October 20, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 42
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Thursday, Jan 21, 2021



Lesbian Archive Seeks A Home In The Pacific Northwest
Lesbian Archive Seeks A Home In The Pacific Northwest
"I really want to see the archives become not only a place to hold our communities' treasures and preserve them for the future," said Lisa Cohen, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives. by Liz Latham - Special to the SGN

The SGN sat down with Lisa Cohen, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives on October 10, 2006. Cohen, who was getting ready for a Women's Chorus rehearsal at the Seattle First Baptist Church, talked about the organization and gave her insight in the region's Lesbian history.

Liz Latham: How did you get the idea to start the Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives?
Lisa Cohen: Ten years ago, I went to the Michigan Women's music festival and women from the June Mazer archives in L.A. and women from the Ohio Lesbian archives in Cincinnati went and did a presentation about how to start you own Lesbian archives for one of the workshops they had at the festival and I'm thinking, "Oh, that's what I've always wanted to do" and "I didn't know there was such a name for a thing. I thought, "Seattle doesn't have anything like that and why don't I go back to Seattle and try to figure out how to do something like that." So I took about ten more years of sort of connecting with people and go to grad school and get my training in archives and records management. So I did that about two or three years ago and the real reason I wanted to go and get that degree was so I could do the Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives. That's how the idea came about.

Liz Latham: Who's June Mazer?
Lisa Cohen: June Mazer was an activist in L.A. that as far as I know had quite a collection of archival materials and thought that her papers were worth preserving. She was involved in preserving them herself. One of our board members, Yolanda Retter used to be involved with that group, even though she works at the One Collection in Southern California. Mazer was a Lesbian activist in L.A.

Liz Latham: Are there other Lesbian Archives in the United States or in the world?
Lisa Cohen: Yes. As far as I know in our country we have the Lesbian herstory archives in New York. Our group has been in contact with the women that founded that group as well. They were started in the 70s. There's the June Mazer Archives in L.A., the Ohio Lesbian Archives in Cincinnati, and there used to be a group in Florida also collecting materials (I believe in the Southeastern part of the country). I know that there are some groups in Canada. I'm sure about the international aspect, specifically Lesbian Archives. I know that there are Gay and Lesbian archives across world but not so many just focusing on Lesbian and Queer women's materials.

Liz Latham: What is your vision for the Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives?
Lisa Cohen: I really want to see the archives become not only a place to hold our communities' treasures and preserve them for the future. But, to actually be a venue so people can come and it will be a little bit like the Lesbian Resource Center which folded in 2003. So there will be a space for people to gather. There'll also be a classroom, a work space for presentations, lectures and display areas to display the materials that we have we'll be storing. I envision shelves and stacks area as well as an office space and a processing space and a public venue.

Liz Latham: When you say "Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives" what region would that cover and what Lesbians of note from that region might you be targeting at this time to gather their materials?
Lisa Cohen: Defining the Pacific Northwest region is sometimes tricky but so far we're working with Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Southwestern British Columbia. We're interested in collecting not only the prominent and key Lesbian materials from the area but also Lesbians who may have been overlooked in documentation. Women of different classes and ages, and ableisms. Grethe Cammermeyer expressed some interest. I'm not exactly sure which Lesbians we're going to go after but it's important to get an idea of what Lesbians were doing in this area throughout the decades.

Liz Latham: I've seen instances where certain authors, when beginning a research project, will post messages on Lesbian computer boards nationally to obtain the research subjects they are seeking. Is there a way that you're going to be transmitting knowledge of this institution to Lesbians in the Northwest to actually ask them to contact you? What's your plan there?
Lisa Cohen: Yes as a matter of fact. We are going to be producing an email distribution newsletter, an e-newsletter that will be going out quarterly. What I want to do is a few more fundraising events and then be able to write a newsletter about what we've been doing and then have digital photos go out in the newsletter. So there will be a distribution email list that will announce what we are doing and what we're up to and what we need. I also see us tabling at the events like Pride, not only in Seattle but the other towns in Portland and Vancouver Prides and connecting with those groups in those major cities. We do have an Alaska contact as well.

Liz Latham: What about BC?
Lisa Cohen: We're getting up to Vancouver and working with some of the folks up there. There was a women's bookstore that went out of business and I've been in touch with some of those folks and they know that we're around. There's also a conference for Lesbians over 50 in BC where I'll be representing next October. So about a year from now we'll be up there doing some tabling and some distribution of materials.

Liz Latham: Where is the Pacific Northwest Lesbian Archives?
Lisa Cohen: Right now we are in a private house and appointments can be made when folks need to either have access to materials that we have right now or if they want to make an appointment to donate materials to the archives. We're hoping to have a public venue at some point in the near future though.

Liz Latham: What's your plan for obtaining that public venue?
Lisa Cohen: We're working on that with our board and we'll be reaching out to the community to find out what kinds of contacts community members already have. Once we have a good budget and enough materials that will warrant a research space, then we'll go from there.

Liz Latham: Do you see the possibility of anyone donating a house or a space to the organization?
Lisa Cohen: That would be wonderful and we would encourage it greatly!

Liz Latham: So why do you think we need this?
Lisa Cohen: There's nothing like this that exists in this area. We're filling a need that this area greatly can use. The Lesbians that I've come in contact and heard about are really busy living their lives, doing their life's work. They're not taking the time to preserve the records that they make and information that they distribute. So a lot of time this history is lost and we don't want to see that happen. So we're interested in providing a safe space for materials that document our lives and for a research room where people can get information about what Lesbians were doing in this time period. We're probably the only agency that focuses specifically on those things.

Liz Latham: What do you say to the people that say, "my materials are really important and I want them to be in the Special Collections at the University of Washington or the Washington State Historical Society or MOHI or the Smithsonian for that matter. What do you say to those folks?
Lisa Cohen: I let them know about the importance of keeping our materials in the community, if they're truly community based materials. I realize that all donors have a choice as to where they want to donate their materials but I would recommend that if it's within our collection scope I would hope that they would want to donate their materials to a community based organization that will better serve and provide access to those materials by focusing so specifically on that subject.

Liz Latham: What will you do if it doesn't happen and you've got all these materials?
Lisa Cohen: We'll work with other community based Lesbian archives that exist in the country to either get assistance in some way. If it doesn't work out we'll be able to pass off the materials to the materials to them. Hopefully this will be working out because we're brand new.

Liz Latham: Do you have short term and long term goals for the archives?
Lisa Cohen: We are working on those goals with our board. So far what I'd like to see is to be able to build our collections and be able to spend the time doing the processing that they require so we'll be able to get them ready for public access as soon as possible. Those are our short term goals. Being able to provide physical access to collections is our number one short term goal.

Liz Latham: What is on your short "wish list"? What do you need?
Lisa Cohen: In kind donations would be useful. If people want to buy $25 gift certificates to Kinko's we could use those. $5,000 cash to purchase archival supplies would be a great start. We also need some volunteers that would help process the collections that we already have.

Liz Latham: Will you be anywhere tabling in the near future?
Lisa Cohen: As a matter of fact we are co-presenting a film called "Mom's Apple Pie" by Three Big Dyke Productions and we'll be tabling at the Harvard Exit Theater at 2pm this Sunday, October 15th. We'd love for folks to stop by, sign our mailing list about the archives.

Liz Latham: Thank you Lisa for all of your hard work on this noble effort. "As you can see from the photo, the Archives could really use your help to process these community treasures. Please consider donating money to get this valuable community herstory preserved properly. If you would like to get involved with the Archives, please call:(206) 654-4477 or

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