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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 555: Vt-133: MP-56

Papers of Florynce Kennedy, 1915-2004 (inclusive), 1947-1993 (bulk)


The papers of Florynce Kennedy, lawyer, political activist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and feminist.


  • 1915-2004
  • Majority of material found within 1947-1993


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Although most of the papers are open for research, the following are closed as noted: legal cases found throughout #9.13-17.6, and other folders access to which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Florynce Kennedy is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Joy Banks claims all rights, such as movie rights, to the story of her sister's life. Copyright in the videotapes of The Flo Kennedy Show produced by Don Lynn is held by David Heeley. Upon his death, the copyright in the videotapes of The Flo Kennedy Show produced by Don Lynn will be transferred to 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.


15.1 linear feet ((31+1/2 file boxes, 1 folio box, 1 carton) plus 4 folio folders, 2 folio+ folders, 1 oversized folder, 15 photograph folders, 211 videotapes, 1 motion picture)

These papers contain biographical material; personal and professional correspondence; notes; drafts of unpublished poems, short stories, and essays; works by other writers; and videotapes and photographs documenting aspects of Kennedy's professional and, to a lesser degree, private life. Topics include feminism and women's rights; reproductive and abortion rights; the decriminalization of prostitution; racial discrimination; and socio-economic inequity. Personal correspondence is spotty and primarily concerns political issues. The collection was received without an original filing system; papers, videotapes and photographs arrived both loose and in folders, most of which were unlabeled. Some materials, primarily clippings, contain annotations in red pen and/or explanatory sticky notes; these were created by Kennedy's sister, Joy Kennedy Banks. Current organization was created by the archivist. Substantial overlap exists among and within each series, but there is little duplication of materials.

The collection is arranged in ten series:

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1915-2004, undated (#1.1-5.15, Vt-133.1-Vt-133.2, MP-56.1), contains biographical information about Florynce Kennedy, including clippings; autobiographical writings and transcripts of interviews of Kennedy from the 1970s; reminiscences; financial records; material relating to her education; and the personal papers of her husband, Charles Dye. In addition to transcripts of interviews used for Kennedy's published autobiography, this series also includes unpublished memoirs, time-lines, and reflections created by Kennedy and her sisters. This series is arranged in seven subseries.

Subseries A, Biographical, 1951-2004 (#1.1-2.8, Vt-133.1-Vt-133.2), contains a memoir, clippings, awards, honors, and tributes to Kennedy. Comprised primarily of materials that document her adult life, it also includes a memoir about Kennedy's childhood and vignettes about the family written by her sister, Joy Kennedy Banks. The majority of the subseries is comprised of clippings that provide general information about Kennedy's activities, including her involvement in protests and legal cases. Book reviews are arranged with the subseries pertaining to that work, though some overlap may exist. Also included are a binder (dismantled) of various printed materials about Kennedy, compiled by Joy Kennedy Banks; honors, awards, and honorary degrees; and an unpublished manuscript, "On Flo Kennedy," by Victor Salupo, with graphic illustrations and caricatures by Betsy Olson West. Biographical material compiled by Kennedy's sisters appears first, followed by clippings arranged chronologically; honors, awards, and tributes to Kennedy appear toward the end.

Subseries B, Autobiographical, 1947-1994, undated (#2.9-3.2), includes Kennedy's autobiographical sketches; transcripts of interviews (some of which were later used in constructing her autobiography, Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times); materials pertaining to the publication of Color Me Flo, and documents labeled "Color Me Flo," or found within other papers so marked, even though some of the topics are not strictly autobiographical. Interviews were conducted by Carol Gault, Marion Boker, Bob Abrams, and others, primarily in 1976. While interviews were taped, corresponding tapes were not found. A number of interviews, especially those regarding her family, were not ultimately used in the autobiography; others were included in abbreviated or altered form. Most interviews were titled, and, in some cases, the content of the transcript does not match its given title. Most of the interviews exist in fragmented form and cover a broad variety of topics including: feminism, politics, prostitution, and racism. Also included are Kennedy's reminiscences of feminist politics; the National Organization for Women (NOW); development of the the Feminist Party; her husband, Charles Dye; and her opinions about various politicians. While segments of many of the interviews appear in Color Me Flo, the majority of pages in this subseries contain Kennedy's additional extensive handwritten edits. Sections found clipped together were kept as grouped. Drafts of other essays that appear in Color Me Flo but were not found with materials labeled as such and are not present here may be located in #18.7-18.18. This subseries is arranged chronologically, with correspondence, contracts, royalty statements, requests to publish, reviews, and publicity about the book, appearing last.

Subseries C, Personal, 1920-2001, undated (#3.3-3.13, #Vt-133.1-Vt-133.2, MP-56.1), contains annotated calendars and daily planners; to-do lists; miscellaneous loose notes; an address book; diplomas, a yearbook, and other education-related materials; and some medical records. Loose notes that pertain specifically to court cases or books may be found with #9.12-17.18 (search by name or title). This subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries D, Finances, 1958-1994 (#4.1-4.5, #FD.2, #FD.3), contains materials pertaining to Kennedy's personal and professional finances. An outspoken critic of conglomerates like Con (Consolidated) Edison and the New York Telephone Company, she often protested their practices by refusing to pay her bills. She accumulated stacks of delinquent notices over the years and samples of these were preserved. This subseries includes checkbook registers, canceled checks (photocopies), ledger book pages, samples of delinquent notices, and tax materials. Receipts, most of which were not itemized, and copies of utility bills were discarded.

