Library News

The Equal Rights Amendment: A Journey for Women’s Liberation

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.”

A woman wearing sunglasses, a white button-down shirt, and a large button that says "ERA YES" holds her right fist in the air and yells.
A woman takes part in the ERA March to the Common in 1982. Photographed for the Boston Globe by Wendy Maeda.

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.

A large group of protestors hold signs with messages of women's power and urging the stoppage of sex discrimination.
Equal rights demonstrators gather on Boston Common in 1970. Photographed for the Boston Globe by Elizabeth Jones.

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.

Sources:
Codrington, Wilfred U., and Alex Cohen. “The Equal Rights Amendment Explained.” Brennan Center for Justice, October 9, 2019.

Equal Rights Amendment.” Equal Rights Amendment, 2018.

Wegman, Jesse. “Opinion: Why Can’t We Make Women’s Equality the Law of the Land?” New York Times, New York Times, January 28, 2022.

ERA march to common.” Boston Globe Library collection (M214). University Library Archives and Special Collections Department.

Equal rights women gather on Boston Common.” Boston Globe Library collection (M214). University Library Archives and Special Collections Department.

Celebrating Women’s History Month in East Boston

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.

A group of people stand in front of a rendering of a community center. The woman in the center is pointing at it while the others look on
Edith DeAngelis, Anna DeFronzo, and Evelyn Morash, pictured with two others, January 12, 1972. Photo by Charles Carey, Boston Globe.)

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.

A black and white photo of a woman standing in front of city planning map and pointing while two seated men look on.
Mary Ellen Welch presenting to Massachusetts Port Authority leadership, August 21, 1969. Photo by Charles Dixon, Boston Globe.)

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:

Library team works to digitize Boston Gay Men’s Chorus performances

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.”

A black and white photo of a Boston Gay Men's Chorus live performance, with a view of center stage and a pianist, from 1987.
Boston Gay Men’s Chorus live performance, view of center stage and pianist, 1987 https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:m041vr30r

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.

A black and white photo of a group of men walking down a street. Two men in the front hold a large banner that reads "Boston Gay Men's Chorus" while someone in the back holds a flag that says "BGMC Pride"
Boston Gay Men’s Chorus march in Boston’s Pride parade
https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:m041vr24m

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.

A group of men in tuxedos and dress clothes stand informally smiling and chatting. Two men in the center pose for the camera hugging and making kiss faces.
Boston Gay Men’s Chorus members talking pre-performance
https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:m041vq97x

The HistoryMakers Digital Archive: An Essential Resource for African-American History

Looking for a primary source for an essay or digital project? Do you want to know more about, say, the Montgomery Bus Boycott from someone who lived through it? Or are you just bored and looking for something educational to watch? Well, dear reader, have I got the archive for you.

I’d like to present to you the HistoryMakers Digital Archive, a video collection of oral history interviews that is available to all Northeastern students, faculty, and staff. With a focus on African-American history, the Digital Archive is a resource that can be both useful and fascinating to everyone in academia, even if they’re not studying history.

A collage of notable African Americans surrounding the HistoryMakers logo

So, what is oral history? It’s certainly not the history of public speaking or how humans dealt with cavities, nor is it simply anecdotes passed by word of mouth. The Oral History Association defines it as “a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events.” Besides being the oldest form of history-gathering, oral history holds special significance to African Americans and other groups of the African diaspora: Not only do many African peoples have long, storied traditions—perhaps most famously, that of the West African griot—that venerate the keepers of oral history as professionals who are just as vital to the community as the soldier or the healer. Further, due to historical laws that either made it illegal or difficult for African Americans to be taught how to read and write, oral history has been one of the crucial ways that we can learn about certain events and periods. For example, during the Great Depression, the U.S. government commissioned a collection of oral history interviews from formerly enslaved people across 17 states. The collection of transcribed interviews, which is available online, is an incredibly valuable resource in broadening your understanding of the experiences of Black people during slavery.

The HistoryMakers Digital Archive follows in this honorable tradition. It compiles oral history interviews with nearly 2,700 historically significant Americans of African descent, designated as “HistoryMakers.” They’re significant for a variety of reasons, but all have made some notable contribution to the fields of medicine, art, music, politics, technology, science, literature, journalism, and more.

The archive includes interviews that provide insight into the lives and deeds of some of the most well-known people in the world—John Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Davis, Harry Belafonte, Barack Obama—as well as many other fascinating folks worth learning about who you might not have known about. For instance, there’s Elma Lewis, a Roxbury native who founded her own art school here in Boston. There’s Ed Bullins, a noted playwright and former professor at Northeastern. And then there’s Sylvester Monroe, a journalist who recounts the perils he faced while covering the desegregation of schools in Boston. Heck, I even found an interview from William Ward, the former mayor of my hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia. And that’s just scratching the surface. You can watch interviews from literally thousands of HistoryMakers, each of which offer their own take on their fields, their lives, and the historical events that shaped them.

Part of the beauty of the Digital Archive is how simple it is to use: after spending just a handful of minutes on the website, you’ll more than likely get the hang of it. But if you’d like a step-by-step guide on how to access, navigate, and utilize it, I’ve created a LibGuide that will hopefully be helpful.

In addition, HistoryMakers is hosting a contest in honor of Black History Month. Learn more and sign up here.

Have any further questions about the Digital Archive? You can contact me directly at moyler.h@northeastern.edu or send a note attached to a carrier pigeon to [redacted] Street in Mission Hill.

Sourcery partnership receives $805,000 Andrew W. Mellon Grant

A partnership of various libraries and archives, led by Greenhouse Studios at the University of Connecticut and including the Northeastern University Library, has recently been awarded a $805,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The two-year grant will support the continued development and outreach of Sourcery, “a mobile application that streamlines the scanning of remote of archival materials, provides better connections between researchers and archivists, and offers new and more equitable pathways for archival research.”

According to Greenhouse Studios: “Sourcery is an open-source web application that expands access to non-digitized archival sources. The app, developed by Greenhouse Studios and supported by the non-profit Corporation for Digital Scholarship (CDS), is accessible on any device connected to the Internet. Sourcery provides archivists with a streamlined reference scanning workflow, payment processing services, and analytics on document requests. It provides researchers with a single interface for placing document requests across multiple remote repositories–a practice that has taken on new urgency during this time of limited in-person access to collections.”

Northeastern University Library is one of three partner repositories from which researchers can request documents. The others are Hartford Public Library and the University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections. A fourth repository—Folger Shakespeare Library—will join the partnership upon completion of a renovation in 2023.

The grant is the second awarded to the group for the Sourcery project, after an initial Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant in 2020.