Turn up the Volume on Voices from the Past

Visit the fundraising page to lend a hand

When researchers are finished working with the archival boxes Special Collections pulls for them, I occasionally sneak a peek at the stash– just to be nosy, or to share an item of interest for social media, or what have you.  

I’ve got to come clean about what initially drew me to examine the papers in one folder in particular, which came from the Planned Parenthood of Maryland collection. Three words jumped out from the page of a typewritten, mimeographed promotional flyer:  “WAY OUT SEX!!”.

Well, that’s an attention-getter. 

Planned Parenthood of Maryland, reaching out to the community in 1971

The phrase referred to a session given at a human sexuality workshop in 1971 by Planned Parenthood, and apparently referenced what at the time were more contentious topics in sexual and public health– like “homosexuality”, which was roughly equated with “obscenity” and “perversion” under this dubious “way out sex” banner.  

There were other items tucked in the portfolio, and all were just as controversial, if not jaw-droppingly so, including a stash of  written evaluations of the workshop in question. The guests polled were all over the place in terms of their critiques. Some attendees thought the topic itself– human sexuality– was vulgar, some thought the presenters were biased, or used medical terminology that flew over the heads of its audience. A few guests were pleased that Planned Parenthood was educating the community on what, at that time, was was a subject that was kept under wraps. Conversely, there were many folks who expressed gratitude, because they learned something new about their own behavior, bodies, and health. 

There was also correspondence between workshop organizers and lecturers. Most of these letters contained the usual logistical back-and-forth that goes with organizing an event. But one missive really took me by surprise: it was from a Baltimore psychiatrist who was asked to give a presentation. He declined the invite, citing his belief that women of a lower socioeconomic background had no use for lectures on sexuality and reproduction.. 

It was all there, many different viewpoints, many voices from long ago heard once more, reflecting the complex, contrasting ideas and attitudes that have shaped the modern history of reproductive health. All of these in an archival box in Special Collections.  

 Vintage birds-and-the-bees literature from Planned Parenthood of Maryland collection

Contributors to the Planned Parenthood Collection Fundraiser are making voices of the past live again by supporting the processing of this invaluable archive. Langsdale Special Collections needs to hire a project archivist to organize 40 boxes of the local chapter’s papers, so that students, historians, citizens, faculty, activists, and the general public will be able to better access these source materials. 

Aiden Faust, Head of Special Collections, is working with Carole McCannChair of Gender + Women’s Studies at University of Maryland Baltimore County. Dr. McCann is the Planned Parenthood of Maryland historian and project director for this initiative. The goal is to have the collection–a century’s worth of historical records–fully processed and accessible, and to create a traveling anniversary exhibit for display at Planned Parenthood’s Baltimore headquarters and clinics throughout Maryland. To meet the overall project goal of $20,000, the library must raise $5,000. 

Donors to Special Collections understand how historic preservation is an investment in future learning (after all, processed collections = access, information, and education for all!)  Please consider partnering with University of Baltimore, Langsdale Library, UMBC, and the donor organization to make history heard again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *