One Of The Largest Collections Of Women's Artifacts Is Preserved With Duke Library

May 21, 2015

Virgina Woolfe's writing desk.
Credit Rubenstein Library

For decades an important collection has been stored in a home in Western Massachusetts, but the weather in that part of the country  has been unpredictable these past few years.  

Which is what made Lisa Baskin start thinking about her collection.

"We had tornadoes, followed by Hurricane Irene, followed by a freak snowstorm while the leaves were still on the trees, and that was about three years ago and that is when I began the process," she said.

For 50 years, Lisa Baskin has been collecting things.  She started as a little girl in New York City, collecting books, baseball cards, stones, menus.  She said as she got older the hobby became a compulsion.

"In some ways it involved all the seven deadly sins; envy, and lust, and gluttony and pride but my politics in the 60s certainly informed the direction of this collection," Baskin said. That collection is one of the most comprehensive collections of women’s social history.  It is a collection encompassing more than 10,000 items spanning more than 400 years and was recently donated to The Rubenstein Library at Duke University.  

The artifacts are everything from a 4-foot silk suffrage banner, Virginia Woolfe’s desk and a copy of Sojourner Truth's autobiography. 

A signed photograph of Sojourner Truth is part of the Baskin Collection.
Credit Rubenstein Library

Lisa Baskin said she was really the only one collecting women's materials when she started, and as such didn’t have many other collectors to look to for examples. As a result, the Baskin collection is varied.

"It is a collection that really demonstrates that women have been working and have had an intellectual and cultural and a working life that was not and is not apparent and is not really thought about and talked about," she said.

Laura Micham is the director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at the Rubenstein Library. She said the collection documents the fact that women were working  when most people claim they were not, "and that women against all odds, against economic odds, against racial odds,  were producing work."

The items will be available for study and use, albeit careful use- oftentimes people are required to wear white gloves- beginning this fall. That is what Lisa Baskin wants, for these documents to have a wider and safer future, but still watching them go isn’t easy.

"These individual objects, the books and bits of  Ephemera and all sorts of objects, they were my intimates," she said. "I knew them quite well and each one was selected by me and I lived with them for quite a long time."

The piece Baskin said she will miss most is a huge banner that was carried by women in London in the early 1900’s.  It used to hang in her library, one which she says sums up the feeling of the collection better than anything else.  It says 'Justice.'