AAUW’s Oral History Project Tells the Woman’s Side

September 30, 2013

You can be a part of the oral history project by conducting your own interviews in your state, branch, or community. Download a copy of the AAUW Oral History Project guide to get started.

“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” — Virginia Woolf

At our 2013 National Convention in New Orleans in June, AAUW embarked upon an oral history project, the first in more than 40 years. My fellow AAUW staff member Therese Lowe and I conducted interviews with 28 AAUW members from across the country. The 30–60-minute interviews captured these women’s experiences as AAUW members as well as many of their life events.

Two women sitting at a table with papers and a recorder.

Therese Lowe conducted an oral history interview with former AAUW President Barbara O’ Connor during the 2013 convention.

The goal with this project is to augment AAUW’s traditional historical resources with recordings from members to develop a fuller picture of various times and themes in the association’s history. The interviewing process also gives a voice to women, whose stories too often go unheard and whose contributions are downplayed or altogether left out of the historical record.

The interviews conducted in New Orleans contain AAUW members’ memories, personal perceptions, and emotional reactions to AAUW’s place in historical events. These elements are priceless, and they are not found in archival records. Some women spoke about the discrimination they faced throughout their lives, their experiences in the women’s movement, or how they overcame significant obstacles to pursue higher education. This is part of an ongoing project, and we will be continuing our interviews at other AAUW occasions.

In many ways, we are picking up on a tradition that began in 1967, when former AAUW President Anna Rose Hawkes purchased a tape recorder and embarked upon the association’s first oral history program. It was then that she discovered the “perfection of tape recording equipment,” which brought opportunities to “obtain firsthand information” so valuable to historians. In the October 1967 issue of the AAUW Journal, Hawkes recorded eight former AAUW leaders recalling matters within the association, “but also [those] of public interest.”

Therese and I also conducted an oral history how-to workshop at convention to help AAUW members get their own projects off the ground. If you are interested in being a part of this effort by conducting your own oral history interviews in your state, branch, or community, you can download a copy of the AAUW Oral History Project guide and contact us if you have any questions.

By:   |   September 30, 2013