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The Long Women’s Movement

“The Long Women’s Movement in the American South” gathers interviews with women who found courageous and creative ways to fight for gender equality and against sexual discrimination in the South, a region that until quite recently has been left out of the narrative of second-wave feminism. Oral history’s unique ability to capture the experiences of ordinary people and expand our understanding of extraordinary political and social transformations has been surprisingly under-used in the scholarship on the women’s movement.  The LWMS seeks to correct that imbalance, and add a significant body of research on the activities and opinions of women who lived through the remarkable transformations of the 1960s and 70s.

The LWMS builds on the commitment of the SOHP from its founding to document the lives and work of women in the South, and to pay particular attention to their leadership.  This new set of interviews, which grew out of our project on the Long Civil Rights Movement, documents a grassroots women’s movement that was connected to the Civil Rights Movement but also had roots in a long tradition of southern women’s activism.  This new movement took distinctive forms in cities, small towns, and rural areas and intersected with environmental, civil rights, and economic justice struggles.

Our expanding collection of interviews have taken place in several regions, with the largest cluster to date based in the Appalachian region of Tennessee and Kentucky.  These interviews, in addition to documenting the women’s movement itself, reveal themes including sexuality, education and work opportunities, community and family issues, violence and resistance, and how women’s lives have changed over the course of the twentieth century. Interviews in Florida focus on both sides of the abortion debate and issues of reproductive justice. Interviews in the Research Triangle of North Carolina showcase the emergence of a vibrant grassroots feminist community and the myriad organizations and networks created by the women who lived there.

In addition to fieldwork by graduate students and scholars, the collection contains interviews undertaken by undergraduate students as part of a related curricular initiative called The Moxie Project: Women and Leadership for Social Change. In this program, students study the history of women’s activism and leadership in the South, and then intern in local women’s organizations. During their internships they undertake oral history interviews with founders or members of those organizations.  In this way, we are not only documenting the history of the women’s movement, but training a new generation of women leaders who are knowledgeable about the past as well as committed to working for gender equity in the present.