Alexandra Whalen '20 is researching local history and the North Country-based journal Women Together.
By Alexandra Whalen '20
In the summer of 2017, I had the amazing opportunity to work as a Digital Initiatives Fellow on a history project I am passionate about that has St. Lawrence county roots and St. Lawrence University connections. My freshman year, I was introduced to the Special Collections section of ODY Library, and it was there that I first found Women Together. Women Together was a newsletter publication from the late 1970’s to early 1980’s, consisting of feminist news updates, artwork, poetry, and empowering stories to connect, unite, and raise consciousness for women in the North Country region. The newsletter was created by the North Country Women, a feminist collective group meeting in Canton, who was also responsible for founding a Women’s Shelter in Canton, which would later become the Renewal House. The Women Together newsletters, meeting materials, and mockups were donated to the St. Lawrence University Special Collections in 2013. As of 2017, many women who were in the group, North Country Women, still live in the area and stay in touch with one another.
My work over the summer, in collaboration with Eric Williams-Bergen and Judith DeGroat, consisted of adding to the collection already in Special Collections by adding a digital component through oral interviews with former members of the North Country Women.
To prepare for the interviews, I conducted background research on the women and the group, as well as prepare questions and topics to discuss with these women. In my research, I encountered national movements, such as feminism and the battle to legalize abortion, as well as North Country issues, such as the fight against the installation of the 765kV Powerlines (those huge powerlines you see running parallel to Route 11) and the need for a Women’s Shelter in St. Lawrence County due to high rates of domestic violence in the area. After doing the necessary research, I reached out to former members of the North Country Women and spoke to those who were willing to talk to me about their experiences with the group and how the narrative of women’s issues has changed over the past 40 years. The Digital Initiatives office provided me with technology and materials to conduct my interviews, and I was able to interview three former women of the North Country Women over the summer.
While this project still has a way to go- the goal is to completely digitize the collection- this was the first big step in adding digital content to the Women Together collection. Making these collections and this history available to the public in a more efficient manner is the crux of public history. Digital initiatives makes these stories accessible to people. Right now, the Women Together collection is only available to those who come to Canton to visit our archives at Special Collections. Our goal is to change that.
By engaging with the newsletter, Women Together, people are able to view a slice of history that encapsulates movements in Canton, St. Lawrence County, and the United States.
In my research, I was able to draw many parallels between the world 40 years ago and the world today, as well as see how far we’ve come as a nation and in St. Lawrence County. Talking with these women about their experiences with the group, their newsletter, and learning about North Country life in the 70’s was an incredible opportunity that I am so grateful to have experienced. As a result of my engagement with this project, I feel closer to the university, to feminist issues, to the former members of the North Country Women, and to St. Lawrence County. My hope is that digital initiatives will allow others to engage with this remarkable group and their history, just as I have been able to do.