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Barbara Brenner interviewed by Zaylia A. Pluss

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: SSC-MS-00809

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the video recording and transcript of Smith College alumna Barbara Brenner being interviewed by Zaylia A. Pluss, also a Smith College alumna.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 2008 - 2012


Conditions Governing Web Access

This interview may not be placed on the web because there was no formal web access agreement signed. Please consult with special collections staff at to inquire about the existence of or access to digital copies.

Conditions Governing Access

This interview is open for research use without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

The interviewer and narrator have transferred copyright of this interview to Smith College.

Biographical / Historical


Barbara Brenner was born on October 7, 1951 in Baltimore, MD. One of seven children, she was independent and opinionated from an early age. She took inspiration during her youth from her uncle Richard, a lawyer who passed away when she was six. Brenner also remembers Ellen Kanner, a teacher at her high school, who influenced her to attend Smith College. Brenner’s family practiced reformed Judaism, and she was Confirmed at her synagogue. Later in life, Brenner has become more active in practicing Judaism and studying Torah.

Brenner attended Smith College for her undergraduate studies from 1969-1973. There, she participated in anti-Vietnam war activism and was part of shutting down the college during the spring of 1970. Later, she attended the Princeton University Woodrow School of Public and International Affairs, where she came out as a lesbian and met her partner Susie Lampert. Brenner remembers Princeton to be a very hostile climate for LGBTQ people in 1974-1975, an experience which radicalized her politically.

After moving to California with Susie, Brenner earned her law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley in 1981. After clerkships with the ACLU and Justice Thelton Henderson, Brenner worked with Joe Remcho, Robin Johansen and Kathleen Purcell, who became the lawyers for the Democrats of the California Assembly. During her law career, Brenner worked with the ACLU of Northern California and became a board member of both that affiliate and the national ACLU.

At the age of 42, Brenner was diagnosed with breast cancer and took a leave from her law career. Shortly thereafter, Brenner became the Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, which grew steadily under her direction for 15 years. BCA became known for its Think Before You Pink campaign, which directed public attention to the ways companies used breast cancer to raise money, and exposed how some products that raised money for breast cancer research were at the same time contributing to the breast cancer epidemic. BCA also became the first breast cancer organization that did not take funding from any companies or entities that were profiting from cancer or contributing to cancer by polluting the environment.

In 2010, Brenner was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and retired from her role as ED of BCA. She continues her health justice activism through her blog, Healthy Barbs (


Zaylia Pluss (b. 1986) is a Smith College graduate originally from Denver, CO, working in community health and HIV/AIDS. As a queer white woman, she is committed to anti-racist organizing and is interested in practicing oral history as a tool to document and ground social justice movements.


0.229 linear feet (1 container)

9 items ( 9 miniDV, 60-minute tapes Used a Canon Vixia Camcorder)

Language of Materials



In this oral history, Barbara Brenner discusses growing up in a large family in Baltimore, MD, during the 1950s and 1960s, including her early introductions to social justice movements. She discusses her experiences at Smith College, with an emphasis on anti-Vietnam war activism and issues of class, race, and sexuality among students. She shares about her law career, including her work with the ACLU. The majority of the interview focuses on Brenner’s breast cancer activism and the 15 years she spent as Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, a “national, feminist grassroots education and advocacy organization” in San Francisco, CA. Brenner also discusses living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), with which she was diagnosed in 2010, her continued health justice activism since retiring from BCA, and her 37 year partnership with Susie Lampert.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Please consult with Special Collections staff or email to request the creation of and access to digital copies.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was given to Smith College Special Collections by Barbara Brenner in 2012.



Transcribed by Zaylia Pluss. Audited for accuracy and edited for clarity by Zaylia Pluss. Transcript has been reviewed and approved by Barbara Brenner.


Because ALS has robbed Brenner of her speaking voice, she uses text-to-speech technology called NeoSpeech, a free download for the iPad.



Finding aid to Barbara Brenner interviewed by Zaylia A. Pluss
Minimum Finding Aid (Completed)
Scott Biddle
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021-02-01: Updated finding aid and published.

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063