The National Women’s Conference: Taking 1977 into the 21st Century

This post was authored by guest contributor Vince Lee, Archivist at the University of Houston, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA).


The National Women’s Conference: Taking 1977 into the 21st Century, November 6-7, 2017

Although the  conference marking the 40th Anniversary of the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference has come and gone, many of its memories, the impact of the sessions, and the camaraderie and interactions of the attendees, who for some was a reunion of sorts, are something all will take back with them from their two days at the University of Houston. The event marked a collaborative partnership between UH’s Center for Public History, the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies, UH Libraries and Special Collections, Houston Public Media, and other partners and donors across campus. Many of the volunteers present over the past two days at registration and the information tables were UH students, staff, and faculty who generously volunteered their time to answer questions, provide direction, record oral histories, and troubleshoot problems to ensure a successful conference experience for attendees.

Conference signage. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Conference registration table. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Oral History Commons

One of the highlights of the two-day conference was the oral history commons that was setup in Special Collections.  Interested participants could drop in or schedule in advance a short ten-minute StoryCorp style interview recorded by a team of graduate students from the Center for Public History. Interviewees were encouraged to talk about their experiences of the 1977 National Women’s Conference. As a result we were able to capture conversations from attendees and original delegates that were there at the 1977 conference.  Once all the footage is compiled we will provide access to the oral histories on the UH Digital Library site.

Oral History Commons at the conference. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Student-Curated Exhibit

The conference provided a venue and an opportunity to unveil the opening of the student-curated exhibit for the 1977 National Women’s Conference, entitled Spirit of Houston: A Retrospective 40 Years in the Making. As part of a class project this past spring, students from the course, Issues in Feminist Research selected materials from the Marjorie Randal National Women’s Conference Collection. Materials selected would relate to the five themes each student group were working on for each of the five exhibit cases, namely: Origins, Preparing for the Conference, 4 Days at the Conference, Controversies and Challenges, and Impact of the National Women’s Conference. Students were recognized for their contributions to the exhibit at a reception given by the library on the final day of the event. As an added bonus, I was able to have my picture taken in front of the exhibit with Peggy Kokernot Kaplan, one of the original runners and torch bearers to the 1977 National Women’s Conference.

Students with their professor in front of the student-curated exhibit. Photo courtesy of Regina Vitolo.


Peggy Kokernot Kaplan with Vince Lee in front of the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Collaboration and Partnership

In collaboration and partnership with the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI), TAMI and UH Special Collections offered a free film and video digitization program to attendees who brought in footage they had on the 1977 National Women’s Conference. Formats that we could accept included VHS, Betamax, Umatics, and mini DV tapes as well as 8 or 16 mm film. Owners of the footage would complete a loan/use agreement form with the deposit of the media.  In exchange TAMI and UH Libraries would inventory the film and videotape, provide minor cleaning and repairs if necessary, and digitize the materials. Originals would then be returned to the owners, along with the digitized files- transferred to an external hard drive provided by the owner or, for smaller collections, onto DVDs or a 2GB thumb drive provided by UH Libraries.

Texas Archive of the Moving Image station at the Conference. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon and Tours

A full day (9-5) Wikipedia edit-a-thon was offered where interested participants could drop into one of the computer classrooms, learn how to contribute entries to Wikipedia, and start working on entries to help raise awareness and representation of women and feminist topics through the addition of their articles and entries. Other attendees took advantage of tours offered of the Carey Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection to learn more about the collections that are housed there in addition to a tour of the exhibit given by student curators.

Student-curated exhibit.
Photo courtesy of Regina Vitolo.

Sissy and Sarah

Throughout the two-day conference there were panels and sessions offered on a wide range of topics touching on “Feminism and Conservatism”, Mixed Outcomes of the 77 Conference, to “Art, Activism, and Artists” and “Invisible Minority Women”. The culmination of the conference was a Roundtable Discussion given by Frances “Sissy” Farenthold and Sarah Weddington and moderated by Dr. Nancy Young. Their discussion for the evening would focus on the topic of Women, Politics, and the Law. They provided their recollections of the 1977 conference and what they have learned, the political ramifications both in front of and behind the scenes, and taking stock of the current political climate for women and where we go from here with the next generation of women.

