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April 19th, 2009 Celebration Address

Good afternoon, everyone - what a pleasure to be here today. I am Gillian McCombs, Dean and Director of SMU’s Central University libraries, and I am both honored and humbled to be in the presence of so many shining stars. “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Who is not familiar with this memorable quotation from one of Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband, John - written from Braintree, Massachusetts, March 31, 1776. But who has read the rest of the letter - where she says – “I wish you would ever write me a letter half as long as I write you ... I want to hear much oftener from you than I do. ... you inquire of whether I am making salt peter? I have not yet attempted it, but after soap making believe I shall make the experiment. I find as much as I can do to manufacture clothing for my family which would else be naked.”

Which woman here cannot put herself in Abigail Adams’ place, wishing that her husband would write a little more, and trying to figure out how to clothe and feed her family while her man was about the nation’s business, and who had clearly asked her the eighteenth century equivalent of ‘And what did you do today, dear?’

Where would you go to find the context for her wonderful exhortation? You might actually go to your own bookshelf, or a library, and find the recent Penguin Classic containing the complete John and Abigail Adams correspondence. But where would you find the originals? At the Massachusetts Historical Society where the Adams Papers are held, and now the Internet, where digital technology and donor funding combine to allow the whole world to see these letters.

Let me read from another lady’s writings two hundred years later, from a speech given at the Professional Secretaries Seminar, September 20th, 1972 in Dallas - the speaker, Ebby Halliday – “Just think what it has meant to be a woman throughout history. Until recent times, women have not only been told they are inferior to men, they have believed it. Poor, dear Eve got the blame for all man’s troubles, and her descendants have been paying for it until very recent times. Now we can hold our heads high in the conviction that God created woman because he didn’t do it right the first time!” Where would you find this quotation? In Ebby’s papers, held in the Archives of Women of the Southwest.

And one final quotation from the papers of Maura McNiel, local political activist and feminist, involved in so many of the ground-breaking advances for women in Dallas - from her closing remarks at the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Center of Dallas – “There are still women in need and there are still challenges. To the younger generation of women, we pass our spirit and our dedication. Remember those who have come before.” Her papers, as well, are housed in the Archives of Women of the Southwest.

These stories would not be available for us to be inspired by, for us to learn from, or for us to understand how this great nation’s and state’s history were born, if we did not have the daily record of women’s lives collected and made safe in historical societies, archives and libraries across the country. These tangible representations of living history are the bedrock of a society’s institutional memory. Without somewhere for them to be stored, cataloged and made available, our collective story would be so much the poorer.

This campaign was designed to provide the funding for an archivist to specifically focus on making available the record of women’s contributions in the Southwest. Each woman being honored here today is a shining thread in the warp and weft of this great tapestry of history. Whether you are a teacher or a real estate consultant, a politician or an artist, a reporter or a citizen activist, a stay at home mom or a CEO, you have made a difference in someone’s life. Without you, without your story, without your grace, courage and endurance, our stories and our children would be the poorer. We are in your debt. Many people have come here today to honor you as a tangible token of their admiration and gratitude.

Established in the late 1980s, under the leadership of Provost Emerita Ruth Morgan and then director of the DeGolyer David Farmer, the Archives of Women of the Southwest has grown beyond our wildest dreams. There are many people who have nurtured this collection along the way and I ask your indulgence while I introduce them – Ruth Morgan (our founding mother), Jackie McElhaney – members of the AWSW board and the RTL fundraising committee, Mary Blake Meadows, the Libraries Executive Board, Paulette Mulry, Russell Martin, and Provost Ludden. But nothing happens here at SMU without the support and encouragement of its leader, President R. Gerald Turner, and the Archives has been blessed indeed.

Image: Tejas Girl Scout Council collection. [Three girl scouts in different uniforms standing in front of Girl Scout seal].
Photograph, Mss 49

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