Bettye Lane, Photographer of the Women’s Movement

Photo by Bettye Lane. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard UniversityPhoto by Bettye Lane. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
By Joanne Donovan, Archivist for Audiovisual and Photographs

Beginning in 1969, Bettye Lane captured and preserved images of feminist activism and other social causes. When researchers at the Schlesinger Library look for images to document the women’s movement, they often choose her photographs, which have appeared in numerous books, magazines, and video productions.

A working photojournalist, Lane recorded women’s efforts, triumphs, and defeats for more than 30 years. Even if she was not assigned to cover an event, she showed up anyway, camera in hand, and captured everything from caucuses and conferences to marches, sit-ins, picket lines, and demonstrations against homophobia, other kinds of bigotry, and homelessness. Along the way, she recorded not only leaders but also ordinary people forging real social change.

Photo by Bettye Lane. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryPhoto by Bettye Lane. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Her long career began in 1959, in the photography lab at the Harvard University News Office, and included stints at the Associated Press, Der Spiegel, the National Observer, and Saturday Evening Post.

A longtime enthusiast of the Schlesinger Library, Lane began the process of donating a selection of her photographs in 1979 and added to it periodically until 2006. The resulting collection contains more than 1,700 images that document the women’s movement, women at work, and women in sports, among other topics. In addition, in 1984 Lane donated a collection of ephemeral material related to the first International Women’s Year Conference, held in Houston in 1977.

Photo by Bettye Lane. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryPhoto by Bettye Lane. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryLane’s iconic images have illustrated Schlesinger brochures and publications, and in 1997, the library held a solo exhibit of her work. Her death in September 2012, at the age of 82, marked the loss of a great friend and supporter of the library.

We take comfort from the fact that Lane’s legacy is preserved at the Schlesinger as well as the Library of Congress; the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, DC; the New York Public Library; and the Rubenstein Library at Duke University. And we remember Gloria Steinem’s eloquent statement “To future generations, hers will be the eyes of the movement.”

Search Year: 
2012