‘Sharing Stories from 1977’ project documents NWC Houston
A National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research grant of nearly $250,000 is allowing history and technology professors as well as student interns to research and document the largely forgotten 1977 National Women’s Conference held in Houston.
The project “Sharing Stories from 1977: Putting the National Women’s Conference on the Map” is led by history professors Nancy Beck Young and Leandra Zarnow. There, they will use the digital humanities to analyze people and ideas involved in the historical conference. Findings are being documented on the extensive open-access website.
“When we are finished, this project will make important interventions in the historiography of women’s politics,” Young said in a UH news release. “We are merging the qualitative with the quantitative. In so doing, we are able to tell stories about the 1970s that otherwise would be lost to history.”
As the first and only federally funded gathering of American women in U.S. history, the NWC produced a report called ‘The Spirit of Houston’ that influenced policies on issues ranging from childcare to LGBT+ rights along with many others.
Women of various backgrounds in race, education, socioeconomic and political status came together with the government’s support to advocate for social equality with a focus on sexuality, reproductive rights and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.
Young and Zarnow offered an internship to 20th-century U.S. political history graduate student Allison Anderson as a way to bring women’s history into her coursework. Anderson and her co-intern have now created an oral history interview packet with instructions on how to gather information from those who were part of the NWC.
“We will soon be reaching out to living participants of the NWC to see if they are interested in conducting an oral history interview,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, by the end of the semester, we will have interviewed several Houston-based NWC participants and transcribed their contributions.”
Anderson believes this project is directly relevant to her future as a historian.
“My dissertation project is on a Republican feminist politician, Anne Armstrong, who was active in the 1970s,” Anderson said. “Understanding the ins and outs of the ‘Sharing Stories from 1977’ project will help me learn historical context on the topic and support my academic goals.”
Undergraduate students have also been able to contribute through their classes and research internships. Honors biomedical sciences junior Mallika Singh was drawn to this project because of its relevance to Houston and her interest in women, gender and sexuality studies.
“I didn’t know much about the feminist history other than the 19th-century women’s suffrage movement that I was taught in high school,” Singh said. “Becoming an intern allowed me to explore this interest as well as expose me to digital humanities, historical and archival research, a type of research that is different from the one commonly associated with the science field.”
As a Summer 2021 intern, Singh published an interpretive essay on the Minority Women’s Plank. She also conducted biographical research on New Mexico delegate Juanita Najera, a Chicana who advocated for the Battered Women and Child Abuse Planks at the NWC.
In March, Singh returned to help host the “Why the 1977 National Women’s Conference Matters: Women’s Political Engagement, Then and Now” plenary on campus.
“As an aspiring physician, I want to understand the different backgrounds my patients would come from,” Singh said. “By learning how the different struggles marginalized communities face and how gender played a role in these struggles, it will help me understand the social aspects of my patients’ backgrounds and strengthen the doctor-patient relationship.”
The projected completion year for this project is 2027, the 50th anniversary of the 1977 NWC.