On March 18th, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center in the Boston Public Library (BPL) debuted their exhibit “More or Less in Common: Environment and Justice in the Human Landscape.” The exhibit examines how social justice and injustice are confronted in the study of the “human landscape” and how we can use questions of social justice to help us build healthier and better environments for the future.
Northeastern’s contributions to the exhibit come from our Freedom House, Inc., records and in particular, their records on urban renewal and neighborhood-led clean-up campaigns. The exhibit features two fliers calling Roxbury neighbors to action in various clean-up and maintenance projects. Neighborhood improvement programs designed to protect Upper Roxbury from urban blight began in 1949 when Freedom House joined with community members to organize neighborhood clean-up projects and playground construction.
Freedom House worked closely with the city to improve the services provided to Roxbury. At the same time, Boston was beginning a formal urban renewal campaign that did not initially include Roxbury. A telegram from Freedom House founders Muriel and Otto Snowden to Mayor John F. Collins resulted in the inclusion of the Washington Park Urban Renewal Project in Boston’s campaign. By 1963, Freedom House had entered into formal contracts with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Action Boston Community Development to serve as a liaison between the planners and technicians and the residents of Washington Park. This relationship lasted until the BRA withdrew from Roxbury in the late 1960s, leaving much of its work undone.
The Leventhal Center’s exhibit takes our Freedom House records, and many other institutions’ records, and composes them into a complicated vision of how human landscapes were confronted and contended with in the past and how they can be reimagined for the future.
Visit the exhibit in person at the BPL’s historic McKim Building during the BPL’s visiting hours, which can be found here.
Or you can view the digital exhibit, along with lesson plans and resources for further study, here.
Find out more about the Freedom House records, the Snowdens, and Roxbury neighborhood history here.
On January 27, 2022, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) officially took effect two years after it was ratified with Virginia’s historic vote as the 38th state to support the amendment. The ratification of this version of the ERA, which was introduced to Congress in 1972, took 48 years to complete. The ERA begins:
“Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Initially drafted in 1923 by Crystal Eastman and Alice Paul, the ERA was seen as the next step to take for women’s liberation following the passing of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote and prevented them (on paper) from being disenfranchised. Women’s suffrage movements occupied a great space in the American consciousness throughout the end of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st century.
Empowered by this, Bostonian women formed groups to keep advocating for women’s rights, even as the passage of the ERA throughout this period did not look promising. Organizations such as the Reproductive Rights National Network and individuals like Sondra Gayle Stein worked tirelessly to advance gender equality in the legislature and in the streets. The Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC) is fortunate to maintain the records of many women’s rights organizations that have worked for change throughout the Boston area.
NUASC also holds the Boston Globe Library collection, which contains photographs of life in and around Boston and includes photographs of demonstrations and protests, including those featured in this blog post. More can be found through Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service.
Fortunately for the ERA, a sea change within the legislative branch took place in 1970, when more women than ever before were elected to Congress and were persistent in pursuing the ratification of the ERA. The ERA in its final form that we know today was brought before Congress for its next steps in 1972.
NUASC has a wealth of information on women’s organizations in Boston, such as the Women’s Educational Center, The Second Wave: A Magazine of the New Feminism, and the Women’s School, all of which were organizations that existed in the 1970s-1990s to further women’s rights, promote discussion of feminist theory, and organize for women and other marginalized groups in the Boston area. The records of these organizations and many more groups and people are available for research for all Northeastern students, faculty, and staff, and the greater Boston community, at the Archives and Special Collections.
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections is highlighting the work and accomplishments of two East Boston women: Evelyn Morash and Mary Ellen Welch. Their decades of community organizing and advocacy beginning in the 1960s were effective in improving the quality of life for residents in their neighborhoods, from the establishment of parks and greenspaces to improvements in their neighborhood schools, improved access to healthcare, and mitigation around air and noise pollution from the airport.
Meet Evelyn Morash Evelyn Morash grew up in East Boston in the 1930s and ’40s, the daughter of Italian immigrants. As an adult with children in the Boston Public Schools in the 1960s, Evelyn became an outspoken advocate for desegregation and improving education in all the city’s schools. In 1970, she founded the advisory committee Parents and Teachers Who Care, a coalition that grew out of her efforts to ensure school libraries in all of East Boston’s elementary schools. During this same time, Evelyn worked with other community members to establish the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, which opened in 1970 to serve a geographically isolated and largely immigrant and low-income community. She later served on its board in the 1980s.
Recognizing her leadership around issues of education in East Boston, Governor Francis Sargent appointed Evelyn to the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1973, where she prioritized making quality vocational education available for women, since secretarial training was women’s only option at the time. Following the 1974 court order to desegregate Boston’s public schools, Judge Arthur Garrity appointed her to serve on the Citywide Coordinating Council, an autonomous oversight committee to monitor the progress of desegregation efforts across the city. Along with her city- and state-level work, Evelyn continued to focus her activism on East Boston, later serving on the planning committee for the construction of the Mario Umana Academy in the 1980s, where she fought for the new building to serve both as a school and community center for the neighborhood.
The Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections maintains oral histories and written records of Evelyn’s organizing efforts and achievements. In 1997, Evelyn was interviewed as part of the East Boston Greenway Council’s Oral History Project, an effort to capture memories of East Boston from before the expansion of Logan Airport in the 1960s and ’70s and to reflect on changes to the neighborhood. In the recorded conversation with fellow East Boston activist Roberta Marchi, Evelyn describes her early life in East Boston, her involvement with the Girl Scouts, her efforts to establish the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, and how she got involved in school advocacy. You can listen to both parts of Evelyn’s interview in the Digital Repository Service (DRS) (Part 1 and Part 2).
Two decades later in 2018, Evelyn was interviewed by Greta de Jong about her role in parent organizations during school desegregation in the 1970s and other efforts around school reform. You can listen to the interview and view accompanying materials in the DRS here.
Meet Mary Ellen Welch Mary Ellen Welch was an indefatigable activist and teacher at the Hugh R. O’Donnell Elementary School in East Boston, who advocated for civil rights and affordable housing, and against the impacts of airport expansion felt by many East Boston residents, such as noise and air pollution. Throughout her decades of activism, Mary Ellen was active across numerous causes and groups, including the East Boston Neighborhood Council, the East Boston Area Planning Action Council, and Airport Impact Relief.
In the mid-1980s, Mary Ellen, as a member of the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council, joined a newly formed housing committee to address the many issues facing East Boston housing, including absentee owners, rising rents, and lack of aid for the new wave of immigrants from Southeast Asia and Latin America. The committee soon incorporated as its own entity in 1986 under the name NOAH, East Boston’s Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, with Mary Ellen as its first president. Anna DeFronzo, Lucy and William Ferullo, Evelyn Morash, and other prominent East Boston activists participated in establishing the community development corporation.
While the legacy of her neighborhood improvement activism is visible throughout East Boston, it is no better appreciated than along the collection of parks joined by a walking and biking path called the Greenway. In the late 1990s, Mary Ellen helped found the East Boston Greenway Council, a community group that worked with the Boston Natural Areas Fund to identify areas in the neighborhood to transform into recreational greenspace, including the old Conrail railroad yard, now the location of Bremen Street Park. Construction on the East Boston Greenway broke ground in 1997 and opened its first completed section in 2007. Following her death in 2019, the East Boston Greenway was renamed the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway in her honor.
The Mary Ellen Welch papers include personal papers, event flyers, newspaper clippings, reports, letters from O’Donnell Elementary School children to Massport, and other correspondence, the bulk of which relate to Mary Ellen’s anti-airport activism. The collection is available for viewing and research at the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.