Subseries E, Residence and office issues, 1957-2001, undated (#4.6-4.14), consists of correspondence, receipts, complaints, leases, and other documents pertaining to Kennedy's three primary residences. Early in her career, Kennedy began renting space in New York City from Ruradan Corporation which she used as both her professional law office and her primary private residence. While she inhabited this residence for many years, she experienced perpetual problems with the landlord and repeatedly complained about inadequate heating facilities and dilapidated conditions. In 1977 Ruradan Corporation tried to evict her and sued Kennedy for refusing to pay rent because of the building's unsatisfactory heating. This subseries includes tenant complaints, reports, and petitions about robberies, unhygienic conditions, rodents, and temperature that Kennedy collected and used in her trial.

In the late 1960s, Kennedy, together with "Peg" Brennan and Pam Brennan, purchased properties on Fire Island (New York) and in Nova Scotia. The properties served as time shares and many of Kennedy's friends, including Diane Schulder Abrams, Sandra Hochman, Emily Goodman, and Leonard Cohen, rented shares for the summer. In 1979, Kennedy and four other women were prosecuted by a private transit authority and arrested when, after waiting at length for a ferry, they refused to pay transit fare from Fire Island to the mainland. Material used in Kennedy's court case appears in #10.10-13.13. This subseries is arranged alphabetically, with materials about Fire Island grouped together first, followed by Ruradan Corporation, with materials about San Francisco appearing last. Folder titles in quotation marks were created by Kennedy.

Subseries F, Family papers and correspondence, 1915-2003 (#5.1-5.7), contains cards and letters sent to Kennedy by her sisters; biographical materials about her sisters; and other family papers, including life insurance policies. Kennedy was extremely close with her sisters, Evelyn (Lynnie) Kennedy Woods (born 1915?), Grayce Kennedy Bayles (?-2001), Faye Kennedy Daly (born 1931), and Joy Kennedy Banks (born after 1932); though she was closer in age to Evelyn and Grayce, she communicated more frequently with Faye and Joy. Folders containing the sisters' papers are arranged alphabetically. Because they communicated primarily via telephone, correspondence is scant and consists mostly of holiday and birthday cards containing very brief and perfunctory information. General family papers appear at the end of the subseries.

Subseries G, Papers of Charles Dye, 1944-1960 (#5.8-5.15), contains correspondence and papers of Kennedy's husband, Charles Dye, including letters exchanged with Kennedy and others; drafts of his poetry and stories; and correspondence and creative works by writer and poet Rita Dragonette, who published primarily under the name Ree Dragonette. Dye corresponded and collaborated with illustrator Hannes Bok and writers James Blish, Robert Lowndes, and Alexandra Krinkin; this subseries also includes drafts of their works. His first wife, Dragonette, corresponded with well-known science fiction writers and this subseries includes vignettes from "Forry" [Forrest J. Ackerman], a science-fiction editor who wrote lesbian novels under the pseudonym "Laurajean Ermayne" and helped the Daughters of Bilitis publish works in the late 1950s. Also included are letters to Dragonette from renowned science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. Love letters from Dye to Dragonette (and others), notes, and drafts appear on the verso of some of Dye's poems. Folder titles created by Dye appear in quotation marks.

SERIES II. CORRESPONDENCE, 1940-2001, undated (#5.16-9.11), contains correspondence, including fan mail and hate mail. It is divided into three subseries.

Subseries A, Outgoing, 1940-1996, undated (#5.16-6.1), contains drafts and carbon copies of letters and memos by Kennedy, both personal and professional. It is arranged chronologically.

Subseries B, Letters from individuals, alphabetical, 1966-1999, undated (#6.2-7.9), contains both personal and professional letters from individuals with whom Kennedy corresponded with some regularity. It is arranged alphabetically, with the exception of Diane (Schulder) Abrams who is listed by her birth name, not her married name.

Subseries C, Correspondence, chronological, 1945-2001, undated (#7.10-9.11), contains both personal and professional correspondence. The bulk of this subseries is comprised of letters written to Kennedy, with a few of her responses or copies of her responses; holiday, birthday, and get well cards; as well as fan mail and hate mail. Letters address a variety of topics, such as racism, feminism, and illegal abortion; some provide feedback on speaking engagements; some include pleas for legal counsel or guidance. Most cards were found without envelopes and the majority were undated; they follow correspondence and appear in the order in which they were found. Hate mail includes a flyer encouraging others to picket Kennedy. This subseries is arranged with letters appearing first, in chronological order, followed by cards; fan mail and hate mail appear at the end of the subseries.

Series III, LEGAL CAREER, 1956-1997, undated (#9.12-17.6), includes notes, research materials, clippings, correspondence, memos, amicus curiae briefs, depositions, affidavits, and other legal documents that Kennedy either created or collected in her work as a lawyer. It includes cases that she defended or prosecuted as well as legal causes that she supported or about which she was consulted. Kennedy began practicing law within a New York firm after passing the bar in 1952. By the early 1970s, she stopped practicing law full-time and dedicated her attention to political activism and public speaking. She continued to receive solicitations for legal assistance, however, and when she chose to practice, she typically focused on anti-discrimination cases. She often became involved in promoting well-known individuals by writing amicus curiae briefs, raising public awareness, and generating media interest, even if she did not actively serve as counsel. Some of the cases which Kennedy promoted and individuals she supported are located in other series (e.g., the complaint filed by the Feminist Party against the Catholic Church is located in #22.4-22.9). Search note: To locate all of the material pertaining to a cause or person, use the browser's search feature. This series is divided into four subseries.

