Recovering Lost Voices

WIT the early years.jpg

What to do with 46 years of inherited HERstory? 

We were confronted with this question when our former Executive Director Roberta L. Hacker retired and left behind boxes and boxes (and boxes) of preserved WIT HERstory. 

Enter Vicki. 

Vicki is our archivist Wonder Woman who is cataloging, organizing, and helping us to preserve 46 years of our HERstory. By day, she works in Digital Services at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where she creates images and records of collections to be viewed online.

“I was looking online for volunteer opportunities and saw that WIT was right down the street from me,” Vicki said. “Then I saw that [WIT was] asking for someone with archives experience to help them with materials they had collected over the last 46 years… I hadn't thought that I would be doing an archival project as my volunteer work, but it is a perfect fit.”

What does she think about our HERstory?

“It’s a small collection, but it’s local, timely, and very unique,” Vicki said.

As an example, she pointed to WIT’s 1976 Survival Manual for women who needed “survival information” around separation, divorce, child support, custody, welfare and legal services.  One of the questions WIT answers is What do I do if my children were put down as illegitimate on their birth certificates?

“It captures a sliver of time,” she explained.

The first step involved surveying all the material on hand – Vicki created an enormous spreadsheet and cataloged every item (which is how she counted 5,800 pages of HERstory, excluding bound materials!). After the initial survey, she will group each item by category and chronological order. Once everything is organized, the collection will require proper housing and environment. For paper documentation, this means placing documents in acid-free folders and boxes that are kept in a dark, dry, clean and cool location. Other items - such as photographs, books, textiles, plaques, slides, CDs, etc. - all have their own special needs to ensure their stability.

Afterward, Vicki will create a Finding Aid for WIT’s collection. This is a quick guide that will give an institutional history of WIT, a list of every item and its location in the collection, and search terms for accessibility.

Upon completion, our Finding Aid will be available online at our website.  Interested individuals and researchers will be welcome to contact us and schedule appointments to view items from WIT’s collection.

Why is it important to preserve artifacts for nonprofits and social movements?

“If you look at any major archival institution, what you will find is an overwhelming amount of the historical record currently being preserved was created by the power majority. In the U. S., that means white, heterosexual males. People of color, women, and the LGBT community are largely missing from the archival record," Vicki explained. 

“History from only one point of view is not real history. If the only records we have from a time period are written by and about the elite class, then we are being misinformed. As archivists, we have a responsibility to preserve all aspects of society. Protests by immigrant laborers, students, and feminists create collections full of writings, protest signs, songs, photographs, and films that tell their own stories….

"Change can only come from knowledge of the past, and when whole groups within a society are erased from the historical record, it misleads future generations.  The more we know, the better decisions we can make.”