Some months back, it occurred to me that history is not only the story of what has come before, it is also the tale that will someday be told of our own lives. For that reason, the telling of our own stories, and record-keeping of our work is important, particularly for women because our lives have been systematically and deliberately written out of His-Story, forgotten and trivialized time and time again.
As the artist Judy Chicago points out in Frida Kahlo: Face To Face, women artists have repeatedly reinvented the wheel in art because they are not familiar with the work of women who have come before them. In reading Chicago’s book, I realized that indeed I had done exactly that in my own artistic attempts (and no doubt in my writing as well). Some of the visual work I have done utilizes mirrors and mirror images. And while I was vaguely familiar with Kahlo’s work when I was producing my own, I had no idea that she too had worked with mirrors and imagery that offered multiple views of the same person, something I undertook in several pieces. I have no doubt that that the work of other women artists would also have served as a precedent, had I been aware of it at the time. (Note: It is certainly not in any way my intent to put myself in Kahlo’s league, merely to say that I feel that we explored some of the same territory and undoubtedly there are countless other women who have done so as well, and as Chicago observes, most without knowing of the others.)
The realization that someday our lives will be the story of the past made the need to tell our own Her-Story feel like a crucial personal imperative and I began to consider not only the need to preserve my written and visual work but also the electronic content that I have created via the Feminist Peace Network—how indeed does one preserve a website for historical purposes?
Having lived for over twenty years in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I have had the great good fortune to benefit from the work of the Kentucky Foundation for Women, founded by Sallie Bingham to fund the work of feminist artists and writers in Kentucky and also to become friends with KFW’s director, Dr. Judi Jennings and it was to her I turned for advice because I wanted to find out about the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University which Bingham also founded, thinking perhaps they would be a resource for learning more about how to preserve one’s work. Judi put me in touch with Laura Micham, the Center’s Director.
I sent a note to Laura who promptly wrote back saying that they would be very interested in archiving my work, including my electronic efforts. That led to a long discussion on how to archive electronic work (something that is a relatively new field) as well as my going to Duke to see the Center and to meet Laura and her staff and finally, we worked out an agreement that will allow this to happen.
It is a privilege to be able to contribute this work to the Bingham Center and also a major undertaking, particularly since my inner sense of secretary is severely lacking. Some work which I unthinkingly tossed out in an effort to tame clutter is sadly lost forever, but I have heeded Laura’s plea that I quit feeding my trash can and start using file folders and bit by bit, the work is taking on a sense of organization. The electronic archiving is a work in progress as things constantly evolve, archiving tools for this purpose are only now being invented and to some extent still leave a lot to be desired, so that will be a continuing challenge.
As I have been going through work, I have found some gems—bits and pieces of the Feminist Peace Network’s story that are well worth revisiting. So in celebration of Women’s Her-Story Month I will be sharing some of these records throughout March in recognition of the fact that her-story is not only the telling of our past, but it is also the telling of our own lives for those who come after us. Next week I will also post an interview with the Bingham Center’s Laura Micham and tomorrow we will have a wonderful list of resources for learning more about the story of women.
In closing, Sallie Bingham explains in this video (via her website) her thoughts on archiving women’s lives and why she founded the Bingham Center.