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MC 888; T-534

Mor, Barbara. Papers of Barbara Mor, 1962-2013: 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

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: MC 888; T-534
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Mor, Barbara
Title: Papers of Barbara Mor, 1962-2013
Date(s): 1962-2013
Quantity: 6.67 linear feet (16 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio+ folder, 1 oversize folder, 1 supersize folder, 2 audiotapes)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, poetry, manuscript drafts, and audiotapes of feminist and pagan poet Barbara Mor.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 2015-M48
The papers of Barbara Mor were given to the Schlesinger Library by her daughter, Rhen Molly Miles, in March 2015.

Processing Information:

Processed: August 2017
By: Susan Earle, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Barbara Mor is held by Mor's son, Caleb Miles, during his lifetime. Upon his death, copyright transfers first to Joanna Miles and, upon her death, to Rhen Miles. Upon the death of the last of these siblings, copyright is assigned to 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:

Barbara Mor Papers, 1962-2013; item description, dates. MC 888, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Donors: Rhen Molly Mor
Accession number: 2015-M48
Processed by: Susan Earle
The following items have been removed and added to the Schlesinger Library periodicals collection:
The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:


Feminist author and poet Barbara Mor was born in San Diego, California, on October 3, 1936. Born Barbara Miles, she began using the last name Mor in the mid 1970s. Her mother died when Mor was twelve and her father remarried. She married at seventeen, primarily to escape her father and stepmother, and left her husband after about a year of marriage. Interested in writing and poetry from an early age, she enrolled at San Diego State University in the early 1960s. At the university, she wrote for the university's creative writing magazine, The Phoenix, which she edited from 1966 to 1967. Her first child, Caleb, was born in 1965. She received her BA in English in 1969 and began graduate studies in linguistics before deciding to leave the university and independently study ancient matriarchies and women's prehistory, influences that played a strong role in her later work and life.
Her daughter Joanna was born in 1971 and a second daughter, Rhen, in 1979. Mor was homeless and on welfare for extended periods of her life but took on editorial and teaching jobs whenever possible. She edited and helped compile the poetry journal Greater Golden Hills Poetry Express (1975) and Rainbow Snake (1971), possibly the first international all-women's poetry anthology. This anthology includes the first English translations of Argentinian poet Alfonsina Storni; four of Mor's poems are also included. From 1975 to 1982 she worked as a poetry editor for Womanspirit magazine. Between 1969 and 1974 she lectured occasionally in the women's studies department at San Diego State University, the first university in the United States to have a separate women's studies department. From 1972 to 1973, she taught creative writing at the Hoover High School Evening School for Adults in San Diego. Between 1974 and 1975 she co-taught two workshops for the Poetry in the Schools program run by California State University, San Francisco. During this period she also gave talks and poetry readings at high schools for underprivileged black and Hispanic students. In 1975, she moved from San Diego to Taos, New Mexico; she relocated to Albuquerque in 1979, returning to Taos in 1982.
Her first two books of poems were published in the 1970s: Bitter Root Rituals (1975) and Mother Tongue (1977), with a third, Winter Ditch and Other Poems, published in 1982. She appeared frequently at poetry readings in San Diego and New Mexico and was the featured poet at the First Herstory Symposium at the University of California at Santa Cruz in May 1975. That same year she gave a one-woman reading at San Diego State University. She also regularly contributed to poetry and literary journals, noting in the late 1990s that while male editors on the west coast and Britain seemed to like her work, "the feminist presses/editors do not even return my SASE mss., bless their PC (puerile and cruel) little hearts." (letter to Christian McEwan, June 9, 1999.)
Mor's best known book is The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth (1987), a cross-disciplinary study examining evidence of women's roles as first practitioners of early cultural belief and exploring the Goddess religion. (Mor disliked the book's title, with its implication that women could only become "cosmic" through motherhood; her preferred title was The First God.) Monica Sjöö, a Swedish author and feminist, wrote the original version of the book, essentially a pamphlet, in the 1970s, and she and Mor expanded that pamphlet into a short book which was published by the Rainbow Press in Norway in 1981. Mor then conducted further research, analyzing world mythologies, rituals, and spiritual beliefs related to women. This resulted in a completely rewritten version, published by Harper & Row in 1987. This version is frequently used in college women's study classes. Mor found working with Sjöö challenging, as Sjöö often resisted or ignored Mor's edits and adaptations. Mor also felt that the amount of work she did in adapting and fleshing out Sjöö's work was insufficiently understood by the general public, Sjöö herself, and the book's publishers. She noted in a May 30, 1990, letter to Barbara Moulton of Harper and Row, "They [owners of a feminist bookstore] believe I am the translator of Monica's original great manuscript, written in Norwegian....She did NOT do half the work of The Great Cosmic Mother but she was given half the credit, and half the royalties. Everywhere, what is essentially my book is catalogued under her name. And for 3 years I've seen her allow this impression that SHE wrote the book to thrive...I did 5/6 of the writing, all the documentation and production work...."
While she was editing and revising The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, Mor and her daughters lived in Arizona with feminist and proletarian writer Meridel Le Sueur. Ironically, Mor, who had become homeless by the time the book was published, could not get a job as a janitor at the University of Arizona, where her book was being taught. During this period she supported herself with short term, minimally paid jobs as a motel maid, while her elder daughter lived with her father's family and her younger daughter lived with her son Caleb and his wife. In 1991, a new edition of The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth was published.
Mor eventually found housing in New Mexico, subsequently moving to California, where she worked in preschool and adult day care centers. She settled in Portland, Oregon, in the late 1990s. Much of her later work derived from her experiences on the street, focusing on the struggle to survive in an uncaring and violent world, with The Blue Rental published in 2011 and The Victory of Sex and Metal posthumously in 2015. Mor died of cancer on January 24, 2015.


