Our collection of 1,119 t-shirts could be called “Clothes with a Message.”
Some of those messages are personal, and the shirts are one of a kind, handmade, with sequins or graphic designs, letting the world know something about the maker: “new Rage dyke”; how she feels about her mother: “Daughter of a Dyke” (front), “Damn Proud” (back); or her lover: “you make me clit-happy and labia-laughing.”
Some commemorate events, like “Seneca Peace Camp, 1985”; “Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference, National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, 1979 March on Washington, Proud of Our Culture, Proud of Our Heritage”; “San Diego Women’s Music Festival, 1975.” Others identify groups: “Dyke Patrol” (1973); “Salsa Soul, Third World Women Incorporated” (1974, the oldest African American Lesbian group in the US); and “The Lesbian Avengers” (front), “We Recruit “ (back), 1992.
There are T-shirts from bars (Grace and Rubies, Iowa City, IA), music festivals (Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, several years), and political activism (“Stop Brigs,” a California campaign; “AIDS is a Women’s Issue” (New York ACT UP, 1990).” The oldest shirts are from 1970 (“Lavender Menace,” worn during an action by Radicalesbians at the Congress to Unite Women), while the newest is from 2018 “Revolting Lesbians” (front), “Resistance is Not Enough, Revolt, Revolt, Revolt” (back).
All the T-shirts have been catalogued, and the database can be searched by keywords in each field including the text, graphic, year, event, organization, city, state, country, focus (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Feminist, AIDS) and by two subject descriptions (e.g., political, AIDS). We code the style, the color of the shirt, the print and design and, if known, the designer, donor, and any information about the story behind the T-shirt.
Finally, while the shirts are boxed in acid-free tissue paper (thirty-seven boxes right now) we also have binders that hold photocopies of the front, back and sleeves (wherever there is a design or text) so visitors can flip through and easily see the incredible range of T-shirts our communities have created. They tell a story about who we are and what our lives are like now and what they were like in the past.