Jecca Namakkal for the Abusable Past (JN): First, can you tell us about yourselves? Who are you, and what role do you play at the Sallie Bingham Center ?
Kelly Wooten (KW): I’m the Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. My primary work is connecting researchers with materials from our collections through promotion and outreach, working with visiting researchers, answering reference questions from people around the world, and teaching classes using primary source materials with undergraduates from Duke and other local universities. I help build collections through developing relationships with creators of zines and artists’ books, and activists in modern feminist movements.
Laura Micham (LM): I’m the Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture and the curator of gender and sexuality history collections in the Rubenstein Library at Duke. My work focuses mainly on building collections of rare printed material such as books, pamphlets, newsletters, and unpublished material such as the papers of activists, authors, and organizations, as well as building support for those collections. I also get to teach with the collections and help to facilitate a range of public programming to connect people with our holdings.
JN: Tell us a bit about the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. What do you want potential researchers to know about the collections?
KW: First of all, we want people to know that all are welcome to do research at the Rubenstein Library. We recognize that archival research can be daunting and we strive to create an inclusive environment that supports researchers of varying backgrounds and experience levels, providing a positive research experience for people who visit in person or who ask reference questions via email. We’re a broad-based women’s history archive, and our research guides provide an overview of our collecting areas. One of our areas of specialization is Reproductive Rights and Women’s Health.
LM: The Bingham Center has always collected materials documenting the history of reproductive health and rights. Our collections date back to the first obstetrical text written by a woman, published in 1609 and forward to records that document active women’s health clinics and organizations such as the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta, Choices Women’s Medical Center in New York City, The Abortion Conversation Project, and the Abortion Care Network. In between the Center holds everything from 18th and 19th century legal treatises to early and mid-20th century activist writings across the political spectrum about reproductive rights, and zines created by young women from the 1980s to the present about their personal experiences with reproductive health, rights, and justice. The Bingham Center director position is supported by an abortion provider, Merle Hoffman, who founded Choices Women’s Medical Center. Documenting this history is therefore a prominent part of the work of the Sallie Bingham Center.
JN: How do you, as an archivist, decide what to collect? Are there specific barriers to collecting materials related to abortion access and organizing around reproductive justice?
KW: We have developed collection development policies which help frame the scope of what we collect overall. We acknowledge that abortion is a controversial and challenging topic and have worked hard to build collections that offer a broad and deep historical record.
LM: We’ve found that providers and other clinic workers are interested in being documented to remedy the experience many of them have had of being poorly understood. Documenting their work and promoting their collections has at times made it difficult to attract donations of materials from other parts of the political spectrum but we have found that the providers themselves tend to collect an amazingly wide range of materials across the continuum of beliefs and opinions regarding abortion.
JN: Why do you think it is important for archives to collect materials related to abortion access and reproductive rights?
LM: There are many reasons to collect this material, however it has not been routinely collected in archives and libraries. Documenting this history is an important way to more fully represent women’s lives and work. And, as Ginny Daley the founding director of the Bingham Center asserted, the most effective activism is informed with a historical perspective. In working with students, scholars, activists, and others using these collections we have seen that historicizing and contextualizing abortion leads to shared understandings of how the history of abortion impactss and shapes its future and how common ground can be created in ongoing public conversations.
JN: How have scholars,activists, and/or teachers used materials related to reproductive rights and abortion access from your collection? Does the archive engage in any outreach efforts to raise awareness about the collections beyond academic historians?
KW: Besides supporting scholarship, we also have a robust outreach program that includes holding events that bring together scholars, activists, students, and community members. Back in 2003 we held a symposium on Abortion: Research, Ethics, and Activism marking the 30th anniversary of Roe v Wade and the 15th anniversary of the Sallie Bingham Center. More recently we collaborated with colleagues in the History of Medicine to host “The Menopause Monologues” a dramatic reading of selections from texts from our collections.
Looking back through our list of past travel grant recipients, we can list a number of academic books that have been published based on research using our clinic records and feminist reproductive activism materials.
- Karissa Haugeberg, Women against abortion: inside the largest moral reform movement of the twentieth century . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017.
- Mary Ziegler, “A Provider’s Right to Choose: a Legal History” in Transcending borders: abortion in the past and present, Shannon Stettner, Katrina Ackerman, Kristin Burnett, Travis Hay, editors. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
- Jennifer Nelson, More than medicine : a history of the feminist women’s health movement. New York: New York University Press, 2016.
- Mary Ziegler, After Roe: the lost history of the abortion debate by. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015
- Lori A. Brown, Contested spaces: abortion clinics, women’s shelters and hospitals: politicizing the female body. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013
- Johanna Schoen, Choice & coercion : birth control, sterilization, and abortion in public health and welfare by . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
A number of our researchers also write for wider audiences. Donna Drucker, another travel grant recipient, has published her article “The Cervical Cap in the Feminist Women’s Health Movement, 1976–1988” in Notches, a “peer-reviewed, collaborative and international history of sexuality blog” intended to bring these conversations beyond the academy. We are especially proud of the essay “Before ‘Roe,’ This University Had an Abortion Fund for Students,” by Duke alumna Hayley Farless, an undergraduate who researched Duke’s abortion fund for students using University Archives materials.
LM: We incorporate the Bingham Center’s reproductive health and rights collections into our teaching as well. For example we work each semester with a course taught by undergraduate students for undergraduate students about sexual health. One of the objectives of the course is to train sexual health peer educators. We work with colleagues in the University Archives to create a display of material that shows the history of sexual education at Duke and around the world from materials that document the Duke abortion fund referenced above to materials from the Ipas Records consisting of publications, administrative, and programmatic files of this global nongovernmental organization dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion.
Visit https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/bingham/grants to find out more about travel grants to use the archives at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s history and Culture.