TSLAC Research Fellow Caitlyn Jones from the University of Houston spent some time with us over the summer working on her project, Texas Women and International Women’s Year, 1977. We followed up with her after her research trip to learn a little about how the collections at the State Archives are supporting her work. TSLAC Research Fellowships in Texas History are made possible by the Texas Library and Archives Foundation and are administered through the Texas State Historical Association. The deadline for 2023 fellowships is November 15, 2022. More information and the submission form is available here:https://www.tshaonline.org/awards/texas-state-library-and-archives-commission-research-fellowship-in-texas-history
Please tell us about your research project, including what TSLAC collections you are using.
I am researching the Texas Women’s Meeting, which took place in June 1977 in Austin as part of the United Nations International Women’s Year initiative. This meeting was one of 56 state and territory meetings that served as a precursor to the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston. Because this was a federally funded event, the TSLAC holds all the records from the Texas IWY Coordinating Committee, which includes meeting minutes, correspondence, outreach materials, oral histories, press clippings, and video footage that reveal the behind-the-scenes struggles of planning this event.
What did you discover in the State Archives that was surprising or changed the direction of your research?
At this juncture in history, we hear a lot about the battle between anti-feminists and feminists over the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive freedom, but the Texas IWY records add nuance to this story. Many groups, including Black women, Chicanas, and lesbians, were actively pushing their own concerns and working to make sure they were represented at the meeting. Often, this led to tensions with the official committee, which was struggling to “balance” the racial, religious, and economic diversity of the attendees. These challenges are important to recognize as we consider the multi-faceted nature of women as a group and the reality that there are “feminisms” rather than a singular “feminism.”
Describe how your research will contribute to scholarship in your field or subject area.
International Women’s Year has received renewed attention in recent years as historians consider the event on a state, national, and global scale. However, Texas is a unique case study because it was the host state of the National Women’s Conference. If the Texas meeting fell apart, it did not bode well for the success of the national conference and organizers knew that. Texas is also interesting because we see the political dichotomy of the state in the 1970s. The Texas legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment just days after Congress passed it, and the state was at the center of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case. However, Texas was also the home of a substantial conservative movement and the birthplace of the Women Who Want to be Women group that helped put together a “pro-family” counterrally at the Astrodome during the National Women’s Conference.
Additionally, the Texas State Meeting gives us a lens to view some of our more modern women politicians in the early days of their careers.
Future Texas Governor Ann Richards as well as future U.S. representatives Sylvia Garcia and Eddie Bernice Johnson all participated in the Texas meeting and the National Women’s Conference. My research looks at how these events shaped their politics moving forward. More broadly, this work centers women in politics and highlights their tremendous impact, both in office and at the grassroots level
Image: Ann Richards, 1977. Program committee files, 1978/032-15-Photograph album-13, Texas International Women’s Year Coordinating Committee records. TSLAC.
What was the most exciting item you accessed at TSLAC?
TSLAC is helping to digitize video footage of the first planning meeting for the Texas Women’s Meeting and I’m very excited to see that. Of course, there are written minutes of the meeting but those don’t convey the emotion or delivery of the heated debates these women engaged in about representation. This footage could provide additional context and serve as visual confirmation of some of the struggles these women wrote about in their personal letters.
What tips can you provide for other researchers, when visiting the State Archives?
Bring a sweater, even in 100-degree heat! In all seriousness, though, contacting archivists before your visit to talk about the collection makes the in-person research process so much smoother. The TSLAC archivists are some of the most helpful people I’ve worked with and can point you in the right direction. Also, make sure to peruse the books in the suggested reading section of the library. They have some wonderful titles on Texas history that dig into all the quirks and complexities of the state.
Thank you Caitlyn Jones! Best of luck on your project.
For more information on the collection mentioned in this interview:
Texas International Women’s Year Coordinating Committee Records: An Inventory of International Women’s Year Coordinating Committee Records at the Texas State Archives:
- Finding aid: https://txarchives.org/tslac/finding_aids/90049.xml
- Images in the Texas Digital Archive:
Planning a visit to the State Archives in Austin? Check out the Before You Visit page from our reference staff. Contact reference for more information about research at the State Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-463-5455.