The Women’s March on January 21, 2017 was a unique and powerful moment in modern history. What began as one woman’s local event grew into the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.[1]  Millions of protestors travelled to Washington, D.C. or a sister march in order to join the Women’s March. Never before had so many turned out in protest of what could be; the Women’s March was a clear repudiation of political rhetoric characterized by intolerance, oppression, and misogyny.[2]  The Women’s March united people from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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Marchers with signs, Image taken in Carbondale, IL Jan. 21, 2017.

They were driven by a wide range of issues, which they indicated with cleverly designed signs, supporting women’s health and safety, civil rights, celebration of diversity, LGBTQ pride, the right to affordable health care, concern for the environment, and much more. Estimates of numbers vary, but somewhere between 2.6 and 4.6 million people, many wearing the iconic pink hats in opposition of sexual violence against women, joined in protests around the world.[3] The Women’s March Archives Project was born in the fervent weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day.[4]  Katrina Vandeven and Danielle Russell, members of the Society of American Archivists, recognized the historical moment taking place.[5] They posted a call for volunteers to “collect oral histories in order to … show the scope of the movement, the range of reasons women are marching, and so that women’s political resistance may be documented.”[6] Their call was widely distributed among traditional academic circles and amongst the general public through social media.

As a historian of social movements, I was interested in participating in this watershed moment in American political history. When I saw Katrina’s call for volunteers, I committed to conducting oral histories at the sister march in Carbondale, Illinois. SIU being my alma mater and the place I learned to love history, it seemed fitting that I take my place that day as historian of the march.

The Southern Illinois Women’s March was organized by Kathy Neely, local business owner and yoga teacher, at the Carbondale Civic Center. Kathy followed the guidelines of the Women’s March leaders. Parade marshals enforced safety precautions, keeping marchers on designated routes and stopping them at intersections when traffic lights turned. Chant leaders armed with loudspeakers repeated catchy slogans. If someone came without a sign, they were encouraged to use the supplies provided to create one. Everyone from the smallest child to the oldest grandma carried a sign, it seemed. The atmosphere was energized and cooperative; we were happy to be there.

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Marcher with Sign, Image taken in Carbondale, IL Jan. 21, 2017.

The march took place on a beautiful sunny day, unseasonably warm for January. As the crowd size grew throughout the afternoon, I circulated the crowd and recorded oral histories, took photos and recorded video. Before each interview, I explained the project and obtained the interviewee’s signature for a Creative Commons license. I used a voice recorder app on my phone and the forms provided by Katrina to ask the following questions:

  1. Why are you marching today?
  2. How did you hear about the march?
  3. What do you hope this march will accomplish?

Upon my return to Cape Girardeau, I followed up with several women at Southeast Missouri State University who attended the flagship march in Washington, D.C. Their memories are also preserved in this collection, the entirety of which is made publicly available so we may “preserve women’s voices and protests, as they are so often silenced and lost to history.”[7]

While the legacy of the Women’s March is still being debated, one thing is certain: on January 21, 2017, women’s voices definitely were not silent.

Courtney Kisat, PhD
Asst. Professor, Dept. of History

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Southern Illinois Women’s March, Image taken in Carbondale, IL Jan. 21, 2017.

With the historic event over and records of its occurrence marked, the next step needs to be taken.  What good are these records if they are not preserved and made accessible?  Hardly any if you ask me.

Most people know what archives are.  They collect historic documents and materials and preserve them so that they will be available to researchers and other interested parties.  What they may not know is that archives collect very recent materials too.  Historic doesn’t just mean an event happened 20 plus years ago.  Yesterday could have had a historic event.  Tomorrow very well may hold one as well.

For me, this is what makes processing the Southern Illinois Women’s March Collection so interesting and relatable.  Don’t get me wrong, I connect with many collections within our archives, most having been created well before I was born.  But the Women’s March was an event that happened only two years ago, in January 2017.  This movement has colored mine and many others daily lives for the last several years.  This collection adds a far newer perspective on regional and national happenings, both politically and socially, than we had before.

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Signs Carried During the March, Image taken in Carbondale, IL Jan. 21, 2017.

While having the opportunity to go through this collection and see what stories it holds, I have been struck by the passion felt by those participating in the March.  You can see it on the faces of the marchers in photographs, you can see it in the effort they put into making signs, and you can read about it in the media coverage.  There are also several audio recordings, that we are in the process of making available, within the collection that contain interviews Dr. Kisat held with women and men who took part in the march.  They describe why they march and what they hope to accomplish by making their voice heard.  These interviews are an invaluable source of social history that cannot be ignored.

Processing this collection, in addition to simply being my job, has been a fun task to work through.  Although it is a smaller collection in size, there are several mediums with which to work and preserve.  There is the traditional medium of paper, but there are also photographs and audio material.  Paper and photographs are materials with which I have worked before and knew how to handle.  Audio, on the other hand, is a new one for me.  The archives has a program called ContentDM that allows us to take digital materials like digitized photographs, video, and audio and make it available publicly online.  We have only ever used it for photographs so it has been a learning experience working with it to upload the audio recordings.

We are still finalizing some portions of the collection but much of it is already available for you to browse.  You can look through the Southern Illinois Women’s March Collection at Special Collections and Archives, Kent Library, Room 306 or the digital collection may be viewed online at https://semo.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16765coll7.

Kelsey Barnett
Student Worker, Special Collections and Archives

[1]Maui woman starts what could be largest Trump inauguration movement,” Hawaii News Now, Jan. 6, 2017.

[2] “Women’s March Highlights as Huge Crowds Protest Trump,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 2107.

[3] Pussy Hat Project

[4] “2016 Presidential Election,” https://www.270towin.com/2016_Election/

[5] Project Spotlight: Women’s March on Washington Archives Project, Jan. 10, 2017.

[6] Women’s March on Washington Archive, http://ufdc.ufl.edu/WOMENSMARCH

[7] Project Spotlight: Women’s March on Washington Archives Project, Jan. 10, 2017.

1 Comment »

  1. Love the interrelationship between the 1st person experience of the event and the 1st person explanation of why it would be in an archive and the process of making it available to the public. It draws you into both worlds.

    Like

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