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Rosemary Keefe papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00680

Scope and Contents

These papers include personal and professional correspondence, which give a unique lens into the personal challenges, strategies and analysis of feminist and lesbian scholars and activists, especially writers and other women working in feminist theater. The collection includes some biographical materials such as CV's, awards, letters of recommendation, and job appointment letters as well as Keefe's play reviews, clippings, calendars, women's studies and other teaching materials, photographs, and audio recordings of interviews for books, including Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence, the controversial 1985 book she wrote with Nancy Manahan, as well as other projects. Keefe wrote extensively on women playwrights and feminist theater companies and productions and the feminist theater archives which she assembled as research for that work is included in the collection.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1960 - 2011


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, the donor has assigned the copyright in her works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by the donor, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical Note

Rosemary Keefe (1940-2012) was a feminist scholar and pioneer in the field of women’s studies. She was a former Catholic nun who left her order, married, had a daughter, divorced and ultimately came out as a lesbian. The last twenty years of her life she used her family name, Keefe, rather than Rosemary Curb, her married name. Keefe became nationally known after the 1985 publication of Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, an anthology of the experiences of about 50 nuns and former nuns, which she wrote with Nancy Manahan. After appearances on national television, including The Phil Donahue Show, the book gained the cache of being “banned in Boston” due to pressure by the Catholic Church there, a distinction that caused book sales to soar.

Keefe received her BA in biology from Rosary College, part of Dominican University in Illinois, in 1962. As Sister Mary Geralda, O.P., she taught high school biology, religion, and English courses until 1965 when she left the order and returned to school. She went on to earn a Master's degree and her PhD in English from the University of Arkansas. For the next thirty years, taught English and women's studies, including at Rollins College, where she also served as director of Women's Studies from 1979 to 1992 and at the University of Wisconsin-Superior from 2000 to 2007. A staunch advocate for civil rights, her dissertation was entitled "The American Dream in Afro-American Drama: 1960-1970." Keefe entered the field of women's studies just as it was developing and was a prolific scholar whose research focused primarily on feminist and lesbian theater. In addition to Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence(1985) and Amazon All Stars: Thirteen Lesbian Plays(1996), which she edited, Keefe published hundreds of articles on feminist theater and women playwrights. An activist as well as an author, she served as president of the Orlando, Florida, chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Southeast Women’s Studies Association and was active in the anti-nuclear peace movement.


8.042 linear feet (10 containers)

Language of Materials



Rosemary Keefe (1940-2012) was a feminist scholar and pioneer in the field of women’s studies as well as a social justice activist. She was a former Catholic nun who left her order, married, had a daughter, divorced and ultimately came out as a lesbian. Keefe became nationally known with the 1985 publication of the controversial book Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence, which she wrote with Nancy Manahan. The Rosemary Keefe papers include personal and professional correspondence, publications, biographical materials, play reviews, clippings, flyers and posters, calendars, women's studies materials, photos, and audio recordings, including her extensive feminist theater research archives.


Materials in this collection were arranged into four series, Personal, Professional, Writings and Research: Feminist Theater.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Smith College received these papers from Rosemary Keefe in 2011, and from her long-time partner Doris Burkemper in 2015.

Processing Information

The materials in this collection were received in three batches, two in 2011 from Rosemary Keefe, and a third from Keefe's long-time partner Doris Burkemper in 2015. One of the 2011 batches came to the archives labeled Feminist Theater Archives and contained Keefe's research files on women playwrights and feminist theaters and productions. Ellice Amanna and Scott Biddle processed the materials into a single coherent collection in 2019. Student worker Elisabeth Champion arranged and described the AV materials. Materials on women playwrights and feminist theater from the other two batches were added to the feminist theater archives materials as part of Series IV. Research: Feminist Theater. Wherever possible, original folder titles were preserved. Oversize materials were removed from their original folders and placed in Box 10 but kept in their original intellectual arrangement in the finding aid. A container list was created and the finding aid was updated.

Finding aid to the Rosemary Keefe papers
Enhanced Finding Aid (Completed)
Madison White, Scott Biddle, Ellice Amanna
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2017-07-26T17:48:24-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2018-10-04: Finding aid updated
  • 2019-06-11: Finding aid updated.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063