Alice Embree :
Spotlight on women’s activism at UT’s Briscoe Center

Oral history project is online while major exhibit shelters in place.

Unlike many underground newspapers, The Rag at UT-Austin embraced women’s liberation. Here, women of The Rag, with Linda Smith in foreground, work on layout, February 1974. Photo by Alan Pogue.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | March 28, 2020

AUSTIN — To honor women’s history, the University of Texas Briscoe Center for American History opened a major exhibit, “On with the Fight!” highlighting 150 years of women’s activism. I was honored to speak at the exhibit’s opening on March 5, 2020.

That gathering now seems to have taken place in a different era. By March 16, the Briscoe Center closed due to Coronavirus concerns. The post I had written about the exhibit will be published at a later date when the Center’s exhibit hall reopens to the public.

Most of the nation is now sheltering in place hoping to “flatten the curve” of contagion. The Covid-19 death toll rises daily. What a difference a few weeks can make.

The Briscoe marked women’s history with another milestone.

The Briscoe marked women’s history with another milestone by creating an online resource of Austin Women Activists Oral History Project Records. This access to digital recordings has proven essential to Dr. Laurie Green’s history class on Comparative Civil Rights. Students trying to meet class requirements no longer have access to archives. Fortunately, they have access to digital material.

History professor Green launched the oral history project with an undergraduate seminar in 2017. Glenn Scott and I provided her with an initial list of names. In the fall of 2017, 18 students conducted 21 oral histories that became the basis for the collection.

In the spring of 2019, another group of Dr. Green’s students conducted oral histories with eight more UT alumnae activists, adding to the collection. With Briscoe Center staff guidance, the students produced high-quality sound recordings and provided descriptive metadata for search purposes. The History Department and the Briscoe Center provided funding for transcriptions, making them accessible as recording and text.

These diverse oral histories provide a new vantage point on women’s activism.

These diverse oral histories provide a new vantage point on women’s activism. Dr. Laurie Green describes the collection this way,

By centering on UT, which had a larger student movement than almost any other campus in the nation, this collection sheds new light on women’s liberation, civil rights, antiwar, New Left, Chicana/o, Black Power, lesbian and gay rights movements.

Dr. Green’s students presented their research findings at a dinner symposium as the fall semester of 2017 drew to a close. The women who had been interviewed were invited. College of Liberal Arts staff filmed the dialogue that took place at the symposium. Inspired by that interaction, Rachel Griess wrote a feature article for the College of Liberal Arts magazine, Life & Letters that appeared in Summer 2018. She also produced a documentary film, “Fight Like a Girl: How Women’s Activism Shapes History.” [See The Rag Blog post.] Ms. Magazine featured the documentary on its website. The 2017 Oral History Project acquired long legs as it gained attention far beyond the classroom.

And, Not Even Past, a public history website sponsored by the UT History Department, has just featured the Austin Women Activists Oral History Project in March 2020. The Not Even Past story includes links to short presentations, Pecha Kuchas, that students presented at a public event in 2019.  The topics explore the leadership roles of Chicanas and African-American women in UT student activism in the ‘60s and ‘70s, in fights for gay and lesbian liberation, civil rights, inclusion, and Black and Mexican American studies.

As we shelter in place or complete coursework from home, we turn to the digital platform for news, entertainment, and research. The UT Briscoe Center’s digital archives are accessible, not only to Dr. Green’s undergraduates, but to the world. The UT History Department’s digital presence, Not Even Past, provides connectivity beyond the campus. Both can be visited at the links shown below as can the College of Liberal Arts feature article highlighted in a previous Rag Blog post:

[Alice Embree is an Austin writer and activist who serves on the board of directors of the New Journalism Project and is director of NJP Publishing. Embree, who was active in the women’s movement and contributed to Sisterhood is Powerful, was a founder of The Rag, and is an editor of the book, Celebrating The Rag: Austin’s Iconic Underground Newspaper.]

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2 Responses to Alice Embree :
Spotlight on women’s activism at UT’s Briscoe Center

  1. Pat Cuney says:

    Excellent article, Alice, and great resource! As Barbara More, one of the authors of The Great Cosmic Mother was once heard to say, “Write it down and get it published, else it will be forgotten,” and so now we can rest, assured that some small piece of our work will be remembered. Thank you and thanks to Laurie Green.

  2. Anonymous says:

    And thank the Great Cosmic Mother. As a friend said, she has sent us all to our rooms to think about it.

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