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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 833: T-522: Vt-106: CD-104: DVD-124

Papers of Irene Monroe, 1955-2015


Awards and honors, educational material, sermons, speeches, writings, photographs, memorabilia, audiovisual material, etc. of ordained minister Irene Monroe.


  • Creation: 1955-2015

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Materials containing sensitive personal information in folders #2.1v, 2.7, 3.1, 3.3, 8.1-8.2, 8,4, and 8.6 have been redacted and are open for research. Originals are closed until January 1, 2038.

An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Irene Monroe is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


6.8 linear feet ((14 file boxes, 1 folio box ) plus 3 folio+ folders, 1 oversize folder, 3 photograph folders, 1 audiotape, 1 audiotape, 7 videotapes, 1 CD, 5 DVDs, 6 objects, electronic records.)

The papers of Irene Monroe document her leadership, outreach ministry for marginalized communities, and broader role as a commentator and writer on social, political and cultural issues impacting the nation. The collection includes awards and honors from colleges and universities, churches, and secular organizations; vital records; educational material; and personal correspondence containing invitations, greeting cards, and clippings. Monroe's clerical activities are documented in marriage certificates for same-sex couples, church bulletins, programs, and sermons. There is also substantial correspondence, programs, promotional flyers, and posters associated with her participation in annual events, national conferences, panels and forums, and other speaking engagements. The bulk of material consists of her writings, which include articles, nationally syndicated columns (on-line and print), related correspondence, and excerpts of essays published in edited volumes, anthologies, and scholarly journals. There is some duplication among the syndicated columns. There is also substantial publicity in the collection, including articles that discuss her social, cultural and political views; profiles and interviews that highlight her early life and accomplishments and document media appearances. There are some teaching papers in the collection. Audiovisual material featuring Monroe includes audiotapes, CDs, DVDs, and videotapes. Newsletters have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library Published Materials Division. Most of the papers were received without existing order. The archivist provided the arrangement for all series. The web site of Irene Monroe is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University's Web Archival Collection (WAX).

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1955-2015, n.d. (#1.1-3.5, E.1), includes an artist's portrait of Monroe; awards and honors from the Cambridge Peace Commission, the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the Young Women's Christian Association, a certificate of distinction in teaching awarded by Harvard University, and several citations from the Cambridge City Council. Vital records in this series include a foundling report describing the circumstances of Monroe's abandonment as an infant and her marriage certificate. Educational records include an autograph album from Public School 233 in Brooklyn, report cards and letters of recommendation related to her success in the College Bound Program during high school; school directories and yearbooks; papers related to her Ford Fellowship grant; and ephemera documenting alumni activities associated with Wellesley College, Union Theological Seminary, and Harvard Divinity School. This series also includes substantial personal correspondence, which includes invitations, greeting cards, and letters of support from former high school teachers, friends, and professional colleagues. Also included are many letters from lesbian women seeking advice and support, while others describe their conflict with religious teachings. Of particular interest is a letter describing the impact of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies (#3.4). The series is arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder. Folder titles were created by the archivist.

Series II, PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES, 1988-2015, n.d. (#3.6-8.13), includes correspondence, programs, event flyers, speeches, and other material related to Monroe's role in organizing the Millennium March on Washington, and her participation in annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community events, including the Bayard Rustin Community Breakfast sponsored by the Cambridge City Council, the Fire and Ink Writers Festival, National Freedom Day to Marry, the Boston Women's Fund, and the Lambda Literary Awards. Monroe's commitment to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities are also reflected in her clerical activities, which include licenses, invitations, and correspondence representing same sex marriages and civil unions she officiated; church bulletins and sermons she delivered as a guest preacher at various churches, PRIDE interfaith services, and inaugural events for the City of Cambridge. Booking requests from Monroe's agencies (the American Program Bureau, and Speakout!) and related correspondence, flyers, contracts, and itineraries document Monroe's popularity as a keynote speaker on topics that include marriage equality, the role of religion in discrimination, women's spirituality and healing, and misogyny and homophobia within the church. There are some syllabi, course evaluations, and other material representing classes on women and religious studies that she taught at the University of New Hampshire, Andover Newton Theological School, and Merrimack and Pine Manor colleges. This series also includes program brochures and correspondence related to workshops and retreats for lesbians conducted by Monroe at the Omega Institute and Kripalu; material related to organizations where she served in an advisory capacity, including Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the Young Women's Christian Association; and papers related to Monroe's media appearances, which include interviews on Paula Zahn Now (CNN), Basic Black (WGBH), the Emmy nominated segment from In The Life TV, and The Bible Tells Me So (see also Series IV). The series is arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder. Folder titles were created by the archivist.