Further Reading Evelyn Morash and Mary Ellen Welch participated in a large network of activists and community organizers in East Boston, including Anna DeFronzo, Edith DeAngelis, Roberta Marchi, and the staff at the East Boston Community News. For more archival materials and biographies about these and other East Boston community figures, be sure to check out the following resources:
The Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections is fortunate to have the records of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC), founded in 1982. BGMC is a 200-voice community ensemble that sings popular and classical music and works to “inspire change, build community, and celebrate difference.”
Some chorus recordings are already available in Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service (DRS) but there are many more in the Archives that haven’t been digitized yet. Recently, members of BGMC working on a documentary requested the digitization of recordings on 1/4″ reel-to-reel tape and Digital Audio Tape (DAT) from the 1980s and 1990s. These recordings included holiday performances, Pride concerts, and a collaboration with the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus.
We’re always happy to help make the collections accessible, but the digitization of older audiovisual formats presents challenges. DAT cassettes were released in 1987 and used throughout the 1990s. They encode digital information onto magnetic media and allow for high quality recordings. However, Sony stopped producing DAT cassette decks in 2005 and few people know how to maintain the equipment needed to digitize them. In addition, use of an out-of-repair machine might damage the tape. You can read more about the preservation issues with DAT in archival collections here and here. Luckily, we were able to work with National Boston to digitize these DATs with no issues.
The reel-to-reel or open reel format using magnetic tapes was popular from the 1940s through the 1980s. We also sent our reel-to-reel tapes to National Boston but due to the age and condition of the materials, an extra step was required. Many of the tapes had sticky shed syndrome. This preservation issue is common and affects magnetic media. The tape has three layers: the magnetic portion which contains the information; the base layer; and the binding agent. Sticky shed syndrome causes the binder to degrade, leading the tape to shed bits of itself while being played. Since this causes irreversible loss of information, tapes with sticky shed should be baked before playback. This involves putting them in an oven at a low heat to rebind the layers. You can read more about baking tapes at the Library of Congress here.
Luckily, these gorgeous vocal performances are now preserved in our repository and available here. Thanks to my colleagues in the Archives, especially Molly Brown, and to my colleagues in Digital Metadata, especially Anna Ryerson, for their work coordinating the request and cataloging the recordings.
Introduction Part of the digitization process includes the creation of metadata for each record so that people can find an individual item with the sea of documents. Metadata is the identifying information of a record, such as its title, author, creation date, and other components.
Recently, archivists have placed greater emphasis on the subject heading aspect of cataloging records.1 Archivists now recognize that the creation of subjects and descriptions as access points to a record is an inherently biased activity that can influence how one approaches and perceives the record itself and the topics it contains. While these access points are extremely helpful in improving search results, these pathways are created by archivists, i.e. people. Since archivists create metadata, the data reflects our perspectives, thereby making it imperative that we be mindfully aware of our unconscious biases. We must do the necessary self-evaluative work about ourselves, the power dynamics in which we function, and the multifarious impacts of our decisions on various groups.
Records are created within certain settings for certain purposes—whether political or social—and an archivist inserts the meta-narrative layer of collecting and making accessible those records. There is power in that process and traditionally the process has privileged dominant social systems, which then reinforces social inequities. The myth of neutrality in subject cataloging has led to subject headings that can reinforce biases, stereotypes, and offensive representations, as well as misrepresent and alienate marginalized communities. For instance, a reclassification project at GBH recognized the negative false equivalence of police only interacting with criminals in their legacy subject term “Law Enforcement & Crimes,” which they have changed to “Legal System.”2
Recently, many archivists have risen to the challenge of acknowledging the persistency of power dynamics and are actively seeking to infuse their metadata creation with inclusion, diversity, and social justice practices. I myself have recently undertaken the ethical reasoning behind the use of certain subject headings to achieve descriptions that not only increase searchability and accuracy but also are respectful and empowering to subjects previously ignored. It is my hope that by developing cultural competency, the records will be more accessible to the communities reflected in their content, which may be one small step towards actively dismantling oppressive systems.
