Ahead of Her Time

Reading through Sally Miller Gearhart’s correspondence in the Archives, I often lose my sense of time. She writes with so much energy, and such a passion for justice that her letters feel alive. She continually insists on increased civil rights, not just for women, but for gays, lesbians, people of color, and animals. Her life-force is so strong and clear, she feels contemporary, so much so that I often forget that the letters are not from recent years.

It was a gift I received from participating in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute reading group this week that opened my eyes to the perspective of time. In our discussions it was brought up just how much has changed in the past 50 years, something I had been taking for granted. Looking then, at the archives later this week, I was caught by surprise by one letter in particular, from 1980.

Sally is writing to Doris Leal, an officer in the Sweet Adeline singing group about the inclusion of greater diversity of women in the organization. She calls for affirmative action, not just lip service, so that all women can participate in this barbershop singing organization. This is 1980, and Sally Miller Gearhart is talking about unconscious and institutional racism, and how to fight it. In 2013 that is important, but the norm. Stopping and realizing that this is 1980 and she both recognized and called out an organization on these practices, I am wowed by her vision and courage.

Sally Miller Gearhart Papers, Coll 305, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.

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One response to “Ahead of Her Time

  • cstabile

    One thing I’ve learned from doing archival research is that the things social justice advocates believe in have deep, rich histories. I think about this a lot with contemporary feminism and the ways in which we don’t remember — or aren’t taught to remember — histories of struggle. Gearhart would be delighted that this is one of the lessons you’ve been learning!

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