In Their Own Voices celebrates the power of defining oneself while highlighting the lifework and legacies of Black women whose papers are held in the Schlesinger Library. The featured collections—including those of the graphic designer Louise E. Jefferson, the civil and women’s rights activist Pauli Murray, and the educator Rebecca Primus—offer a rich array of photographs, letters, diaries, published works, and audiovisual materials, giving viewers an opportunity to listen to, view, and read about the experiences of Black women in their private and public lives.

This exhibition illuminates how both famous and everyday Black women have sustained and (re)claimed themselves in their personal lives while pursuing their intellectual, creative, and professional goals. Exhibition materials trace their commitment to one another through the establishment of sisterhoods of friendship and belonging and illustrate how these women devoted themselves to educating and empowering their communities and fighting for civil and human rights for all.

An underlying narrative of the exhibition is about the way librarians and archivists advocated for these collections to become part of the Schlesinger’s archives and ensured long-term public access to them. In Their Own Voices spans generations, as storytellers from the community—including some from the Black Women Oral History Project and current students—continue the conversations evoked by these archives. In this exhibition, Black women create their own narratives as part of this powerful and ongoing archival lineage.

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study gratefully acknowledges the Helen Blumen and Jan Acton Fund for Schlesinger Library Exhibitions for their support of this exhibition.

Exhibition curated by Petrina Jackson, Lia Gelin Poorvu Executive Director of the Schlesinger Library and librarian of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute

Schlesinger Library Exhibition Committee Members:

  • Lee Sullivan, head of printed and published materials, Schlesinger Library

  • Joanne M. Donovan, lead archivist, visual materials & recorded sound collections, Schlesinger Library

  • Rachel Greenhaus, library assistant for published materials, Schlesinger Library

We are grateful for the contributions to this exhibition of:

  • Joy Lindsay EdM ’24, Harvard Graduate School of Education

  • Elyse Martin-Smith ’25, Harvard College

  • Mariah Norman ’24, Harvard College
  • Sophia Scott ’25, Harvard College

This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Ruth Hill and Emilyn Brown.


Free and open to the public.

We encourage all visitors to reserve a time in advance to view the exhibition.

To place a request for a group or class tour of the exhibition, please complete this form at least 2 weeks before the date of your desired visit. Please understand that it can be difficult for us to accept requests on short notice. We will do our best to fulfill each request, but occasionally some requests cannot be accommodated, owing to scheduling or staffing constraints.

On view Monday, November 6, 2023–Friday, March 8, 2024
Monday–Friday, 9 AM–4:30 PM