Reflection by Elizabeth Headrick
The most meaningful part of the project for me was getting to know Rema Lou Brown and the activism that she engaged in in the late 1970s and the 1980s in Houston. Brown was a vital part of the Houston-area feminist movement and yet there is so little known about her. I find it very disheartening that someone who wielded such influence and did so much for the cause has been all but forgotten within the stories of second-wave feminism.
Being able to immerse myself in Brown’s letters, papers, and ephemera allowed me to get to know her and her motivations in a way that reading a book simply could not allow. Each and every piece that she kept held meaning for her. And make no mistake. It’s not hard to believe that Brown must have kept every single thing that came across her desk as if she knew that at some point it would all have value. While I can’t know if she was able to use everything she kept, I would like to believe that she did.
What struck me the most about Brown’s archive was the vast amount of civil rights causes that she supported and worked for. It is unsurprising that she advocated for women’s equal rights as well as women’s reproductive rights however Brown also worked for civil rights for all Americans of color, as well as LGBTQ individuals. Again, I can’t know for certain what her feelings may have been on a personal level but she was actively involved in all of these causes, though she did maintain a very direct focus on women’s rights specifically.
This project has taught me that it is so important to look for what is missing from an archive, as well as what is there. Until I added her information to the system, Rema Lou Brown was not there. The only way to find her was on a list of the uncatalogued material in the TWU Vault. All of the correspondence, brochures, and assorted material that Brown felt was so important would have languished in cardboard boxes and her name would have been forgotten.
The biggest and most meaningful regret that I have after creating this collection is that it is such a meager offering, given the apparent richness of Brown’s life. While I was able to eventually locate some small bits of information about her online, including the fact that she passed away in 2012, her story is still very much untold. Her handwritten notes from the National Women’s Conference tell me that she was pleased and satisfied with what she had accomplished and that the event had strengthened her. That is the extent of what will be known about her thoughts and feelings on all that she did.
This collection is, of course, an entirely subjective one, that exists at the whims of myself as a researcher and archivist. One is never able to remove that kind of stamp as the very act of selecting items makes this a subjective process and a subjective collection. My wish is simply that future generations of feminists and activists will be inspired by the work that Brown did, and perhaps will even wish to delve deeper into the material that I am unable to include, and perhaps add to the collection that I have begun.