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100 Years of Progress: The Fight Marches On

Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection, Department News

As we unveil our new digital exhibit, 100 Years of Progress: The Fight Marches On, celebrating the centennial of the passage and ratification of the 19th amendment in these times of COVID-19 and amidst a national call for social justice and equality all across the nation, let’s not forget that the women that brought about much needed change for the right to vote, faced equally great challenges during their own time. For historical context, they were dealing with the aftermath of World War I in which the world was weary of a prolonged conflict as well as the global spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic which would kill an estimated 50 million people all around the world. Texas Suffragist, Minnie Fisher Cunningham, was afflicted from the “Spanish Flu” and would recover as documented in a letter she wrote as President of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association to Mrs. Maud Wood Park in November of 1918.

If we learn anything from history and the work from Suffragettes all across the nation, it is that with grit, determination, and their eyes on the end goal of having the 19th Amendment ratified by Congress, neither a global pandemic nor a World War would derail their efforts. Through their grassroots activism in their communities, to lobbying local, state, and national representatives, to bending the ear of a US President, they would not be denied in their efforts as they would find a way. They would become united in voice and action as an immovable force in which once their momentum has started, nothing would be able to stop nor stand in their way.

The creation of this exhibit has been a unique experience to say the least. Working with public history student, Jennifer Southerland, since this past fall and early spring, we had mapped out and selected many of the materials. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in late March, putting a stop to our physical process and planning as we could no longer go into the office. Rather than stop all the work and planning that had gone before, Jennifer and I continued to meet weekly via phone, and working collaboratively with online tools such as Zoom, Google Docs, and Google Sheets to arrange the digital materials (including the Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers and Mary Ellen Ewing vs the Houston School Board) that were available, requesting scans of other materials that had not been digitized, drafting descriptive text for the materials, and brainstorming on potential themes that would emerge from the exhibit.

Flier distributed to inform women on how to register to vote

“Women Voters Attention – When, Where and How to Register,” 1918 flier distributed to inform women on how to register to vote, featured in the current exhibition

With so many face to face gatherings, events, and programs being cancelled due to COVID-19 the thought process in the creation of this digital exhibit has focused on how we could organize the digital materials we already have into a virtual exhibit which is openly accessible to the public whether it be in their homes or home offices. Just as the early suffragists found a way to overcome despite all the odds, we wanted to use the technology at our disposal to still make this happen despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 and social distancing.

In a more normal setting a physical exhibit would be created first with physical materials selected, matted, backed, and captions created before they are arranged and installed into exhibit cases within the library. We’ve had to take the opposite approach of working backwards, creating a digital exhibit first, which we know will be remotely available to the public, and then later this fall install the physical materials into the cases based on the digital exhibit. What we’ve learned is that although the pandemic has changed the logistics and dynamics of how an exhibit may ultimately be put together, we’ve still found a way to virtually document and celebrate the work of Suffragists all across the nation. This exhibit is dedicated in honor of their grit, determination, and spirit of fighting on.

Remembering Ray Hill

LGBT History Research Collection
Detail from a painting of Ray Hill, from the Ray Hill Papers

Detail from a painting of Ray Hill, from the Ray Hill Papers

Timing and happenstance played a large role in the personal papers of Ray Hill coming to the University of Houston. What started over a year and half ago, first through a visit by documentary filmmakers to UH Special Collections looking for footage on Houston’s LGBT Community during the 1970s, led not only to an introduction to Ray Hill, but developed into several subsequent conversations and meetings with Ray over coffee at the local Montrose Starbucks in Hawthorne Square. Ray held us as a captive audience, regaling us with stories of his time in prison for burglary, to his release and work in Houston’s LGBT community, to meeting and going toe to toe with the legendary Harvey Milk, and most importantly his Prison Show on KPFT. As he would describe it, the Prison Show served as a lifeline to prisoners, connecting them to their families and the outside world that no prison wall could keep out.

He was a master at holding court and was never short of words, wit, humor, and wisdom given at the right moments. “Ray Hill, Citizen Provocateur,” as listed on his business card, was a self described writer, activist, actor, and raconteur to name but a few of the titles to which he laid claim. Ray was not someone to meet, but someone to experience. A force of nature and larger than life, he was completely at home whether talking with political dignitaries on issues concerning prison reform or to members of the LGBT community seeking him for counsel and personal advice. Ray’s genius and brilliance were not in the telling of the truth, but in the telling and retelling of the story that made you believe, or at least made you think.

