Jane Fonda donates personal papers, film reels to Smith College

  • Director of Special Collections Beth Myers shows the 96 boxes of Jane Fonda’s personal and professional papers recently donated to Smith College in temporary storage at Young Library. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Proofs of photos for Jane Fonda's workout videos, above, are among the 96 boxes of her personal and professional papers and 229 film reels recently donated to Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • A May 18, 1995 photograph of Jane Fonda, second from left, her third husband Ted Turner, left, and then First Lady Hillary and President Bill Clinton are among the 96 boxes of Fonda's personal and professional papers and 229 film reels recently donated to Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Archives Associate Amanda Ferrara handles a May 18, 1995 photograph of Jane Fonda and her third husband Ted Turner with then First Lady Hillary and President Bill Clinton. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • One of the 96 boxes of Jane Fonda's personal and professional papers recently donated to Smith College contains correspondence from celebrities, veterans and family Aug. 21, 2018 at Young Library on campus. —STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • A hat belonging to Jane Fonda featuring buttons that display a broad scope of her activism is among the 96 boxes of her personal and professional papers and 229 film reels recently donated to Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • The 96 boxes of Jane Fonda's personal and professional papers and 229 film reels recently donated to Smith College are shown Aug. 21, 2018 in temporary storage at Young Library. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • A Feb. 18, 1975, newspaper clipping from The Record in New Jersey is part of the 96 boxes of Jane Fonda's personal and professional papers and 229 film reels recently donated to Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2018 5:10:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — At the Smith College Special Collections, a new trove of letters, photos, film reels and other materials donated by Jane Fonda provides a window into the life and decades-long career of the actress and activist.

Within the collection, snapshots of Fonda’s life, both public and personal, are at researchers’ fingertips: correspondence with people ranging from her father to Oprah Winfrey; FBI files; Fonda and Tom Hayden’s 1974 Vietnam War documentary “Introduction to the Enemy”; letters from veterans; and handwritten notes, among many other items.

Beth Myers, director of Special Collections at Smith College Libraries, calls the donation “the sort of collection you dream about getting” due to its unusually comprehensive nature.

“What’s great about this collection is it spans the whole of (Fonda’s) life thus far, so it gives people an overview and a context that they can’t get just by looking at one piece of her life,” Myers said.

She continued, “She’s known for saying that she’s lived her life in acts, and I think that’s true, and she’s continuing to do so, so you want to look at all the different acts of her life, and you can do that with this collection.”

Smith College has had an ongoing relationship with Fonda, 80, who first donated to the college in 2003. The new donation includes 96 boxes, each of which can contain upward of 800 papers, and 229 film reels.

Fonda herself has never attended or visited Smith College, although Myers believes that Fonda’s background makes the papers a “natural fit” for the Special Collections.

“I think that (Smith) as a women’s college certainly helps frame collections like hers, and that we focus on women who fight on behalf of women and other gender minorities,” Myers said. “I think that’s very close to her heart.”

As an activist, Fonda has championed causes such as feminism, civil rights, the Black Panthers organization and the anti-Vietnam War movement. She continues with her activist work today, more recently advocating on behalf of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, Black Lives Matter and equal pay.

Fonda’s work has inspired both acclaim and controversy, as displayed in the donated materials: “It is now my mission to enlighten as many Vet friends as I can, of your humanitarian honor and accomplishments,” wrote one Vietnam veteran in a letter to Fonda, who drew particular controversy for her anti-Vietnam War activism.

“I believe you personally could have had a positive influence on the way the war was fought out… But perhaps at that time in your life you felt it accomplished more to stir things up rather than try to settle them,” said another.

Other notes include Fonda’s communications with well-known activists and public figures such as Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler and Oprah Winfrey. “From Oprah!” Fonda scrawled on a piece of correspondence with Winfrey in a moment of apparent excitement.

Archives associate Amanda Ferrara, who worked with the collection as a manuscripts processor, spent two and a half years doing “on and off work” with the donated materials. After one and a half years physically processing the materials, she used the additional time to digitize them and create a finding aid, which acts as a table of contents and search engine for the collection.

Ferrara hopes that the collection will ultimately provide the public with a more nuanced, humanized view of Fonda and possibly inspire activism.

“I hope that (people) would take a little bit more time to get to know her as a person, to understand that she is a human just like everyone else is, and that humans make mistakes and are full people in general,” Ferrara said.

In a statement released on June 27, Fonda praised the Smith College Special Collections and expressed her hopes that the donation will contribute to a greater understanding of women’s experiences.

“History sometimes doesn’t do a good job of remembering or sharing women’s stories,” Fonda said. “And as I worked on my book, I became aware that there are chapters of my life that would be of interest to people — people who care about acting or film or education or the anti-war movement.”

She added, “The Sophia Smith Collection is one of the world’s best collections of women’s histories — dedicated to making the stories of women from all walks of life accessible to scholars and the general public. I’m so pleased that this material from my life now stands alongside that of Gloria Steinem, Alison Bechdel, Loretta Ross and others. I hope others will find it useful.”

The Special Collections can currently be viewed at Young Library while the Neilson Library undergoes renovations.

“I’m excited for people to use this collection,” Ferrara said. “It’s a long awaited one, so I’m really thrilled to see that people are excited about it and thinking about it.”


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