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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 1036: Vt-323

Papers of Kelly Cogswell, 1969-2018


Writings, correspondence, and documentation of LGBTQ rights protests and marches from political activist and journalist Kelly Cogswell.


  • Creation: 1969-2018


Language of Materials

Materials in English and Spanish and French.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Access to notebooks and correspondence (#1.5-3.10, 7.8-11.9) requires the donor's written permission. Upon Cogswell's death, permission must be obtained from Ana Simo. Upon the deaths of both Cogswell and Simo, notebooks and correspondence will be open to research.

An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Kelly Cogswell is held by Kelly Cogswell. Upon Cogswell's death, copyright transfers to Ana Simo. Upon Simo's death, copyright transfers and is assigned to the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Copying of notebooks and correspondence (#1.5-3.10, 7.8-11.9) is not permitted during Kelly Cogswell's and Ana Simo's lifetimes. Any reproduction of audiovisual materials (#Vt-323.1-Vt-323.87, and any audiovisual content in #E.2) requires Kelly Cogswell's written permission, and upon her death, the permission of Ana Simo.


8.97 linear feet ((18 file boxes, 1 folio box, 1 card file box) plus 2 folio folders, 3 folio+ folders, 1 oversize folder, 16 photograph folders, 87 videotapes, 1 object, 3 archived web sites)
4.47 Gigabytes (8092 files)

The papers of Kelly Cogswell document her personal and professional relationships; her participation in LGBTQ rights organizations, particularly the Lesbian Avengers; and her creative work and performance art and writings, including essays, novels, and poetry. The collection contains correspondence, writings, clippings, journals, photographs, videotapes, memorabilia from demonstrations, and born-digital records. Where possible, Cogswell's original folder titles have been maintained. Titles created by the archivist appear in brackets.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1981-2013, undated (#1.1-4.14, F+D.1), includes mostly letters, greeting cards, and postcards sent to Cogswell from family members; friends from Kentucky, New York, and Cincinnati; fellow activists; classmates; girlfriends; etc. Correspondence topics include updates on life events, activities of family members and friends; work and school activities; living situations; and relationships. There are many letters to Cogswell from her mother, Jean Cogswell, especially during Cogswell's time as a student at Transylvania University and afterwards at New York University. Jean Cogswell writes about her job, painting, sewing clothes, activities of family members, happenings at church, etc. In her letters her mother sometimes expresses concerns about what Kelly is doing and wanting her to be in touch more, and, at times, Jean Cogswell's tone reveals tensions in their relationship. Sometimes her mother's letters include fabric samples and clippings of marriage announcements from former classmates. Correspondence also includes letters from publishers and journals regarding Cogswell's manuscript submissions.

Series I also includes materials related to the American Legion Auxiliary and Girls State program, such as press, correspondence, a schedule, and a speech. In this program, Cogswell, along with another senior student from Seneca High School, attended a political competition designed to give teenage girls information about the government, first in Kentucky and then nationally through a program called Girls Nation. It was Cogswell's first introduction to politics. Also included in this series are childhood certificates; resumes; and an article and memorial poster for Cogswell's friend the New York City photographer Alvin Baltrop, a neighbor in the East Village. Notebooks containing diary entries are located in Series II. Series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, WRITINGS, PERFORMANCE, AND ART, 1981-2018, undated (#4.15-15.10, FD.1-FD.2, F+D.2), includes most of Cogswell's creative materials, including images of her artwork, writings, and documentation and writings related to her performance art. The bulk of this series consists of drafts of her published and unpublished writings, including novels, plays, poems, and other nonfiction works; as well as some published articles. Included are drafts of her memoir Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger, a book-length essay on Cuba following her trip with Ana Simo, and a long essay on Puerto Rico after Simo and Cogswell traveled there. Some of that content was incorporated into Eating Fire. In addition, this series contains notebooks or journals, which include draft writings, poetry, performance notes, diary entries, observations, thoughts, including about relationships, concerns about her work, health, etc. Also included are travel journals from trips to Cuba, France, and Puerto Rico, mostly with Ana Simo.

