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Loretta J. Ross papers

 Collection
Identifier: SSC-MS-00504

Scope and Contents

The Loretta J. Ross Papers contain speeches, writings, correspondence, organization and conference files, subject files, periodicals, memorabilia and audiovisual materials. The papers pertain primarily to her activism for reproductive justice rights for women of color, anti-violence, and international human rights work. The collection is particularly strong in issues related to black women's health. Other topics include abortion, women's health, teenage pregnancy, housing, socialism, South Africa, and national political activities. Organization files include printed material, board meeting documents, correspondence, memorabilia and notes that document the numerous organizations that Ross founded and was active in, as well as related organizations on which she collected information. They include the Center for Democratic Renewal, National Black Women's Health Project, National Women Health Network, National Center for Human Rights Education, National Organization for Women, Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, American Friends Service Committee, International Council of African Women, and Women's Global Network on Reproductive Rights.

Dates

  • 1956-2013

Creator

Language of Materials

English

Conditions Governing Access

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

Conditions Governing Access

Until we move into New Neilson in early 2021, collections are stored in multiple locations and may take up to 48 hours to retrieve. Researchers are strongly encouraged to contact Special Collections (specialcollections@smith.edu) at least a week in advance of any planned visits so that boxes may be retrieved for them in a timely manner.

Conditions Governing Use

Loretta Ross owns copyright to her writings. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials authored by persons other than Loretta Ross may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

Loretta June Ross was born in Temple, Texas, August 16, 1953, the sixth of eight children in a blended family. Her mother, who brought five older children to her marriage with Ross, had been owner of a music store and a domestic worker; she was a housewife as Loretta was growing up. Loretta's father, who hailed from Jamaica, was an Army weapons specialist and drill sergeant. After retiring from the military in 1963, he worked for the Post Office and often held additional jobs to support the family.

Loretta attended integrated schools - Army schools through second grade, then public schools. She was double-promoted in elementary grades and was an honors student in high school. When Loretta was 11 years old, a stranger beat and raped her. At age 15 she was the victim of incest by a distant relative; she gave birth to a son, Howard, in April, 1969. Because she chose to keep her child, she lost a scholarship to Radcliffe College.

Soon after enrolling at Howard University in 1970, Ross became involved in black nationalist politics and tenant organizing in Washington, D.C. She joined the D.C. Study Group, a Marxist-Leninist discussion group, and the South Africa Support Project. She became a founder of the National Black United Front and an officer of the City Wide Housing Coalition (1974-80). The murder of her friend and political colleague Yulanda Ward in November 1980, which she considers a political assassination, is a turning point in her life.

Sterilized by use of the Dalkon Shield at the age of 23, Ross found her way to reproductive rights and anti-violence activism. She became one of the first women to win a suit against A.H. Robins, manufacturer of the device. In 1979 she became director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, the only center at the time run primarily by and for women of color. In that capacity she organized the first National Conference on Third World Women and Violence in 1980. While serving as Director of Women of Color Programs for the National Organization for Women (1985-89), she organized women of color delegations for the pro-choice marches NOW sponsored in 1986 and 1989, and organized the first national conference on Women of Color and Reproductive Rights in 1987. In response to the Supreme Court's Webster decision in 1989, Ross co-coordinated production of the pathbreaking statement "We Remember: African American Women Are For Reproductive Freedom." As Program Director for the National Black Women's Health Project (1989-90), she coordinated the first national conference of African American women for reproductive rights. From 1980 to 1988, she was a member of the D.C. Commission on Women.

From 1991 to 1995, Ross was National Program Research Director for the Center for Democratic Renewal (formerly the National Anti-Klan Network), where she directed projects on right-wing organizations in South Africa, Klan and neo-Nazi involvement in anti-abortion violence, and human rights education in the U.S. In 1996 she created the National Center for Human Rights Education, a training and resource center for grassroots activists aimed at applying a human rights analysis to injustices in the U.S.

Active internationally, Ross is a founding member of the International Council of African Women and of the Network of East-West Women. She has been a regular participant in International Women and Health Meetings and helped organize the delegation of 1100 African American women to the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1984. She attended United Nations Women's Conferences in Copenhagen, Nairobi, and Beijing.

Ross has served on numerous boards (including National Women's Health Network, SisterLove Women's AIDS Project, Men Stopping Violence) and testifies on women's health and civil rights issues before Congress and the UN as well as via such national media as the Donahue Show and Pacifica News Service. She publishes on the history of abortion in the black community and is co-author of Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice (2004). Ross is completing a bachelor's degree at Agnes Scott College.

Ross was co-director for women of color for the April 2004 March for Women's Lives. In January 2005, she became National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, a growing network of Native American, Latina, African American, Asian American and other women of color groups. SisterSong's mission is to connect reproductive rights to human rights. SisterSong promotes reproductive justice through a combination of the Self-Help approach to internalized oppression and the human rights approach to structural inequity.

For more biographical information see Loretta Ross' oral history, part of the Voices of Feminism Oral History Project.

Extent

34.5 linear feet (70 boxes)

87 Gigabytes (35 digital video files)

Overview

Reproductive rights advocate, Civil rights activist, Feminist, Women's health activist. Papers contain speeches, writings, correspondence, organization and conference files, and audiovisual materials. The collection pertains primarily to Ross' activism for reproductive justice rights for women of color, anti-violence, international human rights work, and particularly to issues related black women's health. Other topics include abortion, women's health, teenage pregnancy, housing, socialism, and South Africa. Organizations represented include the Center for Democratic Renewal, National Black Women's Health Project, National Women Health Network, National Center for Human Rights Education, National Organization for Women, Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, American Friends Service Committee, International Council of African Women, and Women's Global Network on Reproductive Rights.

Arrangement

This collection is organized into ten series:
  1. SERIES I. BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS AND PHOTOGRAPHS, 1956-2004
  2. SERIES II. CORRESPONDENCE, 1956-2005
  3. SERIES III. WRITINGS AND SPEECHES, 1956-2005
  4. SERIES IV. ORGANIZATION FILES , 1938-2002
  5. SERIES V. CONFERENCES AND EVENTS, 1986-2003
  6. SERIES VI. SUBJECT FILES , 1961-1997
  7. SERIES VII. AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS, 1983-2001
  8. SERIES VIII. MEMORABILIA, 1982-94
  9. SERIES IX. PERIODICALS, 1978-1999
  10. OVERSIZE MATERIALS

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Some audiovisual content was received in digital form and is not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request access to this digital content.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Loretta Ross donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 2004.

Additional Formats

Video and audio recordings in this collection have been digitized for research use and are available online (Smith campus only). Playlist available online: http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/ssc/audiovisuals.html.

Additional audiovisual content was received in digital form and is not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request access to this digital content.

Related Materials

The full transcript of Loretta Ross' oral history is available online as part of the Voices of Feminism Oral History Project

Video and audio tapes from the Loretta Ross Papers have been digitized and are available online (on-campus access only)

More video featuring Loretta Ross:
Additional materials relating to Loretta Ross can be found in the following collections:

Processing Information

Processed by Susan Boone, 2005. Finding aid revised by Tanya Pearson, 2013.
Title
Loretta J. Ross papers
Subtitle
Finding Aid
Author
Finding aid prepared by Susan Boone, Revised by Tanya Pearson, 2014
Date
2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (https://github.com/harvard-library/archivesspace-preprocessor)
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:13-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2018-08-14: Digital video added to AV series

Repository Details

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

Contact:
Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton MA 01063