Thursday, November 17, 2016
First Women's March down Fifth Avenue, August 26, 1970. Photo by Bettye Lane, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryFirst Women's March down Fifth Avenue, August 26, 1970. Photo by Bettye Lane, courtesy of Schlesinger Library

The Schlesinger Library recently received two years of Hidden Collections grants from the Harvard Library, which allowed us to select, catalog, and digitize a large portion of photographs that document the women’s liberation movement between the late 1960s and 1980s.

The project stemmed from the desire to make available the images of Bettye Lane and Freda Leinwand, both of whom spent years capturing the moments, both big and small, that made up one of the most transformative times in US history. Images discovered during this project are the subject of our current exhibition, Catching the Wave: Photographs of the Women’s Movement, which runs through March 17, 2017.

A working photojournalist, Bettye Lane (1930–2012) recorded women’s efforts, triumphs, and defeats for more than 30 years. Even if she was not assigned to cover an event, she often 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.

ERA demonstration, July 9, 1978. Photo by Bettye Lane, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryERA demonstration, July 9, 1978. Photo by Bettye Lane, courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Freda Leinwand (1932–2012) was a photographer known for her work documenting the women's movement, women working in nontraditional jobs, and children and adults with disabilities. 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.

Women holding posters at women's demonstration march, August 26, 1970. Photo by Freda Leinwand, courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryWomen holding posters at women's demonstration march, August 26, 1970. Photo by Freda Leinwand, courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Behind the marches, protests, and other demonstrations that Lane and Leinwand documented were the organizations and the women that planned them. Following year one of the project, the Library received a second Hidden Collections grant to expand the project to other photograph collections which document women’s liberation. This phase focused on the photographs from organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW); 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women; Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice; and others. These collections offer a different view of the movement, as most were taken by members of these organizations who had no formal training as photographers.

The Harvard Library’s Hidden Collection grants provided a way for the Library to produce an unparalleled visual documentation of the women’s liberation movement and make it available to users all over the world online. In total, approximately 6,000 photographs, slides, and negatives were added to our online catalogs. Women’s Strike for Equality, abortion demonstrations (both pro- and anti-), women’s rights marches, women in politics, economic equality, ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), gay and lesbian rights, women’s sexuality, peace demonstrations, and violence against women are some of the causes represented in these images. Photographs by Lane and Leinwand (approximately 4,000) were used to create a website which acts as a curated view into these wonderful images. On this site, users can easily browse and search for photographs or view curated online exhibitions. To learn about all the collections and photographers that were part of the Library’s two year grant, visit the Library’s LibGuide on the project.

We invite (and encourage!) everyone to explore online or visit in person to view the exhibition at the Library to learn more about these extraordinary images and the history behind them.

Author: 
Joanne Donovan and Lillianne Keaney