In 1974, the Lesbian Herstory Archives was established in order to preserve lesbian heritage in a world where, according to its website, “so much of our past culture was seen only through patriarchal eyes.” It was co-founded by Joan Nestle, Deborah Edel, Julia Stanley, Sahli Cavallaro, and Pamela Oline. Mabel Hampton was also an important early member. The Archives was housed in Nestle’s Upper West Side residence at 215 West 92nd Street, apartment 13A, where it would remain for the next 18 years.
By the mid-1980s, the Archives was outgrowing its space. Following grassroots fundraising, the group bought a Park Slope rowhouse at 484 14th Street in December 1991 and officially re-opened in June 1993. The purchase ensured that the Archives would have a permanent space, which continues to serve the lesbian community today.
“Most people would throw everything out about lesbians, or only keep the negative things. … But the Archives house the collective memory of what happened to us as a group.”
Saskia Scheffer, Archives coordinator, 2009
The Archives is home to one of the most complete collections of material on lesbians and their communities, emphasizing the historical significance of the records of lesser-known women. Its holdings include such items as rare lesbian/feminist periodicals, lesbian pulp fiction novels, oral histories, files for lesbian activist and community groups, and 11,000 books by and about lesbians from the 19th century to the present. Now included within its holdings is the library of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis; its website notes that “While we have most of these books in our own collection we keep them together…because they represent what an early lesbian organization felt should be available to its members.”
The volunteer-run organization is, according to Deborah Edel in a 2009 interview, “…a home for all the memories of our struggles and victories, as well as the celebrations of lesbian life.” It also serves as a museum and community center. The Archives was a long-time participant in the LGBT Pride March in Manhattan until 2014 and still walks in the Brooklyn Pride Parade and the New York City Dyke March.
Architect or Builder: Axel Hedman
Year Built: 1908
Christopher D. Brazee, Gale Harris, and Jay Shockley, “150 Years of LGBT History,” New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2014.
Deborah Edel, co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.