The 1994 Meem Library “Books By Women Project”

Original Circulation Desk Poster for the 1994 Books by Women Project

As mentioned previously, the opening of the Meem Library in 1990 dramatically increased the campus’s library shelf space. Along with substantial Library acquisitions of Eastern texts during the early 1990s, in support of the College’s new Eastern Classics Master’s program, came a significant student-driven initiative, the 1994 Books by Women Project. Conceived by then-senior Heather Malcolm, the Books by Women Project sought donations from faculty, staff, students, and friends of the College with the goal of adding more books by women to our new library’s shelves. An article that appeared in the Fall 1994 issue of The St. John’s Reporter showcased this project and included the following interview with Ms. Malcolm:

How did the Books by Women Project get started?

I think it really happened because I got to the end of my senior year and realized I had been bothered for four years about the issue of women in the program but had never done anything about it. I realized part of the reason I hadn’t done anything is that there’s so much controversy over what can be done to remedy the problem, so I wanted to do something that was voluntary in terms of participation but that everybody would have access to. I figured if I couldn’t put a hundred books by women in the program I could at least put them in the library.

How did you solicit books?

Basically, I wrote letters to people I knew and my sister, Allison, designed the book plates. I talked to [Library Director and 1987 Santa Fe alumna] Inga Waite, and she set up a little display in the library. I also should thank my mom. She was really supportive throughout the whole thing and encouraged me when I felt like it was going to be an impossible project.

How many books have you acquired?

We have 110 books now and they’re still trickling in slowly.

What kind of books have been donated?

We got so many different kinds–poetry, biography, philosophy, a few history books by women. We got
some strange things like The Book of Women’s Firsts. I was impressed by the variety.

Did you ask for specific titles or categories?

I guess I really wanted the community to say what they thought was important, for one thing because books by women is uncharted territory. I actually made up a big list of books we might want, but people didn’t really end up using it. They seemed to have a book or books they really cared about that they wanted to donate.

What has the response been?

It’s been really interesting because it’s taken awhile for people to sort of catch on. As time has gone on people have warmed up to it. We ended up getting a lot more books than people thought we would.

Which books have you personally donated?

I’ve only donated a couple so far because I wanted to wait and see what was not there. I did donate Joyce Carol Oates and I will donate a hard cover copy of The Second Sex.

Do you think there is a place for women authors in the program?

I think it’s a myth that there aren’t really women who have been influential in our society, but I think they get lost and people forget about them. One of the reasons I did the project is that it might help lay the groundwork for future consideration of books by women. This year I gave my seminar a speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It was the start of the women’s suffrage movement. I did it when we did the civil rights readings. It really fit in well and it was a short reading. My tutor, Mr. Taylor, was going to take it to the Instruction Committee. I think that’s one thing that could definitely be in there. I’d also like to see us stop switching the readings by women around so much because that makes it look like they’re interchangeable and not worthy of a permanent place on the program and that they’re actually there as a sort of lip-service to women. I’d also like to see people do more stuff in precepts.

Why do you see it as important to include more women in the program?

I think something like Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own gives a perspective no male author could ever give us. That’s one reading that tells us what the silent half of the world might be thinking.

Do men and women think differently?

I don’t think we’ve talked about it enough to know.

This 1994 initiative ultimately yielded nearly two hundred and fifty titles for the new Library’s collection. Among the more than one hundred authors included across a broad spectrum of genres were Arendt, Atwood, Beauvoir, Byatt, Chicago, Chute, Dillard, Doerr, Faludi, Gilman, Giovanni, Gordimer, Hildegard of Bingen, Hrdy, Kingsolver, Lessing, Markham, Morrison, Munro, Murdoch, Parker, Plath, Porter, Sarton, Stein, Steinem, Tan, Walker, Weil, and Welty.

In the nearly three decades that have now passed since Ms. Malcolm’s graduation, the Library has increased its holdings by some twenty thousand volumes, representing literally thousands of authors across a myriad of genders, races, and ethnicities. For those who find the time, or make the time, for reading outside the prodigious demands of the Program, the Library stacks offer endless reading opportunity. Patrons browsing our stacks with a keen eye can still come across many of the very same volumes that first came to us as part of the Books by Women Project, with their original bookplates intact. This includes, for instance, the very first book received by the Library from this project, a Library of America edition of the works of Harriet Beecher Stowe donated by then-President of the Santa Fe campus John Agresto.

Also still on the shelves are titles donated by several longtime Santa Fe Tutors, including Linda Weiner Elmore, who passed away this last June, and recently retired Tutor Emerita Susan Stickney.

Further browsing also turns up the copy of Mary Wollstencraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women donated by Ms. Malcolm herself twenty-seven years ago.

And finally–included among these many original donations is one treasured volume that resides safely in the Library’s non-circulating Special Collections: a signed and inscribed copy of Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise, donated by then-freshman student Amy Filiatreau, of the Santa Fe class of 1997.