The collection is arranged in two series:


This collection documents Mor's work as an author and includes correspondence, poems, essays, drawings, notes, manuscripts, and audiotapes. No material on her childhood, education, or personal life is included. The bulk of the folder headings were created by Mor; folder titles created by the archivist appear in square brackets.
Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, 1962-2012, n.d. (#1.1-10.6, F+D.1, OD.1), includes Mor's correspondence with fellow writers such as primitivist philosopher and author John Zerzan, feminist poet and theorist Mia Albright, Clayton and Caryl Eshleman, Adam Engel, Meridel Le Sueur and other British and American poets and editors. This correspondence focuses largely on writing, with Mor and her correspondents exchanging poems and other writings and offering comments on each other's work. Other topics include feminism, politics, and daily life. The series also includes extensive correspondence with Monica Sjöö, much of it focused on their work on the various versions of The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth and the challenges of this project. (In the original version, Sjöö apparently quoted from other works without proper attribution and Mor's work involved finding proper citations for these quotations; the difficulties of working with Sjöö are also discussed in Mor's correspondence with Gisela Ottmer, who translated, edited, and published a German version of the book.) See Series II for additional material about this book. The correspondence with Sjöö also addresses personal matters, such as the deaths of both her sons at early ages and the devastating impact this had on her. The series also includes correspondence related to Mor's attempts to get teaching jobs at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of New Mexico; an apartment robbery in which her manuscripts and papers were stolen; and a trip to New York City to speak at a seminar sponsored by Booksellers for Social Responsibility. Of particular note is a manuscript by Phaedra Greenwood, which Mor felt was based on her own life without her consent and correspondence regarding Mor's frustration with other feminists such as Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove and Adrienne Rich. Also included is correspondence with public figures who appeared on television programs. The series is arranged with alphabetical correspondence appearing first, followed by chronological correspondence. Some correspondents may appear in both groups.
Series II, WRITINGS, 1970-2013 (#10.7-16.10, FD.1, SD.1, T-534.1 - T-534.2), consists primarily of manuscript drafts, reviews, and correspondence related to The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth. The correspondence includes Mor's interactions with the various editors and publishers attached to the project at various points. (Mor's correspondence with Sjöö is included in Series I.) The several versions of the draft manuscript show the process of adapting Sjöö's original work into a full length work, with some versions of the manuscript showing both Mor's revisions and Sjöö's additions to those revisions. The series also includes material related to Mor's efforts to find proper attributions and permissions for sources cited in the original pamphlet; Mor's introduction and prefaces to the book; and letters from women reacting to the book. Other material in this series includes articles, essays, and poems by Mor, an unpublished manuscript about a mining town in the Southwest; audiotapes, including one of Mor reading her poetry; and journals kept by Mor. Mor referred to these as "Elsewhere" journals and used them to record cultural observations. Of particular note are The Anti-Adrienne Rich Files (#10.7-10.8) and A Woman Against the Bible (#16.9-16.10) which document Mor's falling out with several feminists including Rich and Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove stemming from an article Mor wrote about women and the Bible. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Authors, American--20th century
Feminist poetry
Goddess religion
Homelessness--United States
Women poets, American
Women--Religious aspects
Women's periodicals, American
Women's studies--United States
Manuscripts for publication
Albright, Mia
Cantalupo, Charles, 1951-
Carnes, Alice, 1942-
Dempsey, John, 1955-
Engel, Adam
Eshleman, Caryl
Eshleman, Clayton
Forfreedom, Ann
Graves, Robert, 1895-1985
Greenwood, Phaedra, 1942-
Le Sueur, Meridel
Morgan, Robin, 1941-
Mountaingrove, Jean
Napora, Joe, 1944-
Perlman, Lorraine
Rich, Adrienne, 1929-2012
Sjöö, Monica, 1938-2005
Taylor, Ian, 1967-
Zerzan, John
Harper & Row, Publishers