Series III, PUBLICATIONS AND PUBLICITY, 1977-2015, n.d. (#9.1-14.13), includes articles by Monroe published in The Witness, The Boston Spirit, The Gay and Lesbian Review, Open Hands, and other magazines; book submissions consisting of correspondence, proposals, and promotional flyers; and syndicated columns published in newspapers, on-line journals, and blogs, including In Newsweekly, The Boston Globe, The Black Commentator, L.A. Progressive, The Billerico Project, The Bay Area Reporter, Queerty, the Washington Blade, and the UK Gay News. There is substantial correspondence mainly consisting of readers responses to her columns. Monroe's contributions to edited volumes, anthologies, and scholarly journals, the critically acclaimed "Louis Farrakhan's Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia" (Grove Press, 1998), as well as essays about growing up gay, and misogyny and homophobia in the church are included. There is some correspondence and outlines describing the early planning phase of Monroe's publication Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow: 365 Days a Year Meditation on Bible Prayers (2008). Other writings include book, art, and theater reviews, and encyclopedic entries. This series also includes substantial publicity consisting of articles published in on-line journals, blogs, and clippings from local newspapers, including the Boston Herald, Metro, and the Cambridge Chronicle. Profiles and interviews of Monroe, published in Oprah Magazine, Out Magazine, Boston Spirit, and other magazines are also included. The series is arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder. Folder titles were created by the archivist.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, OVERSIZED, MEMORABILIA, AUDIOVISUAL, 1969-2015, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.3, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1, 15FB.1m-15FB.5m, T-522.1, Vt-106.1-Vt-106.7, CD-104.1, DVD-124.1-DVD-124.5, E2), includes photographs of Monroe receiving an award, posing with her dog Mr. Midnight, and participating in a spring event hosted by the Diocese of New Hampshire. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*]. Oversized material includes event flyers and posters publicizing various speaking events and signage representing Monroe's role as Grand Marshal in the 1998 Boston PRIDE Parade. There is some memorabilia in the collection, including high school varsity letters, a bronze medallion awarded to Monroe by the Old South Church, and a sash with Adinkra symbols made by students from Miami University. Audiovisual material consists of an audio tape of Monroe's sermon "Christian Sisterhood," delivered at Monumental Baptist Church in Jersey City, New Jersey; videotapes of Monroe featured in The Journey With Caroline Myss, In The Life, and The Millennium March for Equality. A CD of a Watch Night, a traditional New Year's Eve service featuring a sermon by Monroe. Also included are several DVD's documenting Monroe's participation on panel discussions, including A Community Conversation on Civil Rights: Policing Discretion, and Race in Cambridge, Not For Nothin', a weekly series produced by Susan Fleischmann, Executive Director of Cambridge Community Television; and Mass Matrimony, which depicts the first same sex couples to file for marriage licenses in the state of Massachusetts. This series is arranged by format and chronologically thereunder. Folder titles were created by the archivist.


Reverend Irene Monroe is an ordained minister, a public theologian, a syndicated columnist, and motivational speaker. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1955, she was abandoned in a trash can in Fort Greene Park at six months old. Sanitation workers brought her to New York Foundling Hospital where she was initially cared for by Sister Irene, the nun she was named after. Monroe grew up in the foster care system and attended local schools. Despite these early obstacles she graduated from Wellesley College and completed graduate studies at Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University. After receiving a fellowship from the Ford Foundation, Monroe pursued a doctoral degree from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she earned several Certificates of Distinction in Teaching as the head teaching fellow of Rev. Peter Gomes, Pusey Minister of Memorial Church at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During this period she also served as assistant pastor at United Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts (1990-1992), and Christian Education Minister at Old Cambridge Baptist Church (1993-1996).

An outspoken lesbian, Monroe's outreach ministry addresses the civil and human rights of marginalized communities. She has officiated at same sex marriages, led annual interfaith services during PRIDE month, and served as a guest preacher at churches in Cambridge, Boston, and across the U.S., including Harvard's Memorial Church, the Riverside Church in New York City, and the Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco. She played a prominent role on the executive board of the historic Millennium March on Washington in 2000 and has served as an advisor on the boards and committees of the National Black Justice Coalition, Equal Partners of Faith, The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, Christian Lesbians Out, and the African American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion.

