banner for department blog

Houston’s Own “Stonewall”

In the News
Anita Bryant (Billboard, 1971)

Anita Bryant (Billboard, 1971)

On the evening of June 16, 1977 thousands of Houston’s gay and lesbian community assembled to march on the streets of downtown in protest of Anita Bryant’s appearance at the Texas State Bar Association’s meeting.

A popular singer and former beauty queen, Anita Bryant founded Save Our Children, Inc. in 1977 to battle a growing gay rights movement, specifically working to repeal a Dade County law that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.  She staked out her stance and drew the battle lines, stating, “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.”

The successful repeal of the Miami legislation buoyed other similar, religiously fundamentalist groups around the nation.  These newly organized activists would eventually exert more organized political influence through the end of the century under the Moral Majority umbrella, with Jerry Falwell using similar adversarial language and tactics as Bryant’s 1977 campaign.

So it was that in 1977, at the height of her popularity and controversy, the Texas State Bar Association invited Bryant to appear at their meeting in Houston at the Hyatt Hotel.  Their political influence lacking, Houston’s LGBT community was unable to block Bryant’s appearance in Houston but, donning black armbands emblazoned with pink triangles, the throng outside (which by some accounts grew to near 10,000), made their feelings known as they walked the streets and passed outside the Hyatt.  Inside the meeting, Bryant sang patriotic songs and received a standing ovation.  The galvanizing event had taken place, however, perhaps unbeknownst to those on the streets or the meeting hall.  Almost a decade after Stonewall, Anita Bryant had unintentionally given birth to the organized gay rights movement in Houston.

The Daily Kos argues as much in this piece and those interested in a better understanding of this complex history would do well to give it a read.  Leaning heavily on Bruce Remington’s 1983 thesis, “Twelve Fighting Years: Homosexuals in Houston, 1969-1981,” it charts the rise of the gay rights movement in Houston, providing quotes and insights from those who helped forge history that night and the days to come.

Here at the University of Houston Special Collections, we not only have Remington’s thesis available for study, but we also offer access to recorded interviews that were used as source material for the thesis.  As Pride season approaches, we encourage you to take a closer look at Houston’s history which serves to remind us that June does not only remember Stonewall in NYC but, for better or worse, it also remembers Anita Bryant’s visit to Houston.

Remembering Maya Angelou

In the News, Rare Books

After a long battle with illness, Maya Angelou has died in her Winston-Salem, North Carolina home.  The “lyrical witness of the Jim Crow South,” defied definitions throughout her life and reached the apex of her popularity and cultural presence when she delivered the inaugural poem of Bill Clinton’s presidency, “On the  Pulse of the Morning.”  Her most lasting and iconic literary legacy, however, is almost certainly captured in, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  A pioneering work of “autobiographical fiction,” trumpeting the voice of the previously unheralded female, southern, African-American, it was a critical and commercial literary success upon its publication in 1969.

Born Marguerite Ann Johnson, April 4, 1928, she would change her name to Maya Angelou in the 1950s while performing calypso at The Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco.  Dance and song were mere branches of a creative and artistic life that was evidence of a broad talent, emerging not only as poetry and prose in her lifetime, but also in opera, film, and civil rights activism (just to name a few).  Recounting the winding narrative of her life, she would publish a series of autobiographical works, beginning with “Caged Bird,” that documented the twists and turns that blazed as a crucible of neglect and sexual abuse, leading her to the depths of crime and poverty.  No surprise in retrospect, but in 1969 it no doubt raised eyebrows that this work resonated with so many and testified with such authority.

The University of Houston Special Collections holds a first edition of what might be considered a sequel to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  “Gather Together in My Name,” picks up where “Caged Bird” leaves off as “the poet, still in her teens, gives birth to a son, tries to keep a job, falls in love, dances, falls out of love, chases after her kidnapped baby, and goes to work in a house of prostitution thinking she is helping the man she loves.”  Or, as Gary Younge writes, “To know her life story is to simultaneously wonder what on earth you have been doing with your own life and feel glad that you didn’t have to go through half the things she has.”

As we remember Maya Angelou, we invite you to the Special Collections Reading Room to study this work or any of Angelou’s other works in our holdings.  We wish her a lasting peace, assured that what she placed on paper and singed into our psyche will make certain her lasting legacy.

Happy Dedication Day: The A.D. Bruce Religion Center

In the News, University Archives
promotional material for the proposed Religion Center, from the UH Business Manager (McElhinney) Records

promotional material for the proposed Religion Center, from the UH Business Manager (McElhinney) Records

On a Sunday afternoon, forty-nine years ago today, the A.D. Bruce Religion Center (then the “University Religion Center”) was officially dedicated on the University of Houston campus.

