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Women’s Leather History Program

Origins of the Women’s Leather History Project

The origins of the Women’s Leather History Project (WLHP) began in 2006. The Leather Archives & Museum announced that fundraising specifically to bring Dr. Alex Warner to curate and create a traveling exhibit to highlight women’s leather history. Drawing on five years of her doctoral dissertation research and experience, Dr. Warner’s first traveling exhibit included panels on leatherwomen’s literature, art and clubs as well as the national titles and awards for leatherwomen.

Using the 2006 traveling exhibit as a springboard, Dr. Warner planned a large-scale exhibit at the Leather Archives & Museum to provide access to women’s leather history. This exhibit was a first major milestone in the formal Women’s Leather History Project at the LA&M. Using materials within our collections, Warner highlighted the primary source materials that are preserved, collected, and researched at the LA&M.  

Photo credit: Chicago SLUTS. Chuck Renslow Photograph Collection. RCID 2005154701, Box 50 Tab 70. Leather Archives & Museum, Chicago, Illinois.

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A Room of Her Own, opened Memorial Day weekend in 2011. Here is an excerpt of Dr. Warner original curator’s statement:

I was excited that we were both literally and figuratively making room for Leatherwomen’s history in the LA&M.  It was out of this line of thinking that “A Room of Her Own” emerged, building on Virginia Woolf’s 1929 feminist text that argues for women’s need for space to think and create.

Modeling the exhibit on the living room of a Leatherwoman, I carefully selected pieces from each of the museum’s existing collections that represent the diversity of the women’s Leather community, highlighting a cross-section of Leatherwomen’s social identities (gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, etc.) as well as time and geography.  Of course, not every woman’s story is represented here, but the goal is that every woman, and, in fact, every person who visits might see themselves reflected in some part of the exhibit, whether it be through pictures, t-shirts, leathers, books, magazines, videos or memorabilia. So, if there is something “missing,” please consider how donating your personal story or archive to the project would help us make our archives and future exhibits more complete...

Welcome to “A Room of Her Own …”

The original vision for the Women’s Leather History Project was to collect artifacts, stories, and other items that represent the experience of all women (straight, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, women of color). The resulting collections were featured in numerous in-house and traveling exhibitions at the LA&M.

For the last five years, your donations to the WLHP have been used for program items related to the collection and exhibition of women’s leather history, have funded the creation of traveling exhibits and exhibits at the LA&M, and assisted in the acquisition and storage of women’s leather resources including:

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Photo credit: Jan Hall Papers, PERS0034. Archival collection. Leather Archives & Museum, Chicago, Illinois.

Transitioning to the Women’s Leather History Program

The WLHP continued as a multi-year project through 2015, when the LA&M decided to extend our commitment to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting women’s leather history by transforming the project into a program. Rather than continuing to focus on short term, project-based deliverables, the change to a program adds vision and scope to the WLHP.

The Women’s Leather History Program (WLHP) at the Leather Archives & Museum is an ongoing program created to generate strategic initiatives linked to programmatic vision, fundraising, collections development, facilitate exhibit updates, generate digital content related to women’s leather history, and sustain and continue to develop relationships with leather communities, organizations, and clubs who are integral in the development of dynamic women’s collections.


The Leather Archives & Museum is very excited about this change, and what it means for sustainability and long-term commitment to collecting women's leather history. The LA&M and WLHP have developed three solid goals for the Program in 2016/2017:

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Photo credit: Rose, Sheree (photographer). Photograph of Judy Tallwing-McCarthy and Shan Carr, 1990. March on Washington 1987 Photography Collection. RCID 2004003101, Box 1 Tab 2. Leather Archives & Museum, Chicago, Illinois.

  1. Create new WLHP merchandise (with priority on a new t-shirt design)
  2. Update WLHP webpage on the LA&M website to clearly define the program mission and vision.
  3. WLHP collections development utilize exhibit and research demand to further develop the collection.

How can I help?

You can help the WLHP at the LA&M by telling people about the program, donating materials and collections that document life as a woman in the leather/fetish/BDSM/kink communities, and by becoming a member of the LA&M!  Exhibit curators, researchers, and academics are particularly interested in accessing digital resources, papers and letters, photographs to engage with the voices, lives, artifacts, memorabilia, papers, and collections from those who have been underrepresented within these communities, such as people of color in leather, women in leather, transgender and gender non-conforming people in leather, and people who claim multiple and/or intersecting identities.

Photo credit: Ms Northeast Leather 1992 fantasy. Ms. Northeast Leather Contest 1992 Photograph Collection. RCID 2010008906, Box 50 Tab 98. Leather Archives & Museum, Chicago, Illinois.

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The Future of the Women’s Leather History Program at the LA&M

The LA&M has a responsibility to shift its collections development based on research and historian interest and use of our collections related to women’s leather history, specifically archival collections; funding specifically given for projects directly connected to collections, and by addressing gaps in our collections that directly impact our ability to exhibit and provide access to history related to leather/BDSM/fetish culture and sex history. In a time when women-identified leather bars, publications, and documented histories are disappearing, we need to prioritize making as many women’s collections available and also prioritize collections that will provide tactile evidence of women’s communities in addition to oral histories.

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Photo credit: Powersurge 1994. Powersurge Seattle Photography Collection. RCID 2011019801, Box 12 Tab 144. Leather Archives & Museum, Chicago, Illinois.

All donations made to the Women’s Leather History Program will b used to collect and share women’s leather history

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