Celebration of Black Womanhood
2 Hollinger boxes; .63 linear feet
The Black Organization of Soul Sisters was created as a vehicle for the black women at Barnard to have their voices heard and represented. The records are representative of the group’s presence as a student organization at Barnard. The majority of the records come from the organization’s early initiatives in making the Barnard administration aware of the challenges faced by black women at Barnard.
History of the Black Organization of Soul Sisters
In the autumn of 1968, a group of students gathered in the dorm room of Frances Sadler ‘72 to share their experiences and concerns as Black women at a predominantly white women’s college. Acting on the heels of the 1968 takeover of Hamilton Hall by students of color at Columbia University, the fledgling group discussed new avenues for activism at Barnard College.
The development of their organization and its name, B.O.S.S., may have emerged from multiple sources. Sherry Suttles ’69 recalled in an email that she brainstormed the acronym with the help of her mother, Ann Suttles, the Executive Director of a Detroit-based group called BOSS (Black Order of Social Servants). Frances Sadler ’72 remembered coming up with the name. According to Suttles, the word “boss” was a popular colloquial expression at the time.
From these initial meetings, the steering committee, composed of members Clara Hayler, Alma Kinney, and Carmen Martinez, mobilized the activities of the Black Organization of Soul Sisters. Lemoine Callender, the Assistant to the Dean of Faculty and Director of Human Resources, acted as an ally and liaison between B.O.S.S. and the Barnard administration.
On February 24, 1969, B.O.S.S. issued a list of ten demands to the Barnard College Administration. These demands included an interdepartmental Afro-American studies major implemented by a committee of students and faculty; flexible and transparent financial aid policies for black students; a targeted nationwide recruitment program driven by black students and working towards increased enrollment of black women at Barnard; lounge and office space in BHR and Plimpton with an eventual guarantee of permanent space in the Student Union Building; selective housing options that would allow black students to live together; student input in the collection of periodicals, books, and records about black culture by the Barnard College Library; reconstruction of the “Special Student Program” geared towards students’ cultural, academic, and financial needs; inclusion of Soul Food in campus food service; and an end to harassment of black students by campus security.
President Peterson’s reply, issued at the March 3, 1969 convocation, met with mixed response from students and faculty. Peterson called for further discussion of B.O.S.S.’s demands in “modified town meetings,” with a progress report to be delivered by appointed College Representatives after a period of two weeks.
On March 4, 1969, the day following the convocation, B.O.S.S. issued a formal rejection of President Peterson’s reply to their demands. Later, B.O.S.S. issued a clarification of its position and invited students and professors to participate in informal dialogues around issues raised by their ten point platform.
B.O.S.S.’s list of demands achieved concrete outcomes within the semester. In Spring 1969, the administration agreed to grant B.O.S.S. provisional office and lounge space in Reid Hall. During the same semester, Barnard announced the appointment of three Black faculty members for the fall of 1969. These included James Cone, Assistant Professor of Religion; Inez Smith Reid, Assistant Professor of Political Science; and Lloyd Delany, Instructor in Psychology. In 1970, the Office of the Dean of Faculty compiled a list entitled, “Courses of Special Interest to Black and Latin Students,” most likely prompted by the B.O.S.S. demand for an interdepartmental Afro-American Studies Major. This list comprised courses at Barnard as well as Columbia College, and it covered the departments of Anthropology, Art History, Economics, Geography and History.
In subsequent years, B.O.S.S. continued to advocate for non-discriminatory housing policy at Barnard. Their correspondence with the Office of Housing drew attention to the experiences of Black and Third World students in the Lottery system, the inadequacy of financial aid for housing, and the continuing need for self-selective housing options for Black and Third World women at Barnard. In March 1974, the New York Board of Regents ruled that Barnard’s selective housing options for students of color were in violation of Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act. In response, President Peterson issued a policy ending self-selective housing at Barnard on the basis of race, while affirming continuing options for self-selection for coeducational housing, as well as roommate selection. B.O.S.S. urged President Peterson to appeal the Board of Regents ruling, raising the importance of selective housing for students of color in supporting the recruitment and retention of Black and Third World students at Barnard. In October 1974, following extensive correspondence with B.O.S.S. and members of the Housing Committee, President Peterson formally declined B.O.S.S.’s request to appeal to the Board of Regents, concluding that such an appeal would be “futile.” Peterson assured students that Barnard’s administration would review and revise other policies and procedures that could possibly discourage black student enrollment.
