem by Denise Levertov’s from which the book gets its title. It reads: “But for us the road/ unfurls itself, we count the/words in our pockets.”

The introduction of the book states that, “The present wave of feminism is…creating a women’s cultural renaissance, the first since matrifocal times. At last, we are building, in large numbers, our own literary tradition, finding our own audience, and from these, shaping a world view.”

This book emphasizes the fact that many of the most influential members of the movement have been writers who use the power of the written word to express the urgency and necessity of the changes they demanded.

West’s book begs the question: “Who among us can afford silence?” West wanted to encourage women to make their voices heard through the literary mire that was oversaturated with male perspectives.

The book goes through a basic how to process for practical elements of publication including writing proposals, making sense of the legal jargon in contracts and financing options. The book also deals with the sexism of the industry. The book provides advice on how to deal with people, namely powerful men, who refuse to take women writers seriously and list feminist publishers and a guide on self-publishing as a means to circumvent discouraging male publishers.

“You are a writer, not a wallflower. Why wait for some gentleman publisher to sweep you into his arms and carry you off to the Big House?” West proposes.

In an article published in the summer 1979 issue of “Chrysalis” magazine, West wrote “Book publishing, like all industries, is controlled by rich, white, heterosexual men. To retain this power, their books naturally reinstate status quo attitudes of privilege and discrimination.”

The article cites the figure that 70 percent of books published were produced by 3.3 percent of the over 6000 publishing houses that existed at the time. West calls independent, alternative press outlets “the slice of tomorrow.”

The book’s engagement with the challenges female writers faced showed that even as women encouraged each other to write, the established system often operated to keep them excluded. This created a space for female-run literary publications that provided a platform for women writers who were not welcomed into traditional literary circles.

“Aphra” was an feminist literary magazine published quarterly from 1969 to 1976 out of New York City. The magazine got its namesake from the pioneering English poet, playwright and author Aphra Behn (1640-1689) who was the first woman known to have earned her living by writing.

“Aphra’s” mission statement was “Free women thinking, doing, being.” In the preamble to their first edition, the editors state that the purpose of the magazine is to provide women with an outlet to express themselves: “We submit that one reason for the form of the current upsurge in feminism…is that the mass media provides such biased and commercially oriented material. The literary and entertainment scene are dominated by male stereotypes, male fantasies, male wish fulfillment, a male power structure,” echoing West’s complaints.

The magazine was a clear response to the male domination of the literary field in contemporary American society and historically. Each issue contained a collection of “Aphra-isms” which were quotes from feminist figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth and more modern feminists like Kate Millet. The section also featured historical and modern examples of sexism from literature and the news.

“Aphra” published work from a variety of authors, including Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker, who each provided a unique take on feminist issues of the day yet they all had an underlying tone that was unapologetic and focused on confronting the problems they observed in society.

In a short story by one of the magazine’s editors, Elizabeth Fisher, titled “My Wife,” she explores the downside of the sexual revolution which allowed and encouraged women to enjoy the sensual pleasures of sex. The story is told from the perspective of a man who believes he has the honor of sexually awakening his future wife. The man becomes disenchanted with his wife soon after they are married and her body changes as a result of her pregnancies and their sex life naturally dwindles. The kicker of the story is the conclusion when the husband overhears his wife admitting to a friend that she faked every single orgasm he thought she had had with him. This sends the narrator into a devastating existential crisis as his fragile male sexual ego is absolutely destroyed.

“I look at the children. They’re my daughters, but they’re hers too. Will they, too, grow up to betray me and their husbands, a man’s whole raison d’etre?…There’s nothing left. How can I live now, how can I go on?”

This desperate conclusion to the story shows how a female writer revealed the negative side of the sexual revolution. Since women were now allowed to admit they enjoy sex, they were expected to. Despite this revolution in sexual philosophy and the growing availability of a variety of birth control methods, male views of sex remained chauvinistic and self-centered. The narrator displays a kind of toxic masculinity that created a culture in which women felt obligated to fake orgasms and feign pleasure. These women felt they had to play the role of the sexually liberated woman even when reality remained stalled in antiquated sexual attitudes that prioritized male sexuality and pleasure.

