“Our history was disappearing as quickly as we were making it.” That was uttered by one of the women working at the Lesbian Herstory Archives. What pray tell is that, you might ask? And there in lies the problem. History has traditionally been told by those in power. In other words, men. More precisely white men. As such, women’s contribution to the human story has largely been ignored or purposely eradicated. So you can only imagine how low on the totem pole lesbian history is. A couple of women decided it was time to save what could be saved.
In the 1970s an idea arose to create a lesbian archive. Two women jumped to action. Deborah Edel and Joan Nestle co-founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives. In 1974 the first documents and other pieces were put in one room in Nestle’s apartment on the Upper West side of New York City. It is now in 2019 the largest collection of materials by and about lesbians. But there was plenty in between 1974 and now.
Memories fade and people die. The Archive’s mandate was to collect and safeguard these materials which made up the story of the lesbian community. Future generations need to know what came before them. if they are to figure out where they are going.
The Archive was set up as a non-hierarchical and collectively run by volunteers place. A group of volunteers took care of the collection that grew and grew in its original location of the cramped Manhattan apartment. It was funded through the lesbian community and its allies.
It became a centrepoint of the lesbian community, especially in New York. Anyone could come there. All were welcome. People came to learn or do research. Others just wanted to feel a sense of home.
It was important, so the collection grew and grew. They had to often rescue lesbian history from the trash. It is made up of books, buttons, clothes, graphics, audio tapes, video tapes, letters, diaries, letters, magazines, poetry, posters, music, articles, pamphlets, scores, and slides. Anything and everythings which contributes to the tale. Besides the historical value, there is an emotional weight to the materials collected.
In the 1980s they reached a critical mass. Meaning the collection was too big for its home in 13A (Nestle’s apartment). They began to look for their own building. They found one and became the first lesbian organization to own its own freestanding building. In the beginning, for security reasons, the street address was not publicized. The grand opening was June 20, 1993.
This archive came out of a political movement and… news flash, we as women are still in a political movement almost 50 years later. As for the Archive, the younger generation worries they won’t have people as dedicated to keeping it operating. They also are concerned that although it is easier, with technology, to, things are not being documented.
As worthy as the Lesbian Herstory Archives is this film is as well. Important because most still don’t know about it. The Archives is important and rather invisible. It takes films like this to educate us about the importance about it and rally towards it. Important as well to the lesbian community. They need to be validated and want to know they are not alone. History…or herstory serves this purpose. Visibility is important for all.