Built out of University President A.D. Bruce’s desire to provide facilities for the growing and diverse religious communities on campus, the A.D. Bruce Religion Center offers a focal point for religion’s role in higher education, hosting programs and activities while placing an emphasis on dialogue between the faiths.  The A.D. Bruce Religion Center is the permanent home to numerous campus ministries.  Focal points include a stunning University Chapel (which serves as a popular site for weddings and other occasions befitting the grandeur afforded by the abundant use of glass in the design, creating a vision of towering walls open to the University campus), along with a smaller Meditation Chapel, and facilities and services find themselves in demand year-round from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the community at large.

General Andrew Davis (A.D.) Bruce, from the UH Photographs Collection (1954)

General Andrew Davis (A.D.) Bruce, from the UH Photographs Collection (1954)

A.D. Bruce, LTG (Ret.) arrived on campus in 1954, after a lengthy and successful career in military administration that included serving as First Governor of Hokkaido, Japan as his 77th Infantry Division occupied the island.  He was named to succeed retiring University President, C.F. McElhinney.  The story of a religion center on campus has a common thread shared with much of the University’s history–the unprecedented growth of the student body in the post-war years of the 1940s and 1950s, represented most visibly in the rapid and necessary establishment of housing that became known as the Veteran’s Village.  With barrack-like quarters housing a population of veterans and their families on campus in the years following World War II, while that same population began establishing a growing and disparate number of student religious groups (unified in 1947 as the “Religious Groups Council”), a retired general like Bruce was struck by one glaring omission as he strolled across campus.  How is it, he asked, that soldiers on an army base have access to a base chapel, but students living at the University of Houston do not?

first page of a speech delivered by Bruce to the First Methodist Church, from the UH Business Manager (McElhinney) Records (1955)

first page of a speech delivered by Bruce to the First Methodist Church, from the UH Business Manager (McElhinney) Records (1955)

Thus, in 1956, as different groups began looking at the possibilities of housing their offices and activities off-campus, Bruce began meeting with the various stakeholders and attempted to create a coalition to support the establishment of an on-campus chapel complex to house the organizations.  As Russell Vardell writes in his history of the Center, A Physical Symbol of the Religious Presence on the University of Houston-University Park Campus, 1965-1985, religious objections to a shared space of worship were overcome by a particularly military-like solution:  “The General advanced the model of the Armed Forces Base Chapel. Various faiths shared the same worship space in military quarters because such a chapel was considered ‘neutral’ when not in use by a specific group.”

The rest, as they say, is history.  There were plenty of speed bumps and even a few roadblocks along the way (issues of church-state separation became particularly thorny as the University sought to become a public institution), but a consensus was built among the Religious Groups Council, the Board of Regents tapped architect Frank Dill to begin work on the proposed building, funds were raised from various sources (including substantial contributions from the religious groups themselves), ground was broken, and construction culminated with the dedication of the University Religion Center on May 23, 1965.  In attendance that Sunday afternoon were clergy, dignitaries, members of the community, and one former University President and Chancellor of note.

Interior, A.D. Bruce Religion Center, from the UH Photographs Collection

Interior, A.D. Bruce Religion Center, from the UH Photographs Collection

Retired from the University of Houston in 1961, A.D. Bruce would travel from his home in North Carolina to see a dream of his, born almost a decade prior, finally come to fruition.

General Bruce would pass away in 1969 and is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.  That year the Board of Regents voted to change the name of the University Religion Center, in honor of A.D. Bruce and his vision of the role religion could play in higher education.

Those interested in further details should be sure to read Vardell’s history of the A.D. Bruce Religion Center.  Ready to dig deeper?  Come see what new light the University Archives might shed on the subject!

(Anti) Suffragist Sheet Music

In the News, Rare Books
cover of "When Women Vote and Pop the Question," available for study in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room

cover of “When Women Vote and Pop the Question,” available for study in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room

A new exhibition opened over the weekend in the Texas State Capitol.  Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas, documents the struggle for women’s suffrage and the unique history of the movement in the state of Texas during the nearly three decades of struggle that immediately preceded the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

The exhibit, presented by Humanities Texas, runs through Saturday, May 24th and documents not only the development of the movement to extend equality across the genders, but also those who battled against this progress.  The anti-suffragist movement came to manifest itself in a number of ways.  Some were deceptively raw (these examples of anti-suffragist postcards and visual art are likely to have you alternating between sporadic wincing and baffled laughter) while others, in retrospect, seem downright bizarrely sublime.

Suffragist sheet music has been fairly well-documented.  However, a closer study with a wider sampling of the sheet music produced during that time may may serve to expand our understanding of the role of art and, specifically, music in the midst of political strife.  Those fighting for the right to vote for women penned iconic anthems like “Give Us the Ballot” and “Under Fire:  March and Two Step” (often sold as a fundraising tool for “Political Equality Clubs”).  Anti-suffragist groups sought to co-opt the popularity of this new genre by introducing some parlor music of their own.

