Women, particularly women of color, are largely absent from Santa Monica’s historical archives and the Santa Monica Public Library is hoping to add some to the history books.
The library is asking residents to submit local women of color to feature in a display at the Main Library for Women’s History Month this March. The display will include four posters of local historical figures – Sylvia Rosseau, Keshia Ram, Elfie Mosse and Arcadia Butler – and a slideshow of the Santa Monica women residents suggest.
Also on the calendar for Women’s History Month are tours of the notable women interned Woodlawn Cemetery, including Thelma Terry and Sally Ride. The tours will start at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 23. The library will also be hosting an event inside the mausoleum, where staff will hand out archival photos of local women and run a slideshow about 19 of the women interned in Woodlawn.
The library is making an ongoing effort to record the stories of local women, particularly women of color, said library assistant Joseph Delaplaine.
For Black History Month, the library displayed four Black women who were or are influential in Los Angeles, and Delaplaine said the library is trying to expand its Santa Monica history section to spotlight people who aren’t rich white men. One of the women featured in its Black History Month display, on view until the end of February, is Sweet Alice Harris, a community activist who founded Parents of Watts, a social services center, to reconcile her neighborhoods following the 1965 Watts riots.
Harris exemplifies the type of woman the library wants to highlight, Delaplaine said, but she is a well-known figure, and the library is hoping to document the stories of local women who are historically significant but have flown under the radar. That’s why it’s turning to residents, he said.
“It can be as simple as talking to friends or family, finding out about their lives and their contributions to Santa Monica,” he said. “History can seem intimidating, but it’s just paying attention and keeping records. It’s something everyone can contribute to.”
Delaplaine said he feels adding to the library’s record of local women of color is especially important in an era when many people of color are being priced out of Santa Monica.
Delaplaine said he himself lives in a historically Black neighborhood near Santa Monica High School and didn’t know he lived near the first African American church in the city, the Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church. Near the church was The Inkwell, a popular beach for African Americans on Bay Street created to escape the harassment they faced at other beaches.
“There’s a lot of history here, and it’s not just the history of rich white people,” he said.
Residents with ancestors, relatives or friends they would like to submit to the library for Women’s History Month are encouraged to email Delaplaine at email@example.com.