History under one roof – Brief Article

John Gallagher

The One Institute and Archives is the largest gay and lesbian collection in the world

In 1942, Jim Kepner bought a copy of The Well of Loneliness, the lesbian novel by Radclyffe Hall. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for collecting by the gay activist. On May 6 that passion, along with similar contributions from hundreds of other people, was celebrated with the official opening of the One Institute and Archives in a 12,000-square-foot building in Los Angeles donated by the University of Southern California. The collection constitutes the largest gay and lesbian archives in the world.

“It is terribly important that gay people and those who are interested in gay life and history know that we do have a rich and varied history–much of it painful but much of it worth celebrating as well,” says Lynn Sipe, a USC librarian and president of the One board.

The archives bring decades of gay history together under one roof. The building–a former fraternity house designed in the 1950s by gay architect Wa Smith–holds more than 30,000 books, 100,000 photographs, priceless collections of personal papers from gay activists, and 5,000 titles of periodicals in every language from Dutch to Farsi. Adding to the collection are thousands of mementos and symbols of the gay movement–including a costume worn by drag artist Charles Pierce, a clerical gown from Metropolitan Community Church founder Troy Perry, the Purple Heart won by activist Hal Call in World War II, and the giant condom that ACT UP activists draped over Jesse Helms’s house in 1991.

The archives have been a long time in the making. The One Institute was founded in 1952 by members of the Mattachine Society, the pioneering gay rights group, and later published its own magazine, which eventually led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1958 that prohibited the U.S. Postal Service from banning gay publications.

The International Gay and Lesbian Archives, started by Kepner, and the One Institute merged in 1994. Around the same time, Walter Williams, a professor at the Center for Advanced Studies at USC and a member of One’s board, was lobbying to find space from his employer for the collection. “We were working on getting USC to donate a building,” he recalls. The university came through with the abandoned Delta Tau Delta fraternity house and more than $200,000 for the archives. “That was unprecedented,” Williams says.

In addition to the merged Kepner and One collections, the archives include the Homosexual Information Center, begun in 1965 when Don Slater left One and took half of its collection with him. The archives also feature a Lesbian Legacy Collection, curated by Yolanda Retter; the AIDS History Collection, which includes treatment reports from early in the pandemic as well as education materials; and a rotating collection of artwork.

All of the work at the archives, including the cataloging of materials and fired-raising, is done by volunteers. “There is a complete dedication to saving our living history,” says Mark Thompson, a board member and former Advocate editor.

Williams expects the collection to keep growing as word of the archives spreads. The volunteers still have 1,000 boxes to sort, through, and the building is already too small for the collection. Plans are under way to begin fund-raising for a new wing. “It’s the responsibility of the community to preserve its heritage,” Williams says.

The materials at the archives will be a boon to scholars. “The archives are so unique and incredibly important,” Sipe says. “The uniqueness comes not just from the content of the majority of the material collected but from the fact that it is collected and organized together in one accessible place.”

And for everyone else, the archives’ exhibits can serve as a tour through history, illustrating just how far the gay movement has come and how much the struggle has cost. In that sense, Thompson says, the collection belong to everyone. “It’s community property,” he says. “We’re just the caretakers.”

Find more information on the One Institute and Archives at www.advocate.com

COPYRIGHT 2001 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

You May Also Like

What do the friends and lovers on your list really want this year? The advocate knows. Here’s a rundown of goodies to help you get you shopping done before you hit the mall

Holiday gift wrap-up: what do the friends and lovers on your list really want this year? The advocate knows. Here’s a rundown of goodies to help…

Cyberporn vs. censorship

Cyberporn vs. censorship Jonathan Curiel The booming world of on-line gay erotica is being buffeted by regulations that may never go…

Dating a man

Dating a man – lesbian leader JoAnn Loulan is having a heterosexual relationship with a man; analysis of its implication in the lesbian communit…

Forget the China pattern: the I Do Foundation helps couples create a charitable donation registry

Forget the China pattern: the I Do Foundation helps couples create a charitable donation registry – Society Sarah Wildman Long befo…