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Guide to the Leslie Cagan Papers TAM 138

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Adrien Hilton, Paul Sager, Peter Filardo

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on April 18, 2018
Description is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical/Biographical Note

Leslie Cagan was born in New York City in 1947. She graduated from New York University in 1968 with a degree in Art History. Cagan began her political involvement at NYU, participating in numerous campus organizations and campaigns, including the Ad Hoc Committee for a Democratic University, the Ad Hoc Committee to Oppose Tuition Increase, and the protest of Dow Chemical Company. During this time, she was also involved in the Student Mobilization Committee Against the War in Vietnam and offered support to the student strike at Columbia University. Cagan was a staff member of the Mobilization Committee Against the War in Vietnam.

In the 1970s, Cagan's participation in the feminist movement began. She worked with the St. Louis Women's Radio Show from 1971-1972 and throughout the 1970s produced shows with the Red Tape Media Collective for the Boston Feminist Radio Network. In Boston, she helped to found the Boston Area Socialist Feminist Organization and the Boston Women's Union. These organizations participated in regional activities in and around Boston, including the "Yes We Can" Fair and Demonstration and "Choices!" the Women's Expo. From 1974-1979, Cagan attended numerous national Marxist and socialist feminist conferences. In the late 1970s, Cagan grew increasingly involved in the pro-choice movement. She organized for the Abortion Action Coalition and the Abortion Task Force of the People's Alliance. Under the auspices of these organizations as well as the Reproductive Rights National Network, Cagan was a leader of the petition campaigns to defeat the Henry Hyde Amendment, which limited federal funding for abortion. In 1979, she coordinated the Abortion Rights Action Week in Boston and the International Day of Action on Abortion and Sterilization. Cagan also participated in International Women's Day events and the Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women.

During the mid 1970s, Cagan began participating in and organizing with the gay rights movement. In 1977 at the International Women's Year National Women's Conference in Houston, Cagan was a member of the National Gay Task Force, whose aim was to push the feminist movement toward addressing the issues of lesbians. Cagan helped to edit the lesbian chapter in Our Bodies, Ourselves, an influential book put out by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. She took part in a campaign to defeat the Briggs Initiative, or California Proposition 6, which attempted to bar gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. In addition, Cagan participated in the national Gay Speakers Bureau, an organization that developed a speaker's program and educational campaign on gay and lesbian rights as well as the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

In addition to her involvement in the feminist and gay rights movements, Cagan was interested in and did work against FBI surveillance and state repression. She was a leader of the Susan Saxe Defense Committee, which was established in 1975 to defend the rights of Susan Saxe, a prisoner convicted on armed robbery and manslaughter charges.

In the 1980s, while still involved with feminist and gay rights organizations, Cagan focused her attention on international peace, justice, and nuclear disarmament and began working with large, coalition built movements and organizations. Cagan worked with the People's Alliance, an organization that grew out of the July 4, 1976 Bicentennial counter demonstrations. Following her involvement with the May 6th Coalition, which organized the 1979 March on Washington Against Nuclear Power, Cagan participated in the Coalition for a Non-Nuclear World and the Coalition for a People's Alternative. In 1980, these coalitions helped organize the People's Convention and march at the Democratic National Convention in New York City. From 1980-1986, Cagan was a staff member and program coordinator with the Mobilization for Survival, a broad coalition of more than 100 national and local organizations committed to nuclear disarmament. During this time Cagan coordinated the largest anti-nuclear demonstration in U.S. history, the 1982 March and Rally in Support of the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament in New York City. Following this, she helped organize the 1985 April Actions for Peace, Jobs, and Justice in Washington DC, the 1987 March in Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the 1988 Housing Action Week in New York City, and the 1988 National Demonstration in support of the United Nations Third Special Session on Disarmament. Throughout the 1980s, Cagan was active with the National Committee for Independent Political Action, which was involved in a broad range of political activity.

Cagan organized and worked for several electoral campaigns on the local and state level as well as nationally. In 1986, she was field director for the Mel King Congressional Campaign in Boston. Cagan was also a member of Lesbians and Gays for Jackson, a New York City and national advisory committee of lesbians and gays who supported Jesse Jackson's bid for president in 1988. In 1989, Cagan was the co-coordinator for the David Dinkins Mayoral campaign in New York City.

Cagan authored a chapter in both They Should Have Served that Cup of Coffee – Seven Radicals Remember the Sixties edited by Dickie Cluster and  Beyond Survival: Directions for the Disarmament Movement edited by Dave Dellinger and Michael Albert. She is the co-author of  Liberating Theory published by South End Press and regularly writes for  Z Magazine.