An unsigned editorial in the second issue of the magazine addresses the difficulties the second-wave feminist movement faces in terms of measurable accomplishments. The first iteration of the women’s movement in the early 20th century was focused primarily on women’s suffrage. The passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 was a clear victory for the movement and led to its dormancy for the next forty years. The goals of feminists in the 1960s, aside from fighting to achieve the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, were geared toward largescale social change. The author of the editorial astutely observes that, “It is an aim which all too often proves illusory since you can’t legislate orgasm — produce it by fiat, despite all the promises which seem to say, ‘Let there be orgasm!’”

In the spring of 1971, “Aphra” had a special “Whore Issue”. This issue dealt with problems of women being condemned for sexual promiscuity as well as the exploitation of women as sex workers.

An editorial by Fisher argues that the problem with sex is that it has been made into a commodity. Women are defined by their sexual relationship with men as a wife, a mother, a mistress or a whore. Fisher writes that by viewing sex in these terms, female pleasure is devalued and the woman is transformed into a dehumanized sex object.

While “Aphra” was primarily a literary journal, through Fisher’s editorial leadership it engaged questions of the sexist nature of sex. Fisher also wrote repeatedly on the role of men in procreation, which had recently become optional given advancements in invitro fertilization.

A similarly satirical take on issues of sexual freedom can be found in a 1973 issue of another feminist literary magazine, “Velvet Glove.” A story by Susan Watkins follows a woman working in a pharmacy who is required to inquire if a customer is married before she is allowed to sell them contraception. The female protagonist asks her condescending male manager if people could not just easily lie and he tells her she must ask anyway in compliance with the law. The protagonist’s retort is to wonder if she should also be required to ask young women buying menstrual products if they’re 12-years old. This story is another example of satirical writing which was clearly a way feminists saw fit to combat the social ills they observed.

Feminist have long been thought of as humorless and in modern times many even refer to them as “feminazis.” While much of the work published in literary journals like “Aphra” and “Velvet Glove” is of a serious nature, it also provides women with a platform to express a brand of humor that would not have been well-received by a male audience.

Even “Words in our Pockets” participates in this emergence of a female comedic culture as the copyright information on the inside of their front cover warns readers that “a Surveillance MicroblastchipTM embedded in this spine will blow you to bits in the event of unauthorized copying.”

When women were writing to and for other women, they embraced the satirical and humorous side of the movement. Women could rarely do this publicly for fear of being dismissed as frivolous; but women’s publications provided women with an outlet for their special brand of ingroup feminist humor.

Women began working their way into the literary world earnestly and consciously during the 1960s and have not turned back since. In 1960 only 24 percent of the books that landed on the New York Times Bestseller List were written by women. That number fluctuated each year but never rose above 40 percent until 1992. Since then, the gender divide has been roughly equal, though never exceeding 50 percent. It is not a stretch to say that publications like the ones described here have helped establish the feminist literary tradition that has allowed modern female writers to have much more proportional representation in the field.

“Words in our Pockets” ends on a poignant and unmistakably optimistic note. The second to last page contains the words “The End.” When the reader turns the page, she reads: “The statement on the other side of this page is false.” And clearly, that latter statement was correct.

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

 

A Tale Of Two Art Journals

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  She is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one of a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

The second advent of the feminist movement that washed over American society in the 1960s and 1970s like a tidal wave emphasized a pervasive message of empowerment which manifested in a variety of periodicals during this period, including art journals.

Women had largely been excluded from the world of fine art for centuries as geniuses like Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and Monet were celebrated and revered while their female contemporaries, such as Georgia O’Keefe or Frida Kahlo, were few and far between as their talent went largely unencouraged and unrewarded.

