Above: Just a few of the ONE Archives materials digitized and made accessible through the project.
With generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy Demands Wisdom, the USC Libraries recently completed a multiyear project to digitize more than 68,000 pages of records from two of the earliest gay and lesbian organizations in the United States, ONE Incorporated and the Mattachine Society. The materials, which are held by ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, trace the origins of pre-Stonewall LGBTQ+ civil rights movements during the early 1950s, and are now accessible via the USC Digital Library.
Along with other Cold War-era homophile organizations such as the Daughters of Bilitis, ONE Inc. and the Mattachine Society advocated for civil rights and social equality at a time when gays, lesbians, and gender nonconforming Americans faced police violence, discrimination, and exclusion from many facets of public life. These early organizations laid the groundwork for later civil rights activists, Pride celebrations, and organized campaigns for marriage and healthcare equality and other issues facing LGBTQ+ people.
ONE Inc. was founded in 1952 by Mattachine Society members to publish ONE Magazine, the first nationally distributed gay and lesbian magazine. As ONE Archives Librarian Loni Shibuyama shares in her recent article about the conclusion of the project and the significance of the materials digitized and made accessible with NEH support, among the many highlights from the project are more than 7,000 letters to ONE Magazine that “give a complex, moving picture of daily life for LGBTQ people across the U.S. through the 1970s.”
Other highlights are founding documents and minutes from the earliest meetings by the members of the Mattachine Society—including from the period when the organization operated as a secret society with an emphasis on private discussion groups inside members’ homes. These early records trace important debates within the organization about whether to take a more public role and how to navigate Cold War-era politics and social mores.
The NEH supported project is already having an impact by making available a trove of primary materials on these early LGBTQ+ civil rights organizations for researchers, educators, and the public. Materials from the two collections have also been highlighted by museum exhibitions and media productions such as the Emmy Award-winning Lost L.A. series co-produced by the USC Libraries and KCET-TV, the 2020 HBO docuseries Equal, and the 2021 FX docuseries PRIDE.
ONE Archives at the USC Libraries evolved from the archival collection developed by the ONE Inc. organization since the early 1950s. Building on an original collection created by pioneering activist Jim Kepner, ONE has since built one of the most remarkable and extensive collections of LGBTQ+ materials in the world. ONE Archives joined the USC Libraries in 2010, and makes these irreplaceable collections widely accessible for research, education, and public programs such as the current Six Linear Feet and Foucault on Acid exhibitions.
The ONE Archives Foundation is the independent community partner that supports the work of ONE Archives at the USC Libraries. It presents exhibitions and public programs such as the Pride Publics: Words and Actions series and has developed K-12 educational programs and resources for teachers that bring LGBTQ+ stories to classrooms across the U.S.
The NEH-supported project was led by Joseph Hawkins and Loni Shibuyama of ONE Archives, and the project team included Jaime Bailon, Sue Luftschein, Tye Pemberton, Wayne Shoaf, Louise Smith, Jeff Snapp, and Tim Stanton of the USC Libraries.