Last December, the Schlesinger Library’s archivist for audiovisual and photograph collections traveled to Manhattan to visit the former studio of the photographer Freda Leinwand, who passed away in June 2012. The Schlesinger first acquired works by Leinwand in 1980 and enjoyed an ongoing relationship with her over the subsequent decades. Leinwand’s siblings and her niece Kim Erle, recognizing Leinwand’s strong ties to the library, generously donated her photographs and papers to the Schlesinger. The archivist was part of a crew of people who packed up the thousands of prints, slides, negatives, and papers documenting a decades-long career.
Leinwand was one of the original inhabitants of Westbeth Artist Housing, one of the first industrial buildings repurposed to house artist studios in the country. Formerly the site of Bell Laboratories, the 13 renovated buildings that make up the complex opened as live-work space in 1970. Sadly, the studios suffered incredible damage during Hurricane Sandy. The sense of community that was surely felt when Leinwand first moved into Westbeth could still be felt as people rallied around their neighbors and the artwork that was damaged during the storm.
Among the treasures of the newly acquired Freda Leinwand Photograph Collection that document the women’s movement are images of the Woman’s Salon from 1976 to 1978. The New York salons, many of which were held at Westbeth, provided an opportunity for women writers to share their work with a supportive, all-female audience.
By photographing these events, Leinwand’s images have created a rare visual document and lasting legacy of their importance. Leinwand’s career and interest in photography began in the early 1960s, during the course of her work as a dialogue and a film editor for 20th Century Fox and MGM Telestudios, respectively. She pursued educational opportunities at Columbia University and the New School, studying photography with Ralph Hattersley, Joseph Breitenbac, and Marion Palfi. Her studies were worthwhile, as Leinwand’s images are not only useful as documentation and evocative of the women’s movement, but also simply stunning.
In addition to the nearly 36,000 photographic images, the collection contains diaries, notebooks, and the records of a documentary textbook project.
Visit VIA for a sampling of images from the Freda Leinwand Photograph Collection.
For more information on the literary salons, see the Women’s Literary Salons Archive.