Sat., Oct. 26 | Moderated by Katherine Ruffin, the presenters were: Miriam Intrator, “Collecting the Diversity of American Historical and Contemporary Printing: A Librarian’s Perspective” ❉ Dianne L. Roman, “Early Nineteenth Century Boston Weekly Provides Diverse Employment for Women, Supporting an All-Female Communication Circuit” ❉ Jamie Mahoney, “Incarcerated Authors, Activist Poets, Student Designers, Led by Women Printers: Publications of the Bowe House Press are Truly Created by Many Hands”
“Collecting the Diversity of American Historical and Contemporary Printing: A Librarian’s Perspective”
Miriam is the Special Collections Librarian at the Robert E. and Jean R. Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University in Athens. Her collection, like many rare material collections in American colleges and universities, were acquired for the purpose of teaching and outreach, but frequently do a poor job reflecting the diversity of the current student population. In order to make her collection outward-facing, she is actively seeking work by and about locally relevant, under-represented populations; contemporary artists’ books exploring the themes of social justice and disenfranchisement; and finding innovative ways to pair them. After giving some background on Ohio University and its demographics, Miriam explained that their author collections comprise only white men. The hierarchies and social norms in this literature can cause conflicts with the students’ interests and needs. Her budget allows the acquisition of artists’ books and ‘zines in all subjects, but she concentrates on those with difficult content depicting common struggles in the private and public lives of the students: issues of race, sexual orientation, sexuality, or economic disparity. Interestingly, the artists’ books collection act as a gateway to the rare books collection, since students seem to relate to them more readily—antiquarian books are treated with unnecessary reverence which she doesn’t see when the students interact with artists’ books. She also likes to think beyond the codex structure and incorporate objects like historic games. Unsurprisingly, female artists and publishers of historic materials are often anonymous or falsely attributed. By teaching and offering demonstrations of how women worked, students get a better understanding of selection and bias throughout the history of the book. Miriam’s focus on collecting materials relevant for local use, rather than high-end publications that might be trendy has been successful in diversifying her collections and students are responding positively in class surveys. She reminds us all to ask what we should be collecting and promoting to reflect our user community? How can we best serve the needs and interests of our students? What happens if our users don’t see themselves in print?
Dianne L. Roman
“Early Nineteenth Century Boston Weekly Provides Diverse Employment for Women, Supporting an All-Female Communication Circuit”
A printer and independent scholar, Dianne’s talk focused on the opportunities available to women compositors, editors, and writers at the Boston Olive Branch in the early 19th century. The Olive Branch was published from 1836 until 1857. As contextual background, Dianne explained that the Methodist Episcopal Church experienced a schism due to its church governance, resulting in the 1830 formation of the Methodist Protestant Church. A major issue was the total control of the church by the bishop, resulting in the lack of involvement by lay members in church policy and decision making. The Reverend Thomas F. Norris founded The Olive Branch to promote this newly democratic representation. As a weekly newspaper it was initially published by Rowland Hart, a local job printer and member of the Protestant reform. It wasn’t intended as a religious paper, although there was a section dedicated to the Methodist Protestant Church. The objective was to avoid polemical divinity, politics, “the slave question”, and focus on what was considered an “acceptable and useful family paper.” Half of The Olive Branch‘s compositors were women. Their work day was usually between seven and eight hours, their earning between $6 and $8 a week. Women were also hired as editors. They were even supplied a piano in the office. The Olive Branch employed a number of women writers, many of whom wrote under multiple pseudonyms. Dianne provided a few examples. There was Louisa H. Medina, the earliest female author identified in the Olive Branch, who was a sensationalist New York-based playwright. By 1839, the Olive Branch included contributions by Catherine Orne, Catherine F. Orne (two different individuals); Ann Stephens, and Sarah J. Hale (already a success with Godey’s Lady Book). Louisa May Alcott’s first published story “The Rival Painters” appeared under a pseudonym in 1852. Fanny Fern (a.k.a. Sarah Payson Willis Parton) appeared in 1851. Fanny Fern proved extremely popular, so much so that she eventually moved to writing for Robert Bonner’s New York Ledger at $100 a column—an immense salary for a columnist, male or female, at that time. Dianne noted that the use of multiple pseudonyms made research difficult but it was clear that The Olive Branch thrived and expanded until its demise in 1857.
“Incarcerated Authors, Activist Poets, Student Designers, Led by Women Printers: Publications of the Bow House Press are Truly Created by many Hands”
The Bowe House Press is a letterpress studio in the Graphic Design department of the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University. It is there that Jamie Mahoney teaches printing and graphic design to students who collaboratively publish “jail books” – books written and illustrated by incarcerated poets and artists at the Richmond City Justice Center. Jamie began her talk by showing images of jail books that were produced between 1980 and 2010 in San Quentin, Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, and the California Institution for Women as part of the Prison Arts Project, a statewide prison arts program in California which ran from 1980-2010. Original texts are illustrated using linoleum cuts and collagraphs. Jamie teaches bookbinding at the Richmond City Justice Center. The sheriff will not allow any metal objects including sewing needles into the jail. So she is required to develop tools for the binding that are not metal – an exercise that proved challenging but by pre-punching holes in the signatures and using dental floss picks as needles, she is able to have the class sew their own Coptic journals. At the Bowe House Press, artist books are made each year. The poets and artists at the Richmond City Justice Center create the content with the guidance of Liz Canfield, Jamie’s creative partner, and fellow faculty at VCU. The Graphic Design students in Jamie’s class letterpress print the editions. Editing and layout are done collaboratively with the poets who may start with brainstorming but always with mutual agreement on the final design. Initially funded from an NEH grant awarded to the Women, Sexuality, & Gender Studies Department at the University, this book project has proven extremely popular. Letterpress classes are offered three times a semester now and include summer sessions. At the end of each book project, all participants receive a book from the edition. A recent large-scale accordion book, Sanctuary, which explores the theme of sanctuary through politics, pop-culture, and art, is currently being adapted as a trade edition for better distribution and exposure to this project. An important and interesting exercise of agency and ethics, student collaborations require extra effort but can help to transform culture through respect and creativity.