Buffalo Archive Preserves Materials from 50 years of History
Article from The Empty Closet, Rochester NY
February 5, 2004
By Susan Jordan
Madeline Davis, Buffalo activist, librarian and author, is an organizer of the Buffalo GLBT Archives. She recently took time to answer some questions about the Archives. The Archives collection seeks to preserve, catalogue, display and disseminate materials relating to the history of the Buffalo queer community. Madeline challenges members of the Rochester community to found a similar archive for our community!
1. Who founded the Archive and when? What was the intent of the founders?
The Buffalo GLBT Archives was founded jointly by myself, Librarian Madeline Davis and then-library student Ron Gaczewski in the fall of 2001. It came out of a project Ron was undertaking for a class. He had to write a mission statement and collection policy for a small library. I suggested a Gay/Lesbian Archive; his prof. approved and he wrote it. It was so good, I said, “This is a wonderful basis on which to really form an Archive. Let’s do it.” He said yes and it became reality. The following spring I chose a Board of Directors and we were in business. Unfortunately Ron became too busy to continue working with me and he left in the fall of 2002 to finish school and get his first professional librarian job at University of Buffalo.
2. What kinds of materials are included and how big is the collection now?
Our Archive has grown tremendously since we created our space in my basement. We now own 35 collections as well as a large collection of local journals, home videos of Pride Marches, the Quilt in Buffalo and Washington and other events, awards and proclamations, posters from bar activities and political events, buttons, audio tapes, t-shirts, books and newspaper clippings from local papers.
3. How far back do the materials go?
We have a few news clippings from the 1920s but most documents from organizations go back to 1970 and memorabilia from individuals go back to the ‘40s.
4. What kind of picture does the Archive give of the Buffalo lgbt community over the years?
From perusing the Archives, one would get a picture of a thriving, active working class community that was totally bar-centered until 1970 and suddenly became politically active between then and 1972. It has remained both politically active organizationally and the bars have become politicized since that time. Buffalo has a friendly glbt community in which it is relatively easy to make friends. This may be a factor of the poor economy in which people find solace in friendships and extracurricular activities.
5. How are materials gathered? Do you tape oral histories?
Volunteers, the board members, and I have been active in the Buffalo community for many years. Therefore we have many friends and acquaintances who have also been active in bar life and organization life.
We have made good contacts and those contacts have led us to other people. Posters and flyers we bring to community events have augmented this word of mouth chain of connections. We make appointments to go to community members’ homes and help them sort through materials to donate to the Archives. We help transport them if needed. Sometimes people just call me up out of the blue or show up at my doorstep with boxes of stuff they can’t store any longer. So far, gathering materials has not been difficult. I have just begun taping oral histories. Since I did many oral histories for the book Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, written with Liz Kennedy, I am familiar with oral history techniques and research. I shall be teaching those interested in doing oral histories to do some of their own soon, probably by summer.
6. Will you eventually include materials from Rochester and elsewhere in the upstate area?
We are hoping to collect materials from the Southern Tier: Jamestown, Olean (St. Bonaventure), Dunkirk, Fredonia, and other smaller towns in the area. I think Rochester is too far away and has a unique history of its own to collect. Therefore, I would encourage those in Rochester who don’t want to lose a wonderful history to begin a Rochester and environs Archive. I would be willing to speak to those who might wish to start such a project and help spur them on to create a Rochester Archive.
I have already spoken to the Documentary Heritage Program of the NY State Archives and they are very excited that we exist. We shall be connecting with them on-line so that research in NY State history will include us. I am sure they would be very happy if Rochester were to undertake such a project as well.
7. Can you tell us something about your career as a writer and historian, and your personal experiences as a member of the Buffalo community?
I began writing poetry, short stories, essays and music when I was nine years old. This has lasted throughout my life. I had my first poetry published when I was 17, but it was not until I started coming out that I came into my own as a writer. Since then I have written 55 songs, which I have performed in Buffalo, NYC, Rochester, Toronto and San Francisco. I have had short stories and essays published in various magazines and collections including The Second Coming, Fem(me), Lesbian Studies, Signs, Same Sex, and co-authored, with Liz Kennedy, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: the history of a lesbian community, Routledge/Penguin, 1993.
I started “hanging out” in the gay community in 1957 but did not come out until the early ‘60s. I was an early member of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier which formed in 1970 and served as its publications chair and chair of its Speakers Bureau as well as Vice-President and President. In 1971 I spoke at the first gay rights march on the Capitol in Albany.
Also in 1971, the Mattachine Society produced a 45-rpm recording of my gay rights anthem, “Stonewall Nation”. In 1972 I was elected the first open lesbian delegate to the Democratic National Convention (McGovern) and, along with Jim Foster of San Francisco, gave the first speech in support of a Gay Rights plank in the Democratic Platform. In the same year I co-taught the first Lesbianism Course ever taught at an American University – Lesbianism 101, University of Buffalo. I taught it again as a lesbian history course in 1978.
Over the years I have received awards and honors from local and state organizations for work in the gay community. Among these organizations have been NOW, The Mattachine Society, The Gay Community Network, The Buffalo bars for Entertainer of the Year, Gay and Lesbian Youth Services, and Pride Buffalo, and I am to be the 2004 recipient of the service award to an individual from ESPA (Empire State Pride Agenda).
I have also been active in animal rights, animal rescue, weight loss surgery support groups, reevaluation counseling, Temple Beth Zion, the Buffalo Gay and Lesbian Mashpucha and various environmental projects.
I am currently (and forever!!) married to Wendy Smiley for the last 10 years. We have two Keeshond dogs and four cats.
8. What are your hopes for the Archive in the future?
We are applying for various grants to be able to have a trained Archivist (I am a Librarian but not an Archivist, yet) come in and help us organize according to the rules and techniques used by Archives across NY State. We also hope to upgrade our computers and better organize our existing space. We are working on a website.
Of course we are hoping to add to our collection of materials and so far we are optimistic that this will continue to happen. We shall probably relocate within the next two years. Thus far, Buffalo State College has evinced interest in acquiring our Archive to add to the Monroe Fordham Regional Archives.
We are seriously considering this offer. The only drawback to relocating will be that I will not be able to run down to the Archives in my pajamas to answer questions or catalog materials! But it’s a tradeoff for a safer and more professionally managed space.
The archive has since been moved to SUNY Buffalo State, Archives & Special Collections Department
to create the Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York. To donate items please visit: https://library.buffalostate.edu/archives/giving
The Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archives of Western New York is held by the SUNY Buffalo State Archives and Special Collections Department. The collection is open to students, faculty, and the surrounding community.
If you have LGBTQ materials you would like to donate, please click here to contact an archivist.