Our History

In fall 1997, at the 25th Women's Activist Reunion of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst's Women's Studies Program, Kaymarion Raymond (long-time Valley feminist activist) and Joyce Berkman (now Professor Emerita at the University of Massachusetts) discussed the formation of a women's history research and oral history organization which would preserve this activist history. Susan Tracy (now Professor Emerita at Hampshire College) joined them in February 1998. Kaymarion had already compiled a Herstory Chronology (beginning in 1967), a Valley lesbian slideshow, a timeline, and a questionnaire which she had circulated among friends.

In September 1998, a small gathering of Valley feminists meeting at the Five College Women's Studies Research Center at Mount Holyoke College launched the organization, planning its structure and foci. A few years later, coordinators applied for and received non-profit corporation status for the VWHC. An Advisory Board was also formed. Soon afterwards, the new Valley Women's History Collaborative was awarded its first grant, a MacArthur Grant initiated by Susan Tracy through Hampshire College, to begin an oral history project.

In January 1999, through the sponsorship of Five Colleges, Inc., and the support of the Five College librarians and archivists, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities awarded the VWHC a grant to develop an oral history training program. We were joined in fall 1999 by Marla Miller (now Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts), who spearheaded the documentation and archive aspect of our work. During 2000-2001, Miller together with Berkman, Tracy and Raymond successfully wrote a grant to the Massachusetts Historical Records Advisory Board which allowed us to identify repositories for the documents and records we have collected and to create a donor guide. A subsequent grant for 2001-2002 from the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts further financed the transcription of oral history tapes.

The VWHC’s research and oral history work focused initially on the history of reproductive rights in the pioneer valley before Roe v. Wade and on the origins and early years of Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts. Various volunteers also chose to interview prominent women political and educational leaders in the Pioneer Valley. The oral histories of reproductive rights in our area formed the basis of David P. Cline's book, Creating Choice: A Community Responds to the Need for Abortion and Birth Control, 1961-1973 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Creating Choice was a recipient of the Margaret Sanger Award for Work on Reproductive Health in 2006.

In 2008, the VWHC turned to the history of the valley’s predominantly lesbian softball league, the Mary Vasquez League. In addition to collecting oral histories, the VWHC sponsored three public screenings of the documentary film, In League With Us, by local independent filmmaker and softball player Lacey Johnston. The film chronicles the history of the Mary Vazquez Women's Softball League which started in the Pioneer Valley in the mid-1970s and continues today. This project was supported by a a Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts Competitive Grant initiated by Jaccqueline Castledine.

Based on student, faculty and community volunteers oral histories and research, including their own Oral History Research of women in the Mary V. Softball League, VWHC members Jacqueline Castledine and Julia Sandy published ""Stop That Rambo Shit ... This is Feminist Softball': Reconsidering Women's Organizing in the Reagan Era and Beyond," in Kathleen A. Laughlin and Jacqueline Castledine, Eds., Breaking the Wave: Women, Their Organizations, and Feminism, 1945-1985 (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2011).

In 2010, Laura L. Lovett (now Associate Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) wrote a Massachusetts Creative Economies Grant to begin to document women's creative efforts in the Valley. This grant supported the creation of a digital infrastructure for the VWHC and launched the database of local women's organizations, which was designed by Kate Freedman, Laura Lovett, and Steven Rigler.

In 2011, the VWHC turned its attention to the origins and early histories of domestic violence shelters in the pioneer valley. In 2012, the VWHC began collecting oral histories of the founders of NELCWIT (New England Center for Women in Transition) in Franklin County. A student component of this project was developed for University Without Walls by Jacqueline Castledine. Focusing on the history of NELCWIT, this course attracted students from History, Public Health, Psychology, WGSS and English. Susan Tracy continued the precedent of Jacqueline Castledine’s course the following semester with a course at Hampshire College. At the same time, Joyce Berkman supervised two related independent studies research courses. The domestic violence shelters project is currently still underway with the goal of collecting the history of Womanshelter, the primary shelter in Hamden County.

In 2014-2015, Lovett was awarded a Five College Digital Humanities Grant to digitize selected parts of the VWHC archive held in the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Special Collections and University Archives. Destiney Linker worked as Research Associate with SCUA to organize and digitize oral history interviews.