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COLLECTION Identifier: OH-31: T-32

Interviews of the Black Women Oral History Project, 1976-1981


The Black Women Oral History Project collection consists of audiotapes and transcripts of 72 oral histories.


  • Creation: 1976-1981

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Most transcripts and audiotapes are unrestricted. Some oral histories have restrictions which are noted in the inventory. An appointment is necessary to use the restricted audiotapes.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Unless otherwise noted, copyright in the transcripts and audiotapes is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from the Director of the Schlesinger Library, and in some cases, where noted, by the heirs of the interviewee. Commercial use is prohibited until 2027 without prior consent of heirs.

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


7 linear feet ((7 cartons) plus 353 audiotapes)

The Black Women Oral History Project collection consists of audiotapes and transcripts of the oral histories of 72 African-American women from across the United States. The interviews discuss family background, marriages, childhood, education and training, significant influences affecting their choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, union activities, the ways in which being black and a woman had affected their options and the choices made. For each oral history, the interviewer cooperated with the memoirist to record as full an account of her life as possible. The project's procedure was that after the tapes were transcribed, each memoirist was given an opportunity to edit and correct her oral history before the final copy was prepared. Due to the editing process afforded the memoirists, there are occasions when the transcripts do not precisely follow the audio recordings. All of transcripts are open for research with the exception of Merze Tate, which is not yet complete. All of the tapes are preserved at the Schlesinger Library, but the following five interviews are closed until 2027: Kathleen Adams, Margaret Walker Alexander, Lucy Mitchell, Ruth Temple, and Era Bell Thompson. In 1991, the Schlesinger Library in cooperation with Meckler Corporation, published a 10 volume set of many of the transcripts. For additional information on the project, see The Black Women Oral History Project: A Guide to the Transcripts (HOLLIS record), edited by Ruth Edmonds Hill and Patricia Miller King. Further information can be found in the Records of the Black Women Oral History Project. In 1981, photographer Judith Sedwick offered to photograph many of the participants, this project resulted in the exhibit Women of Courage (HOLLIS record) and the corresponding publication. All of these photographs are cataloged in HOLLIS Images, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database.


The Black Women Oral History Project was initiated by a recommendation made by Letitia Woods Brown, professor of history at George Washington University. Noting that the stories of African-American women were inadequately documented in the Schlesinger Library and at other centers for research, Dr. Brown recommended that the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College collect the oral memoirs of a selected group of older black women. These women, many already in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, had made substantial contributions to improving the lives of African-Americans and all people, through professional and voluntary activities, in their communities and nationally.

With initial funding secured from The Rockefeller Foundation, staff at the Schlesinger Library, most importantly Ruth Hill, guided the project, and from 1976 to 1981, 72 women from all over the United States were interviewed. They were selected from several hundred potential interviewees reviewed by the project's advisory committee. Many interviewees had professional careers in fields such as education, government, the arts, business, medicine, law and social work. Others combined care for their families with voluntary service to their communities, regions, or to the nation. Scientific sampling techniques were not employed in the selection process; rather the goal of the project was to interview a cross section of the many women of African descent who had made significant contributions of varying kinds to American society in the early and mid-decades of the twentieth century.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: OH-31; T-32

These oral histories were created by the Schlesinger Library between 1976 and 1981.

Processing Information

Processed: March 2013

By: John Quirk, Joanne Donovan

Black Women Oral History Project. Interviews of the Black Women Oral History Project, 1976-1981: 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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