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MC 785; T-537; CD-110

Atkinson, Ti-Grace. Papers of Ti-Grace Atkinson, 1938-2013: A Finding Aid

Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute


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 785; T-537; CD-110
Repository: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Title: Papers of Ti-Grace Atkinson, 1938-2013
Date(s): 1938-2013
Quantity: 41.41 linear feet (95 file boxes, 2 half file boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 2 folio folders, 3 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, 21 photograph folders, 215 slides, 27 audiotapes, 2 CDs, 1 object)
Quantity: 22.05 Megabytes (1120 files)
Language of materials: Materials mainly in English, with some materials in French.
Abstract: Papers of feminist, writer, and professor, Ti-Grace Atkinson.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 2013-M199
The papers of Ti-Grace Atkinson were acquired from Ti-Grace Atkinson in November 2013.

Processing Information:

Processed: October 2017
By: Johanna Carll, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research, with the exception of folders 13.1, 23.11, 23.13, 24.2, and 25.1-27.4, which are closed until the death of Ti-Grace Atkinson due to the presence of her Social Security number. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Ti-Grace Atkinson is held by Ti-Grace Atkinson. Upon her death, copyright will transfer 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:

Ti-Grace Atkinson Papers, 1938-2013; item description, dates. MC 785, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Donor: Ti-Grace Atkinson
Accession number: 2013-M199
Processed by: Johanna Carll
The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:
The following item has been transferred to Countway Library:
The following item has been transferred to the Audiovisual collection of Naomi Weisstein (Vt-154):


Feminist, writer, and professor Ti-Grace Atkinson, daughter of Francis Decker and Thelma (Broadus) Atkinson, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1938. In 1956, she married United States Air Force Captain Charles Leeds Sharpless; they divorced in 1962. She received a Certificate in Painting from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1963 and a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. She helped found the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and served as its first director. In 1967, she left the art world to study philosophy at Columbia University. She received her MA in Philosophy in 1991 and completed course work toward a PhD, but did not complete her dissertation on Gottlob Frege. While pursuing her degree, Atkinson served as an adjunct professor at several colleges and universities, specializing in philosophy of logic, political philosophy, aesthetics, and the philosophy of feminism.
Atkinson was a founding member of the National Organization for Women, serving on the national board and as president of the New York chapter. Frustrated with NOW's unwillingness to address more controversial issues such as abortion and lesbianism, she left the organization in 1968 and founded the October 17th Movement which later became The Feminists. A popular speaker on radical feminist issues, Atkinson was also the author of a number of pamphlets on feminism, including "The Institution of Sexual Intercourse" (1968) and "Radical Feminism and Love" (1969), as well as the book Amazon Odyssey (1974).


The collection is arranged in seven series:


The papers of Ti-Grace Atkinson contain correspondence, photographs, speeches, writings, financial documents, notes, printed material, audiotapes, and other materials, documenting Atkinson's role as a radical feminist, activist, and academic, as well as her personal life. Before arriving at the library, Atkinson's papers were exposed to water and rodents, and were treated with Borax to control insects. Papers exhibited evidence of water damage, including running ink, wavy paper, and mold; and rodent damage, including droppings and urine stains. Upon receiving the papers, the Schlesinger Library sent them to Polygon, where they were cleaned, treated with gamma radiation, and underwent odor neutralization. Urine stained documents were photocopied and returned to Atkinson.
1384 megabytes of electronic correspondence, legal documents, syllabi, etc., were received on one external hard drive and 76 3.5" disks. Disks were imaged using Apple disk utility. Data on one of the 3.5" disks was unrecoverable. Selected data has been converted to PDF/A for preservation and delivery.
Under Atkinson's guidance, several students were employed to sort through the papers and organize them prior to their arrival at the library. Folder titles were retained by the library, but categories were consolidated into the existing series by the archivist. Unsorted materials were added to existing folders or, when needed, new folders were created by the archivist. Folder titles created by the archivist appear in square brackets. Files are arranged in seven series.
Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1938-2013 (#1.1-30.10, FD.1. E.1-E.6), includes correspondence, financial records, notes, calendars, etc., documenting Atkinson's financial difficulties, health problems, family relationships, her student work, and her role as a cat owner and breeder. Files are arranged alphabetically.
Materials relating to Atkinson's family consist mainly of correspondence with her parents, Thelma and Francis Atkinson, and her sisters, Robin Atkinson Carter, Thelma "Temi" Atkinson Johnson, Frances "Frani" Gay Atkinson Vanni, and Mary Wynne Atkinson Tinsley. Letters document Atkinson's often strained relationship with members of her family, particularly her mother and sister Mary Wynne, and her close relationship with her sisters Robin and Frani Gay. In 1981, Atkinson's mother suffered a stroke and was in a vegetative state until her death in 1984. Atkinson believed her mother would not have wanted to be kept alive in that state and blamed her father and sister, Mary Wynne, for keeping Thelma alive. Robin agreed with Atkinson and their letters from that period are focused on their mother's health and living situation. Also included among family materials are financial documents and correspondence relating to Thelma and Francis's estate, as well as the estate of Thelma's mother, Grace Broadus. Atkinson believed that there were objects from both estates that she was owed, but never received and materials focus on her efforts to retrieve the objects.
Financial documents include tax documents, bank statements, bills, payment overdue notices, correspondence from debt collection agencies, and student loan statements, documenting Atkinson's life-long struggle to earn a living while devoting herself to social justice causes and her academic pursuits. Following her divorce, Atkinson struggled to manage her finances and became indebted to several companies. She worked her way out of debt, but as she devoted more of her time to her feminist and political causes, she again found herself deeply in debt. In the 1980s, Atkinson determined that in to survive she needed to complete her PhD in philosophy. During this time, she worked at several universities as an adjunct professor, low paying jobs that offered little security and few benefits. Several unexpected health issues, including a car accident in the early 1990s and a fall on an icy sidewalk in the 2000s, left Atkinson unable to work for periods of time, adding to her financial difficulties. Adding to the strain was the increased cost of education, which Atkinson paid for with student loans. Records document the extent of Atkinson's debt, as well as her attempts to manage her finances with budgets prioritizing expenses; financial assistance she received from friends; her work with debt advisors; and government assistance she received, including welfare and unemployment.
Files concerning Atkinson's health include correspondence, medical records, notes, etc., relating to medical events suffered by Atkinson, including a 1978 hysterectomy and her 2007 recovery from a broken hip, as well as ongoing health issues such as allergies and dieting. Also included are correspondence, notes, and legal documents relating to Atkinson's participation in the Hanford Nuclear Reservation Litigation, asserting her belief that living near the Hanford Site as a child led to thyroid disease as an adult.
A long time cat lover, Atkinson founded a cattery, Ti-Grace's Cattery, in the early 1990s. Most business records for the cattery can be found among Atkinson's general financial documents. Materials filed under cats include correspondence with other cat owners and breeders concerning possible breeding matches; correspondence about cat health problems and remedies, including surrounding birthing and genetic kidney ailments; pedigree charts created by Atkinson; award certificates and ribbons from cat shows; etc. Files document Atkinson's knowledge of cat pedigrees and genetic disorders, her affection for cats, and her advocacy for the proper care of cats by their owners.
Series II, SUBJECT FILES, 1960-2013 (#30.11-58.5, 98F+B.1, OD.1-OD.2, SD.1, E.7-E.16), includes correspondence, notes, printed material, etc., documenting Atkinson's involvement in feminist groups and social justice movements and her life as an academic. Files document Atkinson's involvement with feminist organizations, including National Organization for Women (NOW), The Feminists, Human Rights for Women, and Radical Women, as well as her close friendships with other feminists, particularly Flo Kennedy and Mary Eastwood. Materials relating to Atkinson's feminist activities also chronicle the tight-knit world of radical feminists in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, showing the emotional and financial support offered to feminists in need, as well as rifts that arose between feminists stemming from personal disputes and suspicions of alliances with the FBI. As an active participant in the radical, feminist, and lesbian rights movements, Atkinson frequently used her connections across movements to rally support for political prisoners, including Valerie Solanas, Susan Saxe, and Pat Swinton. Files on these individuals include correspondence with Atkinson, as well as financial documents, press releases, and correspondence with others concerning raising funds for prisoner defense funds.
In the early 2000s, Atkinson began considering selling her archive. At the urging of her friend, Arthur Danto, Atkinson began working with bookseller Glenn Horowitz. Files relating to Atkinson's archives, as well as those relating to Horowitz, document Atkinson's work to gather together her archive and organize it in preparation of selling it. Correspondence with Horowitz includes discussions of the scope of the archives, including interesting items Atkinson found, as well as potential buyers of the archives. Correspondence does not include details of negotiations with the Schlesinger Library for purchase of the archive. Due to financial difficulties, Atkinson was forced to sell parts of her archives, such as the Radical Feminist Questionnaire Project files, a draft of Women and Oppression, and her files on Valerie Solanas. In an effort to maintain a complete archive, materials were scanned and print-outs of the scans were added to Atkinson's archives. Files are arranged alphabetically.
Series III, CHRONOLOGICAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1956-2013 (#58.6-77.2, E.17-E.18), contains letters and printed emails documenting Atkinson's feminist activities and professional activities, as well as aspects of her personal life, including issues relating to her health and financial difficulties. A small number of letters from the late 1950s to the early 1960s provide a glimpse into Atkinson's life as a young wife and art student, but do not provide much insight into her daily routines or personal philosophies at the time. The majority of the correspondence focuses on Atkinson's life as a central figure in the radical feminist movement, her work as a philosophy student and professor, and her role as a cat breeder and expert on the care of cats.
Personal correspondence documents Atkinson's financial struggles, including assistance she received from friends in the form of loans and events, such as rent parties, organized to help Atkinson pay her rent and other essential bills. Contributing to Atkinson's financial difficulties were several health crises, which prevented her from working. Letters document Atkinson's concern and frustration over her tenuous contract teaching positions, which did not pay well and did not include medical insurance, disability benefits, or time off. Atkinson's physical problems are documented in exchanges with doctors and friends and include accounts of treatments and the cost of medical treatments. In 1978, Atkinson had a hysterectomy. While initial correspondence around the event documents her fear following a diagnosis of pre-uterine cancer, later correspondence reveals her anger upon later learning that she had been misinformed of the diagnosis.
Correspondence from the 1960s and 1970s documents Atkinson's involvement in mainstream feminist activities and her evolution into a radical feminist. Letters from other feminists document meetings of feminist organizations; discuss other feminists; and contain accounts of interactions where Atkinson was the topic of conversation. Letters frequently discuss the physical and mental health struggles of several feminists, often as heard from a third party. Other letters contain rumors relating to CIA infiltrations in the feminist movement and speculation over Gloria Steinem's CIA connections.
In the 1980s, Atkinson withdrew from much of her feminist activities to focus on her academic studies. Although she continued to correspond with other feminists, particularly French feminists including Michele Le Doeuff and Christine Delphy, much of Atkinson's correspondence from the 1980s through the 2000s is focused on her efforts to write her dissertation, her employment and financial situations, and her interactions with her students. During this period, Atkinson began breeding and selling cats and began corresponding with other cat breeders and owners on issues including cat behaviors, training, genetics, and medical treatments.
Series IV, SPEECHES, WRITINGS, AND NOTES, 1960-2008 (#77.3-90.3, 98F+B.2-98F+B.4, FD.2, OD.3, E.19), includes correspondence, flyers, notes, drafts, etc., relating to Atkinson's speeches, position papers, letters to the editor, and her book, Amazon Odyssey. Also included are drafts of Atkinson's unfinished dissertation on Gottlob Frege and an unpublished book, Women and Oppression, written in the 1970s and intended to be her masterpiece on the feminist movement. Atkinson's writings, speeches, and notes address a wide range of topics, including feminist theory, feminist history, lesbian rights, philosophy, and art. Files are arranged alphabetically.
Series V, PROFESSIONAL, 1961-2005 (#90.4-97.8, E.20-E.27), includes syllabi, notes, correspondence, etc., relating to Atkinson's role as director of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania, and as an adjunct philosophy professor. ICA files include correspondence relating to the administration of the museum as well as exhibits curated by Atkinson. Teaching files document courses taught by Atkinson on the philosophy of logic, political philosophy, aesthetics, and the philosophy of feminism. Files relating to Parsons School of Design also document Atkinson's efforts to form a union to bargain for better pay and benefits for adjunct faculty. Files are arranged alphabetically.
Series VI, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1940-1986 (#PD.1-PD.21), contains photographic prints, slides, and negatives of Atkinson, as well as many of her fellow feminist activists. Images document Atkinson's role in radical feminist actions, including abortion protests, anti-marriage protests, anti-Nixon protests, and speaking at feminist events. Among the images are many taken by photographers Bettye Lane and Diane Arbus. Also included are portraits of Atkinson and snapshots of her as a child with members of her family. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online. Photograph folders are arranged alphabetically.
Series VII, AUDIOVISUAL, 1979-2009 (#T-537.1-T-537.27; CD-110.1-CD-110.2), contains audio recordings of interviews with Atkinson in which she shares her views on the feminist movement, both at the time of the interviews and reflecting on past events. Also included are a recording of threatening messages left on Atkinson's answering machine, recordings of a New York Society for Women in Philosophy board meeting and conference, and an example of a recording Atkinson made to be played for her cats to comfort them when they were away from home for breeding or veterinary treatments. Materials are arranged alphabetically.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Abortion--United States
Cat owners
Cats--Breeding--United States
College teachers--New York (State)--New York
Feminism--United States
Feminists--United States
Lesbians--United States
Second-wave feminism--United States
Women political activists--United States
Women radicals--United States
Women's rights--United States
Compact discs
Electronic records
Financial records
Manuscripts for publication
Arbus, Diane, 1923-1971
Beauvoir, Simone de, 1908-1986
Eastwood, Mary O., 1930-2015
Kennedy, Florynce, 1916-2000
Lane, Bettye, 1930-2012
Nessim, Barbara
Saxe, Susan
Solanas, Valerie
Feminists (Organization)
Human Rights for Women, Inc.
National Organization for Women
Radical Women
Redstockings, Inc.
University of Pennsylvania. Institute of Contemporary Art