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Looking Back to Look Forward

Archiving can yield new opportunities, says Winifred Armstrong ’51

When she was honored with the Clara Lemlich Social Activist Award last year, Winifred Armstrong ’51 filmed an interview with Labor Arts that opens with her laughter.

“Somebody asked me a few weeks ago if I could sleep in a strange bed,” she begins, eyes sparkling. “I said I would have had a totally different life if I couldn’t.”

This is a woman who traversed Africa for two years in the late 1950s on a self-financed fact-finding trip—via airplane, boat, train, lorry, canoe, and, for 22,000 miles, a Volkswagen and camp bed—to study its educational and economic challenges and opportunities, well before the U.S. State Department had a dedicated Africa bureau.

And while that expertise led her to become a speechwriter and adviser on Africa for then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, Armstrong’s 60-year career as a scholar/activist also includes experience with mining, sustainability, development, and tenants’ rights.

Looking back on her career, however, interests her primarily when it is joined with looking forward.

“I’ve had a great time the last few years getting the stories and records of work I’ve done with a variety of organizations to libraries that want to archive them,” Armstrong says. “I’d like to encourage other Swarthmoreans to think about what in their own history might be of interest to archive and the value and fun in pursuing it.”

Here, Armstrong shares what she’s learned about archiving and how it can be a creative, community-building step.


1. Go through your materials with a realistic eye as to what can be donated and used.

In my experience, libraries have welcomed paper files, correspondence, photos (with identifications, if possible), tape recordings, and memorabilia such as passports, clothing, keys, or medals. Books and reports could be good, too, if they’re not already publicly available.


2. Once you know what you have, think about where it could go.

You may have to shop around. Sometimes you connect with the first inquiry, and sometimes you’re surprised by who does or doesn’t want your material. It’s also important not to disregard your smaller or older files. Last year, for example, I donated to Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library a 2-inch file I’d kept for 65 years on the Swarthmore Race Relations Club’s 1950 survey of the College and local community.

Early on, I decided that I didn’t want to create a “Winifred Armstrong Collection” at one location, because I don’t really see most of what I have done as “mine.” Since the work covers different interests and organizations, I sought libraries where people would look for those interests. 


3. When you talk with libraries, there are a number of questions to ask.

What’s their protocol and timeline for processing your papers? You’ll also want to see if they will list your individual files online or just the contents of each box. 

You also need to determine how libraries prefer to receive the material—if you’re collecting materials from a group of people who have been part of an organization or program, it may be better to have one person sort and label everything. However, most libraries do not expect you to file everything perfectly.


4. Collecting history can inspire others.

There’s great satisfaction and fun in contacting former colleagues, and it may nudge them to action themselves. You need not only consider past work. I helped round up material from my and others’ involvement with the Park West Village Tenants’ Association—still active—which helped spark the creation of Tamiment Library’s housing collection at New York University. 


5. Face the question: Will anyone actually use your stuff?

The honest answer is yes and no. It depends very much on whether the library has processed the material and put the listings online—my African files at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, my AMAX African mining files at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, and the tenant files at Tamiment are consulted often. Not everything is, of course, but when you’re able to connect with someone who’s interested, it means a lot.

I happened to meet a student from St. Louis looking through my Kennedy archives in 2010. When I introduced myself, he looked at me as if I were a ghost coming out of the box! We had a wonderful conversation, and I gave him much better sources than my stuff.


6. Accept that you don’t control how people will interpret your archives.

Later, I was speaking with another student, who had come to research and photograph my 1972-era files on the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) on their way to the Pace University Law Library. 

“Well,” the student told me, “I see that UNEP failed—they are saying in 1972 that this is what they are going to accomplish, but by 2012 they are still saying the same thing. That’s failure.”

I thought, “OK, if you’re 19, that’s a fair criteria for failure, but if you’re 82, I don’t know.” So he and I sat there on the dollies in the storage room and had a major discussion as to how one judges these things. We weren’t trying to settle the argument; we were looking at how you think about it. Because of my archives, I’ve had some wonderful discussions with people like that—their perspectives and mine are deepened and stretched, which is great fun.


7. Ultimately, be realistic about your expectations.

Not everything saved over a lifetime may find a home, but that’s OK. It’s freeing to view this as an effort to celebrate ongoing work, ideas, and processes. 

For me, this isn’t only a personal thing. The best part has been talking with old and new colleagues and friends, recognizing the good work we’ve done and are doing, delighting in remembering the work and one another, and moving it forward so this intellectual capital is not lost. I hope you’ll consider doing the same with yours.