This series also contains materials related to two notable performance works: Art-Official Ritual and Surviving Salvation. Cogswell performed Art-Official Ritual while a student at New York University. In the piece, Cogswell reserved a windowed classroom where she undressed, shaved her entire body, then proceeded to put on a skirt and blouse and apply make-up. Cogswell wrote that her "performance, the ritual, should be less disturbing than the fact that women scrape, pluck, chop hair from their bodies because they have been taught that it's ugly. Or that most women, at least in this country, have never seen what their bodies look like unaltered by blades. We have to ask--whose hand is holding the razor?" (#13.8). Materials related to Art-Official Ritual include Cogswell's writings about her controversial work and her response to the Performance Studies Program faculty directors regarding their disapproving reaction to the piece. Surviving Salvation was a performance work Cogswell created in 1993. In her living room, she set up a treadmill and built a caduceus on which she hung relics, including test tubes filled with her hair and blood. Every day during Lent Cogswell walked on the treadmill for hours in front of the Caduceus wearing a hospital gown. The piece was a way to explore her intersecting concerns both about lesbian bodies, and how female bodies and chronic illness are addressed by medicine. Cogswell invited Lesbian Avengers members to visit, observe, and ask questions. In notebooks, Cogswell recorded her experience (#13.19) and visitors recorded their impressions (#13.18). See also Series III for additional writings by Cogswell for The Gully; and Series VI for video of Art-Official Ritual and Surviving Salvation. See Series VII for born-digital content related to Cogswell's writings and other creative projects. Series is arranged alphabetically by type of work.

Series III, ACTIVISM, 1990-2016, undated (#15.11-18.11, F+D.3, OD.1), includes correspondence, promotional materials, clippings, press releases, printed materials, phone and address lists, writings, notes, and other files related to Cogswell's activist work and involvement in LGBTQ rights organizations, projects, and activities. These include materials related to the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) protests during the Saint Patrick's Day parades in New York in the 1990s and early 2000s, including Cogswell's arraignment papers after her arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest; research materials, articles, interview notes, and promotional materials for The Gully, as well as draft articles and stories on Cuba written by Ana Simo; Homocom corporation files; materials related to Lesbian Avengers actions, including the Lesbian Avenger Handbook, which offers a step by step guide on how to attract press attention from the media; and project description for the Lesbian Avengers Documentary Project. See also Series VI for video interviews for the Lesbian Avengers Documentary Project and for The Gully. See Series VII for born-digital content related to Goudou Explosive (Exploding Dyke), Lesbian Avengers, Homocom, and The Gully. Series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS,1969-2000, undated (#PD.1-PD.16), include images of Cogswell, friends, family, girlfriends, as well as marches and demonstrations. This series offers a visual narrative of Cogswell's life from childhood activities and friends in Kentucky through her adult life as an activist at LGBTQ rights demonstrations and posing with girlfriends. This series contains photographs of Cogswell as a young girl on the local baseball team, as a Girl Scout, and posed at her senior prom. Later images include Cogswell with her life partner Ana Simo on various trips, and participating in demonstrations, including the New York City Dyke March. Series is arranged chronologically.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.

Series V, MEMORABILIA, 1993-2008, undated (#19CB.1m-20FB.1m, Mem.1), contains objects created and used for demonstrations and marches. This series contains a Lesbian Avengers styrofoam bomb; a noisemaker used at a Dyke March; a black umbrella painted by Simo and Cogswell while on the metro in Paris, France, on their way to a demonstration; and a banner created by Cogswell for the lesbian visibility group Goudou Explosive, which she and Ana founded for the Pride Parade in Paris, France. Series is arranged alphabetically.

