The first initiative to document historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community in New York City, illustrating the richness of the city's history and the community's influence on America.
Founded in 1974, the Lesbian Herstory Archives was first housed on the Upper West Side of Manhattan before opening its current Park Slope, Brooklyn, location in 1993. The volunteer-based Archives, which also serves as a museum and community center, has one of the world’s largest collection of records “by and about lesbians and their communities.”
In 1974, the Lesbian Herstory Archives was established in order to preserve lesbian heritage in a world where, according to its website, “so much of our past culture was seen only through patriarchal eyes.” It was co-founded by Joan Nestle, Deborah Edel, Julia Stanley, Sahli Cavallaro, and Pamela Oline. Mabel Hampton was also an important early member. In 1975, the Archives was housed in Nestle’s Upper West Side residence at 215 West 92nd Street, apartment 13A, where it would remain for the next 15 years.
By the mid-1980s, the Archives was outgrowing its space. Following grassroots fundraising, the group bought a Park Slope rowhouse at 484 14th Street in December 1991 and officially re-opened in June 1993. The purchase ensured that the Archives would have a permanent space, which continues to serve the lesbian community today.
The Archives is home to one of the most complete collections of material on lesbians and their communities, emphasizing the historical significance of the records of lesser-known women. Its holdings include such items as rare lesbian/feminist periodicals, lesbian pulp fiction novels, oral histories, files for lesbian activist and community groups, and 11,000 books by and about lesbians from the 19th century to the present. Now included within its holdings is the library of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis; its website notes that “While we have most of these books in our own collection we keep them together…because they represent what an early lesbian organization felt should be available to its members.”
The volunteer-run organization is, according to Deborah Edel in a 2009 interview, “…a home for all the memories of our struggles and victories, as well as the celebrations of lesbian life.” It also serves as a museum and community center. The Archives was a long-time participant in the LGBT Pride March in Manhattan until 2014 and still walks in the Brooklyn Pride Parade and the New York City Dyke March.
Architect or Builder: Axel Hedman Year Built: 1908
“A Permanent Home,” Morgan Gwenwald, bit.ly/2FUgZSM. Christopher D. Brazee, Gale Harris, and Jay Shockley, “150 Years of LGBT History,” New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2014. Deborah Edel, co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives. “History,” Lesbian Herstory Archives, bit.ly/2fgHdA2. Winnie McCroy, “Lesbian Herstory Archives Turns 35,” Edge Media Network, February 5, 2009, bit.ly/2fm2HIh. [source of pull quote and Deborah Edel quote]
Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.