“The Feminist Art Journal” was published quarterly from 1972 to 1977 out of Brooklyn, New York by Feminist Art Journal Inc. One of the early editions of the journal from 1973 addresses the idea that women have created art for the centuries during which they were strictly confined to the home. An article titled: “Quilts: The Great American Art,” discusses how quilts, tapestries and other home décor have acted as mediums of female artistic expression that have historically been disregarded by men as mere frivolous decorations. The article states that, “Women have always made art. But for most women, the arts highest valued by male society have been closed to them for just that reason.”

An editorial from the same issue emphasizes the need of women to “rediscover their own history.” One of the primary aims of “The Feminist Art Journal” was to reclaim women’s place in art history through articles such as the one on quilts and by discussing issues of female representation in classical art. An intriguing article on Marie De Medici from the Summer 1977 issue explores how the powerful Florentine heir-turned-French-monarch commissioned portraits of herself and her life accomplishments like those that were traditionally done for prominent males of the period. Medici also pointedly decorated her palace with statues of great women like Saint Bathilde and George Sand. The article emphasizes how Marie de Medici understood the power of art as a political statement, underscoring another one of the journal’s core messages: art is political.

Interestingly, a short-lived lesbian feminist journal published from 1973 to 1975, the “Amazon Quarterly: A Lesbian-Feminist Art Journal” expressed a much different viewpoint from “The Feminist Art Journal”. “Amazon Quarterly” was published from the other side of the country, in Oakland, California by Amazon Press. It should be noted that both of these journals were published independently, sustained by revenue from subscriptions, single issue sales and advertisements. Both journals also had exclusively female editors.

The “Amazon Quarterly” commended women’s lack of participation in the male-dominated art world, in which they were routinely objectified in the works of male artists, rather than seeking to place women’s accomplishments within this patriarchal frame work.

Both “The Feminist Art Journal” and “Amazon Quarterly” promoted and provided a platform for female artists to share their literature, poetry, drawings, photography. However, “Amazon Quarterly” made promoting the art of women, specifically lesbians, its primary artistic goal, rather than engaging in discussions of history.

The division in purpose and ideology of these two journals which served, broadly, the same role, reflected a deeper division in the feminist movement between lesbians and straight women. Some lesbians believed women could not fully participate in the true revolution of the feminist movement so long as they were still sexually involved with their male oppressors, a radical idea that is discussed in articles published in the journal.

In an article, “Distinctions: The Circle Game” from the February 1973 issue of
“Amazon Quarterly” written by one of the editors, Laurel Galana, whose byline is simply a familiar: Laurel, explores these divisions within the movement.

Laurel breaks down the group of women who are feminists into increasingly small subcultures from lesbians to “new lesbians” to dykes. The “new lesbians” Laurel describes had several verboten relations including those with men and straight women, whom they viewed as “men’s women.”

Laurel herself abides by these taboos, she explains, “My energy, my time, my sisterly love was indirectly useful to the male for keeping his woman content. And secondly, I decided not to relate to straight women because they already had made a choice which did not include me – that is all of me.”

The piece goes on to criticize lesbians who distinguish themselves based on class, believing that such internal divisions will only cause the movement to fracture and be less effective. She seems to miss the irony of the fact that she believes lesbians should not associate with straight feminists and form a united front of all feminist women.

Much of the art and especially the literature published in the journal reflected the fact that “Amazon Quarterly” branded itself as a periodical that intended to cater specifically to lesbian women. Many of the pieces published in the journal deal with tales and the feelings associated with homosexual awakenings and attraction. The publication had an entire issue dedicated to the topic of sexuality as their swan song before shutting down in 1977.

While the journal ceased publication in 1977, the editors went on to run Bluestocking Books, a publishing house which published a few novels including “The Violent Sex” by Laurel Holliday. Holliday’s book confronted the evolution of masculine sexuality and behavior that has led to the sexual and social oppression of women.

Despite their differences, both these journals considered art in an expansive sense, including all forms of visual and literary art, and stressed the importance of the inclusion of the female perspective in them.

