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Activist gifts $1M to women’s history center

Duke’s literary collection on women’s culture, history and rights has the financial capability to grow into the future.

Women’s health care pioneer, political activist, and journalist Merle Hoffman donated $1 million to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the University announced Tuesday. The donation will increase programming expenses and grant funding to the center, which is a national leader in research on women’s history and culture. The donation will also name the directorship after Hoffman.

“I want to be sure that women and activists can go someplace and read what I’ve done and what my colleagues have done, and this will be a history that hasn’t left the public sphere,” Hoffman said. “I would hope the Bingham Center could be a beacon for women’s rights and reproductive rights all around the world.”

The Bingham Center was founded in 1988 and is part of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Bingham Center Director Laura Micham said the donation is the culmination of the center’s long-standing partnership with Hoffman. This particular contribution will allow the center to direct more money toward programming, operating expenses and grant funding. Micham added.

Hoffman, who donated her personal and professional papers to the center in 2000, said she hopes the funds will allow it to remain a strong resource for women’s history—particularly in health and reproductive rights. She is the founder and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center, one of the nation’s largest women’s health facilities. She is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of On the Issues Magazine—a progressive feminist publication founded in 1983.

Hoffman’s donation validates the center’s history of excellence, said Deborah Jakubs, Rita Di Giallonardo Holloway University librarian and vice provost for library affairs.

“[Hoffman] is so committed to the kind of work the Bingham Center carries out and makes possible through the provision of scholarly research and programming, and it is something she thinks so highly of that she wanted her name associated with it,” Jakubs said.

Hoffman said this donation comes at a time when she is reflecting on her involvement with women’s health and reproductive rights. This year marks the 40th anniversary of her women’s medical center, and she is currently writing her autobiography, “Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room.” In her years of work in women’s rights activism, she has used the Bingham Center’s archives multiple times.

“I’ve gone back to my own archives and others’ archives to assist my own work,” she said. “[For my autobiography], there was a lot of research that had to be done on myself because there have been so many things I’ve done that I’ve forgotten.... We’ve been through this together all throughout the years.”

Women’s Studies Chair Ranjana Khanna, said faculty members and students in the women’s studies program work closely with the Bingham Center. Hoffman’s contributions have also inspired other women’s rights activists to donate their papers to the center, allowing Duke students and faculty members interested in women’s rights and women’s health to conduct thorough research. The center, Khanna said, contains many resources not available at other universities.

Khanna also serves as director of undergraduate and graduate studies for the department.

“[Her donation] has created a foundation for documenting reproductive rights beyond Merle’s efforts,” Khanna said. “It’s become a repository for papers that are not available in the same way elsewhere and our students will benefit from that.”

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