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Persistence and Existence: LGBTQ History at Mount Holyoke College

The Beginnings (But Not Really)

While the first archival documents about lesbians (and later bisexuals) at Mount Holyoke College are dated from the 1960s, women who love other women have been a part of the community for a very long time. President Mary Woolley and Professor Jeannette Marks, for example, had a long and loving partnership throughout the whole first half of the twentieth century. It is also very likely that people of numerous gender identities (who we might call transgender today) have gone to MHC. Again, the Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections has few documents that speak explicitly about trans people until the late 1980s. This is a gap we are actively trying to fill, especially with our LGBTQ alum oral history project.  


Mary Woolley and Jeannette Marks seated on a hill

President Mary Woolley and Jeannette Marks.

There are a couple difficulties that accompany archiving documents that pertain to LGBTQ+ people. In the 1970s, for example, it is doubtful that the Archives would have made an active effort to collect materials relating to LGBT organizations because institutional homophobia affected the workings of the College. We saw this in the treatment of the Mary Woolley and Jeannette Marks love letters in the past. Students had to maintain their own community archives, which later ended up in the institutional archive itself. Today, archivists are more proactive about gathering materials related to LGBTQ+ orgs and people because these stories will disappear and will be covered up in history. The Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections actively collects documents from numerous cultural organizations on campus and is committed to preserving our present for the use of our future. Please see the final page of this exhibit for information on how to donate your own materials to the Archives. 


LGBTQ Item 10

Mini flyer distributed by the Lesbian Bisexual Alliance, 1996