The Power of Oral History

If we don't collect and record our own history, who is going to think what we did was important?  Please consider using the amazing Sonoma County Women's Oral History Project (Please establish link as a model for your own community.

The Sonoma County Women's Oral History Project is an on-going effort to collect stories about and write a history of the contemporary women's movement in Sonoma County, primarily from 1965-1985.

Mary Ruthsdotter (co-founder and former Projects Director of the National Women's History Project) conceived the idea of preserving the history of Sonoma County's women's movement. Michelle Jolly (professor of history at Sonoma State University) mobilized students in her classes to begin the work of gathering the stories of feminist activists from the 1960s-1980s. 

In the first 18 months of work, members of the project have conducted 49 interviews with activists, begun to index coverage of women in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, analyzed the annual reports of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, and put together this first presentation of the project to date...

The voices and stories of the women who participated in the Sonoma County women's movement are the heart and soul of this project. We have tried to include as many excerpts-both audio and transcribed-in this gallery as possible. We want you to be able to listen to activists' tales about the women's movement: what inspired them to become activists, what was special about Sonoma County, successes of the movement, challenges they had to face, and the lessons they learned.

Doing a study of the women's movement, however, requires more than just listening to participants' recollections. Additional sources-such as newspapers, government documents, and institutional records-corroborate, challenge, and add depth to the story generated by oral histories. This gallery represents the beginning of our work with those records as well. You will see our partial index of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat's coverage of the women's movement and a timeline of that coverage. In addition, you will see an exhibit on the Commission on the Status of Women's work between 1975 and 1985.

As you move through the gallery, you will also find photographs of some of the women we interviewed and of the SSU students who have worked on the project; tapestries and other memorabilia from the women's movement; and a variety of newspapers from Sonoma County. In addition, the grand timeline (behind you) unites many of the elements of this project. In the timeline, we bring together data from oral histories, newspapers, and organizational records. We highlight the relationship between Sonoma County and the national women's movement. And we tell the story, as we currently understand it, of the women's movement in Sonoma County: from the flowering of women's studies at Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College, through the development of institutional support for women's organizations, to the wild proliferation of organizations by, for, and about women in Sonoma County, to the moment when Sonoma County itself reached out and shaped the women's movement at the national level. It is more than a collection of dates and events-it is the coming together of many stories to represent the history of the women's movement in Sonoma County.

Finally, this is a project in progress. This exhibit is intended to generate discussion about the women's movement in Sonoma County and to invite more women and men to share their stories. We hope you will contribute your own stories, comments, or reflections through our comment cards or our blog.

Future plans for the project include conducting additional interviews, analyzing and indexing more newspapers such as Women's Voices, examining records of other women's organizations in the county, and preparing the transcripts and recordings for archiving in the Bancroft Library's Regional Oral History Office.

We hope you will learn today about the vibrant women's movement in Sonoma County that both drew on and contributed to the national women's movement.