+ VIEW a list of libraries holding Winifred Armstrong’s papers below. To email her, write to:

Libraries Holding the Papers of Winifred Armstrong and Organizations with which she worked

As of June 15, 2016

Africa Papers


Kennedy Library

Win worked with Senator John F. Kennedy 1959-60 soon after he took on the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations sub-committee on Africa. Win had just returned from a two-year, self-sponsored trip in West, Southern, and East Africa, researching education and economies, in the recognition there would be opportunities for greater contact between the U.S. and African countries as African countries prepared for independence. 

Files (5 boxes) and an oral history include: briefings and meetings arranged with Kennedy and other Congressional representatives and staff for newly visiting African leaders in education, economic, politics, agriculture; speech drafts; organizing State Department and DC real estate representatives to deal with the discrimination in housing faced by newly-arriving African diplomats; and planning what became Peace Corps.

Contact: Stephen Plotkin, John F. Kennedy Library

Papers indexed here.


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

Win worked with many individuals and organizations in Africa and the US in the 1950’s and 60’s to advance educational, economic, political and cultural opportunities and development. 

Files (11 boxes) include: Contacts, correspondence, descriptive material on dozens of organizations and individuals concerned with Africa in U.S. and Africa. Country files include Angola; South West Africa (Namibia); Nigeria and the conflict with and efforts to resolve Biafra; Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe); Congo, and others. 

Files also include research materials, contact lists, and notebooks from: a) Win’s first trip in a dozen sub-Saharan countries 1957-58; b) visits in eight West and East African countries 1962-63 for the 1964 book Win co-authored published by the National Planning Association, The Development of African Private Enterprise; c) a United Nations Special Fund 1965 trip and draft report on opportunities for developing local entrepreneurship. 

Contact: Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division

Papers await processing.


Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Stanford University

Win worked as an international economist 1966-74 for the mining company, American Metal Climax (AMAX), primarily on a broad range of matters relating to AMAX investments in copper in Zambia, Botswana, South West Africa (Namibia) and South Africa. Files include transportation issues related to exporting copper from Zambia after Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence; training of African staff; and a broad range of concerns with Africa in U.S. and Africa shared with other colleagues—help to students, introductions for visiting leaders, development of an African American Chamber of Commerce, input into policy papers, et al. Amax and Win’s work on environmental issues while at Amax will be reflected in these files, but the bulk of those files have gone to Pace University Law Library

Contact: Danielle Scott, Hoover Institution Library and Archives

In total, there are 52 manuscript boxes, and 1 recorded sound reel. Finding aid located here.


United States South Africa Leadership Exchange (USSALEP)

A South African/US organization that operated approximately 1956-96 to help bring about peaceful change in South Africa. Win had longtime modest association with the group, knew many of the people, and helped organize the nearly 100 boxes of its history sent in 2008 from U.S. and South Africa to the University of Witwatersrand Library, Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Contact: Michele Pickover

Files are indexed and online here. Search “USSALEP” or “AG3237”


Economic and Environment Papers


The Other Economic Summit (TOES)

Organizing and conference materials from the Houston (1990) and Denver (1997) “alternate to the G-7” conferences are at Temple University. (Toronto conference 1988 still with Ward Morehouse family)  

Contact: Margery N. Sly, Director, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

Files are located here.



While at AMAX, Win took an activist role in getting U.S. companies involved in the first UN Environment Conference (UNEP) and in participating in international environment work. Materials describe American companies’ involvement in the first UNEP conference in Stockholm in 1972 and their relationship to the OECD/Business and Industrial Advisory Committee (BIAC) 1970-75. 

Files: 13 containers at Pace University School of Law Library

Contact: Gail Whittemore  

Finding aid to the collection is located here.


Society for International Development (SID), New York Chapter

This group held monthly meetings from the 1960s through the 1990s to define and advance the thinking on development issues at both conceptual and operating levels. 

Files: Four boxes covering 1960s – 1990s programs and administration sent to SID Rome headquarters in 2010. 

Contact: Stefano Prato, SID


Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

“The Paper Trail: Connecting Economic and Natural Systems” is an introductory four-week teaching unit co-authored by Winifred Armstrong and Margaret Mansfield for high school teachers of social studies, economics, and environment.

