A life's work

Western’s Center for Pacific Northwest Studies will be home to the personal collection of feminist scholar Catharine R. Stimpson.
Story by Clarissa Mansfield

Bellingham born and raised, Catharine R. Stimpson became a renowned scholar and professor, a trailblazer in feminist criticism and a leader in the study of women and gender. Her life and career took her across the country: She’s dean emerita at New York University and former director of the Fellows Program at the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. She also served as the first director of Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women.

But for a permanent home for her personal and professional papers, Stimpson chose Western Libraries Center for Pacific Northwest Studies.

“Yes, I am a New Yorker through and through, but Bellingham is where I was born. I grew up in Bellingham, amidst its waters and trees and mountains,” she says. “I wanted to come home.”

Among her other achievements, Stimpson was president of the Modern Language Association and continues to serve as co-chair of the National Advisory Council of Creative Capital, a non-profit that funds underserved and risk-taking artists.

The Catharine R. Stimpson Papers include writings, speeches, professional correspondence, project files and more, documenting her work and leadership in feminist scholarship, higher education, and public service. The collection also contains Stimpson’s photographs, personal papers, and correspondence.

Catharine Stimpson holds an archival box in the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies
'My paper bones': Stimpson's archives include professional files, drafts and ephemera from a life as a scholar.

Yes, I am a New Yorker through and through, but Bellingham is where I was born.

Altogether, the collection preserves for posterity a lifetime of achievements and a prolific body of work, says Elizabeth Joffrion, director of Western Libraries Archives and Special Collections.

“Her work will be of significant scholarly interest across numerous disciplines, and her perspective will continue to inform the ongoing movement for social justice and women’s rights,” Joffrion says. “Closer to home, these papers will support generations of student research in Western’s new Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.”

The Center for Pacific Northwest Studies is already home to collections of the Stimpson Family, including those of Stimpson’s parents, Edward K., and Catharine “Kitty” C. Stimpson, and her late brother, Edward W. Stimpson. Catharine R. Stimpson, who attended Western’s Campus School as a child, regards her family’s papers as contributions to civic life, and to the study of the Pacific Northwest and the local community, which was another influence on Stimpson’s donation.

“These archives and manuscripts were of interest to many universities,” says Dean of Western Libraries John Danneker. “We are profoundly honored that Catharine and her family have entrusted WWU, and her hometown of Bellingham, with this collection.”

Stimpson has thus far transferred more than 20 boxes of papers to the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies. Once the rest of Stimpson’s papers are transferred, the collection will be processed in accordance with archival standards before they are available for use at the center, says Archivist Ruth Steele, ’02, M.A., history - archives and records management. As is the case with many archival collections, there will be some limits on their use, but the end goal is for Stimpson’s rich archival collection to see active use in support of research, teaching, and scholarship.


Catharine Stimpson holds an archival box in the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies
Stimpson hopes students will use her archives in their own work.

Archival exploration can prompt critical consideration of the historical record and the ways in which that record is documented and examined, helping to advance historical and cultural knowledge of the past by providing valuable context and insights to inform a comprehensive understanding of a region, a place, a time, and the many people who belonged to it.
Stimpson says Western is a special place of inquiry and intellectual activity, and that she sees Bellingham as a community capable of self-reckoning, as a place that values creativity and wants to make a path to a better future. She also hopes that the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies will continue to grow to reflect the complexity of this area’s shared history, including the voices and contributions of Indigenous peoples. Archives have the potential to support that goal, she says, and she hopes students will use them.
Joffrion agrees: “The donation of this collection is evidence of the strong connections between Western and the local community, and a reminder that we thrive best when we acknowledge the centrality of place in who we've become over time. We are deeply grateful to Catharine for recognizing her personal and historical connection to Western, Whatcom County, and the greater community with the donation of this remarkable body of research and teaching resources."

Clarissa Mansfield, ’01, B.A., English and humanities, and ’14, M.Ed., environmental education, is communications manager for Western Libraries.