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Oral History & Women’s Activism in the South

In spring 2015 and 2017, and fall 2017, SOHP’s director and history professor Dr. Rachel Seidman taught a course called “Oral History and Women’s Activism in the U.S. South,” an honors seminar designed to provide students with an overview of women’s activism in U.S. History. The class particularly focuses on the women’s movement in North Carolina and the South from the 1960s to the present.

Students dedicate thirty hours of service to the Southern Oral History Program for UNC-required experiential education credit. The honors undergraduate students learn the ins and outs of the collection in order to build their final projects.

Students tackle a variety of topics from women-only spaces, Triangle area women-owned small businesses, women’s activism in Appalachia, Ms. Magazine, surviving sexual assault and sexual education, women artists, lesbian publishing, and more. Often they approach the assignment with an ear to being entertaining and well as scholarly, and always engaging. Below we offer a selection from all three semesters with exhibition notes.


Kelly Brown, Spring 2015, Impact of Ms. Magazine

Photo credit: Ms. Magazine

 

A history of the origins and impact of Ms. Magazine. Its preview in the New York Times and first cover featuring an iconic photo of Gerri Sontoro who was found dead after a failed self-induced abortion. Its vast readership and generation-spanning covering issues of popular feminism.

 

 


Helen Brookfield, Taki Koutsomitis, Austin Mueller
Spring 2015, Feminist Business Models

Listen to this exploration of three regional woman-owned businesses that served or continue to serve as feminist spaces for like-minded people. The story includes Durham’s The Women’s Book Exchange (1983-1993) which was attacked for having books on lesbianism, Ladyslipper (established 1976 as a print catalog, now online) that produces and distributes books and records by women, and Womancraft Gifts, a women-only artists’ coop (including a few men) that started in the 1970s and is now located in Carrboro.

 

 

Photo credit: Joanne Abel Papers, LGBTQ Collection, North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library

 


Lauren Roberts and Nelson Moore, Spring 2015, Art and Social Change

“Making things to make change.” is the theme of Roberts’s and Moore’s podcast in which they feature interviews with artists who do not separate activism from their work. Bryant Holsenbeck, an environmental artist from Durham, sculpts with what’s cast away, with garbage, and live an entire year without using disposable plastics. Margaret Gregg silk screens and quilts in the mountains, and sees herself and an unintentional activist; and Wanda Sobieski, a women’s rights activist, on the way art and affect draws one into conversations about activism.

 

 


Hannah Dent and Suad Jabr, Spring 2017, We’re Here, We’re Queer

Dent and Jabr used their podcast as an opportunity to discuss Durham’s Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist, poet, essayist, and the first ordained African-American female Episcopal priest (1977) in the United States. She was masculine of center and had relationships with women, but was married to a man for a short time. She also rejected definition in sexual terms, choosing instead those of gender and race. The students draw from a number of perspectives, keeping in mind that secondary sources can only tell one so much about who Murray was. It requires listening to her own voice, reading her work, and conversing with family friends. In the latter category, Dent and Jabr include a clip from an interview with Mayme Webb-Bledsoe.

 

 


Aliza Bridge, Kennedy Bridges, Catherine Valentine, Spring 2017, Sex Ed

Conversations around sexual education, in institutional settings, is the topic of Bridge’s, Bridges’, and Valentine’s podcast. In this piece they offer a brief history of sex education policy and reproductive health in North Carolina and the United States generally. The right to maintain personal and bodily autonomy motivates interviewee Loretta Ross, activist and co-founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, to discuss being sterilized without her consent. Victor J. Schoenbach of UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health talks about being a teaching assistant for the only sex education class (Health 33) at the university in the 1970s. Interspersed with audio elements drawn from the broader culture including a TED talk with Dr. V. Chandra-Mouli and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the students also bring in the voices of Rachel Valentine, director of community education at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center and Nicole Kahn, postdoc in maternal and public health at UNC.

 

 

Photo credit: Our Bodies, Ourselves

 


Kaitlin Galindo and Kim O’Connor
Spring 2017, Let’s Get Awkward – A Chat about Our Bodies

Galindo and O’Connor have curated a number of interview clips regarding a history of women’s body, sexual and reproductive health education materials for girls and young women. Interspersed, they include their own personal experiences, as well as their interviewees’. Dazon Dixon Diallo, political activist, discusses supportive network of family members who ran family-planning centers and disseminated materials in college classrooms. Alice Ballance speaks to learning about menses and her body from friends when they were youths. Sara Briggs and Elaine Barney comment on the seminal women’s health book Our Bodies, Ourselves (1971), gaps in information about the topic in nursing school, and more. Today, UNC students may remember when American Girl (the doll company) produced The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls. Galindo and O’Connor interview fellow students on what they did and did not learn about their bodies and sex exploration, and intersectionality.

 

 


Allyson Barkley and Lydia Trogdon, Spring 2017, Unraveling the Jargon: Pro-Life Parlance

Barkley and Trogdon examine the rhetoric of the pro-life movement, the language by which pro-life women understand and interpret feminism within this context. The students, in their attempt to comprehend the viewpoint of conservative women through their own words, also explore how rhetoric, religious and secular, used by pro-life advocates differs from medical terminology regarding reproductive health and abortion. Interviewees include Mary Frances Forrester (and active member of her local chapter of Concerned Women for America), Susan and Emily Lataif (founder of University of Dallas’s Anscombe Society), Jennifer Snellings (Director of Communications for Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center), and Karen Swallow Prior (Professor of English at Liberty University). Barkley and Trogdon created a website with more contextual information on all speakers.

 

 


Clara Femia, Cameron Wall
Spring 2015Spaces and Places: Where Oh Where Could the Women’s Movement Be?

Femia (host), Wall, et al. use as a jumping off point the Anne Enke book, Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism (2007) to discuss gender- and race-segregated spaces and places that lesbians make their own. They open their presentation with testimony about the sanctuary and safe space that was Maud’s bar in San Francisco. Other places they explore are bookstores and coffee houses, the Gay Games, and NCSU’s Women Center including an interview with a director, Ashley Simons-Rudolph, speaking about the center’s numerous resources. Host and interviewees also discuss Monday meetings and segregation by race, intersectionality and lesbians of color, police brutality, and the safety of the Internet despite very supportive feminist publications and public forums found there.

 

 

Photo credit: The Daily Tar Heel, 1979

 


Brenda Rios and Zakyree Wallace, Spring 2015, Sexual Assault

Rios and Zakyree discuss in their piece successful and well-intentioned, but failed, student activism efforts to combat sexual assault on college campuses. Recordings include clips featuring Melinda Manning, Assistant Dean of Students at UNC, one of the five complainants against the university for the mishandling of such cases, an interview with a Project Dinah representative, a 2015 Spring Speak Out! event at UNC, and interview with a 1960s UNC campus activist, Sharon Rose Powell, and other students.

Topics tackle interpersonal violence prevention, in loco parentis rules at UNC and other universities put in place to protect women unwanted attention through closed study hours at night, the late 1970s Association of Women Students’ “Lady Beware” anti-rape public awareness campaign at UNC, bringing sexual assault cases before the honor court, and other such efforts. Finally, Rios and Wallace bring in Title IX and the complaint that Annie Clarke and Andrea Pino filed against UNC (audio clips from The Hunting Ground and a panel discussion on campus).