While these two journals had different audiences and somewhat different goals, they both served to underscore the important idea that art is political, and that women had to understand how they could use any and all forms of art to express their ideas and achieve their objectives.

The art of many female artists of the period, during which feminist art truly began to flourish and find its foothold, was clearly in line with this philosophy. Some notable works include Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” which portrays a dinner party of 39 notable historical women, and Hannah Wilke’s avant garde “Starification Object Series,” a series of photographs for which she covered her body with wads of gum folded to resemble female genitalia.

These two journals and the art they supported show how women utilized the arts to promote the feminist agenda as they worked toward achieving social and political equality despite divisions within the movement.

In a 1977 interview published in “Chrysalis” magazine, Chicago commented on the value of art to the feminist movement.

“Art is particularly important for women and can catapult women into a different realm of consciousness by symbolizing and objectifying our experience. That expression, that impulse, has such potential power, and it is that power that society tries to contain by trivializing, by repressing, by suppressing the art impulse,” Chicago said. “As long as women participate in that process, we will never be able to realize our full creative potential. We must bust out of that, just absolutely bust out of that and reclaim art as the basic outpouring of the human spirit and pour out our songs and all our feelings and all our beliefs and all our visions in a way that everyone can hear.”

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

 

Teaching Activism and Leadership through Archives

The following guest blog post was written by Laura Wright, PhD candidate in UConn’s English Department and first-year writing instructor as well as excerpts from students in her 2016 English 1010S seminar. 

War on Drugs, 1981 (Alternative Press Collection)Building towards the Presidential Election in November 2016, Students in ENGL 1010S: Seminar in Academic Writing considered different definitions of “leadership.”  The final project asked students to think critically about leadership historically through particular artifacts from the Archives & Special Collections Alternative Press Collection and Bread and Puppet Theater holdings.  In one class session, Graham Stinnett, the Curator of Human Rights Collections and Alternative Press Collections, provided an overview of materials and their historical contexts.  During this session, students learned about radical movements on UConn’s campus and how materials from these movements arrived in the Dodd Center.  The collections students observed encompassed a range of media, including Alternative Press newspapers, like The Rat and Rising Up Angry, as well as performance programs and promotional materials from the Bread and Puppet Theatre.

For this project, students argued for the relationship between activism and leadership represented in these particular collections.  Rather than writing a research paper, students compiled dossiers of material, using their unique artifacts as a jumping off point for further research.  Students offered a detailed interpretation of the archival material, located it in a larger historical narrative, researched peer-reviewed sources for an annotated bibliography, and wrote a short essay putting all their materials into conversation with one another.  Continue reading

Veteran’s Expressions After War

Currently on display at the Archives & Special Collections is the guest curated exhibit Veteran’s Expressions After War: Every Veteran’s Life Tells a Story and Every Veteran Leaves a Legacy, by Robin Albarano and Jordan Kiper.  This exhibit features visual art, poetry, correspondence, photography and ephemera relating to veteran’s experiences from the Vietnam War to the War in Iraq.  Materials featured draw from The Alternative Press Collection, Cal Robertson Papers and First Casualty Press.

This exhibition will be on display in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center Gallery from January 1st 2017 to February 28th 2017, open Monday to Friday 9 – 4 pm.

 

A correlating exhibition will be on display this spring in the hallway of the Dodd Center featuring photographic prints and oral histories of veteran’s from the Balkans conflict.  Materials featured will be products of Robin’s photographic work and Jordan’s PhD research.

Women of the Black Panther Party

The following post is by undergraduate and UConn History Department intern Maggie Peyton about her current project working with materials in the Archives & Special Collections. 

IMG_3562My name is Maggie Peyton. I am a sophomore here at UConn, majoring in business. I took this opportunity to do research at the Archives & Special Collections because I am very interested in social justice and its history in the U.S. Prior to this internship, I had not taken any history classes on campus or engaged in archival work, so this is a very new and interesting experience.

