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Making History

Help Ensure Swarthmore’s Archives Speak For Us All

The only record we have in the College Archives of the inaugural meeting of Swarthmore’s first queer student organization is a terse, 23-word advertisement with the cryptic headline “GLF” in a 1970 Phoenix issue. Imagine what else there might be: fliers advertising the meeting, an agenda of what was discussed, photographs of the students who gathered. Did anyone keep a journal in which they wrote about the event?

Some of these documents may have never existed at all. If they did, it is likely that they were discarded or lost over the years. But maybe, just maybe, there are a precious few pages that were created, and were saved, and to this very day are sitting in the back of someone’s closet. Perhaps, at this very moment, there are documents like this in the back of your closet.

The mission of the Swarthmore College Archives is to preserve the documentary evidence of the College’s past and to tell, as fully as possible, the Swarthmore story in all its infinite variety. That means every aspect of it, respecting equally all segments of the College community.

Despite the best of intentions, gaps, silences, and distortions remain in the archival record. It is particularly challenging to collect records of organizations that are purposefully discreet, as Gay Liberation at Swarthmore was in its early years. It also can be tough to collect records of organizations oppositional or marginal to the mainstream. But these are the cases in which it is particularly important to do so. 

Archives buttress community-building through history-making and memory work. As Swarthmore embraces a campuswide commitment to diversity and inclusion, archives demonstrate the longevity, resilience, and accomplishments of the communities that make us whole. Several recent student-driven projects have done important work to highlight the histories of campus groups and make their archives accessible, including the Black Liberation 1969 Archive (, a digital history project documenting the black protest movement spearheaded by the Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society.

Through the Intercultural Center’s Archival Internship program, more than 100 items from Enlace, the Swarthmore Asian Organization, and the Swarthmore Queer Union from the 1970s to the present have been digitized and added to Swarthmore’s institutional repository, Triceratops ( We do what we can to support projects like these, but we are limited by the availability of documents in the College Archives.

And so, we issue this evergreen plea to the alumni community: Please share your Swarthmore stories with the College Archives. If you have publications, photographs, videos, letters, records of student groups, or other documents relating to your Swarthmore experience, consider donating them. We are particularly interested in building our collections relating to populations who are often overlooked or marginalized in college histories, including the campus experiences of queer and trans people, people of color, first-generation college students, and people with disabilities. 

On the Swarthmore College Archives website (, you can see what we already have in the archives and find guidelines for what types of donations we accept. If you have any questions, please contact us at

Your story is an important part of Swarthmore’s history. Please share your documents with the College Archives so that we can preserve them and make them accessible for generations of Swatties to come.