Subseries A, Early legal work and small cases, 1956-1977 (#9.12-10.9), contains miscellaneous papers related to cases in which Kennedy was involved in her early career and/or cases about which she kept little documentation. Initially, she handled primarily divorce and estate cases as well as a limited number of assigned criminal cases before beginning to focus on corporate violations of copyright, especially in the entertainment field. This led her to defend a number of high-profile individuals, including the estates of jazz legends Billie Holiday (Eleonora McKay) and Charlie Parker. This subseries includes correspondence; receipts; affidavits; certificates of incorporation for Empowerment, Inc., and C. May & Co., and other media organizations (presumably created by Kennedy); and other legal documents. It is arranged chronologically.

Subseries B, Cases pleaded or initiated, 1960-1995 (#10.10-13.13), contains affidavits, typed testimonies, notes, correspondence, and a variety of legal documents pertaining to the cases in which Kennedy became directly involved, including divorce; estate, housing, and transportation disputes; and criminal defense. She served as the defense attorney for a case in which she was originally a defendant, People of the State of New York, Frank Mina, v. Pamela Brennan, et al. The case arose in 1979, when the defendants refused to pay transit fare for ferry service from Fire Island due to a lengthy delay and inadequate service. Kennedy, originally one of five defendants, was charged separately and defended by Emily Goodman in People of the State of New York v. Florynce Kennedy.

This subseries also contains legal documents from Helen Abramowicz, M.D., et al. v Louis J. Lefkowitz, et al., and two closely related cases Robert E. Hall, M.D., et al. v. Louis J. Lefkowitz, et al. and I.F. D'Javid, M.D. v. Louis J. Lefkowitz. The Abramowicz v. Lefkowitz case was the first to challenge the constitutionality of abortion statutes in New York, framing the issue as a woman's right to abortion as opposed to the physician's right to practice medicine. The related cases also challenged the constitutionality of New York State's abortion laws, accusing them of discriminating against poor women. As Kennedy developed her reputation as an outspoken black feminist and champion of civil, women's, and consumer rights, she became involved in the defense of a number of high-profile criminal cases, including Valerie Solanas, and Assata Shakur (Joanne Chesimard), a leader of the Black Liberation Army, accused of armed bank robbery, assault and murder. Kennedy often wrote her opening remarks to the jury by hand on legal pads; these notes, as well as her handwritten notes taken during the trial, are also included. This subseries is arranged alphabetically. Folder titles in quotation marks were created by Kennedy.

Subseries C, Cases supported/requests for counsel, 1973-1997 (#13.14-16.2), contains letters, notes, amicus curiae briefs, affidavits, complaints, injunctions, summons, and other printed materials, sent to or created by Kennedy. By the late 1970s, she had established a reputation for defending human rights and civil liberties issues; while she had stopped actively practicing law by this point, she collaborated on a number of amicus curiae briefs for several high-profile criminal defense cases and her unofficial support often generated publicity. For instance, she helped publicize the trials of Sylvia Borodinsky Kordower Zetlin (1984) when Zetlin, the founder of the Organization of Women for Legal Awareness (OWLA, 1973) initiated a prolonged divorce case and alleged that her activism on behalf of divorced women caused the court to discriminate against her in her own divorce. The case attracted media attention when Kordower Zetlin assaulted her attorney in 1983. Kennedy created a television documentary of the case, Women in Crises (1984) and featured Kordower Zetlin as a guest on The Flo Kennedy Show (Vt-133.17 and Vt-133.18). Additionally, Kennedy became involved with a number of divorce settlements, tenant class-action suits, and estate disputes, including the prolonged case of Charles Alexander Banks. As spokesperson for Black Women United for Political Action, she also lent her public support to New York Yankees player Dave Winfield in his lawsuit against Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Some case files contain Kennedy's handwritten notes. This subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries D, Cases of personal interest/relationship unknown, 1957-1997 (#16.3-17.6), contains correspondence, legal documents and clippings about cases. It is unclear whether Kennedy was involved, directly or indirectly, in these cases. It is arranged alphabetically with miscellaneous cases/fragments arranged by date at the end.

Series IV, WRITINGS AND SPEECHES, 1945-1987, undated (#17.7-19.5), contains correspondence, notes, drafts, contracts, reviews, and publicity pertaining to the books, articles, speeches, lectures, short stories, and poetry that Kennedy produced or co-authored. It includes both published and unpublished works. This series is divided into three subseries.

Subseries A, Books, 1970-1982 (#17.7-18.6), contains materials pertaining to the manuscripts, both published and unpublished, that Kennedy produced. It includes correspondence, notes, clippings, reviews, royalty statements, contracts, publicity, etc., for Abortion Rap (co-authored with Diane Schulder in 1971), Sex Discrimination in Employment (written with William F. Pepper in 1981), and drafts of the unpublished Pathology of Oppression. It does not contain materials pertaining to her autobiography, Color Me Flo (see #2.13-3.2). Although Abortion Rap includes an appendix with reproductions of some legal documents that challenged the constitutionality of New York State's abortion laws, the actual documents pertaining to these cases are found in #10.10-10.16. This subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Kennedy's manuscript, the Pathology of Oppression, represents perhaps her most comprehensive and coherent account of her theories. It details various events and experiences that shaped the 1970s, including the Vietnam War; the Attica prison riot; African American standards of beauty; unwanted pregnancy in the era before Roe v. Wade; the arrest of Women Against Richard Nixon (WARN) activists while protesting Richard Nixon; etc. Some chapters give detailed information about individuals, such as Ti-Grace Atkinson, while others discuss Kennedy's theories of racism, the need to decriminalize prostitution, the "pack attack," and rivalry within the feminist community. The text criticizes four institutions that Kennedy saw as major oppressors: the Catholic Church, the government, corporate business, and the media. Each chapter includes the editor's feedback and suggestions and Kennedy's extensive annotations. Richard Seaver Books of Viking Press placed the book under contract; however, for various reasons, it was never published.

