Whether it’s a rare book printing found at long last or piece of ephemera found in an archival collection by chance, those who visit the University of Houston Special Collections almost always find something they cannot wait to share with others. Here we celebrate what makes the University of Houston Special Collections so special–our Favorite Things.
University Archivist Mary Manning recommends a very timely item from our collections for our latest favorite–the Fiesta City charter.
It is that time of year, as spring has ushered in a veritable city-within-a-city on the campus of the University of Houston in one of our oldest traditions. Along Scott Street, in the shadow of TDECU Stadium, the student body has built, once again, our fine Fiesta City, home of Frontier Fiesta. A combination of variety shows, cook-offs, and concerts, Frontier Fiesta officially opened last night and runs through this weekend featuring entertainment for everyone.
Our University Archives preserve and make available for study the history of this tradition via the UH Frontier Fiesta Collection. Containing newspaper clippings, photographs, correspondence, show scripts, and event programs dating all the way back to 1941, the UH Frontier Fiesta Collection is open for research to anyone interested in tracing the event’s history (including the students who lead and run this massive undertaking each year).
But still, it’s not really a city, right?
Well, sometimes there is more to a name than just a cute, simple moniker.
Last spring, Manning curated an exhibition of some of these materials entitled “Frontier Fiesta: The Greatest College Show On Earth.” While many items in the exhibit garnered attention from those interested in the history of this long-standing fixture on the UH calendar, Manning noted one item of particular significance. In Houston History, reflecting on the Fiesta and what the records reveal of its history, Manning writes, “Especially noteworthy is Fiesta City’s charter drawn up by students in 1952 and branded onto a tanned cowhide by student Betty Rich and taken to Austin for Governor Allan Shivers’s signature.”
Far from any, ahem, branding ploy, this cowhide proves that a bonafide city recently sprung up on a grand swath of asphalt in the heart of the Third Ward, hosting a tradition that is uniquely Houston. Those interested in viewing Fiesta City’s charter, complete with the still-just-visible signature of Governor Shivers proclaiming it a city “happily free of municipal corruption, yankees, and other dangerous influences,” may do so in the Special Collections Reading Room during our normal research hours. Enjoy the Fiesta, and Fiesta City, Houston!
The University of Houston recently hosted Dr. Maria Cotera of the University of Michigan and her talk, “Decolonizing the Archive: Chicana por mi Raza and the Challenge of Digital Humanities.” Dr. Cotera’s talk focused on her work with Chicana por mi Raza, a public humanities project centered on the collection and digital preservation of archival materials, ephemera, and oral histories that document the development of Chicana feminist thought during the civil rights era. A panel discussion, “Pushing Back: Chicana, Latina, Hispanic Women Preserving our Narratives,” followed Cotera’s talk and featured the founder of Studio One Archive Resource, Patricia Hernandez, Director of Research for Arte Público Press, Dr. Carolina Villaroel, and the first Hispanic Collections Archivist at the University of Houston, our own Lisa Cruces.
Sponsored by a number of organizations on and off campus, Dr. Cotera’s talk was broadly attended and included students, staff, and faculty from UH as well as local universities and high schools. The “digital turn,” Dr. Cotera argues, has allowed for a certain de-centering of authority in the work of scholarly research and the Chicana por mi Raza project establishes a collaborative venue providing broad-based public access to oral histories, correspondence, and out-of-print publications for scholarly research in and out of the classroom. Her work with Chicana por mi Raza represents a challenge to the pedagogy and influence of archival politics, prejudices, and patriarchal legacy of the existing structure. The result is a democratization of the archives and an engagement with communities that have been underrepresented in more traditional research models.
The panel that followed provided attendees an opportunity to ask questions and hear from women in the field with a variety of traditional and non-traditional archival backgrounds address the subtleties, nuance, and challenges of preserving the historical narratives in this new landscape. As Archivist for the Hispanic Collections here at UH, Cruces certainly has faith in aspects of the traditional archival models, but pointed out that Cotera’s work necessitates the bringing together of multiple vested interests and provides a great opportunity to partner with members of the community outside of the traditional institutional walls. In turn, this work allows a means of introduction to the archives while also allowing participants to look critically as to how historical memory is collected.
In addition to the over 7,000 linear feet of archival collections made available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections, we are also proud to offer over 100,000 rare and antique books for use in our reading room. Each month we will highlight a text from our collections and what makes it so special.
Book of the Month: The Spirit of Houston. The First National Women’s Conference. An Official Report to the President, the Congress, and the People of the United States, published by President Jimmy Carter’s National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year.
Why so Special? A number of reasons, really.
First, there’s the timing. Whether you’ve been celebrating Women’s History Week since 1981 or you go all the way back to 1909 and celebrated International Women’s Day last weekend, one thing is certain–March is Women’s History Month. Then, what time like the present to view this report and delve back into a history that captures a moment in time when so-called second-wave feminism was on the rise, the world was beginning to notice, and, for a moment, Houston found itself at the epicenter of the domestic debate and struggle.
The timing of the events that brought about this report is also worth noting. When the United Nations declared that 1975 would be “International Women’s Year,” President Gerald Ford established the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. In the wake of 1975, the work taken on by UN partnerships, and the issues and questions raised from the World Conference of the International Women’s Year (held in Mexico City in the summer of 1975), President Carter’s Commission proposed a National Women’s Conference to take place in Houston in 1977. That November 2,000 delegates from all fifty states and six territories descended on Houston along with an estimated 20,000 observers in attendance. Included among these numbers were first ladies, activists, artists, writers, and more. The topics addressed and reported on by the Conference seemed to buoy support for the floundering Equal Rights Amendment on through 1978. President Carter expressed as much in his comments on the one-year anniversary of the Conference, including ratification of the ERA to be among the goals necessary “for all citizens to participate fully in every part of American life.”
Or, maybe what makes this report so special is the tip of the research iceberg it represents. The Spirit of Houston… is just one title in the larger Peggy Hall Collection. Hall was a charter member of Houston Area NOW, active member of the Harris County Women’s Political Caucus on issues related to the ERA, and witness to the events of 1977. Examples of other works comprising the collection bearing her name include Notes from the Third Year: Women’s Liberation (a collection of radical feminism that includes Judy Syfers’ biting essay “I Want a Wife,” just prior to its appearance in the premier issue of Ms. magazine) and the iconic 1972 Our Bodies, Ourselves. But, if you had rather keep your focus on the First National Women’s Conference, maybe you would be interested in the Marjorie Randal National Women’s Conference Collection. Randal, an active supporter of women’s rights in the greater Houston-Galveston-Gulf Coast region, was also involved in the events of 1977 and played critical roles in establishing local NOW chapters. Her collection features correspondence, newsletters, publications, and other assorted materials dating from the mid 1970s into the 1980s, with the bulk of the materials focusing on the critical year of 1977 and the National Women’s Conference.
Location: The Spirit of Houston… is available for study this and every month in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room (call number HQ1403.N34 U54 1977). Interested in viewing this report or any of the other resources mentioned above? Then, we look forward to your visit to Special Collections.