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Diana Russell papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00752

Scope and Contents

The Diana Russell papers document Russell’s professional career as an activist, researcher, professor, public speaker, and author related to violence against women and also contain a significant amount of biographical material with a particular focus on her family, childhood, and marriage.

Professional materials include book, speech, and article drafts and copies; correspondence, both with fellow activists and colleagues at Mills College; grant applications; conference materials; and recordings of Russell’s media appearances. The papers most prominently feature Russell’s research and interviews with victims of sexual violence, including a large study conducted in South Africa and 930 completed interview schedules about women's experiences of rape, incest, extrafamilial child sexual abuse, and other sexual violence. done in 1978 under the direction of Russell at the Institute for Social Analysis, the results of which formed the core material for her 1986 publication, "The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women.”

The papers include a large amount of personal material; the largest amount of this material is correspondence and interviews with family members that Russell referenced for a series of autobiographies she was drafting; these were often annotated by Russell. Also included are autobiography drafts; phone logs and planners; and photographs and slides from throughout Russell's life. Russell conducted some research into her family’s ancestry, most particularly her great-aunt Violet Gibson who attempted to assassinate Mussolini, and this is included in the papers as well.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1890 - 2022


Conditions Governing Access

At the direction of the donor, all materials in this collection will be closed to research until January 2027. In addition, any research interviews conducted by Russell with women that discuss their sexual assaults wherein the identities of research subjects are revealed will be closed to research until 75 years after the interview was conducted.

The latter restriction only pertains to formal research projects where there was an agreement (or reasonable expectation) that the subject’s identity would be kept confidential.

These restrictions are noted at lower levels of description where appropriate.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that the Diana E.H. Russell Revocable Trust owns copyright, the Trust has licensed these materials to be freely used, so long as the user attributes materials' original authorship. This agreement is governed by a CC-BY (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International) license. 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 Diana Russell, 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

Diana Elizabeth Hamilton Russell was born November 6, 1938 in Cape Town, South Africa where she earned her undergraduate degree in 1958. After doing postgraduate work at the London School of Economics, Russell came to the United States and attended Harvard University where she earned an MA (1967) and a PhD (1970) in Social Psychology. She started teaching at Mills College in 1969 and was one of the leaders in establishing the Women's Studies major there. Russell's scholarship and her activism focused on the fight to end violence against women, beginning with her 1975 publication,"The Politics of Rape." She published several more books and dozens of articles linking pornography to violence against women, exposing the horrors of child sexual abuse and incest; and, with co-author Jill Radford in 1992, coined the term "femicide." Russell also published on women in South Africa where she actively protested against apartheid from the early 1960s onward and was arrested several times for her actions.

Russell became a professor emerita in 1991 and appeared on many radio and television shows, from National Public Radio to the Oprah Winfrey Show, and was referred to as an expert witness in cases related to rape and violence against women. Leading feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon has said of Russell that she "is the recognized academic expert on the empirical study of sexual violence against women in the United States, and a leading authority on this subject throughout the world." She was also an activist against pornography and violence against women, and her work included founding the Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media in 1976, the first feminist anti-pornography organization in the US. Russell passed away in Oakland California, where she had lived for many years, on July 28, 2020.


83.313 linear feet (128 containers)

Language of Materials



Diana Elizabeth Hamilton Russell (November 6, 1938 - July 28, 2020) was an activist, researcher, author, professor, and public speaker specializing in sexual violence against women in the United States and South Africa. She was one of the foremost experts on the subject of her time. The Diana Russell papers document Russell’s professional career and also contain a significant amount of biographical material with a particular focus on her family, childhood, and marriage.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The first installment of the papers was donated by Diana Russell in 2015. Russell died before sending the remainder of the papers, which were subsequently donated by the Diana E. H. Russell Revocable Trust in 2022.


These materials were acquired by Director of Special Collections Beth Myers and Sophia Smith Collection Archivist Maureen Cresci Callahan because of their evidence of Russell's research into violence against women and because of her contributions toward founding women's studies as a discipline.

The bulk of the collection was donated after Russell’s death as Accession 2022-S-0005 and originally consisted of 90 linear feet of material. Approximately 25 linear feet of materials from Accession 2022-S-0005 were discarded during accessioning.

Many materials were discarded because they were collected copies of widely-available published sources. These included Russell’s newspaper clippings and research files (copies of published sources used for writing books and articles). These are tracable through citations in Russell's published work. Additionally, Russell's books, journals, and other serials were removed from the collection and offered to a bookseller.

Additionally, some materials wre duplicative across the collection. Draft copies of published materials written or reviewed by Russell were discarded. These drafts did not have any significantly unique evidence of Russell's academic thought. Similarly, materials that exist in more than one form (negatives of printed snapshots, CDs of printed snapshots, slides and transparencies created for teaching/presentations, copies of health records, and floppy disks of materials that were most likely available in print form) were discarded. Awards and diplomas were discarded; these are noted on Russell's curriculum vitae.

Some records were sampled or discarded because they did not have meaningful research value. This included routine correspondence with book publishers regarding contracts, publicity and permissions and routine travel records. Records of Russell's speaking engagements and conference materials were sampled -- half were kept.

To protect their privacy and because they had low informational value, job applications from prospective interviewers and field research associates for Russell’s grant funded “Prevalence of Rape and Sexual Assault” study were discarded.

Existence and Location of Copies

Some materials, primarily recordings and transcripts of interviews conducted by Russell for Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa in 1987 and photographs of the International Tribunal in 1976 are available online via Alexander Street (may require subscription).

Related Materials

Related collections include: Esther Rothblum papers, Kitty Sklar papers, Papers of Catharine MacKinnon (at Harvard Library), and Papers of Susan Brownmiller (at Harvard Library).

Processing Information

Most of the 2022 donation was accessioned by Accessioning Archivist Althea Topek and Archival Accessioning Assistants Claire Clusin and Amy Kitmacher in 2022. During accessioning, material was arranged into series and some original description (container list provided by donor) was used as file titles. Contents were removed from binders and binders were discarded (see appraisal note for full list of discarded material). Material related to the Prevalence of Rape and Sexual Assault study was reviewed by accessioning staff for restricted materials (interviews conducted by Russell with women that discuss their sexual assaults wherein the identities of research subjects are revealed) and restrictions are noted at the file level in the finding aid.

In October 2022, accessioning staff discovered a slide with an image of potential child pornography. Work on the collection was immediately halted and nearly all of the 2022 accession was sent to Campus Safety for a careful review. During their review, Campus Safety found approximately a dozen images of potential child pornography that they shredded. The last of the collection was returned to Special Collections in September 2023.

Following the return of the collection, Claire Clusin and Collections Archivist Dan Michelson completed the accessioning.

Finding aid to the Diana Russell papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Claire Clusin, Althea Topek, and Dan Michelson
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.
  • 2018-10-18: Updated to conform to DACS
  • 2022-04-28: Updated access and use restrictions
  • 2022-11-15: Updated use restrictions and related materials

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063