The Collection and Daniela Saunders As I digitized the Freedom House Inc. Records, I stumbled upon an eye-opening folder about the Police-Community Relations Committee. The records from this folder of items from 1960 to 1966 document a growing awareness in Roxbury of police-community relation issues. At the time, there were community memories of problems and instances a decade prior. Back in 1952, the murder of Rabbi Zuber sparked meetings calling for community action. However, the initial uproar dwindled and while close relations and neighbors continued to fight for change, it was a small endeavor.
Some larger efforts did persist, including a Police-Community Relations Institute Conference held in 1960 that connected with religious organizations to discuss the relations between mass media, social work agencies, the judicial court system, civil rights, legislation, and the police. However, the improvements called for in the decade of discussions did not become sweeping real-world improvements. As a result, over the course of a year between the summers of 1962 and 1963, there were a number of stranglings of women in the greater Boston area.3
On January 5, 1963, 16-year-old Daniela Saunders was murdered in an alleyway between Warren Street and Elm Hill Park, just a few blocks from her home. The next day, 500 members of her community met with Otto P. Snowden and Freedom House to discuss what underlying social problems led to the tragedy. Initiated by a small group of mothers voicing the need to prevent such violence, the meeting expanded to the 500-person turnout. Many individuals voiced their perspectives on the issue:
Dewey Duckett outlined the general disinterest of the Boston Police Department Division 9 towards the community it was supposed to protect. He talked about how “the local police had clearly evidenced an incapacity to understand or respect either the local citizens themselves or their simple desire for minimal adequate protection.”4
Attorney Benjamin Johnson called for the creation of a 100-person auxiliary police of community members.
Mrs. Leona Tynes cited the practical issue of poor lighting facilities.
Mrs. Oswald Jordan recalled the aftermath of Rabbi Zuber’s murder and described the emotional toll of these types of meetings over the last decade since they had not led to any actual change.
At the end of the meeting, the goal was set to create a committee to meet with city officials, namely Commissioner Edmund L. McNamara, Captain Paul Sullivan, and Sergeant Kelly of Division 9. The other four main suggestions were to add foot patrolmen; ensure that police answered complaints with courtesy instead of their current lack of sensitivity; increase the effort to improve problem areas; and fire police that demonstrated bias towards the black community.
Another meeting held January 8, 1962, at the Jeremiah E. Burke School further expanded the four main issues. About 1,500 citizens gathered to demand change. Kenneth Guscott, representing the NAACP, called for a Villante Committee similar to what the Peace Corps created in Harlem. Police Commissioner McNamara personally attended this meeting, although he was met with objections when he attempted to downplay his former neglect by referring to his personal connection with a black member of the police force.
The various efforts aimed to “promote a better understanding between the protected and the protector.”5 The end goal was a positive coordinated action program formulated and carried out by neighborhood associations in affiliation with the local police. Along with Mayor John F. Collins and Commissioner McNamara’s immediate pledges to increase training in criminal investigation and compulsory attendance of courses at Northwest University and the FBI National Academy, the events led to long-term communication between the Roxbury community, city officials, and the police. The Freedom House Inc. Records reflect and display these sustained efforts.
Daniela Saunders’ Impact The events of Daniela Saunders’ murder and the aftermath from Roxbury’s community response are integral components to the larger historic narrative of the police-community relations documented in the Freedom House Inc. Records. Her story may be limited to a folder in this vast collection but her impact disseminates through many boxes. So many activities were initiated by her tragic demise.
However, most metadata elements do not provide space for Daniela. She wasn’t the author or creator of the records, she was not included in the title of the records, and her name was often eliminated in the documents themselves. Within the records of Folder 1015, Daniela was more of a ghost, a whisper, trickled throughout the newspaper articles, letters, meeting minutes, and reports. She may have been the impetus for change, but she didn’t have agency in these metadata components.