Subseries B, Articles, speeches, papers, interviews, etc., 1945-1987, undated (#18.7-18.18), contains essays, columns, opinion pieces, and speeches by Kennedy. It includes handwritten drafts and notes, as well as published clippings. Often, Kennedy left her drafts untitled; occasionally, she made slight modifications to a popular address or essay and then changed its title to suit the event. Articles or essays that are autobiographical or were grouped together under Color Me Flo appear in #2.9-3.2. This subseries contains only her writings. Correspondence and administrative information about her speaking engagements is found in #19.11-21.4. This subseries is arranged chronologically.

Subseries C, Creative writing and drafts, 1946-1981, undated (#18.19-19.5), contains poetry, song lyrics, short stories, and other creative works that Kennedy produced. Some folders of handwritten drafts contain incomplete work. This subseries includes song lyrics, some written by Kennedy and others co-authored, which promote feminist politics, the campaign of David Dinkins for New York City Mayor, reproductive rights, and sexual freedom, as well as championing workers' rights. Titles include "Everybody Needs a Hooker." This subseries is arranged by genre.

SERIES V, The FLO KENNEDY SHOW, 1978-1995, undated (#19.6-19.10,Vt-133.3-Vt-133.204, Vt-133.206-Vt-133.211), contains correspondence, notes, and other materials pertaining to the The Flo Kennedy Show, a thirty-minute talk show that aired regularly on Manhattan Cable Television from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. While recordings of, and records pertaining to, early shows are spotty, Hal Miller and Mark Perez produced at least some of the shows until approximately 1984, when Don Lynn became the show's official producer. Lynn oversaw production until he was incapacitated by illness in 1993; it is unclear who produced the shows after Lynn. Throughout the show's life span, Kennedy interviewed marginalized individuals, including leaders of gay and lesbian communities, political radicals, grassroots activists, outspoken lawyers, as well as New York City politicians, national and international figures. By broadcasting alternative stories, the show challenged the biases of the major networks and mainstream newspapers. The Flo Kennedy Show videotapes have been digitized and are available streaming online at the Internet Archive. This series consists of three subseries.

Subseries A, Videotapes of dated shows, 1981-1993 (#Vt-133.3-Vt-133.148, Vt-133.163-Vt-133.202, Vt-133.206-Vt-133.209), contains master videotapes (3/4 inch except where noted) of the show. The tapes are arranged chronologically, according to the date on which the show was taped (the date on which the showed aired was indeterminable). Folder titles reflect the name of the guest(s), the date the show was taped, and/or the location (when known), if the show was filmed outside of the studio. Fifty additional videotapes of the show (#Vt-133.163-Vt-133.202) were received in 2009 and another six (Vt-133.206-Vt-133.209) were received in 2022 and interspersed chronologically within the existing arrangement. Unless otherwise noted, each tape runs roughly thirty minutes with Kennedy acting as host and Don Lynn as producer (beginning sometime in 1984). Guest hosts or producers are noted in the folder title. Some interviewees were identified as "special guest" and folder titles reflect this distinction. Folder titles that appear in quotation marks were created by the studio. Correspondence, printed materials, etc., pertaining to many of the guests are found throughout the collection; the browser's search feature provides the most efficient way to find the recurring names and issues.

Subseries B, Videotapes of undated shows, undated (#Vt-133.149-Vt-133.160, Vt-133.203-Vt-133.204, Vt-133.210-Vt-133.211), contains tapes of shows with no identifiable date; it is arranged alphabetically by guest's name.

Subseries C. Notes, correspondence, and printed materials, etc., 1978-1995 (#19.6-19.10, Vt-133.161-Vt-133.162), contains Kennedy's notes about, and questions for, guests; notes about studio setup; contracts; fan mail; mailing lists; clippings; other printed material; and a detailed list of shows, including video numbers assigned by the studio. It also includes biographical information about and videotapes of the memorial service of Don Lynn, the show's producer. Tributes to Lynn during the service testify to the high esteem in which he was held within the African American community. The service also highlights Lynn's relationship with life-partner David Heeley, and describes the respect they earned and obstacles they faced as an interracial and homosexual couple. Videotape of the service includes several musical performances, poetry readings, and spoken remembrances, as well as informal dancing at the end of the service. This subseries is arranged chronologically.

SERIES VI, SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS AND APPEARANCES, 1966-1995, undated (#19.11-21.4), contains correspondence, announcements, flyers, etc., pertaining to lectures and appearances by Kennedy, as well as announcements and reviews of her appearances on television shows (other than The Flo Kennedy Show) and in film. As Kennedy's reputation as an outspoken radical feminist grew, women's organizations, consumer advocacy groups, colleges, and some radical groups engaged her services as a lecturer. Her public talks addressed the need for gender and racial equality and discussed the problem of poverty, homophobia, and violence. This series is divided into two subseries.