L-R: Sarah Weddington, Dr. Nancy Young (moderator), and Sissy Farenthold at the UH Law Center Roundtable Discussion on Women, Politics, and Law. Photo courtesy of Vince Lee.

The two-day conference was a partnership and demonstration of collaboration among the different departments across the UH Campus in raising awareness of what we each could contribute to an historic and singular event. The conference itself was available and open to the general public. For more information on the conference and the various partners involved please visit:

To listen to the exhibit podcast:

Federal Funding Impact Story #7

Project: Finding Common Ground: Cooperative Training for the Cultural and Emergency Response Communities


Granting Agency: National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
Grant Program: Division of Preservation and Access, Education and Training
Institution: Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC)
State: Massachusetts
Congressional District: 8th Massachusetts Congressional District
Grant Period: January 1, 2017 – December 31, 2018
Award Amount: $196,696
Institutional Match Amount: $253,096

Jobs Created:
– Project Coordinator (1 FTE for 24 months)
– Will hire instructors from the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy (number and amount of time  has yet to be determined)

Project Description
Disasters can affect and disrupt people’s lives, severely impact continuity of functions at all levels of government, and jeopardize the very existence of our nation’s humanities collections, cultural institutions, and historic sites and properties. Until recently, there was little communication, cooperation, or collaboration between the cultural heritage community and the emergency responder community in addressing cultural heritage concerns both before and after disasters.

What do we mean by the emergency responder community? They include the fire department; the police/sheriff’s department; local, county, tribal, and state emergency management officials; emergency medical technicians; the local emergency planning committee; the public works department; the mayor or community administrator’s office; and even the National Guard and the Coast Guard. By bringing both communities together to learn from each other at the local level, we can effect the inclusion of cultural heritage in municipal risk assessment, mitigation planning, response to, and recovery from a disaster. It is time that both communities come together to recognize that once life safety has been addressed following a disaster, the health and welfare of a municipality depend on the recovery and vitality of all sectors of a community, including cultural heritage.

To address these issues at the local level and to serve as a pilot at the national level, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), the state library agency – in partnership with COSTEP MA (Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness in Massachusetts), the Massachusetts Archives, the New England Museum Association, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (DFS) – proposes a two-year, statewide, preparedness-and-response training project for cultural heritage and emergency responder personnel. The training package developed will be shared nationally with other states’ fire service and cultural heritage institutions. The partners, working closely with the project director and coordinator, will adapt, create, and present a series of five workshops on the following topics: risk assessment and mitigation, disaster planning (in two parts), disaster response, and salvage. Each of the first three workshops will be presented five times at locations across the Commonwealth.  Due to the nature of the live fire demonstration and salvage exercises, the last two sessions will be held at the two Department of Fire Services campuses in eastern and western Massachusetts. A session on the basics of preservation will be offered in an asynchronous format for all participants to complete ahead of the in-person workshops.

NEH funds will be used to hire a project coordinator; adapt and develop course materials for both the face-to-face and online presentations; present the workshops; cover consultant fees, travel, and supplies; and develop and convene train-the-trainer sessions for instructors. These sessions will introduce potential instructors to the purpose – to develop the foundation for consistent message and high-quality training – the content, and the available tools for the full course.

What was the need for the grant?
We wanted to address the problem of cultural institutions being left out of responses following disasters. By obtaining federal funds we are able to work closely with the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy to coordinate training between the cultural heritage organizations and the firefighters in an 18-month training program that will enable people from both communities in the same municipality to train and work together. The eventual impact is better communication and protection for the cultural heritage organizations and the development of the workshops into an online course to be distributed nationally.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
Eventually, we hope that this will bring the cultural heritage community and the firefighting/emergency management communities together to protect our cultural and historic patrimony before, during, and after disasters. The aim is to involve at least 200 members of the two communities to work together throughout the course as trained in the five offerings of the first three workshops (risk assessment, disaster planning I and disaster planning II (tabletop exercises) and at the two final ones (a live burn and salvage).