Series VI, AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS, 1988-2012 (#Vt-323.1-Vt-323.87), contains VHS, mini-DVs, and 8 mm videotapes related mostly to Cogswell's performance work and activism, including interviews of activists and artists for the Lesbian Avengers Documentary Project, Gay City News, and The Gully and video of Cogswell's performance art works, Art-Official Ritual and a nearly daily log of Cogswell's multi-day performance work, Surviving Salvation. Also included are videotapes of Cogswell's and Simo's trip to Cuba in 2003. This was Simo's first trip back to her homeland since leaving Cuba for France in the late 1960s. The multiple videotapes from Cuba provide mostly visuals of sites they visited with minimal narration. See also Series II and III for files related to Cogswell's performance artwork, writings, and participation with the Lesbian Avengers. Series is arranged alphabetically.

Series VII, BORN-DIGITAL RECORDS, 1990-2018 (#E.1-E.3), includes born-digital files created by Cogswell and others, including documents, e-mails, audiovisual materials, graphics, photographs, and web sites. Files relate to Cogswell's activist work, her writings, and other business and creative projects.

Electronic files (#E.1-E.2) were received on three 3.5 inch diskettes and one external hard drive. Disks were imaged using FTK Imager. Data on two of the diskettes were unrecoverable. Data on the remaining diskette (#E.1) has been converted to PDF/A for preservation and delivery. Data received on the external hard drive (#E.2) has been deposited in Harvard's Digital Repository Service and the digital content can be accessed in the reading room at the Schlesinger Library. A digital folder list extracted from the hard drive will be linked to the #E.2 folder entry below. A selection of Cogswell's web sites are being captured as part of Schlesinger Library's web archiving program.

The hard drive of born-digital content (#E.2) contains files, many of which Cogswell created or collected while living in Paris, France. Some of the content relates to specific projects or organizations found in Cogswell's paper files; other files relate to projects not represented elsewhere in the collection. There are additional Goudou Explosive materials, including correspondence, promotional materials, account and images of the Paris Pride March (2008-2009?) and some Lesbian Avengers material for a French conference at Bagdam Espace Lesbien à Toulouse (April 2009) where Cogswell and Simo spoke. These materials include French promotional and information materials, and notes for a speech. The hard drive also contains additional files for The Gully, including articles; e-mails from readers and the media; applications from writers; newsletters; correspondence with authors; requests for articles, reprints, copyright permission; and reader opinions. Additional Homocom files include e-mail correspondence, board meeting minutes, finance and tax information, grant applications and other information on funding sources, letters of inquiry and letters of support, promotional information, and audio and video content. Many of these materials relate to Homocom's special projects, including Journalism 101 workshop/boot camp; Out for the Truth journalism workshop; and In Our Own Words Project.

The hard drive also contains many of Cogswell's articles she published as a freelance writer for Gay City News, International Herald Tribune, and Courier-Journal, among others. Included are drafts and final versions; research materials, such as reports and articles; contractor agreements; interviews; and related e-mails. Also included is information regarding Cogswell's blog Kelly Sans Culotte, as well as drafts of two of Cogswell's unpublished novels set in Paris: "Venal Seine" (2000-2004) and "Mortifying the Flesh" (2002), and a cookbook draft: "Down Home in a Kentucky Cuban Cocina" (2017). Other film and writing project materials include correspondence, media inquiries, research materials, notes, and story ideas related to Two 4 The Road, a partnership between Cogswell and filmmaker and photographer Harriet Hirshorn to produce short web videos (2007). There is also correspondence, information, web page draft, book sample cover designs, business plan, small press start up costs, sample contracts and possible book projects related to the setting up of a small press publishing company, Tetrapod, with Amy Parker; as well as a business plan, recipes, and expenses related to Cogswell's unrealized bourbon bar business venture in Paris. Series contains content also in Spanish and French. See also Series II and Series III for additional materials related to Cogswell's activist and writing work. Series is arranged chronologically.