The objective of this internship is to create an exhibit for the archives for the month of December. My fellow intern and I will be constructing an exhibit about minority women in the Civil Rights/social justice movements of the twentieth century. Specifically, I am focusing on the role of black women. What we know as the Women’s Movement was historically very exclusive and only served to represent upper-class white women. It did not acknowledge nor advocate for the issues unique to women who did not belong to this category. Continue reading

#AIDS35

-Guest blog post by Thomas Lawrence Long, Associate Professor and co-curator of the AIDS35 exhibition on display in the John P. McDonald Reading Room, Archives & Special Collections during the months of August and September, 2016.

AIDS35_small

In 2016 we mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the first published reports of what would come to be called the AIDS epidemic. Initially identified as rare cancers among gay men, Haitian immigrants, intravenous drug users, and hemophiliacs, AIDS emerged at a moment when a triumphant religious right (organized by the so-called Moral Majority) and political conservatives dominated American media and public life. The convergence of a mysterious infectious disease associated with stigmatized groups or behaviors, on the one hand, and a moralistic neo-liberal social and political movement, on the other hand, created the conditions for competing published representations. These representations invoked divine judgment and apocalyptic anxiety, or critiques of conservative medical authorities and of defunded public health resources.Lingua Franca, June 1991

HIV, the virus causing AIDS, is often transmitted by proscribed behaviors: sexual intercourse (both vaginal and anal) and intravenous drug use. HIV-infected people were thus routinely blamed for their infection and stigmatized as a threat to the general population.  Even among gay men for whom sexual liberation was associated with social and political freedom, the AIDS epidemic created a crisis of confidence.

In a paper presented in 1986 at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association and later published in 1988, communication and cultural theorist Paula Treichler, analyzing the representational conflicts surrounding AIDS, observed that “the AIDS epidemic is simultaneously an epidemic of a transmissible disease and an epidemic of meanings or signification. Both epidemics are equally crucial for us to understand, for, try as we may to treat AIDS as ‘an infectious disease’ and nothing more, meanings continue to multiply wildly and at an extraordinary rate.”

ACT-UP: AIDS Coalition To Unleash PowerTo wrest control of the epidemic’s representational field, AIDS activists, independent queer presses, and AIDS service organizations produced a variety of publications, including safer-sex brochures, tracts and manifestos, zines, and AIDS-themed fiction. Items included in this exhibit come both from Archives and Special Collections and the personal collection of Associate Professor in Residence Thomas Lawrence Long.

 

Ironically, this year marks another AIDS anniversary: twenty years since the introduction of protease inhibitors and other retroviral drug combinations that turned HIV infection from a death sentence to a manageable chronic infection.

For more information on campus wide exhibitions and programming on #AIDS35, click here.

-Thomas Lawrence Long, Associate Professor in residence in the UConn School of Nursing with a joint appointment in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, is the author of AIDS and American Apocalypticism: The Cultural Semiotics of an Epidemic. He is a founding member of the Modern Language Association’s Medical Humanities and Health Studies Forum and an associate editor of Literature and Medicine.

Our Comics, Ourselves on Exhibit

Our Comics, Ourselves at Interference Archive
Our Comics, Ourselves at Interference Archive Brooklyn, New York

The Archives & Special Collections at the University of Connecticut will host the first traveling installment of the exhibition Our Comics, Ourselves co-curated by Jan Descartes and Monica McKelvey Johnson.  Premiering at the Interference Archive in Brooklyn, NY in January of 2016, this exhibition featured comics  selections from the Interference Archive collections as well as private collections on loan.  The exhibition includes comic books, graphic novels, DIY comics, and various comics paraphernalia primarily from the United States, 1945 to present. The works range from autobiographical to sheer fantasy, and explore feminism, abortion, racism, cultural identity, social activism, veterans of war, sexual abuse, immigration, public health, civil rights, gender and sexual identity, and more.