Monroe's articles, columns, essays, sermons, and other writings, as well as her numerous speaking engagements, are equally important to her ministry. Using an interdisciplinary approach, her writings incorporate critical race theory, African American and gay and lesbian histories, feminism, and misogyny and homophobia in the church in order to explore the impact of religion on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Her widely read, sometimes controversial columns, published in Bay Windows, Witness Magazine,, The Huffington Post, the Boston Globe, and In Newsweekly, have been syndicated in the United States and published in the United Kingdom, and Canada. Having survived two bouts of breast cancer, Monroe has also used her columns to inspire women facing similar challenges. Her sermons, articles, and essays have been published in edited volumes, anthologies, and journals, including The African American Pulpit (Judson Press, 2001), Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women's Lives Matter (Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), Spirited: Affirming the Soul and Black Gay/Lesbian Identity (Redbone Press, 2006), and Out of the Shadows into the Light: Christianity and Homosexuality (Chalice Press, 2009). In 1998 her essay, "Louis Farrakhan's Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia," published in the Farrakhan Factor (Grove Press), received wide acclaim. A national speaker for the American Program Bureau, Monroe has spoken about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights at national conferences, panels and forums, and other speaking venues that include the National Association for Women in Education, Harvard Divinity School, the University of Massachusetts, and many high schools and colleges. In addition to her publishing and speaking activities, Monroe has organized annual workshops and retreats for lesbian women at the Omega Institute and Kripalu.

Monroe's numerous accomplishments have been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine and Boston Spirit. Boston Magazine named her one of "Boston's 50 Most Intriguing Women." Her media appearances include CNN's Paula Zahn Now; The Journey with Carolyn Myss; the gay pride and other episodes of In the Life TV, which was nominated for an educational Emmy; and the documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, an exploration of the ways in which the religious right has used biblical interpretations to stigmatize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. In recognition of her advocacy, leadership, and dedication, Monroe has received numerous awards and honors. In 1998 she became the first African American lesbian to serve as grand marshal in the Boston PRIDE Parade. Other awards include the Cambridge Peace and Justice Award; numerous citations from the Cambridge City Council; the Bayard Rustin Service Award, the YWCA Outstanding Women Award, and the Spirit of Justice Award conferred by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. Irene Monroe currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her spouse Dr. Thea James.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1955-2015, n.d. (#1.1-3.5, E.1)
  2. Series II. Professional activities, 1988-2015, n.d. (#3.6-8.13)
  3. Series III. Publications and publicity, 1977-2015, n.d. (#9.1-14.13)
  4. Series IV. Photographs, oversized, memorabilia, audiovisual, 1969-2015, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.3, F+D.1-F+D.3, OD.1, 15FB.1m-15FB.5m, T-522.1, Vt-106.1-Vt-106.7, CD-104.1, DVD-124.1-DVD-124.5, E.2)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 99-M82, 99-M132, 2000-M61, 2000-M154, 2001-M80, 2002-M72, 2003-M29, 2005-M38, 2006-M215, 2007-M129, 2009-M152, 2015-M183

The papers of Irene Monroe were given to the Schlesinger Library by Irene Monroe between June 1999 and October 2015.


Donors: Irene Monroe

Accession numbers: 99-M82, 99-M132, 2000-M61, 2000-M154, 2001-M80, 2002-M72, 2003-M29, 2005-M38, 2006-M215, 2007-M129, 2009-M152, 2015-M183

Processed by: Emilyn L. Brown

The following books have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials division pending review of the curator:

  1. Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America
  2. Gay and Lesbian Washington, D.C.
  3. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion
  4. Jumping the Broom: A Black Perspective on Same-Gender Marriage
  5. Out of the Shadows into the Light: Christianity and Homosexuality
  6. The African American Pulpit
  7. Trotter Review

The following newsletters have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials division pending review of the curator:

  1. CLGS Outlook: Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry
  2. CLOUTreach: The Quarterly newsletter for Christian Lesbians Out
  3. Full Circle
  4. G.L.A.D. Briefs: A Newsletter from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders
  5. The Communicator: Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation Newsletter
  6. The Grapevine: The Newsletter of the Coalition of African American Unitarian Universalist Organizations
  7. WAVES, The United Church of Christ Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns

Processing Information

Processed: November 2016

By: Emilyn L. Brown, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.

Monroe, Irene. Papers of Irene Monroe, 1955-2015: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

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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