LGBT collections bring a rainbow of color to library holdings

At the moment, Chicago is bookended between last weekend’s Pride Festival and this weekend’s Pride Parade. But the study of gender, sexuality and LGBT culture can continue all year long at Northwestern University Libraries.

Our Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections holds a number of archives, books and collections for researchers who want to study the history of the LGBT community.

The McCormick Library has long had a strength in collections focused on the political, social and cultural movements of what’s called “Long Sixties” (an era that stretches from the 1950s to the 1970s). As the library developed its holdings on second-wave feminism — the period of political activism that focused on post-suffrage goals such as reproductive rights and workplace equality—it quite naturally accumulated books, newspapers, serials and other resources pertaining to lesbian issues, said Scott Krafft, McCormick Library curator. To add to this strength, library staff later made a point of acquiring materials documenting the history of gay, bisexual, and transgender people as well .

“Gay and lesbian culture is not monolithic,” Krafft said. “There is a great deal of diversity in it, and our collections attempt to reflect that.”

A few highlights of these materials include:

  • The Tavern Guild Archive: This archive of newsletters, financial reports and correspondence documents 20 years of the first gay and lesbian business association in the United States. Founded in 1962 San Francisco by a group of gay bar owners and bartenders looking to counter harassment of their establishments and patrons, the group quickly grew into a significant professional advocacy and fundraising organization. The archive depicts the complex and rapidly shifting environment for gays and lesbians in San Francisco, from lighthearted disputes over bar tabs to the dangers represented by police brutality.

    Lavender Woman, June 1973

    June 1973 issue of Lavender Woman, a lesbian periodical produced in Chicago.

  • Hundreds of LGBT periodicals, political pamphlets and books, including titles like The Ladder, published by early lesbian civil rights group The Daughters of Bilitis, and publications from the Society for Individual Rights and the Mattachine Society — one of the first American gay rights organizations.
  • Gay pulp fiction books. This collection of paperback books, published largely from the 1950s to 1980s, are loaded with explicit content, unsubtle double-entendres for titles, and freqently pornographic illustrations. While the vast majority of these books were written and purchased for their salacious content, the genre also sometimes included works of serous fiction by authors like James Baldwin and Truman Capote, and non-fiction accounts of gay life hard to find in mainstream literature.