Subseries A, Speaking engagements, 1966-1995, undated (#19.11-20.14), contains correspondence, announcements, contracts, etc., pertaining to Kennedy's lectures and appearances. In the 1970s and 1980s, especially, Kennedy regularly lectured to audiences about women's political activism, gender roles, reproductive rights, and general women's issues. Often using colloquialisms and profanity, Kennedy developed a unique and provocative speaking style. She openly attacked traditional power structures and those who perpetuated injustice, but she also criticized audiences whose silence, apathy, or inaction allowed injustice to occur. Her colorfully-articulated views of the constraints of marriage and her stance on decriminalizing prostitution led the press to dub her "radicalism's rudest mouth." This subseries consists primarily of contracts, but also includes publicity; materials and program events; correspondence; travel arrangements and itineraries; and occasionally newsletters detailing her appearance. It is arranged chronologically. Comments on Kennedy's talks may also be found interspersed between #1.4-1.15 and #6.2-8.17; speeches themselves are in #18.7-18.18.

Subseries B, Other television and film appearances, 1970-1984 (#21.1-21.4), contains correspondence, schedules, publicity, reviews, etc., pertaining to Kennedy's appearance in film and documentaries such as the award-winning Black Roots, by Lionel Rogosin, as well other television appearances. In 1970, she appeared in The Landlord, as Enid the maid; materials about that role do not appear in this subseries but some references may be found in correspondence. It also includes letters about Some of My Best Friends Are Men, a thirty-minute Canadian television show on which Kennedy appeared regularly. This subseries is arranged alphabetically, followed by one folder containing materials about other appearances.

SERIES VII, ACTIVISM: FEMINISM AND WOMEN'S ISSUES, 1967-2000 (#21.5-25.5), contains materials produced by or related to the many women's rights organizations in which Kennedy participated or helped found. This series contains general materials about various women's rights issues; it does not contain materials pertaining to her lectures on these topics (see #17.7-19.5, #2.9-3.2). This series is divided into five subseries.

Subseries A, Reproductive rights, 1967-2000 (#21.5-21.12), contains general materials that document the struggle of various groups, including Women's National Abortion Action Coalition (WONAAC) and Abortion Rights Mobilization (ARM), to promote pro-choice philosophies; research materials about abortion; and printed materials and clippings from pro-life groups, including New York State Coalition for Life, Non-Sectarian Committee for Life, and various Catholic organizations. Included are petitions, correspondence, clippings and general materials about abortion and birth control. It does not include materials that document Kennedy's legal battles about reproductive rights issues or materials about Abortion Rap. Kennedy worked on several cases that challenged the constitutionality of New York State's abortion statutes; materials pertaining to these cases is located in #10.10-10.16 and #22.4-22.9.

Subseries B, the Feminist Party, 1970-1994 (#21.13-22.9), contains correspondence, clippings, legal documents, mailing lists, notes, etc., pertaining to the Feminist Party, which Kennedy helped found in November 1971, when she grew dissatisfied with the hierarchy and power dynamics within the National Organization for Women (NOW). In 1972 the party nominated Shirley Chisholm for President. The bulk of this subseries contains legal documents pertaining to the Feminist Party's proceedings against the Catholic Church. In 1972, Kennedy led the Party in filing a complaint against the Archdiocese of New York with the Internal Revenue Service, charging that the Church violated the requirements governing tax-exempt organizations. She argued that the Church used its funds to influence legislation against abortion and support certain political campaigns; such activities constituted illegal political lobbying. Therefore the lawsuit demanded that the federal government rescind the tax-exempt status of the Church and other anti-abortion lobby groups. This subseries contains materials documenting that complaint, including clippings from small or obscure publications; clippings from mainstream newspapers have been discarded (unless annotated). General materials about the group appear first (#22.3 includes song lyrics, many written by Kennedy and Diane Schulder (later Abrams), that promoted feminist politics. Titles include: "Gotta Get Rid of Richard Nixon," "Move on Over: the Battle Hymn of Women"); these are followed by folders containing materials primarily about the Catholic Church; the series ends with printed materials distributed by pro-life groups.

Subseries C, General feminism and women's issues, 1967-1993 (#22.10-24.2), contains correspondence, printed material, clippings, etc., created by or pertaining to feminist organizations, such as Black Women United for Political Action (BWUPA) National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO), and NOW, as well as subject files on general issues of women's liberation; radical feminism, including the protest of the Miss America Pageant (1969) and other beauty contests; rape; the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA); the legal system; etc. Though Kennedy helped found and very actively participated in BWUPA, little substantial material about this group was found among her papers. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by subject. Kennedy's folder titles appear in quotation marks. Considerable overlap, but little duplication, exists between this subseries and #25.6-28.10 (e.g., materials identified as "lesbianism and feminism" appear in this subseries, while materials about the gay liberation movement are found in #28.3). To locate all of the material pertaining to a cause or person, use the browser's search feature.

Subseries D, Prostitution, 1972-1985 (#24.3-24.9), contains correspondence, newsletters, articles, research papers, proposals, and clippings, the majority of which pertain to Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE), an organization founded by Margo St. James in 1973 which fought for the decriminalization of prostitution. This subseries is arranged by topic and material type.

Subseries E, Writings by/about feminists, 1968-1985 (#24.10-25.5), contains published and unpublished essays, articles, speeches, etc., written by or about feminists. It is arranged alphabetically.