Additionally, in the larger historic narrative, Daniela has been forgotten. She is currently not listed as one of the Boston Strangler’s 13 victims despite the connection to the “Phantom Strangler” made in 1963.6
When making the metadata for items in Folder 1015, I wanted to allow Daniela to regain her own agency in being remembered. The power of remembering is enormous—it becomes public memory and informs current events. Therefore, archival records provide an opportunity to bear witness to an event when it has been lost to time. I knew I needed a way to provide a pathway to Daniela and link her to these records. I produced these conditions by making Daniela a Name Subject Heading, a practice that we are not often implementing in the Freedom House Inc. digitization project. Due to the large scope of the collection and the logistical issues of maintaining authorized subject headings over 83 containers, Name Subject Headings for individuals are a rare occurrence.
However, with the addition of this metadata component, Daniela’s story becomes accessible to the public. She is no longer a passive victim, marginalized and obscured, but is now an active agent at the forefront of police-community relations in 1963 Roxbury. People can now find the records related to Daniela and they can situate her contribution within the larger Freedom House and Roxbury narratives.
Additionally, the records can give the public a resource for holding historical agents accountable. The 1960s were fraught with many issues between communities of color and the police nationwide. The events of 1963 in Roxbury become a part of that larger context.
Finally, by recognizing Daniela and the events of 1963, I hope that the records and their metadata have an enduring impact on our current society. Police brutality, racism, abuse, systematic oppression, and unnecessary force are all topics that we see in the news every day. Past calls for better training and systematic changes to the police force are similar to present-day news stories. We are constantly exposed to the reality of this violence and our nation collectively feels an emotional toll possibly similar to the one described by Mrs. Oswald Jordan in January 1963. Maybe these historic records can help inform our present discourse. By knowing what happened in the past, maybe we can make more informed decisions, and ultimately, be the change we strive to see.
1A non-comprehensive list of recent literature includes, Jillian Ewalt, “Toward Inclusive Description: Reparations through Community-Driven Metadata,” NEA Newsletter 46, no. 2 (April 2019): 4-7; Rosale de Mattos, “The Representation of Archival Information in Controlled Vocabularies: The Context of the Archival Institutions in Rio de Janeiro,” Knowledge Organization 47, no. 7 (2019): 548-557; Samuel J. Edge, “A Subject “Queer”-y: A Literature Review on Subject Access to LGBTIQ Materials,” Serials Librarian 75, no. 1-4 (Jul-Dec 2018): 81-90; Gracen Brilmyer, “Archival assemblages: applying disability studies’ political/relational model to archival description,” Archival Science 18, no. 2 (Jun 2018): 95-118. 2Miranda Villesvik and Raananah Sarid-Segal, “Making Metadata Inclusive to Marginalized Voices” (presentation, Archives for a Changing World, NEA Spring Conference, Virtual, March 27, 2021). 3The Boston Strangler continued to murder young women in the Boston area until 1964. For more information, see Ronald Lettieri, “Boston Strangler.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (2019); Jess Bidgood, “50 Years Later, a Break in a Boston Strangler Case,” New York Times, July 11, 2013; Paul Hoblin, Boston Strangler (Unsolved Mysteries). Abdo Publishing, 2012; Susan Kelly, The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert DeSalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group, 1995. 4“Report from special community meeting about police issues, Daniela Saunders and Rabbi Zuber murders, and race relations held January 6, 1096.” January 6, 1963. Freedom House Inc. Records (M16). Northeastern University Library. Archives and Special Collections Department. Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. Box 30, Folder 1015. 5“Outline on various phases of police activities.” April 28, 1964. UASC identifier: M16_B030_F1015_005. Freedom House Inc. Series 3: Programs. Sub-Series B: Urban Renewal. Neighborhood Associations. Police-Community Relations Committee, 1960-1966. 6Jack Thomas, “Victims of the Boston Strangler,” The Boston Globe, July 11, 2013. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/07/11/victims-boston-strangler/CwbsZlSNcfwmhSetpqNlhL/story.html