In a limestone townhouse around the corner from Bartel-Pritchard Square in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood is the largest collection of items relating to lesbian history—or herstory—in the world.
The Lesbian Herstory Archives has its roots in the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s. A group of women involved in the Gay Academic Union, which itself had been founded to represent the interests of gay workers and students at the City University of New York, started their own group out of concerns about sexism within the GAU.
The women were also concerned about how difficult it was to get any information about lesbian history through traditional academic channels. Even when it could be found, the research process itself could be dehumanizing, requiring searching under categories like “deviant” and “abnormal.”
In 1974, the group of women, which included Joan Nestle and Deborah Edel, sent a press release to established lesbian organizations announcing their efforts to create a comprehensive lesbian archive, run by lesbians, and easily accessible to anyone who might need it for academic or personal reasons.
As the collection grew, the archives took up residence in Nestle’s apartment on West 92nd Street in Manhattan, but it soon outgrew the space she had available. In 1993, the Lesbian Herstory Archives officially opened in its new home, a townhouse less than a block from Prospect Park.
The collection is now very large and very diverse, taking up nearly every inch of available space in the townhouse. There is even a display of buttons in the second floor bathroom. Fiction and nonfiction, biography and poetry, audio and visual, the archive hosts thousands of items, mostly donated. Digitized materials can be found online, preserved in the spirit of the archives’s motto: “In memory of the voices we have lost.”