Closeted/Out in the Quadrangles:
A History of LGBTQ Life at the University of Chicago
In 2011, the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality launched Closeted/Out in the Quadrangles, a project documenting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) life at the University of Chicago from the early twentieth century through the present day. In Spring 2015, the project will culminate in an exhibition in the Special Collections Research Center at Regenstein Library and a permanent oral history archive that can be accessed by future generations of researchers and community members. The project has contributed to building community and expertise around the history of sexuality across disciplines by providing undergraduate and graduate students at the University space for new research and intergenerational mentorship.
The project also offers a yearly undergraduate course designed to explore LGBTQ history. In 2012, History PhD candidate and CSGS fellow Monica L. Mercado developed and taught "Queer on the Quads," a seminar that served as an introduction to the practice of oral history. In Spring 2013, History PhD candidate Lauren Stokes developed and taught "Sexuality and the Production of History," a seminar that served as an introduction to archival research in gender and sexuality. In Autumn 2013, "Sex and Sexualities in Modern U.S. History," offered students a chance to look back at over 100 years of American history to chart the changing social organization and cultural meaning of sexual practices and desires. A fourth course on global sexualities (GNSE 22804) is planned for Spring 2015 to coincide with the exhibition in Special Collections.
The Oral Histories
By collecting oral history interviews with LGBTQ alumni, faculty, and staff, and mining local and national archives, students and faculty involved with this initiative have built on the Center's highly successful project 'On Equal Terms': Educating Women at the University of Chicago, which ran from 2004-09 and culminated in a popular campus exhibition and 48-page publication. The project trained UChicago graduate and undergraduate students in oral history practices and they have collected more than 90 histories from alumni, faculty and staff. Selections of these oral histories will be featured in the upcoming exhibition and the audio and transcripts will be archived at Special Collections as early as this spring.
Student researchers mined local and regional archives to expand on the oral histories and build a material collection for exhibition. Sources include UChicago student newspapers, University Archives and Special Collections at the Regenstein Library, the Chicago History Museum, Gerber-Hart Library and Archives, Northwestern University, the Kinsey Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. Additionally, oral history narrators, alumni, faculty and staff enthusiastically donated materials, photos and ephemera. Student groups donated t-shirts, flyers, and meeting notes from their own archives. The project presented initial findings at Humanities Day 2013 (video available below) and in Spring 2014, CSGS hosted a preview to the library exhibition, showcasing the work of the Center's student oral history researchers and highlighting our first year of collecting. Some archival finds are highlighted on our project Tumblr: uchicagolgbtqhistoryproject.tumblr.com
From March 30 – June 15, 2015, the project exhibition in the gallery of the Special Collections Research Center at Regenstein Library will bring together the oral histories and archival research to trace the complex history and lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning individuals and communities at the University of Chicago. From lesbian relationships in the 1900s to the founding of Chicago Gay Liberation in 1970, LGBTQ individuals have long been part of the University’s history. The oldest material documents relationships between the first generation of female faculty and graduate students at the University at the start of the 20th century. The exhibit also explores the consequences faced by male instructors caught in vice raids of the 1940s, the founding of Chicago Gay Liberation in 1970, the impact of AIDS on the University of Chicago community and anti-gay violence in the 1980s, activism for partner benefits for same-sex couples, and initiatives to improve the campus climate for genderqueer and transgender students.
The Future of the Project
A permanent oral history archive with finding guides will be accessible to future generations of researchers and community members as early as Spring 2015 at the Regenstein Library. Discussion has already begun for what else lies beyond the 2015 exhibition. To be part of that conversation, please contact Project Director and CSGS Associate Director Gina Olson at 773.834.8831 or email@example.com.
Video: A “Desire for History”: Building Queer Archives at UChicago
Give to the Project (LGBTQ Oral History/Archive Project)
To get involved with the project, please contact Project Coordinators Monica Mercado and Lauren Stokes at 773.702.7682 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To discuss the future of the project or for questions about giving to the project, please contact Project Director and CSGS Associate Director Gina Olson at 773.834.8831 or email@example.com.