The website is located here. Under Cloud Store, Click on “Curriculum Units and Design Tools”


Neighborhood Organizations


Park West Village Tenants’ Association (PWVTA)

Win is a former editor and president and has continued activity in PWVTA, a major tenant organization in New York City since 1975. Its 1978 action established the Warranty of Habitability principle in New York law, and other actions have contributed to legislative and policy shifts as well as helping thousands of PWV residents.  

Files: 20 boxes, partially indexed. Opening Program and Exhibit: "Tenant Organizations and Housing Policy,” recorded May 19, 2011. Exhibit Summer 2011 is located here.

Contact: Tamiment Library, New York University Libraries

Finding aid to the collection is located here.


Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group (fka Park West Neighborhood History Group)

A neighbor’s request in 2000 for a history of Park West Village, the 7-building complex where Win has lived for 48 years, has evolved into a neighborhood history group that holds regular programs, established a Neighborhood History Collection at the New York Public Library’s Bloomingdale branch on 100th Street, and stimulates and assists local historical research. 

Contact: Winifred Armstrong

The website is located here.


Smaller Files


Technoserve (1970’s)

Organization helping to develop indigenous entrepreneurs in Africa and Central/South America.

Files: Correspondence, minutes, questions re: approach, and publications from Win’s 1970’s founding Board and program participation sent 2006 to Technoserve’s CT office.  

Contact: William Warshauer, Technoserve


Interracial Council for Business Opportunity (ICBO),  New York City Chapter

Files: Six boxes of 1968–74 files containing program and administrative material given in 2006 to former director Fred Powell for forwarding with his files to an appropriate library. 

Contact:  Fred Powell


Personal research papers on Work

Win spent a semester at Yale, a summer in Europe, and took a number of part-time jobs in the early 1980’s to explore how the incentives for personal and institutional success had become so short-term and quantitative that they were separated from longer-term measures of quality and sustainability, i.e. the success of the lender was not tied to the success of the borrower (as in lending to Africa, U.S. housing).

Files: Two or three boxes of papers exploring this relationship went to City University of New York (CUNY) Center for Labor Community and Policy Studies

Contact: Paula Finn, CUNY Center for Labor Community and Policy Studies

No digital reference yet, papers may be seen on site. 


Korean Citizens Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ)

Win took part in CCEJ’s international conference on sustainable development in Korea, May 1992.  

Files: Two boxes include 10 years succeeding issues of CCEJ’s magazine, Civil Society, in English,  and Gina Lee’s book, Rethinking Environment: What’s Happening on the Earth, in Korean.

These papers are not yet catalogued but may be seen as Winifred Armstrong Papers, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University


Swarthmore College Community and Student Race Relations Surveys 1950-51  

In Win’s senior year at Swarthmore College, the race relations club organized a community and student survey, prompted by discriminatory incidents in a local barbershop and restaurant. 

Files: These records may be found at Friends Historical Library (FHL), Swarthmore College. 

Contact: Christopher Densmore, Curator, FHL


African Artifacts of Winifred Armstrong

They will go to the African Art Museum, Society of African Missions, Tenafly, NJ 07670.

Contact: Robert J. Koenig, Director, African Art Museum, Society of African Missions


Francis Bebey

A guitarist, composer, author, scholar, and friend from Cameroon based in Paris. 

Files: Three-inch file of correspondence with Bebey about concert arrangements Winifred Armstrong helped make, reviews of concerts in U.S. 1960-90’s are filed with the Winifred Armstrong Africa Collection at Schomburg Library. Win also has 33 rpm records and books which can be donated later. 


Stamp Collection

It will go to Quaker Missions West, Claremont Friends Meeting, 650 Harrison Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711.  

Contact: Earl Walker

Proceeds from the sale of stamps go to Right Sharing of World Resources.  



33 1/3 rpm records will go to Second Hand Rose Music.


Still Looking For A Place


International Society of Ecological Economics (ISEE)

Files: 1990s papers (three boxes) reveal efforts of faculty in many fields in many countries to incorporate ecological economics concepts into their teaching of engineering, accounting, biology, economics, business, et al., as well as to develop specific ecological economics programs.  These files should be a part of ISEE’s archives which have not yet found a home.


New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS)

An initial Environmental Science Committee (approx. 2000-2005) developed a series of special programs illuminating the relationships of environmental science to policy. These were later absorbed into NYAS staff programs but the earlier talks, publications, and recordings trace the push/pull and progress of thought on a series of environmental topics.



Note: Winifred Armstrong's great appreciation goes to Dr. Billie Day, a longtime friend, colleague, social studies teacher, and Africanist who has worked with her for years in the preparation of these files for archiving.