The Committee on the Status of Women (COSW) and Second-Wave Feminism in the Archival Profession

Alexander Poole


By the late 1960s, the Society of American Archivists was stagnating: “neither its numerical membership nor its overall outlook reflect[ed] the changes that had occurred within the profession and in society as a whole.” In response, SAA leadership appointed a special Committee for the 1970s under the aegis of F. Gerald Ham that sought to render the organization “more democratic, more responsive, and more relevant to its members.” The Committee on the Status of Women (COSW) took root in this social ferment: its “Report on the Status of Women in the Archival Profession” (1974) found gender discrimination rampant in the profession (58.3% of women and 34.4% of men said so).

Over the course of a quarter century (1973-1997), the COSW and its sister organization, the Women’s Caucus, pursued a coherent agenda that centered on encouraging the participation of women in the profession and in SAA; on redressing salary inequity; on providing childcare at meetings; on sources for writing women’s history; on networking through such initiatives as the women’s roster and the Women’s Caucus Newsletter); and broader efforts to democratize the organization overall.

Currently, the Women Archivists Section (WArS) continues the work of the COSW: it “monitors the status of women in the archival profession and promotes the participation of women in all phases of SAA’s activities and the profession as a whole.” The proposed research paper presentation is grounded in six thousand pages of primary documents obtained from the SAA archives, relevant articles on women’s work and collections from leading archival journals, and the historiography of second-wave feminism. It will trace the gestation, the opportunities and challenges the COSW and the Women’s Caucus faced, and the legacies of their efforts for current scholarly and professional conversations.


Patrick Quinn, “Archivists and Historians: The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977): 7.
Philip P. Mason, “Report of the Committee for the 1970’s,” The American Archivist 35 (Apr., 1972): 193.
Michelle Pacifico, “Women’s Committee Celebrates Twenty Years,” June 9, 1993. Box 19, folder 5: SAA Status of Women, Society of American Archivists Records, 1935-2016.


Assistant Professor at Drexel University’s College of Computing and Informatics, Alex H. Poole received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Poole’s research interests center on archives and records management, digital curation, digital humanities, pedagogy, and diversity and inclusivity. His work has been published in Digital Humanities Quarterly, The American Archivist, and Archival Science, and The Journal of Documentation and is forthcoming in Information & Culture: A Journal of History and The Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. He received the Theodore Calvin Pease Award from the Society of American Archivists for “The Strange Career of Jim Crow Archives: Race, Space, and History in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South.” He earned a B.A. from Williams College (Highest Honors, History), an M.A. from Brown University (History), and an MLIS (Beta Phi Mu) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.