Campaign poster for Ray Hill, Your Friendly Neighborhood Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1

Campaign poster for Ray Hill, Your Friendly Neighborhood Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1

For a man like Ray Hill, who fought against the system for so long, one might think it ironic that he would place his personal archives with the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. It made sense when we spoke to Ray on the significance UH libraries had on his life and how it shaped his formative years. As Ray would tell it, even before he was old enough to be a university student, he would sneak into the library stacks to find books that helped him discover or understand himself as a gay man. Placing his personal archives at UH, he is contributing to that exploration and understanding for current and future generations of students. Ray’s papers are now a major part of the Libraries’ significant LGBT historical collections alongside the Annise Parker Papers, the Gulf Coast Archive & Museum of GLBT History collection, the Diana Foundation Records, and many others. It is really an honor for us that Ray entrusted UH Libraries to preserve his history and make it accessible to our campus and our community.

The Ray Hill Papers collection contains 62 boxes of correspondence, awards, organization documents, photographs, audio/video recordings, publications, and artifacts that document Ray’s life and work as an LGBT community activist and prisoners’ rights reformer. His archives document the various aspects and endeavors of a complex individual whose work has affected so many in the community and beyond, capturing a life well-lived.

Share Your Stories from 1977

Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection

A challenge from Gloria Steinem was issued to women to come forth and have their stories from the 1977 National Women’s Conference told. During the 2017 Reunion conference held at the University of Houston to mark the 40th Anniversary of the 1977 National Women’s Conference, over thirty women stepped forward to participate in having their stories of this historic occasion recorded for posterity. The recorded interviews capture stories from delegate attendees, many of which haven’t been heard for over 40 years. Women too young or unable to have attended the original conference also contributed their own personal stories, views, and insights into what the 1977 National Women’s Conference has meant to them and how the effects from the conference still resonate in their personal lives.

Among some of the stories shared from the conference were from Peggy Kokernot Kaplan, one of the original torch relay runners during the 1977 Conference, Frances Henry, coordinator for state meetings leading up the National Women’s Conference, and University of Houston Law Professor Laura Oren, an attendee of the conference and early member of the Houston Area Feminist Federal Credit Union.

The Share your Stories campaign was recorded over two days, November 6-7, 2017 as part of the 40th Anniversary conference held at the University of Houston. The Share your Stories interviews can be found on the Audio/Visual Repository of the University of Houston Libraries. Additional information and materials on the 1977 National Women’s Conference can be found in the Marjorie Randal National Women’s Conference Collection of the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection.

Finding Aid for the Barbara Karkabi Papers Now Available

Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection, Finding Aids

Barbara 5The finding aid for the Barbara Karkabi Papers is now available online. This collection includes articles written by Karkabi, correspondence, notes, and research materials.

Barbara Karkabi was a journalist for the Houston Chronicle. In 1979 she began her career with the Chronicle generating feature stories on a variety of topics ranging from health to women and religious issues to trends in the city’s minority communities. An article she wrote in 1990 about river blindness garnered the attention of local philanthropist John Moores. In response to the story, Moores donated $25 million to an effort by a University of Houston optometry professor, William Baldwin, to distribute a highly effective drug to those in need.

Besides her work with the Chronicle, Karkabi also spent time engaged in women’s organizations. She was a long time board member of Friends of Women’s Studies, a nonprofit that supports the University of Houston’s Women’s Studies program and wrote the first story about the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection at the UH Library. Karkabi also helped found the Association for Women Journalists Houston chapter in the 1990s.

A selection of her materials was also on display at the 16th Annual Table Talk hosted by the Friends of Women’s Studies.

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For more information about what is contained in the collection, be sure to take a look at the finding aid. The original materials can be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Special Collections at Table Talk 2013

Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection, Events

Librarians from Special Collections and the University of Houston Libraries are looking forward to attending the 16th Annual Table Talk Luncheon. Hosted by the Friends of Women’s Studies, Table Talk will take place on Wednesday, February 27th from 12-1:30pm at the Hilton Americas Hotel Downtown.  The event provides a unique opportunity for guests  to meet and talk with Houston women who have forged their own paths in various disciplines. Among the conversationalists at the tables will be Houston’s Mayor Annise ParkerDr. Mae Jemison, former NASA Astronaut and the first African American woman to travel in space, and Dr. Monica Perales, UH History Professor and author of Smeltertown: Making and Remembering a Southwest Border Community. Proceeds benefit the Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Houston and the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Center in Special Collections at the University of Houston Libraries.

The Shuart Women’s Archive will once again prepare a display of highlights from the Barbara Karkabi Papers,  honoring the memory of one of the Archives’  long-time supporters and journalist for the Houston Chronicle.  Don’t  forget to stop by our table and say hi to the Shuart Women’s Archivist, Vince Lee. We look forward to seeing you there!