This is a guest blog post by Beth Myers, PhD, Director of Special Collections at Smith College.
Over the past year, Smith College has collaborated with edX to create Smith’s first MOOC, Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World. For us in Special Collections, this project deeply resonates with tenors of international partnership and access inherent in this year’s International Women’s Day theme: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.”
One hundred and seven years since the first International Women’s Day, we are still advocating for women’s equality.
We know that the parity of the future depends on the recognition of inequality in the past and present. We recognize the legacy of the women who fought for equality before us — sometimes winning, sometimes losing, and always fortifying. This is why access to women’s history is the core of our mission.
In 1942, Smith College accepted historian Mary Ritter Beard’s challenge to gather the raw materials that would demonstrate women’s contributions to history and created the Sophia Smith Collection (SSC). Seventy-five years later, the SSC is the oldest and one of the largest collections of women’s history in the world. We strive to make visible women who have typically been invisible in the historical record. We continue in our mission to document the diversity of women and their lived experiences.
The MOOC platform affords the opportunity to increase transparency by making some of the Sophia Smith Collection’s rich materials regarding women’s history available to anyone who has access to a screen with internet connection. We are able to promote the importance of open dialogue about these materials and ensure that all voices across geographic boundaries — which would otherwise be barriers — can participate.
Just one of the many examples on display is a hand-corrected version of activist Gloria Steinem’s testimony before the Senate to advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in May 1970 (page 1 is featured on the left). In her opening statement, Steinem states:
“I have been refused service in public restaurants, ordered out of public gathering places, and turned away from apartment rentals; all for the clearly-stated, sole reason that I am woman.”
Especially on this day (but on all days), it important for us to remember that Steinem’s experience with discrimination happened only 36 years ago and that sexism continues on in many forms. That these and others are still the lived experiences of women around the world means that our call to action is not dimmed.
Knowing women’s history is the path to women making history. We hope you will join us in Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World as we explore nine incredible women activists’ lives through their oral histories and collections to learn what motivated them to become politically active.
Photo Credit: Main image: Smith College, Gloria Steinem’s testimony: Sophia Smith Collection
If you have any questions about women’s history and/or archives, check out the Reddit Ask Me Anything