Submission by: Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, Preservation Specialist, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

The Houston Archives Bazaar: An Interview with Emily Vinson, President of Archivists of the Houston Area

HABlogoIn this post, ArchivesAWARE! chats with Emily Vinson, President of Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) and Audiovisual Archivist at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections, about the recent Houston Archives Bazaar.  Emily shares tips and lessons learned from the experience, stresses the importance of collaboration and communication in mounting outreach events, and shares AHA!’s strategies for attracting media attention to the Bazaar, which, despite the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey just two weeks before, was still a resounding success.

AA: Can you describe the idea behind this archival outreach program?

EV: Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) is a local archival professionals organization that aims to “promote archival repositories and activities in the greater Houston, Texas area.” In the fall of 2017, we mounted our first Houston Archives Bazaar. The event boasted over 20 local archival organizations. Over 200 members of the public attended. In addition to the organization tables, we also boasted Preservation and Digitization Stations, archival film screenings, speakers, and an Oral History booth. Thanks to generous sponsors and donations we were able to offer attendees tote bags and wonderful door prizes.


Photo credit: Ai-Ha Do

AA: Where did you get the idea and what inspired you?

EV: We were inspired by the incredible work of the Austin Archives Bazaar. Three members of the AAB planning committee, Jennifer Hecker, Madeline Moya, and Daniel Alonzo came to Houston for the AHA! Winter meeting and shared their experience in planning the 2014 and 2016 Austin Archives Bazaars events. They also shared their extensive documentation with us, which was a huge help.


Photo credit: Ai-Ha Do

AA: What worked? What didn’t work? Were you surprised by the outcome or any part of your experience?

EV: The biggest surprise was Hurricane Harvey! The storm hit Houston just two weeks before our planned date, and it was completely up in the air if we would be able to move forward with the Bazaar or not. In the days immediately after the storm, we had no way of knowing if our participants would be able, or want to have the event, or if the public would be interested in attending. Ultimately, we decided to proceed as planned. Only three repositories weren’t able to participate. We tried to respond to the disaster by inviting members of the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance (TX-CERA) to come and demonstrate water-salvage methods for individuals who had been affected by flooding.


Photo credit: Ai-Ha Do

AA: What would you do differently?

EV: As part of our planned events, we had several speakers – which was great. However, because we were in a music venue, the speakers didn’t have a dedicated space but instead had to speak over the crowd, which was a bit of a challenge. I think in the future we will brainstorm alternative set-ups to ensure the speakers can be heard. Also, we had a “digitization station” to encourage preservation scanning – I think there is an opportunity to do a lot more promotion in this area to ensure attendees are aware they can bring in materials to scan.


Photo credit: Ai-Ha Do

AA: What tips do you have for those interested in putting on a similar event?

EV: Give yourself lots of time! Everything was very time consuming, which at times was challenging to balance on top of work and other responsibilities. Also, it is crucial to keep lines of communication open throughout the process.


AA: Did you get media attention? How did that happen?

EV: Yes – we developed a multi-pronged media approach. We started with a press release that we had translated into Spanish and Vietnamese (both wide-spread languages spoken in Houston). We sent our press release to all news outlets in the region. We also utilized Facebook and Twitter extensively, including paid promotions on Facebook. To contact people who might not be reached through those two methods, we printed postcards and posters that we posted at local coffee shops and mailed to local churches and community centers.




EmilySquareEmily Vinson is Audiovisual Archivist and curator of the KUHT Collection at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. Prior to UH, Emily worked as an archivist at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy; a project archivist preserving unique audio holdings at New York Public Radio; and a fellow in Preservation Administration at New York Public Library. She holds an MS in Information Studies with a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Preservation Administration from the University of Texas, Austin. Emily currently serves as the President of the Houston Area (AHA!), and is co-chair of the Preservation Committee for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).