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Guide to the Laura Shaw Murra Collection on Feminism
 MS 3142

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on November 04, 2019
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

Laura Shaw Murra, an activist on feminist issues, was born Laura Rand Orthwein, Jr. in St. Louis, Missouri in 1940; she changed her name legally in 1962. In 1969, Murra adopted the pen name Laura X "to symbolize the anonymity of women's history and the concept that women are legally owned by their fathers and husbands" (see chronology in box 1, folder 1). Murra arrived in Berkeley, California, in 1963, eventually graduating from the university there.

A professor's denigrating comments reflecting his perception of the unimportance of women's history and of women in history led Laura X and others to publish a pamphlet about women in world history. That resource, eventually named "Herstory Synopsis," would lead other women to send narratives and documents of their own to Laura X, resulting in an ever-growing accumulation named the Women's History Library. The Library formed the core resource of the Women's History Research Center, an incorporated tax-exempt foundation created at least in part to help financially support the Library. Nevertheless, by 1974 the cost of maintaining a library was too great and the contents were dispersed to the University of Wyoming, Northwestern University, and elsewhere. However, much, perhaps all, of the holdings had been microfilmed in the early 1970s for widespread use and for sale to support the Center, and the microfilm continued to be sold to libraries. The microfilm was available in three topical sets: Women and Health/Mental Health (14 reels), Women and Law (40 reels), and Herstory (90 reels). By 1986 the microfilm was held in over 300 libraries in 14 countries.

Although by the mid-1970s the Library no longer existed, the Women's History Research Center continued, in part to distribute the microfilm and act as a clearinghouse for information. Meanwhile during the mid-1970s, Laura X became increasingly aware of marital rape and the fact that it was not a crime in the United States. In turn, her activism on this matter provided a new focus for the Women's History Research Center. In 1980, Laura X launched a charter membership drive to form the National Clearinghouse on Marital Rape (later retitled to refer to both marital and date rape to take in additional forms of acquaintance rape). From this organizational platform, Laura X and others provided research, education, advocacy, and other forms of activism in an effort to have marital and other forms of acquaintance rape recognized and criminalized on the same basis as rape committed by someone who was unknown to the victim. The Clearinghouse closed in the early 2000s, though Laura X continued her work through a new organization, the Laura X - Laura Rand Orthwein, Jr. World Institute.

(The above note was based on various on-line sources and documents in the collection.)