In 1974, B.O.S.S. changed its name to Barnard’s Organization of Black Women (B.O.B.W.).
In 1978, the Brooks Hewitt-Reid Dorm Council challenged B.O.B.W.’s right to maintain an office space in Reid Hall, on the grounds that, as a club occupying space in a residential hall, they had no claim to the space. B.O.B.W.’s response to this challenge cited the space’s multivalent role: as a location for cultural workshops, a space for commuters of color to stay overnight, a formal and informal meeting space for Black organizations and individual students, and a site for fostering a sense of community among Black students. In April 1978, the Tripartite Housing Committee decided to allow B.O.B.W. to remain in Reid Hall.
Throughout the years, B.O.S.S. has pressed the administration to address issues, including racism and sexism, that affect students of color at Barnard. In B.O.S.S.’s more recent history, the organization has coordinated campus-wide events such as the Celebration of Black Womanhood.
In 1995, the group’s name changed from B.O.B.W. to Black Sisters of Barnard and Columbia (B.S.B.C.). Most recently, in the fall of 2002, the group changed its name to reflect the original: Black Organization of Soul Sisters. B.O.S.S. remains an active student organization at Barnard College to this day.
The records consist of letters, notes, membership rosters, meeting minutes, speeches, notes for speeches, reports, photographs, booklets, pamphlets, brochures, fliers, and newspaper clippings. The majority of the records derive from the B.O.S.S.’s first decade of existence.
This collection is arranged in three series.
I. B.O.S.S. General Correspondence and Organizational Documents, 1969-2003
The general correspondence files contain typed and handwritten correspondence, chiefly in the form of letters and memos, between members of B.O.S.S. and the Barnard College Administration. Letters between students Alma Kinney, Clara Hayley and Carmen Martinez and President Martha Peterson are present, as well as correspondence between the steering committee members mentioned above and Lemoine Callender, a Barnard administrator and B.O.S.S. liaison. Other correspondence present in the files includes letters of support from other universities and student groups, and letters between Barnard students and B.O.S.S. members.
In February of 1969, B.O.S.S. issued a list of 10 demands to be met by the administration. Multiple copies of the list of ten demands are present along with letters of support from other institutions such as the Teachers College at Columbia University and the Barnard Young Socialist Alliance. The demands are followed by multiple copies of the address to the students by President Martha Peterson and a press release issued by Barnard College. The students’ rejection of President Peterson’s address is also present. Some of the demands were addressed by the administration such as the desire for students to have segregated housing, a separate office space, reorganization of the Program for Developing Students, and black faculty appointments, which brought on James Cone, Mrs. Inez Smith Reid, and Dr. Lloyd Delany.
Other organizational documents present in the files include class rosters of black students at Barnard, B.O.S.S. member lists with contact information from the 1980’s through the 1990’s, revisions of the organization’s constitution, annotated organizational chronologies, and meeting minutes, most of which are from the late 1990’s.
II. B.O.S.S. Publicity Materials
Publicity materials files comprise materials from the late 1960’s through the late 1990’s. These include photocopied and original press clippings from newspapers and magazines covering black student organizations at Barnard and Columbia, along with pamphlets and fliers publicizing B.O.S.S. sponsored and B.O.S.S. affiliated events. Among these, there is a folder devoted to materials from B.O.S.S.’s Celebration of Black Womanhood , an annual program organized by B.O.S.S. to celebrate black women. These materials cover the Celebration from its inception in the early 1970’s through 2005. Dammah Production Speakers papers feature a combination of press clippings, publicity materials, and correspondence relating to black cultural workers and speakers who toured college campuses in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It is unclear whether any of the speakers were ever asked to present at a B.O.S.S. event.
III. B.O.S.S. Photographs
The collection of B.O.S.S. photographs includes images spanning years from the late 1960’s onwards. The Spring Festival folder features photographs of B.O.S.S. members performing a traditional South African dance at the Barnard Spring Festival on April 19, 1969. An additional folder collects photographs from the Celebration of Black Womanhood. A folder of group portraits features photographs of B.O.S.S. members –one photograph of a group meeting in the James Room, dating from c. 1970, followed by three duplicate photographs dating from 1993 and 1994.
This collection has no restrictions.
This collection is located on-site.
Restrictions on Use and Copyright Information
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Barnard College Archives. The Barnard College Archives approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Barnard College Archives
Lehman Hall Room 19
New York, NY 10027