Creating the Most Extensive Digital Collection of Underground Papers Ever

In my last blog post I told you that in my next blog post I would introduce what is to date the most extensive project ever to digitize underground, alternative, and literary publications from the fifties through the eighties. This is that post.

I also said I would describe the economic model that is making this project possible at about one-fifth the cost to libraries that other digital publishers would charge, and with open access, not perpetual profits, as a result—an absolutely unique concept in the digitizing field. I’ll do that in my next post. If you are a librarian at any institution of higher learning who wants to enhance your collections of digital resources without busting your budget, this model was created with you in mind. You might even own an archive in your collection that you would like to see digitized. If it can fit into this economic model, we need to talk.

And if you are a writer or antiwar activist from the period who wrote for or published one of these publications, especially one that is not already on board the project, we need to talk as well.

I’m a veteran of the Vietnam era underground press and now a historian. My four-volume Voices from the Underground Series is a collection of insider histories of underground papers from the period as written by key folks on each of the papers. Stories represent the gay, Black, Native American, Puerto Rican, military, psychedelic, rank-and-file worker, prisoners’ rights, campus, community, socialist, Southern consciousness, new age, and other antiwar voices of the period.

And also the feminist and lesbian voices. Carol Anne Douglas/Fran Moira’s and Marilyn Webb’s stories about off our backs, the first major national feminist paper to emerge on the east coast, appear in volume 1; the history of It Aint Me Babe, the San Francisco-based national feminist publication that actually preceded off our backs, is told by members of the collective in volume 3, along with Ginny Berson’s history of The Furies, the legendary paper put out by twelve self-proclaimed revolutionary lesbian feminists who were known collectively as the Furies.

For the past four years, I have been part of a team of researchers and digitizing specialists who are working on a project to digitize underground, alternative, and literary publications from the fifties through the eighties. My role has been to come up with names of papers that I want to include in the collection, figure out who I need to contact for permission to scan them, and then contact those folks and obtain permission.

Our goal is to digitize a million pages in four years. Our motivations are two-fold: to preserve the most important writings of our generation, which are now hidden in dark shelves of special collections libraries—where young scholars seldom roam—and are beginning to yellow and crumble with age; and to make them available to current and future generations of activists, who look first—and too often only—to digital resources for their research information. If the readers don’t come to you, you go to the readers.

My fellow veterans of the period understand. And so I have been getting tremendous response from individuals who I contact as they in turn contact other members of their respective papers to obtain consensus agreement and then get back to me with their okays.

To date, I have on board some 120 papers that represent the same voices whose histories I was successful in recording through the Voices from the Underground Series as well as others that I wasn’t successful in getting, including the Asian-American and Chicano voices. I have brought on board also some 200 military underground papers, 80 literary publications, and even 4 papers published by the FBI to sow dissension in the Movement.

But it all began with the feminist and lesbian papers, the genre that got this project under way. The following are the women’s papers that now are on board:

Aegis; Ain’t I a Woman (Iowa City); Amazon; Amazon Quarterly: A Lesbian Feminist Arts Journal;And Aint I a Woman (Seattle); Aphra; B.A.D. (Big Apple Dyke) News; BattleActs; Big Mama Rag; Black Belt Woman: The Magazine for Women in the Martial Arts and Self Defense; Black Maria; Black Woman’s Voice; Bread & Roses; Common Lives/Lesbian Lives; Conditions; Country Women; CWLU News: Newsletter of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (and three papers associated with CWLU: Womankind, Blazing Star, and Secret Storm); Dandelion; Dayton Women’s Liberation Newsletter, Distaff; Dyke, A Quarterly; Dykes & Gorgons; Everywoman; The Eye; Female Studies Series; Feminary; Feminist Alliance Against Rape; Feminist Bookstore News/Feminist Bookstore Newsletter; Feminist Voice; Feminist Women’s Health Center Newsletter; The Furies; Heresies: A Feminist Journal on Arts and Politics; Her-self; Houston Breakthrough: Where Women Are News; Hysteria; IKON; It Aint Me Babe; Killer Dyke; KNOW; The Ladder; Lavender Vision; Lavender Woman; Lesbian Connection; The Lesbian Insider/Inside Her/Inciter; Lesbian News; Lesbian Tide; Lilith; Marin Women’s Newsletter/News Journal; The Matriarchist; Matrices; Media Report to Women; Meeting Ground; Motive (lesbian issue); New Directions for Women; New Women’s Times; New York Radical Feminists Newsletter;Newsreport; No More Fun and Games: A Journal of Female Liberation; Notes from the [First/Second/Third]Year; off our backs; On Our Backs; Quest/a feminist quarterly; Radical Chick; The Second Page, Second Wave: A Magazine for the New Feminism; Sinister Wisdom; Sojourner; SPAZM; The Spokeswoman; Tell-a-Woman; Tooth and Nail; Tribad; Triple Jeopardy; Up From Under, Voices of the Women’s Liberation Movement; WomaNews; Woman’s World; WomanSpirit; Women: A Journal of Liberation; Women and Art; Women in Print Newsletter; Women Organizing; Women’s News…For a Change; Women’s Press; and The Women’s Page. Also to be included is the groundbreaking paper “a kind of memo” (later published in Liberation as “Sex and Caste”), written by Mary King and Casey Hayden.

