Lesbian Herstory Archives AudioVisual Collections

Browse Exhibits (14 total)

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    “Becoming Visible: Survival for Black Lesbians”

    Becoming Visible

    “Becoming Visible: The First Black Lesbian Conference” grew out our of from the First National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays which was held in 1979, in Washington, DC. Although there had been previous conferences supporting both lesbians and gays, the First Black Lesbian Conference was the first in the United States with the mission to support the unique and African-Americans lesbians.  

    This exhibition highlights materials that were created in the planning phase of this conference by members of The Committee for The Visibility of the Other Black Women, who organized from coast to coast.

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    Audre Lorde

    Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992) was a Caribbean-American poet, activist, and theorist who was highly influential in matters of both civil rights and feminism. 

    These cassettes were donated to the Archives by different individuals and were recorded at public events including the 1979 march on Washington for gay and lesbian civil rights, a 1982 poetry reading, women's writing conferences in the late '70s and early '80s, and more.

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    Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold

    Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold

    Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold is an intimate history of a lesbian community in Buffalo, New York. Ranging from the mid-1930s through the early 1960s, this ethnography of lesbian society is narrated with the backdrop of an average American city. The accounts within capture the complexity of lesbian culture, during a time period before the gay and lesbian liberation movements. The book focuses on the growth of consciousness and identity within the bar and house party community, and then the emergence of social and behavioral norms and rules. These communities formed from common bonds, as most women tried to keep a clear separation between life in the gay community and straight society. The book details the personal struggles and triumphs of the lesbian community during an intensely oppressive time, yet there are strong themes that are relatable to anyone. The women’s stories express human experiences that we each encounter as members of a particular society; social identity, economic survival, love, sex, family, work, recreation, and participation in society as a whole. Small communities like the ones portrayed in Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold were the building blocks of love and support for larger, more public communities that continue to fight for equality and human rights today. 

    Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold is the result of 13 years of research, including an extensive oral history project. HerStories is a digital repository containing the recorded interviews that contributed to Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline Davis’s book. These recordings of women featured in the book are rich with wisdom, insight, and emotion. They offer dynamic first-person perspectives of the place and time captured in Boots of Leather. Interviews discuss a wide range of topics including butch/femme roles, gendered sexuality, relationships, family dynamics, the bar scene, religion, realization of homosexuality, coming out, lesbian mothers, oppression, police brutality, race, gay rights movements, women in the military, youth, and identity. 

    Madeline Davis and Elizabeth Kennedy donated these interviews to the Archives.

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    Conversations in Radio, Art, and Music: Lesbian Dialogues

    The dialogues of lesbian lives and ideologies are closely intertwined with feminist action and perspective. In this exhibition, we’ll outline some of the currents that have aligned these two conversations. We will also highlight pieces from our digital collection where these dialogues manifest in radio, art, and music, and we’ll explore the spaces where those took place.

    Navigate to “Women’s Spaces” to learn about the evolution of feminist broadcasting, or visit “Feminist Movements” to understand the different conversations that arose from consciousness raising, Black lesbian feminism, and lesbian separatist movements. You can also visit the “Related Materials” page to find referenced materials, related works from our collection, as well as a list of our sources.

    The graphic below visually represents the expansive network of feminist radio programming uncovered in the research for this exhibition. Through exploring these connections, we seek to understand how and why they formed, and we also delve into the conversations that were simultaneously ignited in other forms of media and expression.

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    Daughters of Bilitis Video Project

    Daughters of Bilitis

    This collection is composed of videos digitized from the Daughters of Bilitis Video Project collection at the Lesbian Herstory Archives. The Daughters of Bilitis was a social and activist group founded in 1955. The Video Project began in 1987 and was sponsored by the Lesbian Herstory Educational Foundation Inc. The project was originally based on a suggestion by Morgan Gwenwald, who wrote several grants to help fund the project and contributed all of the still photographs included in the collection. An additional two founding members of the DOB contributed to the project: Sara Yager, who videotaped all the interviews, and Manuela Soares, who researched and conducted all of the interviews.

    The purpose of the project was to gather interviews with the founders and former members of the Daughters of Bilitis in order to document their critical role in the gay/lesbian liberation movement, as well as the Civil Rights movement. The interviews gathered here focus on the formation and impact of the many DOB chapters that were formed around the country.  Interviewees discuss their childhoods, sexual awakenings, personal relationships, first encounters with Daughters of Bilitis and their perspectives on the purpose and impact of the organization. Gwenwald, Soares and Yager traveled around the country to interview and document the many DOB chapters and their members.

    Some of the issues discussed are: whether Daughters of Bilitis was primarily a social or activist group, DOB’s treatment of assimilation, and the "theft" of The Ladder – the DOB’s publication. For more information on The Ladder, see: The Journal of Homosexuality“The Purloined Ladder,” Volume 34, Numbers 3/4, 1998. 

    For more on the DOB, see: Gallo, M. (2007). Different daughters: A history of the Daughters of Bilitis and the rise of the lesbian civil rights movement. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

    Students at the Pratt Institute’s Library and Information Science Program have digitized the videos gathered here from VHS tapes. This is a comprehensive collection of the interviews gathered for the Daughters of Bilitis Video Project. The original materials are held in off-site storage by the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

    From: Morgan Gwenwald, Manuela Soares and Sara Yager.

    Transcriptions of many of the videotaped interviews are available, thanks to Ruth Helmich, Kelly Anderson, Trista Sordillo, Manuela Soares, and others.


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    Dyke TV

    Dyke TV

    Dyke TV was a groundbreaking public access program founded in 1993 by Mary Patierno, Ana Marie Simo and Linda Chapman. An offshoot of the Lesbian Avengers, the mission of Dyke TV was to incite, provoke and organize communities to create tangible change.  The program sought to increase lesbian visibility and to systemically change people's views of lesbians, gay rights and women's rights.  Dyke TV comprehensively documented a critical time period in gay and lesbian history and shared stories that were important to lesbian communities when no other programs were.


    The program first aired in June 1993 on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network public access television channel.  The show started off as a weekly 30 minute program produced by a core of Dyke TV producers with help from members of the community. The show followed a magazine format. Each program consisted of various segments such as I Was a Lesbian Child, The Arts, From the Archives, News and Eyewitness. Some areas of interest included lesbian history, daily life, activism, and international LGBTQ issues.  Ideas for stories were discussed during production meetings and the producers welcomed ideas from everyone involved.  According to one of the program’s co-founders and executive producer, Mary Patierno, “if anybody wanted to do a story we let them do it.  We were there to let people voice whatever they wanted to, whatever issues or topics that were of interest to them.”  The producers aimed to create a very well rounded program that could highlight lesbian life from as many angles as possible. Another part of Dyke TV’s mission was to train women in video production. The producers conducted regular workshops so that women could learn how to tell stories they wanted to tell in their own voices. This community oriented attitude allowed for widespread contributions about lesbian issues across the United States and abroad. At its peak, Dyke TV was distributed on 78 public access channels throughout the United States.  Dyke TV documented many political actions happening in the early 1990s within the LGBTQ community, including actions by ACT UP and the Lesbian Avengers.

    The Dyke TV collection at the Lesbian Herstory Archives consists largely of unedited footage that documents marches and demonstrations in New York City. Other tapes include incomplete episodes and compilations of show segments.  Segments available to view in this exhibition include “The Arts,” “News,” “Eyewitness,” “I Was a Lesbian Child,” and “From the Archives.” This does not however represent the complete range of segments seen on Dyke TV; other favorites not seen here included Lesbian Health, On the Street, and Ann Northrop Mouths Off.


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    Lesbian Nation

    Lesbian Nation

    Lesbian Nation was a groundbreaking radio show produced and hosted by Martha Shelley (1943 - Present), that specifically focused and revolved around the LGBTQ community during the rise of gay and lesbian liberation movements in the 1970s. After college, Shelley joined the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) (1955-1995), a lesbian civil and political rights orgaanization, eventually becoming president of the NY chapter. Shelley was one of the early members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) which was established immediately after the Stonewall Riots and which advocated for for LGBT and minority rights. Additionally, Shelley wrote for several publications and was an avid advocate for civil rights and the pro-choice movement.

    In Lesbian Nation, dozens of prominent women in the LGBT community are interviewed. Shelley featured interviewees from all walks of life who discussed important topics including: activism, feminism, politics, community, art, media, sports, and so on. These interviewees povided context and perspective to the aforementioned issues and engaged in critical discussion with Shelley about current affairs at the time.

    Provided here is biographic information on a small collection of interviewees. For some interviewees, there is only a limited amount of information available at this time. You can learn more about the them under "Lesbian Nation Interviewees". We hope to expand this section as more information becomes available. Under "Audio Recordings", you can listen to the episodes in which the interviewees appear.

    About the exhibition cover image: Lesbians dancing at the steps of the Museum of Natural History in New York is from 1973, and features Martha Shelley with a tape recorder on the far right. Photo by Bettye Lane.

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    Mabel Hampton Oral History

    Mabel Hampton

    Mabel Hampton (1902-1989) was an African-American lesbian, an activist, a domestic worker, and a dancer. Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, she lost her mother when she was only two years old. For the next five years, her maternal grandmother raised Mabel, but she too passed away. In 1909, she moved to Greenwich Village in New York City at age seven. Less than a year after moving in with her aunt, her uncle, a minister, raped Mabel. She ran away to New Jersey, buying a bus ticket purchased with a nickel given to her by a woman on the street. Luckily, a family that cared for her for the next several years took in Mabel.

    As a young woman, Mabel gravitated toward the lively scene in Harlem. In 1920, when she was seventeen, Mabel was wrongfully arrested during a prostitution sting and sentenced to time in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. Upon her release, she danced at clubs like "The Garden of Joy", sang as a member of the Lafayette Theater Chorus, and performed with Harlem Renaissance stars such as Gladys Bentley. Mabel engaged in several relationships with women and lived openly as a lesbian.

    In 1932, Mabel met Lillian Foster, who would be her partner until Lillian's death in 1978. With the Harlem Renaissance waning, Mabel sought out employment in other areas, primarily working as a domestic worker and hospital attendant. As a domestic, she worked for the family of Joan Nestle. Mabel and Joan developed a friendship that lasted for decades. When Joan started the Lesbian Herstory Archives in 1974, Mabel joined her as a founding member. Mabel donated her huge collection of lesbian pulp fiction novels and worked tirelessly with Joan and other volunteers to amass lesbian-related materials--literature, biographical information, academic publications, and ephemera--as a resource for the lesbian and gay community.

    Mabel was also a vital, enduring element in the gay rights movement-she participated in every gay pride march that occurred during her lifespan, including the first, historic march and demonstration for gay rights in Washington, D.C., which took place in 1979. In 1985, Mabel was named the grand marshal of the New York City Gay Pride March. That same year, Mabel was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays.

    After the Lesbian Herstory Archives were founded, Mabel carried the LHA banner in many marches. She also worked tirelessly for SAGE, an organization devoted to promoting advocacy and developing services for elderly members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. Interviews with Mabel are featured in "Before Stonewall" and "Silent Pioneers"; both movies document the struggle for gay rights and the efforts made to obtain equality.

    Joan Nestle started recording Mabel's oral histories in the late seventies, realizing the importance of documenting Mabel's life story as an example of racial and sexual freedom. In these histories--many of which are featured on this website--Mabel discusses her relationships with women, her struggles with racism, and her identity as an African-American lesbian in the twentieth century. Mabel died of pneumonia in 1989 at the age of eighty-seven. Her life as an advocate, activist, performer, and storyteller lives on in the images and oral histories collected by the Lesbian Herstory Archives. Many of the resources below, as well as additional subject files, biographical information, images, and media about Mabel, lesbian history, and gay pride are available by visiting the LHA in person.

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    No More Invisible Women Exhibition

    The Women’s Committee of ACT UP NY worked to prevent exclusion of women and minorities from clinical and experimental drug trials. From 1988-1989, the Women’s Committee conducted extensive research to support the cause. The committee dove deep into medical reviews, conducted interviews with women infected with AIDS, doctors who had treated women with AIDS and created a list of the infections specific to women. Their research was organized into three categories and became the basis of future actions. Their work focused on:

    • Changing the definition of AIDS to include the symptoms specific to women and injection drug users
    • Changing the disability regulations so that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) definition would finally allow infected women and injection drug users to be awarded disability
    • Changing the Federal Drug Association’s (FDA) regulations so that women would be admitted to clinical trials

    No More Invisible Women, is an exhibition that showcases the incredible work of the Women’s Committee of ACT UP New York. The featured audio and visual recordings are focused on four actions: the Target City Hall action, and actions which met with three governmental institutions: the CDC, the FDA, and the National Institute of Health (NIH). These excerpts of original video footage and audio recordings bring to light the outstanding achievements of the Women’s Committee and celebrates the efforts and activism that helped accomplish a long overdue justice for women with AIDS.

    Women Get AIDS Too

    Source: NYPL

    The activists who fought for recognition of women's health issues with regards to AIDS were people of color, women, and PWAs (people with AIDS) working together to get our federal health institutes to prioritize women's health. And it was a difficult, lengthy, and painstaking process, but, in the end, they won.

    Maxine's Final Word

    Source: Maxine Wolfe's "A BRIEF (and not complete) History of Women Focused Actions by ACT UP"


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    Reflections on Lesbian Fashion: Expression Through Style

    The focus of this exhibition is to highlight the history and significance of lesbian style and identity. Particular clothing items, accessories, colors, and so on have long been used as signals amongst LGBTQ+ people to let each other know they are "in the family" without outting themselves to those who were not in the know. Further, lesbian style is inherently subversive and frequently political, in ways that have evolved throughout time alongside the evolution of mainstream fashion trends and norms.

    Mabel Hampton Oral History Project Thus, expression through style is an integral part of the lesbian experience, and this exhibit gathers together a range of materials pertaining to lesbian expression through clothing and style. This exhibit features materials from several collections within the archive: the History of New York Lesbian Style oral history project by Alaina Zulli, select tapes from the Buffalo Women's Oral History Project and the Mabel Hampton Oral History Project, a tape from the Daughters of Bilitis collection, and the one woman show "Que Será Será: A Life’s Journey of Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression" by Zelda aka Judith Z. Miller. What all of these materials hold in common is their subjects' reflections on the role that clothing and style have played in their expression of their lesbian identity.


    “Secret Symbols and Signals.” LGBT+ Cultural Heritage, https://www.lgbtculturalheritage.com/secret-symbols.

    “‘What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear’ at The Museum Of Modern Art.” DYKE A Quarterly, 9 Dec. 2017, https://www.dykeaquarterly.com/topic-lesbian-history-1970s-and-1980s/.

  • Ruthie + Connie

    Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz, who have come to be known collectively as "Ruthie and Connie," were friends and community activists who became lovers and lesbian activists. Meeting for the first time in 1957 a married woman with young families in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, they didn't know that their personal lives would become very political during the next 50 years.


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    Straight Talk About Lesbians

    Straight Talk About Lesbians

    An educational film strip about lesbian women in which several speak frankly about who they are, as well as their culture and history. Features women discussing their experiences, histories, and perspectives as lesbians, including coming out and living in a homophobic society. Also features discussions with children about their experiences having lesbian parents, as well as with the parents of lesbians. Notable is the discussion of lesbian music, with many songs played throughout. Running time is 1 hour and 2 minutes.

    Video restoration created by digitizing the two filmstrips and accompanying cassette tape and assembling through computer video editing program. Film digitization by Trale Tevis and Anthony Cocciolo. Audio digitization by
    Aditya Narasimhan Tirumalai Srinidhi. Video restoration by Trale Tevis. Digitization work completed at Pratt Institute School of Information. 

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    Voices of the Women's Press Collective

    Voices ofthe Women's Press Collective

    The Women’s Press Collective was established in 1969 in Oakland, CA out of the Gay Women’s Liberation Group, the first feminist-lesbian collective in the West. Two of the founding members were Judy Grahn and her partner and illustrator, Wendy Cadden. The press operated out of the basement of GWLG’s bookstore, A Woman’s Place, located at 5251 Broadway in downtown Oakland. The WPC was an all-women press devoted to printing works by women given the growing demand to share materials about lesbianism, feminism and the women's perspective. One of the first works printed by the collective was Grahn's Edward the Dyke and Other Poems

    Grahn is a poet, activist and scholar who has published 14 books of date and is widely recognized for her writing that engages queer, feminist themes. At the age 21, Grahn was discharged from the Air Force for being openly gay, a source of great shame and anger that contributed to her radicalization. She went on to write and publish her own poetry and became a founding member of the West Coast New Feminist Movement. 

    Through the Women's Press Collective, Grahn published and circulated her earliest books of poetry including Edward the Dyke and Other Poems (1971) and She Who (1972). Her later works include non-fiction, such as her autobiography entitled A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poetry

    Grahn's poetry is heavily influenced by feminist mythology and metaformic theory, which links modern culture to ancient menstruation rites. She is a leading theorist and scholar of feminist mythology, which she teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies. 

    Grahn has received a number of awards for her poetry including a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, two Lambda Literary Awards, an American Book Award, a Foremothers of Women’s Spirituality Award, and a Stonewall Award. Since 1997, Publishing Triangle has awarded The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Non-Fiction to an outstanding work of lesbian nonfiction annually, in honor of Grahn. 

    Judy Grahn has been the Grand Marshall of both the San Francisco and Seattle Pride Parades in the past and continues to dedicate her life to queer activism, cultural studies, and poetry. 

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    Women's Power Roles: A Re-Awakening of Roe V. Wade

    Women's Power Roles: A Re-Awakening of Roe. V. Wade

    In 2022, Roe vs. Wade, a landmark case in which the Court struck down several Texas laws that criminalized abortion, was overturned for the first time since its 1973 induction. As a facet of women's rights was returned to the crossfire, larger discussions about women's rights have beeen reanimated. These discussions often devolve into discussions surrounding women's power roles. This exhibition is an attempt to enrich, contextualize, and highlight the discussions surrounding women's power roles. Materials from several collections within the archive were selected for this exhibition with a special focus placed on the recently digitized materials within the Lisa Cowan audio recordings collection. Cowan, a producer, host, and author, among other things, had an active voice in these discussions. At the heart of lesbian discourse is feminist discourse and at the heart of feminist discourse is lesbian discourse.

    Sources: Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-18

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