by Megan Smith
Arden Eversmeyer, founder of the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project, was selected this month by the National Women’s History Project as one of twelve honorees for National Women’s History Month.
The National Women’s History Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating the diverse and historic accomplishments of women. The project formed in 1980 after a group of women noticed that women were absent from textbooks and had few positive role models. In 1987, the group convinced Congress to declare March National Women’s History Month to recognize women’s role in history on an annual basis. “The women in the National Women’s History Project represent all kinds of activist women and pioneers, and these women date back a couple of hundred years,” Eversmeyer says.
The project honors accomplished women of diverse cultural, ethnic, occupational, racial, class, and regional backgrounds at their annual National Women’s History Month gala and reception. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment.”
Eversmeyer was selected as an honoree based on her work with the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project (OLOHP). She founded this oral history project in 1997 to collect the life stories from lesbians age seventy and older to ensure that their experiences are recognized and preserved.
A woman in Seattle, who had previously been interviewed for OLOHP, was the one who nominated Eversmeyer for the honor. “I didn’t know anything about it until I got the notification,” Eversmeyer says with a laugh. “But I certainly am honored, I’ll tell you.”
She explains that OLOHP started as a local project, to document the stories of lesbians in Houston who were experiencing end-of-life problems. The first story she ever recorded was that of her friend Marie Mariano, a retired nurse. Mariano was “a mountain woman from Idaho,” Eversmeyer says. “She nursed on horseback in the Yukon, she worked with indigenous populations in Canada, and served two tours in Korea. She had been in a very long-term relationship with her partner, but was very closeted until she found the Lesbians Over Age Fifty group here in Houston. She had a very interesting story to be told.”
Eversmeyer now travels nationwide to collect stories from older lesbians—each one digitized and backed up at the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. One year, Eversymeyer took seven different trips to collect these stories—no small feat for a woman in her early eighties. “As long as I’m able, I plan to keep on doing it,” she says. Their next trip will be to Arizona and New Mexico at the end of December.
The National Women’s History Month gala and reception will be held March 27, 2014, at 5:30 p.m. at The Willard Hotel in Washington DC.
“Every one of us has a story,” Eversmeyer says. “You don’t have to climb Mt. Everest to have a story. Every one of these stories is important and interesting.”