There are others and I want to bring them on board. That’s why I attended Boston University’s Women’s Liberation Conference. I imagined the opportunity to meet, in person for the first time, women who I had come to know over email because they had already given me permission to include their papers. How right I was. I was honored to meet

  • Dana Dunsmore (No More Fun and Games; Black Belt Woman)
  • Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (No More Fun and Games)
  • Julie Enszer (Sinister Wisdom)
  • Christine Riddiough (Women Organizing)
  • Barbara Love (The Matriarchist)
  • Barbara Winslow (And Aint I a Woman)
  • Laura X (SPAZM, It Aint Me Babe)
  • Alta (It Aint Me Babe)
  • Carol Hanisch (Meeting Ground)
  • Mary King (co-author of “a kind of memo,” the document that has been credited with kicking off the modern feminist movement)

I also spent time with my friends Jo Freeman (Voices of the Women’s Liberation Movement), Sue Katz (Lavender Vision), Judy Gumbo Albert (Barb on Strike; Berkeley Tribe), and Sally Gabb (Great Speckled Bird). Jo and Sue are long-time friends from the National Writers Union. Judy and Sally’s papers were among the community underground papers that I’ll discuss in my next post.

I hoped to bring new papers on board and did. After many previous futile long-distance efforts to bring Boston’s Sojourner on board, I was fortunate to meet Shane Snowdon and Vicky Gabriner and, voila, Sojourner was added to the list, as was Lesbian Insider/Inciter/Inside Her, thanks to my meeting with Mardi Steinau.

A major figure from the seventies was Carol Downer, who pioneered women’s self-help in Los Angeles through her clinic and many activities that my paper from Lansing, Michigan, Joint Issue, regularly reported on. I was honored to meet her and delighted when she gave me a verbal commitment to include the Feminist Women’s Health Center Newsletter. Another verbal commitment came from Susan Chernilo, from Eugene, Oregon’s Women’s Press.

I gave one of my promotional flyers to a woman who was sitting next to me at one session. She glanced at the text, then exclaimed, “You’re Ken Wachsberger! I was told I needed to meet you.” She turned out to be Susan Smith Richardson, long-time award-winning reporter and now publisher of the Chicago Reporter, an investigative civil rights paper that goes back to 1972 and hopefully will soon be on board the project.

One publication that was not technically a journal but was a major historical document from the seventies and was distributed through the same underground network was the self-help classic Our Bodies Ourselves, produced by the Boston Women’s Health Collective. At the conference I met collective members Joan Ditzion and Miriam Hawley and both of them immediately recognized the importance of the project. This week I welcomed their following publications to the collection:

  • Women and Their Bodies—the pamphlet that started it all in 1970;
  • Our Bodies Ourselves—the pamphlet from 1971 that updated Women and Their Bodies and took, for the first time, the name that became known worldwide; and
  • Proceedings from the 1975 Conference on Women and Health that brought together 2,500 feminist activists, students, and health care providers from the United States and Canada.

Overall the Women’s Liberation Conference at Boston University was a great success. I’m looking to attend other conferences as well and would welcome suggestions.

If you were a member of a feminist or lesbian publication that is not included in the discussion above or know someone who was, please contact me right away at ken@voicesfromtheunderground.com so we can bring your paper on board.

In my next post, I’ll introduce you to some of the other papers that are on board. I’ll also explain our cost recovery = open access economic model that is enabling us to create this collection at about one-fifth the cost that other, commercial digital publishers would charge.

I’ll see you then.

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9 Responses

  1. What a great article, Ken. So admire and appreciate your attention to details and persons. The history of what we did must survive, and I know, because of you, it will.

    • Thanks, Bill. What happened then was important then and still necessary for the lessons we can learn and apply to current useless wars.

  2. I’d like to write to you but I don’t see any email address
    Bill Blum
    Washington Free Press, Berkeley Barb, Berkeley Tribe, Quicksilver Times

    • I just wrote to you, Bill. I look forward to hearing from you.By the way, Berkeley Barb, Berkeley Tribe (and Barb on Strike), and Quicksilver Times are all on board already, as you’ll see in my next post, which will go up on Monday 4/28. But Washington Free Press still is not. Check out my 4/21 post also for an explanation of our “cost recovery = open access” economic model.

  3. As it happens, just last night I attended an event at UW-Milwaukee to announce the digitization of the full run of Milwaukee’s Kaleidoscope (1967-71). The paper will be located at http://collections.lib.uwm.edu/ sometime this fall. All three Kaleidoscope founders (John Kois, John Sahli and Bob Reitman) attended and spoke at the celebration last night.

    You can probably connect with all these folks through John Stropes, jstropes-at-uwm.edu. Holler if you need my help with anything. I look forward to learning much from these archives; I hope (at least as much) that a new generation takes up the call!

    Mike McCallister, NWU At-Large Milwaukee

    • Thanks for the comment, Michael. I’ve been in touch with John Kois and John Sahli and have gotten permission from them to include Milwaukee’s Kaleidoscope in the digital collection. I’m honored that they gave the okay. We are all in agreement that our work then is of value now to the current generation of young activists, who I call our intergenerational peers. I’m posting another entry about the digital collection today (May 5, 1970). You’ll see Kaleidoscope and some of the other papers that are on board. If you know of others that aren’t included–and who I can contact for permission to include them–please let me know.

  4. I was directed to you by Green Lion publishing – I’m very interested in being able to read and perhaps link to articles/issues of Black Belt Woman. I wonder if you could contact me with any details on the process of digitizing them and how I might access them?

    • Thanks for your message. Yes, Black Belt Woman is one of the titles that is on board to be digitized. At this time we haven’t gone live yet with what we’ve digitized so far but we should have the first group up in the next month. I don’t know if BBW is part of that group but if not it should be up soon after. Please email me in, say, three weeks at ken@voicesfromtheunderground.com and I’ll give you an update. Sorry it isn’t already up but it will be. A lot of our work to date has been creating the site itself where the titles will appear once they’re scanned. I’ll also ask the folks who are doing the actual scanning (I’m doing the permissions work) and see what they can tell me. I’ll email you as soon as I know. Meanwhile, you can check out our beta site at voices.revealdigital.com to get a preview of how the pages will look.

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