Video of Exhibit Installation

The works on exhibit are outside what has been called “mainstream” in comics—in other words, they do not replicate heroic aspirations of a monolithic American boyhood. They do not aspire towards unified idealism. Instead, these are the stories about all of us—either made by us, for us, or in our names. They are complicated, and sometimes messy. By attempting to narrate around mainstream standards and into uncharted territory, these comics let more of us know that we, too, belong to this world and that maybe, therefore, we are also able to participate in and shape it.
UConn’s Graham Stinnett, Archivist for Human Rights and Alternative Press Collections, guest curated a portion of the digital supplement of the exhibition on tumblr featuring materials from the University of Connecticut’s Alternative Press Comix Collection earlier this year. The curated tumblr blog is part of an ongoing contributor driven narration of comic books, personal history and identity.
The UConn Archives exhibition of Our Comics, Ourselves will run from June 14th – August 22nd 2016 in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center Gallery which is open to the public, Monday – Friday 8:30 – 5pm.

Celebrate People’s History

Ca9Nle9XIAEJt8p (1)Currently on display at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, a recently acquired set of Celebrate People’s History Poster Series from the Justseeds artists cooperative.  The Archives & Special Collections has added this poster series to its collection because of the strong linkages to the Alternative Press Collection which contains posters, flyers, pamphlets and newspapers about the movements depicted in the series.

This collection was organized and curated by Justseeds founder Josh MacPhee for distribution to all corners of public and social spaces:

“The Celebrate People’s History posters are rooted in this do-it-yourself tradition of mass-produced and distributed political propaganda, but detoured to embody principles of democracy, inclusion, and group participation in the writing and interpretation of history. It’s rare today that a political poster is celebratory, and when it is, it almost always focuses on a small canon of male individuals: MLK, Ghandi, Che, or Mandela. Rather than create another exclusive set of heroes, I’ve generated a diverse set of posters that bring to life successful moments in the history of social justice struggles. To that end, I’ve asked artists and designers to find events, groups, and people who have moved forward the collective struggle of humanity to create a more equitable and just world. The posters tell stories from the subjective position of the artists, and are often the stories of underdogs, those written out of history. The goal of this project is not to tell a definitive history, but to suggest a new relationship to the past.

CPH posters have been pasted up in the streets of over a dozen cities. Each time I receive emails from people wanting to know more. Our streets can be a venue for asking these questions, and the CPH posters can play a role in answering them. Soon after the first poster was printed, educators began asking for posters for their classrooms. It’s been great to see the posters become part of curriculum, and to see lessons built around them. Once when giving a talk about CPH, I was approached by a student in training to become a teacher. She was first introduced to the posters when they hung in one of her grade school classrooms, almost a decade earlier. Now she intends to use them in her future classes. I hope that these posters can continue to act as some small corrective to the dominant narratives told in schools, and that more teachers engage students in alternative ways of understanding the past.”

This exhibition will be up in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center from February 1st – April 15th, 2016.

 

The Ku Klux Klan, Rebel Pride and Anti-Klan Resistance

Anti-Racism Coalition of Connecticut, pamphlet.

Anti-Racism Coalition of Connecticut, pamphlet.

On June 18 2015, Dylann Roof, 21 years old, shot and killed nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  When Roof was apprehended, he wore the flags of Apartheid-Era South Africa and Rhodesia, former white supremacist settler colonial states in Southern Africa.  Roof also had Confederate flags hung on his walls and frequented white power websites.  These race based murders fueled an ongoing debate about Confederate symbolism and its usage in the private and public spheres.  The Alternative Press Collection at the Archives & Special Collections is comprised of fringe publishing from both ends of the political spectrum such as White Patriot and Death to the Klan.  The current debate around the Confederate flag draws on long standing uses of historical interpretation and cultural identity dating to the Civil War and Reconstruction era of 1861-1877.  As demonstrated in this exhibition currently on display in the Archives through these selected materials from the Alternative Press, Northeast Children’s Literature and Labor collections, figures such as Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, abolitionists John Brown and Frederick Douglass serve as symbolic totems of heritage, spirituality and citizenship. Continue reading