SERIES VIII. OTHER CAUSES AND ORGANIZATIONS, 1948-2001 (#25.6-28.10, Vt-133.205), contains newsletters, clippings, papers, some correspondence (often copies of memos from Kennedy), etc., pertaining to various organizations in which Kennedy participated, including political organizations, such as the Black Caucus; honorary law organizations; and a variety of other smaller organizations, such as the National Organization for Non-Parents (NON). While some organizations have distinct folders, some of this subseries is arranged broadly by topic (e.g., materials pertaining to various domestic and international peace movements are grouped together as pacifist organizations, while materials from LGBT organizations are found in a folder titled by Kennedy "gay liberation" #28.3 However, material pertaining specifically to lesbian-feminist issues are found in #23.4 and throughout the videotapes). Throughout her life, Kennedy addressed audiences about many of the diverse causes listed below; this series contains general materials about black liberation, gay liberation, and many other causes, but it does not contain materials pertaining to her lectures on these topics. This subseries is arranged alphabetically. Folder titles created by Kennedy appear in quotation marks.

Subseries A, Black liberation and political activism, 1956-1995 (#25.6-26.10, Vt-133.205), contains correspondence, studies, legal documents, mailing lists, clippings, and other printed materials pertaining to black political activism, as well as more general materials about African Americans. It does not include materials pertaining specifically to black feminist movements; these are located throughout #22.10-24.2. To locate all of the material pertaining to a cause, person, or organization, use the browser's search feature. This subseries contains materials by or about organizations and individuals involved in the black liberation movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, and Jesse Jackson. It also includes materials pertaining to prominent Black Panthers, especially those whose criminal defense interested Kennedy. While the majority of the series documents black activism, three folders contain general printed materials pertaining to African American heritage, history, culture, and racism. Some overlap but little duplication exists between this subseries and #26.11-27.14. It is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries B, Media awareness and consumer protection groups, 1963-2001 (#26.11-27.14), contains correspondence, flyers, petitions, mailing lists, newsletters, clippings, etc., created by groups that studied unfair practices in the media and organized protests and consumer boycotts of items produced by agencies known for racial and gender discrimination. This subseries includes materials produced by two groups that Kennedy founded: the Media Workshop, and Voters, Artists, Anti-Nuclear Activists and Consumers for Political Action and Communications Coalition (VAC-PAC). It also contains materials created by groups in which Kennedy was especially active, such as Consumer Information Services, and the Coalition Against Racism and Sexism (CARS), which orchestrated a boycott against Procter and Gamble and protested the extradition of Joan Little (also known as Joanne Little), an African American woman who killed a white prison guard when he attempted to rape her in 1974. The group also organized an annual March Against Media Arrogance (MAMA) beginning in 1975. Because many of these organizations co-sponsored events and shared similar goals, a great deal of overlap, but little duplication, exists among folders within this subseries. Because VAC-PAC's news releases, News from Flo Kennedy, publicized concerns, causes, or individuals that she championed, significant overlap exists between with this subseries and materials found in other series. This subseries also contains materials that Kennedy collected about the American broadcasting system, cable television, and the media's depiction of African Americans, women, Chicanos, and other ethnicities. This subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries C, Other causes and organizations, 1948-1998 (#27.15-28.10), contains newsletters, clippings, papers, some correspondence (often copies of memos from Kennedy), etc., pertaining to various organizations in which Kennedy participated actively. Significant overlap, but little duplication, may exist between some folders in this series and other series in this collection.

Series IX, SUBJECT FILES, WRITINGS BY/ABOUT OTHERS, AND COLLECTED EPHEMERA, 1950-2002 (#28.11-31.10), consists primarily of clippings, papers, reports, some correspondence, and other printed material that Kennedy collected on a variety of topics. Clippings from major newspapers were discarded, but the subjects Kennedy collected are listed below. This series is divided into three subseries.

Subseries A, Subject and miscellaneous files, 1958-1999 (#28.11-30.3), consists of pamphlets and clippings collected by Kennedy on a variety of topics, including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy; International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation; oil prices and oil corporations (1980s); Native American affairs (especially the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota); police brutality and violence, domestic and international (1970s); Richard Nixon and Watergate; George Wallace; Vietnam and Cambodia; Ronald Reagan and economics; conservative politicians; narcotics use, drug raids and trafficking; the American Civil Liberties Union; police officer Thomas Shea's shooting of Clifford Glover; Jane Fonda; and Patty Hearst. Unless annotated, clippings from easily accessible publications were discarded. This subseries also includes miscellaneous notes and mailing lists of unidentified groups. Folder headings in quotation marks were created by Kennedy. This subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries B, Writings by or about others, 1962-1995, undated (#30.4-30.21), contains proposals, press releases, essays, and other materials written by or about individuals with whom Kennedy was associated. Writings (but not letters) by prominent feminist activists such as Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson are found in #24.10-25.5. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries C, Collected ephemera, 1950-2002 (#30.22-31.10), contains flyers, pamphlets, brochures, bulletins, etc., documenting events for activities, readings, conferences, and/or performances for which Kennedy was not featured as a participant or speaker. It also contains newsletters and miscellaneous clippings. Often, Kennedy retained whole newspapers and magazines but did not annotate them; the covers of such periodicals were kept. Clippings about miscellaneous topics and pages containing multiple topics (e.g., police violence, drugs, women's rights, etc.) appear in this subseries. It is arranged by type, and then chronologically.

Series X, MEMORABILIA, OVERSIZED, AND PHOTOGRAPHS, 1933-1986, undated (#32.1m-34.2m, FD.1-FD.4, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1), includes posters, buttons, and t-shirts. It is divided into three subseries.

Subseries A, Memorabilia, ca.1972-1984, undated (#32.1m-34.2m), contains political buttons and t-shirts either commemorating various feminist groups and events or depicting Kennedy. Also included are two of Kennedy's signature cowboy hats. It is arranged with buttons appearing first, followed by t-shirts, listed alphabetically; hats appear last.

