The following is a guest post contributed by Nine Abad (they/them/their), who is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies. Abad processed the Marilyn Kay Patterson National Women’s Conference Collection as part of their capstone. Their take on students working with primary source materials: “Special Collections holds a fascinating inventory of various primary sources. I find that they are more revealing and interesting than secondary sources re-explaining and inserting their own analysis. While secondary sources can be helpful, it is uniquely valuable and important to discover your own perception and analysis of the primary source.”
At 28 years old, Marilyn Kay Patterson was among the waves of feminists fighting for equal rights and actionable policies that address issues such as abortion and reproductive freedom, sexual orientation and LGBTQ+ rights, disability, and race. In 1977, a slew of state conferences culminated into a National Women’s Conference held in Houston, where about 2,000 delegates from across the nation, in addition to 15,000 to 20,000 attendees, deliberated over a plan of action to present to Congress. Marilyn Kay Patterson was one of these delegates, representing New Hampshire and her stance on robust mental health policies. University of Houston Libraries Special Collections recently received a donation of her documents regarding the New Hampshire State Women’s Conference and the National Women’s Conference, including her speeches and proposals, newspapers covering the events of the conference, name badges, flyers, and a poster signed by members of the New Hampshire delegation to be housed in the Carey Shuart Women’s Research Collection.
The Marilyn Kay Patterson National Women’s Conference Collection includes booklets of information and plan-of-action drafts with Patterson’s notes, providing insight as to how she and other delegates may have looked at the policies proposed. In the margins of the proposals, she compares which national planks are similar to the New Hampshire proposals, jots down issues that were not addressed, and takes notes of speakers and procedures.
While there was a general sense of unity within the National Women’s Conference, there were still some internal tensions. Patterson and the New Hampshire delegation attempted to present a proposal regarding the mental health of women at the Houston National Women’s Conference, but they were unable to get to the microphone to present their proposal within the allotted time. Despite not being able to reach the stage, notes on the margins of the proposal asked delegates to pass the proposal around during the conference in hopes they would get more people to support the addition of such policies. After the conference, Patterson wrote letters to notable figures such as Gloria Steinem that important issues such as mental health were absent in conversation at the national stage.
Patterson went on to deliver speeches to local women’s organizations after the conference ended. In these speeches, she mentions critiques of the conference, including the lack of coverage of advocacies important to her. However, she notably crosses them out, instead focusing on informing women of the unity and progress that was displayed at the conference.
The Sharing Stories from 1977 project works to preserve the stories of participants like Marilyn Kay Patterson, who donated the collection materials and provided an oral history during her visit to Houston in 2022.
The Marilyn Kay Patterson collection hosts these speeches, proposals, and letters as well as photographs, flyers, a cassette tape, and newspapers covering the National Women’s Conference. Those interested in more information on the Marilyn Kay Patterson National Women’s Conference Collection and other National Women’s Conference collections are encouraged to visit Special Collections.