By Jana Cunningham, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications
On Jan. 23, 2017, the first day of the legislative session, thousands of people participated in the Women’s March in Salt Lake City and marched from City Creek Park to the Utah State Capitol to show their solidarity and demand equality. Filling the capitol rotunda to capacity, many carried signs advocating for gender equality, equal access to health care, LGBTQ rights, equal pay and many others.
The J Willard Marriott Library has begun collecting signs and materials from the Women’s March and other rallies to recognize Utah’s role in this historical period. Below is an interview with archivists Julia Huddleston and Alison Conner about the archive and how it’s preserving a moment in time.
Q: Are submissions only from students or is the community invited to submit as well?
A: Conner: The materials from the collection have come to us from across the state, not just from students. We love the connection with student material and hope to grow that aspect of this collection, but since we are trying to archive moments in history related to many communities in Utah, anyone is invited to donate.
Q: Why did you decide to archive items from the Women’s March?
A: Huddleston: Archives across the country recognized the historic importance of a marches as large as the Women’s March, and began discussing proactively documenting the event — both in Washington D.C. and also from local marches.
Our archive took inspiration from this initiative. We are expanding our focus to include material from other rallies, marches and protests. Often times these items are not preserved or saved in a way that creates a critical mass that is important to researchers and future generations. We attended a rally this past weekend, as neutral observers, in order to acquire posters as attendees were leaving. We had good success with this method, and may continue this approach in the future.
It is important to note that we want to represent political and civic engagement from issues across the political spectrum. Having a broad representation of viewpoints paints a dynamic picture of Utahns and the diversity of opinion found here.
Q: What types of items have you collected?
A: Huddleston: We’re interested in the tangible items related to marches and rallies — signs, posters, stickers, flyers, buttons and everything in-between that captures the experience of the event. For each event these items could be different — the women’s march in D.C. had pink hats, for example, and the Utah’s women’s march used gold capes and boxing gloves. We are interested in items that take us back to that moment.
Q: Why is it important to keep a historical record of this event and other major events in SLC?
A: Conner: This collection is different from other archival collections, which often represent a specific person, or organization, throughout the course of their life. These types of collections limit what we have based on what the donor decided was worth keeping. This also means archive collections can reflect a past time and not speak to contemporary or recent events. We are seeing an increase in people interested in more contemporary materials and we are trying to address this need. The materials that are produced by grass-root movements also tends to be ephemeral such as posters, signs, pamphlets and unless you are there to preserve them at the moment of inception they disappear. In the case of the Women’s March, they literally melt with the snow.
While there have been social movements resulting in protests in the past, the size, number and national attention for current protests is significant. To some, they are reminiscent of past historical moments, such as the war protests in the 1960s and 70s. Most people don’t know there were protests on the campus of the U or in Salt Lake City. If there had been an active archivist at that time gathering and collecting the same material we hope to capture, we now in the present, would have a better idea of Utah’s role in that historical period. An archive is created for the present and the future. We hope that in 30-40 years our efforts will be meaningful to the students and community members interested in this moment in history.
Q: Are there similar political archives at the Marriott library? How can people view these items?
A: Huddleston: The political collections we have currently are from well established organizations like the Democratic Party of Utah, the Republican Party of Utah, Mormons for ERA or International Women’s Year. We also have papers from elected officials like Reva Beck Bosone, Wallace Bennett, David King, Scott Matheson, Jake Garn, Robert F. Bennett, Deedee Corradini, Karen Shepard and others. All of our collections are available to the public, and can be searched through the library catalog lib.utah.edu or at archiveswest.orbiscascade.org.
If people have materials from any march, rally or protest (even ones in the past), please contact Julia.Huddleston@utah.edu, or 801-585-3076, or Alison.Conner@utah.edu. There is no deadline for donation, just note the protest, march or rally the material came from.