Subseries B, Oversized, 1933-1986, undated (#FD.1-FD.4, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1), contains posters and oversized items, removed from the various series above.

Subseries C, Photographs, ca.1935-1999, undated (#PD.1-PD.15), contains loose photographs, primarily candid shots of Kennedy participating in rallies and protests, addressing crowds at events, and on the set of talk shows or events, often with other well-known activists. Many photographs are striking black and white images; some are iconic images that convey the radicalism and personality Kennedy projected by depicting her arrayed in wide variety of hats and head pieces and t-shirts. Other images of Kennedy alone reflect the seriousness of her determination which her flashy behavior sometimes obscured. Also included are photographs of Kennedy's husband, Charles Dye, as well as photographs showing Kennedy's sisters and their spouses. It is arranged with photographs of Kennedy alone appearing first, followed by Kennedy with others, then others without Kennedy. Some of the photographs in this collection are, or will be, cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database.


Florynce Rae ("Flo") Kennedy, an African American lawyer, feminist, activist, and civil rights advocate, was born on February 11, 1916, in Kansas City, Missouri, the second of five daughters of Wiley Kennedy and Zella Kennedy. In adolescence, she changed the spelling of her name from Florence to Florynce, a practice she retained throughout her life. After graduating from Lincoln High School in Kansas City (1932), she held various jobs, including singing on a radio show, running K's (for Kennedy's) Hat Shoppe with her sisters, and operating an elevator at a department store. After her mother died of cancer, she moved to New York City to live with her sister Grayce Bayles and her husband Vincent Bayles (1942). She began undergraduate work in pre-law at Columbia University in 1944. During her senior year she applied to and was rejected from Columbia Law School. She confronted the institution, challenging that her rejection occurred because of racial and gender discrimination. Once Kennedy hinted that she would pursue legal action, Columbia Law School reversed its decision and she was admitted in 1948, the same year she earned her B.A. According to her recollection, she was one of eight women and the only black woman in her graduating class. After graduating from Columbia Law in 1951, she worked as a clerk for a small New York City firm, Hartman, Sheridan, and Tekulsky. The following year, she passed the New York state bar examination and two years later established her own practice at 295 Madison Avenue, New York City (1954).

Kennedy suffered from back and digestive health problems most of her adult life. After injuring her back in adolescence and again in early adulthood, she underwent spinal fusion surgery to decrease her chronic pain (ca.1940?). After struggling with diverticulitis, she became seriously infected with gangrene, which necessitated the surgical removal of three feet of her intestines (1955). Roughly two years later, Kennedy and colleague Don Wilkes established a joint law firm, Kennedy and Wilkes. Shortly thereafter, Kennedy, then forty-one, married Charles Dye, a science-fiction writer ten years her junior. In their practice, Kennedy and Wilkes handled primarily small divorce and estate cases; Kennedy speculated that the mundane aspect of such quotidian cases depressed Wilkes and he soon left the partnership, absconding with most of the firm's assets, leaving her over $50,000 in debt. Undaunted, Kennedy and Dye lived an impoverished but temporarily happy existence, with Dye answering phone calls and providing administrative and emotional support. According to Kennedy's memoir, their tumultuous marriage was filled with colorful and dramatic encounters, which she attributed to his alcoholism. After a couple of years, the marriage began to disintegrate, then ended completely when Dye passed away from cirrhosis of the liver (1960).

As Kennedy watched Dye suffer from alcoholism, she met blues singer Billie Holiday (Eleanora McKay) and agreed to represent her estate in the legal battles it faced. At this stage in her career, Kennedy specialized in entertainment law. She was especially interested in cases involving intellectual rights and potential infringement of copyright whereby large corporations profited while artists received little or no monetary compensation for their work. For years she focused intently on a compilation of cases which she dubbed the "Piracy of Ideas," or the theft of intellectual property. She represented the estate of jazz legend Charlie Parker in a case which incorporated both of these issues (1962). She later became involved in a number of other high-profile cases. She defended, counseled, and helped publicize the causes of Black Panthers H. Rap Brown and Assata Shakur as well as Valerie Solanas (the woman who shot Andy Warhol).

Kennedy recalled being arrested for the first time in 1965 when she attempted to reach her home on East 48th Street and police refused to believe she lived in the neighborhood. From that point on, she focused her attention on combating racism and discrimination. After attending the four Black Power conferences and black political caucuses (1966), she was invited to speak at an antiwar convention in Montreal, which launched her career as a lecturer. By the late 1970s, she practiced law much less frequently and concentrated most of her energy on speaking engagements and writing.

Kennedy developed a reputation for her distinct personal style and outspokenness as a feminist, civil rights activist, and social critic. Reporters often commented on her long, colorfully polished fingernails, her fur coat, and large collection of cowboy hats. The press dubbed her "radicalism's rudest mouth." Her more outspoken actions include protesting the Miss America Pageant, organizing a "pee-in" in Harvard Yard, and being arrested for refusing to pay public transit fare after a prolonged delay in service. In 1971, she co-authored the controversial Abortion Rap with Diane Schulder (later Abrams), which included testimonies by women who suffered the consequences of restrictive abortion laws by being forced to have illegal and unsafe abortions. As a founder of The Feminist Party, which nominated Shirley Chisholm for president, she initiated a law suit against the Catholic Church, protesting that its strong anti-abortion stance violated the principles governing tax-exempt organizations. She led campaigns against several politicians, including Richard Nixon, George Wallace, and New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch.

