From its beginnings soon after the founding of Duke University in 1924, the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library has been a repository for materials related to women. However, as in most libraries, these materials were collected inadvertently along with the papers of fathers, husbands, or other male relatives. In 1988, with support from writer and feminist Sallie Bingham, a women's archive was established to consolidate and build upon these holdings and to provide specialized reference, instruction, and outreach to researchers. Named the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture in 1999, it has become a broad-based women's history library and archives whose main collecting areas include Southern and British women, feminist theory and activism, women authors and publishers, church women, girl culture, women artists, women's sexuality and gender expression, domestic culture, women's education, and women's work outside of the home.
The richness of women's experiences are reflected in the diversity of Bingham Center holdings, ranging from the diaries of plantation mistresses to the letters of enslaved women, from Victorian etiquette books to the papers of cyberpunk novelist Kathy Acker, and from the documents of suffragists to the manifestos of 1970s radical feminists. The center now actively collects in areas such as nineteenth and twentieth century girls' literature, artists' books, and zines. The zines collection, one of the first and largest in the country, is made up of self-published works by women and girls that express the scope of interests and talents in this generation of women. This collection complements perfectly the letters, diaries, and literary and political writings that form the foundation of the Bingham Center's holdings.
In addition to building the Library's holdings of women's materials, Bingham Center staff are constantly working to make these materials more accessible to potential researchers by creating subject guides highlighting collection strengths, collaborating with faculty to devise class projects that integrate the use of primary source materials, offering a research grant program, publishing a newsletter, and developing digital access projects. The Bingham Center mounts thematic exhibits and also regularly offers such innovative programming as dramatic readings, film festivals, artist demonstrations, and academic symposia that bring together donors, students, scholars, and the general public.
The symposia in particular, with themes ranging from abortion to artistic expression, spark discussion about issues central to scholarship and demonstrate the importance of the work of the Bingham Center, and of libraries and archives in general. This work promotes public conversation about these issues, addresses the relationship between academic institutions and social and cultural movements, and facilitates new collaborations amongst the Center's diverse and expanding constituencies. The Center's first director said that "developing an understanding of human experience requires access to historical documentation. And in order for women's roles and contributions to be fully recognized as a part of the human experience, our voices and writings must form a significant part of the historical record." The Sallie Bingham Center is dedicated to the work of giving voices and writings their rightful place so that the legacies of these women can be shared with future generations.
Collection Profile: Laura Micham
Overview: J. Andrew Armacost
Illustrations: Les Todd