Preserving the voices of Alberta women
November 07 2011
Almost 30 years later, Jean Crozier still remembers the irksome comment made by an acquaintance, a comment that also happens to illustrate why the Alberta Women's Memory Project is so important.
One night in 1983, Crozier was with friends and gearing up to view The Dinner Party, the famous installation by artist Judy Chicago that featured, on ceramic tiles, the names of 999 women who had done important things.
Someone in her group, a young male librarian, said, "How would you ever find 999 women who had done anything important?"
Crozier, a library consultant herself, says she was peeved to hear such a comment coming from a fellow librarian, a person with supposedly solid research skills who really should have known better. But, aside from implying that few women have accomplished anything notable (not the case, of course), the comment did touch on a legitimate issue that Crozier and others are addressing with the Alberta Women's Memory Project.
"The history of women, and their influence on history in general, is not as well documented as is that of men," she says.
As a member of the committee responsible for the Alberta Women's Memory Project, Crozier is helping to make sure that historical records relating to Alberta women are digitally documented. Once these records are loaded onto the project website, researchers, students and the general public can access them from anywhere in the world and learn about Alberta women's influence on history. And on November 15, the project is holding its inaugural fundraiser, A Celebration of Women's Voices from the Past to the Future. (See below for event highlights and ticket information.)
"Unless we record the past, people just won't know what went on," says Crozier. "The women of my generation went through a hell of a lot."
For example, in the 1960s in Alberta, the sale of condoms and other birth control devices was technically illegal. "If you wanted to buy a condom, you had to go up to the pharmacist, and ask quietly," says Crozier. "Many women who became pregnant were forced to ‘go to away their aunts' -- a euphemism for being sent to a home for unwed mothers. Several hundred women died each year of botched illegal abortions."
And in the 1980s, female businesswomen still received a rather cold shoulder from their male peers, Crozier says. As an entrepreneur who started an eventually successful information management company, Crozier vividly remembers her struggle to take her place in male-dominated business associations and to connect with other female entrepreneurs, as at that time, organizations like Alberta Women Entrepreneurs simply didn't exist.
Although documenting the past is vital to the Alberta Women's Memory Project, Crozier says that documenting the present is just as vital. "Lots of time people think we're looking for materials relating to things that happened 100 years ago, but history is not just what happened a long time ago -- history is what's going in your mind, in your heart, in your workplace, in your school, whatever's going on today. It's important to preserve what's happening currently.
"I believe each one of us can benefit and need to benefit from the knowledge of both the people who were living and the people who are living."
The Alberta Women's Memory Project collects and digitizes items such as women's memoirs, photos, letters, material collections and videos. "Donors provide us with materials, which we digitize," Crozier explains. "The physical materials, if the donor wishes, will be donated to an archive of the donor's choice so they can be preserved forever.
"The project is ready to be unveiled to the public, and the committee is ready to show off its work and initiate a fundraising process to ensure the project has a firm financial footing. Athabasca University has provided exceptional administrative and technical support, and our fundraising event is also receiving fabulous support from the University of Alberta, several of its faculties, and private donors."
A Celebration of Women's Voices from the Past to the Future: A fundraiser for the Alberta Women's Memory Project
When: 4:30 - 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, November 15
Where: TELUS Centre, University of Alberta, 87 Avenue & 111 Street, Edmonton
Special guest speakers Paula Simons, Edmonton Journal columnist, and Dr. Kelly Dabbs, renowned breast cancer surgeon
Exhibits and live music
Opportunities to speak with women whose memoirs and material collections are on the Alberta Women's Memory Project website
Tickets: Tickets are $30. To avoid the lineup at the event, please buy your tickets online.
The Alberta Women's Memory Project
This website is the digital home for the historical materials that the project collects and digitizes.
Tickets for A Celebration of Women's Voices from the Past to the Future
To avoid the ticket lineup at the event, please visit this webpage to purchase your tickets online.
Women's & Gender Studies at Athabasca University
This website provides an overview of women's and gender studies courses and programs at Athabasca University.
By Erin Ottosen