From the 1970s through the mid-1980s Kennedy became a popular lecturer among college groups and women's organizations. She also devoted a great deal of time to combating unfair practices in the media. She founded the Media Workshop in order to fight racism in media and advertising and also became a leader of the Coalition Against Racism and Sexism (CARS), and helped coordinate their first March Against Media Arrogance in 1975.

For a short time, Kennedy lived in San Francisco, California (1972), and the following year she co-founded the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) with Margaret Sloan. Kennedy wrote a number of reminiscences and published one autobiography, Color me Flo (1976). In the early 1980s, she collaborated on another book, Sex Discrimination in Employment: An Analysis and Guide for Practitioner and Student, with William F. Pepper. Although she worked laboriously on another manuscript, The Pathology of Oppression, the book was never published. Kennedy's career as a public lecturer slowed in the 1980s; she spent the bulk of that decade and the early 1990s in New York City where she hosted The Flo Kennedy Show, a thirty-minute talk show that aired regularly on Manhattan Cable Television. Although her chronic health complications increased, she used the show to highlight the causes of individuals facing discrimination, including Algerians discussing the Islamic Federation Front and Sylvia Kordower Zetlin (described in more detail below), and occasionally provided legal advice.

In 1997 Kennedy received a Lifetime Courageous Activist Award; the following year Columbia University honored her by conferring their Owl Award for outstanding graduates. The City University of New York awarded her the Century Award in 1999. She died in New York City at the age of eighty-four, on December 21, 2000, due to long-standing health problems.


The collection is arranged in ten series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1915-2004, undated (#1.1-5.15, Vt-133.1-Vt-133.2, MP-56.1)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1940-2001, undated (#5.16-9.11)
  3. Series III. Legal career, 1956-1997, undated (#9.12-17.6)
  4. Series IV. Writings and speeches, 1945-1987 (#17.7-19.5)
  5. Series V. The Flo Kennedy Show , 1978-1995, undated (#19.6-19.10, Vt-133.3-Vt-133.204, Vt-133.206-Vt-133.211)
  6. Series VI. Speaking engagements and other appearances, 1966-1995, undated (#19.11-21.4)
  7. Series VII. Activism: feminism and women's issues, 1967-2000 (#21.5-25.5)
  8. Series VIII. Other causes and organizations, 1948-2001 (#25.6-28.10, Vt-133.205)
  9. Series IX. Subject files, writings by/about others, and collected ephemera, 1950-2002, undated (#28.11-31.10)
  10. Series X. Memorabilia, oversized, and photographs, 1933-1986, undated (#32.1m-34.2m, FD.1-FD.4, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 86-M167, 2004-M91, 2004-M137, 2009-M79, 2022-M75

The papers of Florynce Kennedy were given to the Schlesinger Library by Florynce Kennedy in 1986 and acquired from Joy Kennedy Banks in November 2004; videotapes of The Flo Kennedy Show were donated by David Heeley betwee 2004 and 2022.


Donors: Joy Kennedy Banks, Irene Davall, and David Heeley

Accession number: MC 555

Processed by: Marilyn Morgan

Irene Davall, friend and colleague of Kennedy, donated papers to the Schlesinger Library in 1987 (87-M43). The bulk of those papers pertained to her individual work and became the Irene Davall Papers (MC 585); papers (e.g., newsletters and flyers) that duplicated materials already in the Flo Kennedy Papers were discarded.

The following items have been removed from the collection and transferred to the Schlesinger Library Books and Printed Materials Division:

  1. Caplan, Paula J. Between Women: Lowering the Barriers.
  2. Cowin, William T. "A Pause for Thought about Your Marriage," undated
  3. COYOTE, Tricks Comics (supplement to newsletter)
  4. Davall, Irene. "Abortion: A Comic Tragedy of Inconsistencies," undated
  5. Garfinkle, Ann M. Carol Lefcourt, and Diane B. Schulder. "Women's Servitude Under Law," 1971.
  6. "Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles," New York: Center for Constitutional Rights, 1984.
  7. Millett, Kate. Flying. Inscribed to Kennedy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1974.
  8. Njau, Rebeka. The Scar. Nairobi, Kenya: Kibo Art Gallery Publications, 1965.
  9. Rammer, Rod. "Poems in Black Leather," Detroit Michigan, 1980.
  10. Ritcher, Rosalyn. "Gays and the Law: A Guide for Laypeople," Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, 1982
  11. Rosenberg, Avis Lang. Pork Roasts: 250 Feminist Cartoons. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1981.
  12. Schary, Jill. The Cosmo Girl's Dream Book. The Hearst Corporation, 1972.
  13. Schulder, Diane and Florynce Kennedy. Avortement, droit des femmes. Traduit de l'anglais par Catherine Bernheim. Paris: Librarie François Maspero, 1972.
  14. Soka Gakkai Young Women's Committee for Peace and Culture. "Women and the Pacific War: Praying for Peace: For the Generations That Do Not Know War," 1981.
  15. Thomas, Joyce Carol and Tom Feelings, Black Child. New York: Zamani Productions, 1981.
  16. Untitled songbook (front cover removed) containing pacifist songs distributed by women's pacifist group, undated
  17. Weddington, Sarah. Guide to Women's Resources. Washington, D.C. 1980.

Processing Information

Processed: April 2009

By: Marilyn Morgan

Updated: August 2022

By: Johanna Carll

Kennedy, Florynce, 1916-2000. Papers of Florynce Kennedy, 1915-2004 (inclusive), 1947-1993 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the Ardis B. James 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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