Thursday, April 11, 2013

From the June Mazer Lesbian Archives: Elaine Mikels Papers, 1977-1984

One of the processed collections from the June Mazer Lesbian Archives now available for viewing in UCLA Library’s Digital Collections is the Elaine Mikels Papers, 1977-1984. 

Mikels was born in 1921 in Los Angeles and spent much of her early life there. Like many other closeted women coming of age in the 1940s, she had little concept of how to deal with her own relationships, much less how to build community though shared interests. In the late 1960s, she became, in her own estimation, political. She supported the anti-war movement, joined lesbian-feminist communities in Oregon, and participated in peace actions. In 1976 she founded the Older Women’s Network in order to bring older lesbian feminists together to share resources and achieve their activist goals. She would go on to participate in similar groups and helped to found the group Older Lesbians Organizing for Change. Mikels eventually settled in Santa Fe, NM, but most of the photographic collection represents the years she lived in Oregon and North Carolina.

Most of the collection is composed of about 200 photographs taken by Mikels. Included are scenes of activist gatherings, social gatherings and sports clubs, writing groups. One set of photos, titled “Dyke Olympics,”  includes photos of women lifting weights, wrestling, sprinting, and wearing togas from an event held in 1983. Another includes photos of women working on roofing a house. Softball games are the subject of another series. Mikels participated in demonstrations including Nuclear Disarmament Rally in 1982, a PeaceWalk from Durham, NC, to Seneca Peace Camp, which took place from June 3 to July 4, 1983, and PeaceWalk from Gainesville, FL, to Key West, FL, in 1984. Also represented in the collection are photographs documenting the Women’s Pentagon Action, a two-thousand–woman protest that surrounded the Pentagon in 1981. Her founding and continued involvement in the Older Women’s Network is documented through examples of the organization’s newsletter, which was called Our OwnContained in the Mikels collection are also photos related to Feminary, a newsletter started by an women’s collective in Durham, NC, in 1969. In the words of Minnie Bruce Pratt, “we were a group of anti-racist, anti-imperialist Southern lesbians.” Photographs of Pratt are contained within the Mikels collection.

The collection also includes materials related to the publication of Elaine Mikels’ autobiography, Just Lucky I Guess: From Closet Lesbian to Radical Dyke (Desert Crone Press), as well as a copy of the final published version. Papers, journals, correspondence, drawings, and other pesonal materials make up the rest of the collection.

It is collections like this one that make the Mazer such a special repository. Having these images from Mikels’ life available for viewing on the UCLA Library’s Digital Collections means that lesbians, feminists, and researchers from all over the world can get a glimpse of an important time and one woman’s legacy of lesbian activism.
The finding aid for this collection is available for viewing at the Online Archive of California ( Digitized materials from the collection and the finding aid are available for viewing on the UCLA Library’s Digital Collections website (

This research is part of an ongoing CSW research project, "Making Invisible Histories Visible: Preserving the Legacy of Lesbian Feminist Activism and Writing in Los Angeles," with Principal Investigators Kathleen McHugh, CSW DIrector and Professor in the Departments of English and Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA (on sabbatical from April to June, 2013) and Gary Strong, University Librarian at UCLA. Funded in part by an NEH grant, the project is a three-year project to arrange, describe, digitize, and make physically and electronically accessible two major clusters of June Mazer Lesbian Archive collections related to West Coast lesbian/feminist activism and writing since the 1930s. This project, which continues CSW’s partnership with the June Mazer Lesbian Archives and the UCLA Library, grew out of CSW’s two-year “Access Mazer: Organizing and Digitizing the Lesbian Feminist Archive in Los Angeles” project, which was supported in part by the UCLA Center for Community Partnerships. For information on the project, contact CSW at

The Mazer Archives is the sole archival repository on the West Coast dedicated to preserving lesbian and feminist history. Its holdings include over 3500 books, 1000 unique video and audio recordings, and close to a hundred unprocessed. This project will process and make accessible paper collections and recordings documenting lesbian political acts and effects in their communities, and materials documenting the lives and literary imagination of this burgeoning community. In addition to providing crucial materials to humanities scholars and historians, the project will also grow the Mazer’s infrastructure, preserving content that exists now while ensuring the future of the Mazer and its collections. Currently, the Mazer does not have the physical space to grow. Moving collections to the UCLA Library gives the Mazer the capacity to collect new materials and will enhance UCLA’s holdings in two significant areas of interest: LGBT archives and Los Angeles collections. Scholars and historians throughout the world will benefit directly from the primary research materials this project will make available. 

No comments: