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Ginny Berson papers

 Collection
Identifier: SSC-MS-00819

Scope and Contents

The Ginny Berson papers document Berson’s work in collective, feminist organizations and community radio. The bulk of the records relate to Olivia Records' administrative history and Berson's writings and publications. The collection includes several photo albums documenting Berson’s adolescence, family, friends, romantic partners, travels, time as a member in The Furies Collective and Olivia Records, radio work, and other major life events. Other materials in this collection include: day planners (calendars and notebooks), drafts of Berson’s memoir, “Olivia on the Record”, Olivia Records audio recordings, audio recordings from Pacifica Radio, and audio recordings of the Alameda community band.

Dates of Materials

  • 1943 - 2017

Creator

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 owned copyright, Ginny Berson has dedicated copyright in her materials to the public domain. This agreement is governed by a CC0 (Creative Commons 1.0 Universal) public domain dedication. Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Berson, 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 / Historical

Ginny Berson is a radical lesbian feminist, political activist, and community organizer who lived and worked collectively as a lesbian separtist with The Furies Collective and Olivia Records. Born in Hartford, CT in 1946, Berson was the second of three daughters. Her parents were first generation Americans of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Her grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. The family moved to Fairfield, CT when Berson was in kindergarten and opened a family run children’s clothing store called the Peter Pan shop.

From a young age, Berson recognized the professional limitations imposed on women during the mid-twentieth century. One of her childhood dreams was to play baseball in the Major Leagues, however, this opportunity was denied to her because of her gender. She went on to play softball as a shortstop on the Pinturas Glidden softball team while serving in the Peace Corps in Panama, helped organize women’s softball games in Washington DC, played second base for Terry’s Trumpeteers (a fast-pitch Class A lesbian bar softball league in Los Angeles), and played with the East Bay Blues and the Vampire Bats in Oakland, California.

Berson graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1967 with a degree in political science. During her time in college, she developed her writing skills and became active in the anti-Vietnam war movement, holding a vigil every week on the college’s campus. The combination of her political research and exposure to elite higher education was a radicalizing moment that solidified her as a political activist, driven by a longing for justice. After graduating from Mount Holyoke, Berson spent two years in the Peace Corps in Panama, where she became fluent in Spanish, gained more experience in community organizing, had a first-hand look at US colonialism, and was certain she was a lesbian.

After serving in the Peace Corps, Berson returned to the US and moved to Washington, DC. She found the Women’s Liberation Movement, came out as a Lesbian in 1970, and became a member of The Furies – a radical lesbian separatist collective. She wrote extensively for The Furies newspaper from 1972 to 1973. In 1973, Berson and her romantic partner, Meg Christian, helped found Olivia Records, a national women’s record company created to release music centered on women’s lives. Similar to The Furies, Olivia Records operated as a collective that created an alternative feminist economic institution for women in the music and music distribution industry. Olivia Records, along with Berson and Meg Christian, moved from Washington DC to Los Angeles in March 1975 and then to Oakland in 1977. Christian and Berson ended their relationship in 1976 which led Berson to transition from managing and touring with Christian to working with the record label’s distribution network and eventually leaving Olivia Records in 1980. Berson went on to write a book titled, Olivia on the Record: A Radical Experiment in Women’s Music, published by Aunt Lute Books in the fall of 2020.

After her work within Olivia Records, Berson began a career in radio, working for KPFA-FM first as the Director of Women’s Programming and then the Program Director. In the mid 1990’s, Ginny worked as Senior Producer for Live National Events for Pacifica Radio. As part of her work at Pacifica, she collected radio content by attending marches, conventions, concerts, and Nelson Mandela’s triumphal visit to Oakland after his release from prison. She later went on to become the Director of Federation Services for the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.

In 1981, Berson met and fell in love with Raye Kathryn Amour, founder of The Female Principle, an organization dedicated to developing and nurturing intuitive skills and energy. The couple became avid scuba divers, and Raye died in a scuba accident in Little Cayman in 1994. They had been together for 13 years.

Berson currently resides in Oakland, California with her partner, Jackie Dennis. She is the Director of Outreach for World Trust Education Services and works with Neighbors for Racial Justice, a local organization committed to racial equity and justice in Oakland neighborhoods.

Information for this biographical note was provided by Ginny Berson.

Extent

5.854 linear feet (6 containers: 5 record cartons, 1 legal document box)

0.92 Gigabytes

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Ginny Berson is a radical lesbian feminist, political activist, and community organizer who lived and worked collectively as a lesbian separtist with The Furies Collective and Olivia Records. The Ginny Berson papers document Berson’s work in collective, feminist organizations and community radio. The bulk of the records relate to Olivia Records administrative history and Berson's writings and publications. The collection includes several photo albums documenting the different stages of Berson's life.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Audio material in this collection has been digitized, but is not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff or email specialcollections@smith.edu to request access to digital copies.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Ginny Berson in 2020.

Appraisal

In 2021, the material in this collection was selected for permanent retention within the Sophia Smith Collection by Maureen Cresci Callahan as evidence of feminist, lesbian separatist movements in life, housing, and music.

Processing Information

This collection arrived to Smith College in 2020 and was accessioned by Althea Topek in 2021. During accessioning, Topek arranged the materials to reflect the variety of activities Berson participated in throughout her life. Duplicate issues of Hard Times and business receipts were discarded. Computer media was transferred to digital preservation.

Source

Title
Finding aid to Ginny Berson papers
Author
Althea Topek
Date
2021-03-12
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

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

Contact:
Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063