I present to you, the musical genre of anti-suffragist sheet music!

The Anti-Suffrage Rose, "Inscribed on the cover in a beautiful hand by Hanna. Dedicated to the Women's Anti-Suffrage Association."

The Anti-Suffrage Rose, “Inscribed on the cover in a beautiful hand by Hanna. Dedicated to the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association.”

The anti-suffragists sought to fight music with “music,” crafting songs that championed the bravery and struggle of anti-suffragist groups.  One of the most famous of these, Phil Hanna’s “The Anti-Suffrage Rose” (the anti-suffragists, it seems, embraced the red or pink rose as the flower of choice to represent their cause, while suffragettes avoided roses and instead embraced jonquils or sunflowers as their emblematic blooms) was dedicated to the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Associations and the lyrics attempted to buoy the spirits of these women in their fight, reading, “Lovely Anti-Suffrage Rose. / You’re the flow’r that’s best of all! / You’re better far, than jonquils are, / We are going to prove it in the Fall.”

Others took up the suffragist anthems and penned songs of more subtle parody and condescension.  An example of this includes D.R. Miller’s lyrics for “I’m Going To Be A Suffragette” where a perplexed husband laments and ridicules his wife’s new political interest while she clamors on in the refrain, “I’m goin’ to be a suffragette, Billy / Hear me shout Hurray, Hurray.  / Now don’t you think that I am silly / or will waste my time away. / The sex that always joggled the cradle / have got some rights you bet. / I say Hip Hip Hip Hip Hip Hurray / I’m goin’ to be a suffragette.”

cover of "I'm Going To Be A Suffragette," available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections

“I’m Going To Be A Suffragette,” lyrics by D.R. Miller

While the University of Houston’s Music Library is definitely the destination to visit on campus if you are serious about your research of musical scores, it is not uncommon for Special Collections to be approached by researchers desiring access to our surprisingly rich reservoir of historically significant sheet music, including the anti-suffragist songs described above.  You will not want to miss J.M. Towne’s “When Women Vote and Pop the Question” which has us all wondering in song if we are ready for a bleak and horrible future where, “Men will play second fiddle, / Stay at home and grease the griddle, / While the women buy the shirts.”  If you are interested in glancing an alternative political atmosphere where the public debates are not framed by the much-maligned “political correctness” of our current day, we invite you to visit us and take a closer look at these confounding relics from our not-so-distant past.  Suddenly thinking before speaking, or writing songs, may not seem like such a burden to carry.

Preservation Week

In the News
Celebrate Preservation Week, presented by the American Library Association

Celebrate Preservation Week, presented by the American Library Association

As libraries and archives across the country recognize Preservation Week, our Program Manager Matt Richardson provides us with the following, highlighting the American Library Association’s planned activities and advice on practicing preservation on those personal collections at home.

“Pass it on!”  The American Library Association’s annual Preservation Week is happening now, April 27 through May 3, 2014.  ALA organized the first Preservation Week in 2010 to highlight the importance of preserving materials representing our cultural heritage that are held in collections across the country.

But Preservation Week is about more than just the nifty things held in libraries’ hopefully-climate controlled stacks (don’t worry—ours are!).  It’s also an occasion for professionals to reach out to the public and share what they know about caring for important objects.  After all, who doesn’t have an old scrapbook, photo album, or other family keepsake stashed somewhere prompting the occasional “Oh yeah, I need to do something about that”?

To help, ALA’s Association for Library Collections and Technical Services and its partners are promoting a number of events and resources, including two free webinars this week.

When it comes to preservation, a stable environment and proper housing go a long way.  And even if you don’t have a perfect storage environment, there are certainly steps you can take to care for your materials.  To learn more, check out Low Cost Ways to Preserve Family Archives, offered Tuesday, April 29, at 1pm CST.  Focusing on items like family papers, photographs, postcards, and cookbooks, this session will help registrants “learn about possible risks from handling and the environment, and practical, inexpensive ideas to keep collections safe to help ensure what you have can be shared for many years to come.”

Scrapbooks make up a treasured part of many family (and library!) collections.  However, because of the diversity of materials involved, these gems can be especially challenging to care for.  A session entitled Preserving Scrapbooks, offered Thursday, May 1, at 1pm CST, promises to help viewers “learn about common problems with long-term preservation of scrapbooks and identify the most stable materials and bindings for new scrapbooks.”

If you’d like to find out more about how to protect your collections, presentations from years gone by (and being able to access stuff from the past—isn’t that the whole point here?) are available on the ALCTS webpage.  In addition, the Library of Congress’ Preservation Week page offers a plethora of information including descriptions of conservation treatments and webcasts from last year’s events.

And, of course, to learn more about those nifty things we’re in the business of preserving, safeguarding, organizing, and describing, pay us a visit!

«« Newer Posts     Previous Posts »»