Activist, writer, and journalist Kelly Cogswell was born on December 4, 1966, in Louisville, Kentucky. She has two sisters, Victoria and Kim. Her mother Jean Cogswell became an amateur artist and her father Frank Cogswell was a business consultant. Cogswell's parents divorced when she was young and her father re-married. Cogswell attended Seneca High School and played violin. In 1984 she matriculated at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where she studied English and art (BA 1988). After college she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she wrote poems, created art, and directed and performed performance works throughout the city. In 1988, she moved to New York City to attend the Performance Studies Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts (MA 1990). While in New York Cogswell worked odd jobs as a dishwasher, prep cook, and temporary secretary while continuing to write poetry and develop performance art works. In 1991, Cogswell had just come out as a lesbian and was living in New York's East Village when she became involved in LGBTQ activism. That year she demonstrated with the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, supporting their first bid to march openly in New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade. In 1992, she joined the Lesbian Avengers, a direct-action group focusing on issues of lesbian survival and visibility. The Lesbian Avengers was founded in 1992 by activists Ana Simo, Sarah Schulman, Maxine Wolfe, Anne-christine d'Adesky, Marie Honan, and Anne Maguire in New York City. The group often created actions for visual appeal, including organizing the first Dyke March for lesbian visibility on the eve of the Lesbian and Gay March on Washington in 1993. The publicity from this march helped to mobilize the founding of new chapters worldwide. It was through Cogswell's involvement with the Lesbian Avengers that she met her life partner, Cuban exile and playwright Ana Simo.

In 2000, Cogswell became a citizen journalist, and with her partner Ana Simo, co-created The Gully, an online news forum for the global LGBTQ community. Cogswell and Simo edited and contributed articles to The Gully with the goal of redefining and expanding "gay issues" by juxtaposing "mainstream" concerns like the Iraq War or world cup soccer with "queer" ones like the fight for lesbian rights in Guatemala. In 2001, it became apparent to Cogswell that The Gully and The Gully en español were part of a larger project of LGBTQ media and communications and so she founded and served as president and CEO of Homocom, a non-profit organization designed to promote social change and broaden understanding of LGBTQ lives through communication. Cogswell's journalistic work and opinion pieces have also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, The Huffington Post, Louisville's Courier-Journal, and THIS WAY OUT: the international lesbian & gay radio magazine. Her regular column in New York's Gay City News was recognized several times by the New York Press Association.

Cogswell speaks regularly in the United States and abroad on the art of protest and video journalism, among other topics. She was awarded the Joan Heller-Diane Bernard Fellowship for her project documenting the Lesbian Avengers. Her book, Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger (2014) was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, a Publishing Triangle Award, and was also featured on The 2015 Over the Rainbow Project book list. In 2018, she was awarded a Poynter Fellowship in Journalism at Yale University. She currently lives with her partner Ana Simo in Paris, France.


The collection is arranged in seven series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1981-2013, undated (#1.1-4.14, F+D.1)
  2. Series II. Writings, Performance, and Art, 1981-2018, undated (#4-15-15.10, FD.1-FD.2, F+D.2)
  3. Series III. Activism, 1990-2016, undated (#15.11-18.11, F+D.3, OD.1)
  4. Series IV. Photographs, 1969-2000, undated (#PD.1-PD.16)
  5. Series V. Memorabilia, 1993-2008, undated (#19CB.1m-20FB.1m, Mem.1)
  6. Series VI. Audiovisual materials, 1988-2012 (#Vt-323.1-Vt-323.87)
  7. Series VII. Born-digital records, 1990-2018 (#E.1-E.3)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2018-M129

The papers of Kelly Cogswell were given to the Schlesinger Library by Kelly Cogswell in August 2018.


Donor: Kelly Cogswell

Accession number: 2018-M129

Processed by: Laura Peimer

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:

  1. Between the Lines, Michigan's Weekly Newspaper Serving Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders & Friends (June 2, 2003, volume 11, issue 26)
  2. Gay Community News: A Special Issue for the March on Washington (April 1993)
  3. Las Lunas y Las Otras (October 1993, #1)
  4. Radical Chick, November-December 1992 (vol. 1, #3)

Processing Information

Processed: February 2020

By: Laura Peimer

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by Radcliffe Class of 1956 and the Mary Mitchell Wood Manuscript Processing Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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