The Sallie Bingham Center: Making Feminist History

July 14, 2011

My name is Lillie and I am a summer intern at Third Wave. For the past six weeks, I have been organizing Third Wave’s archives, which will soon be housed in Duke University’s Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. The Sallie Bingham Center is an amazing resource for anyone interested in women’s history. I had the opportunity to use some of their archives when writing a paper about the use of theater in activism during second wave feminism.

I had been to the Duke library plenty of times before, but I never noticed a big wooden door down the hall from the library’s entrance, until I was searching for the Sallie Bingham Center. I opened the door and found a quiet room that was partitioned by a glass wall. I saw students working with (what I assumed to be) archival documents on the other side of the glass — it almost felt like I was looking into a fish tank or something. The librarians at the front desk were extremely helpful in providing a background on the Center and directing me to a set of archives related to second wave activism, entitled, “The Nikki Craft Papers.” After signing some forms and hearing the rules about working with archives, I was allowed to go through the glass door and enter the other side of the room. A librarian passed the box of archives to me through a sliding window, and I was all set to begin.

The Nikki Craft Papers came in one box and it was full of all kinds of materials — from newsletters, to fliers, to correspondence and more. I had to use caution as I flipped through the pages, for some of the documents were very fragile. Students also have to keep close track of the order of the documents and keep the box away from the edge of the work tables so that they do not fall. I was a little nervous about doing something clumsy, but I quickly got lost in the materials I was looking at, and I barely noticed the hours that went by.

One document that interested me in particular was Craft’s account of her 1975 protest against the B-1 bomber. For this activism, Craft sneaked into a meeting that was attended by executives of Rockwell International (the company that developed the B-1 bomber) and presented the men with naked, bloodied blow-up dolls, saying “This represents what the B-1 bomber will do for peace.” I enjoyed writing about this example of activism because it highlighted some of the advantages and disadvantages of theater activism. One obvious advantage is that it can be very “in your face” and seeing a physical representation of a political stance (rather than simply reading a sign) can add depth and force to one’s point. However, it is also hard to control how other people interpret a theatrical protest, and even more so, how the media will portray the event.

In Nikki Craft’s case, the Wall Street Journal did mention her protest in their coverage of the Rockwell meeting, but the journalist merely referred to it as a “bizarre incident” and stated that organizers of the meeting immediately shut the lights off, thereby hiding the repercussions of Craft’s act and dramatically cutting off the impact that Craft was probably hoping to have at the meeting. Craft’s activism at the Rockwell meeting also caused me to wonder about the effectiveness of individual protests. It was certainly brave of her to do this radical act basically on her own, but I also wonder if being by herself affected her ability to have a greater impact on the meeting attendees and to gain the attention of the media.

Being able to read Craft’s account of her protest firsthand, through a primary source, definitely helped me feel more engaged when writing my paper, and I know I am not the only student who has felt this way, for a fellow Duke student wrote about having an equally inspiring experience at the Sallie Bingham Center here. Housing Third Wave’s archives at the Sallie Bingham Center will similarly engage future students, researchers, and the general public interested in third wave feminism. The Sallie Bingham Center also makes a great effort to digitize their archives so that anyone with internet access can view them. I believe that Third Wave’s archive collection will be useful to both researchers, people with an interest in activism, and anyone involved in Third Wave who wants to “take a walk down memory lane.” Including Third Wave in the Sallie Bingham Center archive’s is especially important, for, not only does Third Wave’s history highlight characteristics of third wave feminism and activism, but it also serves as an inspiring example of a progressive foundation that has remained wholly dedicated to young women and transgender youth since its early years. I think I can speak for Third Wave’s staff when I say that we are excited and reassured to know that Third Wave’s unique story will be safely held and available to the public for years to come.

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1 Comment
  1. I recently sat next to the author of this blog on a flight and got to know her first hand throughout the duration of the flight. The passion she spoke with that day about Third Wave was truly heartwarming and her passion for learning about activism and feminism is contagious.

    Learning the story of Nikki Craft only leaves more questions to be answered for me. In this blog, Lillie points out that the protest was merely mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, how many other significant protests have simply been glossed over because the names involved are not household? Knowing that the history of Nikki Craft and other third wave feminists is being documented and held safely in a library will only help raise awareness, which could ultimately lead to the change we all seek.

    Thank you Lillie, very insightful!!


    Comment by Andrew Denman — July 20, 2011 @ 1:22 am

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