Friday, June 28, 2019

Students for Social Alternatives

Newspaper photo of table at registrationThis week marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village. The mass demonstrations were a crucial turning point for the gay rights movement, leading to mobilization and advocacy and creating the foundations for today's LGBTQIA+ activism. The ripple effect hit some college campuses almost immediately, but took some time to reach Hanover. On January 2nd, 1978, Stuart Lewan '79 publicly asserted the presence of Dartmouth's gay community by pitching a table at Winter term registration for a new "Gay Student Support Group." A sign over his head proclaimed, "Get on Down and Party with the Students for Social Alternatives." 55 students signed up for the promised regular newsletter.

Lewan followed up with an editorial in the January 6th issue of The Dartmouth entitled "Helping gays adjust to Dartmouth." He starts with a nod to Stonewall by bemoaning, "So, about 10 years after most other colleges of similar prestige, Dartmouth is giving birth to its first gay student group. Why has it taken so long?" He then lists all of the things that gay people feared at Dartmouth and beyond, and calls for broad campus support of the community, but most importantly for Lewan, he calls for the gay community at Dartmouth to come out of the closet, claim its place on campus, and support each other to fight back against fear.

Helping gays adjust to Dartmouth editorial
There is a militant tone to his editorial--and it provoked some predictable backlash in the letters to the editor, but Lewan's work, along with that of fellow student leaders, helped begin the long process of opening the campus and making it someplace where more people could feel welcome. You can learn a lot more about Stuart Lewan by listening to his oral history on the Dartmouth SpeakOut site.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Commonwealth and Confederation

Front cover of Ronaghan's brochure, displaying the proposed Canadian flag
What could be more iconic than the Canadian national flag? With its bright stripes and large red maple leaf, the emblem of our neighbor to the north stands out in a field of national banners. It's hard to imagine the country having a different standard. Still, the Canadian flag as we know it is a relatively recent development. The flag was adopted in 1965 after a great amount of debate and deliberation. It's almost entirely based upon the flag of the Royal Military College of Canada and is only one of several official flags for the country; others include the Canadian Red Ensign flag and the Royal Union flag.

While looking through the Stefansson Correspondence collection, we discovered an earlier proposal
First page of Ronaghan's letter to Stefansson
for an official Canadian flag. In a letter written in January 8th, 1946, to Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an Allen Ronaghan of Islay, Alberta, suggests a different design to solve the "vital problem" of the lack of a distinctive national flag. Instead of using the Red Ensign flag, which he claims is racist because its coat of arms excludes numerous people groups, Ronaghan recommends instead a flag, presumably of his own design. Ronaghan's flag represents the theme of "Commonwealth and Confederation" and so stands in opposition to other flags which raise objectionable points, in his mind. His flag retains the Union Jack symbol in the upper left corner because, as he puts it, "A flag that ignored the Union Jack simply would not be acceptable to the entire Canadian people, regardless of what some ultra-nationalists may say on occasions when emotions run away with them."

Interior of brochure that explains the symbolism of the flag designHowever, instead of using a coat of arms, Ronaghan recommends the image of Ursa Major on a blue field. The Big Dipper is relevant and appropriate for many reasons, he says, because it's ubiquitous in Canadian skies at night. Also, it bears a "marked resemblance to Canadian confederation," with each star in the constellation representing a different province or territory. Finally, in a tactical move that was doubtless meant to appeal to Stefansson's interests, Ronaghan notes that the Big Dipper "points north" and that Canada must do the same if she is to become "truly great," ostensibly by developing its great stretches of northern wilderness. Stefansson, a world-famous Canadian arctic explorer, appears to be sympathetic to this argument; he has highlighted this portion of Ronaghan's letter.

To see Ronaghan's letter and the enclosed pamphlet that outlines the details of his flag design, come to Special Collections and ask to see MSS-196, Box 65, Folder 14, "Ronaghan."