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MC 619; Vt-169

New Words. Records of New Words, 1974-2002: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the Pine Tree Foundation.

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: MC 619; Vt-169
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: New Words
Title: Records of New Words, 1974-2002
Date(s): 1974-2002
Quantity: 25.43 linear feet (28 file boxes, 10 folio+ boxes) plus 1 folder of publications, 2 folio+ folders, 6 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, 2 photograph folders, 3 objects, and electronic records.)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Records of the women's bookstore New Words, including correspondence, financial records, printed material from feminist presses, memorabilia, and videotapes.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 2002-M130, 2002-M173, 2005-M138, 2005-M144
The records of New Words were given to the Schlesinger Library by New Words between September 2002 and October 2005.

Processing Information:

Processed: January 2010
By: Mary O. Murphy

Access Restrictions:

Access. Most of the records are open to research. However, material related to a wheelchair ramp fund-raising drive (#4.11) is closed until January 1, 2043. Information regarding employee salaries is closed until January 1, 2041. Federal, state, and payroll tax forms are closed until January 1, 2049. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by New Words is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

New Words Records, 1974-2002; item description, dates. MC 619, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see the New Words Additional records, 1974-2003 (MC 721).


Founded in 1974 by optician Mary Lowry, Harvard Divinity School graduate Jean MacRae, genetic biologist Rita Arditti (1934-2009), and bookseller Gilda Bruckman, New Words was the country's oldest, continuously-run women's bookstore until 2002. Originally located at 419 Washington Street in Somerville, Massachusetts, New Words moved to 186 Hampshire Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1976. The three of the four founding women each invested $5,000 in seed money to open the store. Later, Laura Zimmerman, Doris Reisig, Joni Seager, Kate Rushin, and Madge Kaplan also joined the collective. During its first years in operation, New Words carried approximately 500 titles written only by women. It would grow to carry 8,000 titles, written by or for women, and to sell over 30,000 books annually. With the expansion of women's writing and publishing, New Words played a key role in making written material by and about women available to readers locally, nationally, and internationally. It also offered music by women artists, merchandise that included feminist buttons and t-shirts, an extensive collection of multicultural and non-sexist literature for children and teens, and course books for local colleges and universities. New Words also served as an informal women's community center and host to author readings and other events. In 2002, faced with the rise of competition from superstores and internet sales, New Words closed its doors in order to reinvent itself as the non-profit Center for New Words. The mission of that organization was to "foster and enhance the expressive and intellectual culture of women that flourishes at the intersection of literacy, books, culture, activism, and politics." In 2010, the Center for New Words closed due to financial difficulty.


The collection is arranged in six series:


This collection contains the records of New Words bookstore, including correspondence, financial records, printed material from feminist publishers and presses, New Words advertisements, memorabilia, and videotapes. Although the processor created the arrangement, where possible, original folder titles have been maintained and appear in quotation marks; the remaining folder titles were created by the processor. A set of newsletter archival masters is closed to research. For access to reference copies issued by New Words, consult the library's catalog. The records are arranged in six series.
Series I, ADMINISTRATION, 1974-2002 (#1.1-4.11, 29F+B.1-29F+B.6, OD.1, PD.1- PD.2), contains files related to the administrative and operational functions arranged alphabetically. They include awards; administrative calendars; files on conferences attended by New Words management or staff; contacts including an address book and lists of feminist bookstores; general administrative correspondence; legal correspondence and related material; bound log books providing insights into daily operations and store management practices; store maps and signs; notes and meeting minutes from annual and regular staff meetings; personnel files on employee healthcare and hiring procedures; correspondence regarding wheelchair accessibility; and a photograph of New Word's interior at 186 Hampshire Street (PD.1).
Series II, FINANCIAL, 1974-2002 (#4.12-20.9, F+D.1, 30F+B.1-38F+B.3, OD.2), comprises the bulk of the collection, and includes advertising cost sheets; balance sheets; completed book order forms; book order files for college and university classes; records relating to book sales at the annual birthday sale, outside conferences, and outside events; bound bookkeeping notebooks; cash disbursement records; checking account statements; consignment agreements and related correspondence; credit union material; financial surveys and conditions summaries; general ledgers; grant material; inventories; sample invoices and receipts from small, rare, or feminist presses and distributors; purchase records; financial reports; sales data; and tax information. The series is arranged alphabetically, and chronologically therein.
Series III, MERCHANDISE REFERENCE, 1974-2002 (#20.10-22.14), contains reference materials, possibly gathered to assist in selecting inventory. Files are arranged alphabetically and include bestseller lists; bibliographies on various topics; book catalogs; flyers for books and merchandise; sample merchandise; printed material from distributors, presses, and other publishers; and subject files regarding regularly used distributors and presses.
Series IV, PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL, 1975-2002 (#22.15-26.4, F+D.2, OD.3, SD.1), contains New Words advertisements and related; marketing studies; promotional program files, including the frequent reader plan; newspaper publicity; files relating to author readings and other events that promoted sales and visibility of New Words in the community; and the New Words web site, which is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection (WAX); searchable archived versions of the web site will be available through the finding aid in 2010. The files are arranged alphabetically.
Series V, SPECIAL CAUSES, 1974-2002 (#26.5-27.20), consists of materials related to charities and other community services that New Words supported through contributions. Included are correspondence; files on charities; subject files about special causes; and a substantial collection of thank you letters from charitable organizations.
Series VI, MEMORABILIA, VIDEOTAPES, AND OVERSIZED 1976-2001 (#28.1m-28.4m, Mem.1-Mem.3, Vt-169.1 - Vt-169.5, F+D.1-F+D.2, 29F+B.1-38F+B.3, OD.1-OD.6m, SD.1), contains items arranged in three subseries by format.
Subseries A, Memorabilia, 1977-1995 (#28.1m-28.4m, OD.6m, Mem.1-Mem.3), includes feminist and other political buttons; a tote bag; a New Words shopping bag with logo; a t-shirt; and a frequent reader card stamp.
Subseries B, Videotapes, 1996-2001 (#Vt-169.1 - Vt-169.5), captures special events hosted or sponsored by New Words, including footage from author readings and a self-defense class; as well as from a Simmons College special event.
Subseries C, Oversized, 1976-2001 (#F+D.1-F+D.2, 29F+B.1-38F+B.3, OD.1-OD.6m, SD.1), includes materials that have been pulled from throughout the collection. The oversized listing also serves as a shelflist for oversized items found throughout the collection and listed previously in the series above.
Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Business records
Cambridge (Mass.)--Social life and customs--20th century
Electronic records
Feminism--United States
Feminist literature--United States
Financial records
Web sites
Women--Social networks
Women authors
Women in the book industries and trade--United States
Women-owned business enterprises--Massachusetts--Cambridge
Women's studies--United States
Women's writings
Arditti, Rita, 1934-
Bruckman, Gilda
Center for New Words
Kaplan, Madge
Lowry, Mary
MacRae, Jean
Zimmerman, Laura