The Power of Love to Dispel Hate

NYC Pride march 2016

Every summer in New York there is a major parade to celebrate a several communities crucial to NYC cultural life. This is true of several parades, but the one I’m talking about is NYC Pride, one of New York City’s more joyous celebrations.

The programming for Pride month celebrates the struggle for civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender men, women, and everyone in between in the United States. It is an annual celebration marking the riot at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. The first Gay Pride march was held on June 28, 1970, on Christopher street (it took up 15 surrounding NYC blocks) to commemorate that riot.

Stonewall Inn at end of 2016 Pride march

I’ve written about these events before because the LGBT community is so much a fabric of FIT life. I mentioned before that by the time I came back to FIT to work in the library (and attend graduate school here) in 1996, every. single. one. of the male professors from my undergraduate year 1987-1988 were dead. These were not old men. They were gay men in the midst of plague years. AIDS cut a swath of death through the fashion community in the 1980s and ’90s.

From the New York Public Library archive, poster by ACT Up

First, think about what it would be like if everyone you knew, all your friends and colleagues, the people pouring your coffee in the morning, the people teaching your classes, the people doing your makeup, or stitching your samples, the people you saw daily on your commute… what would it be like if everyone you knew had lost a friend, a lover, a brother or sister, or teacher, or colleague, or boss in a series of years?

In New York City, the AIDS crisis was like the terrorism event September 11, only stretched out over 15 agonizing years and hospital rooms all over the tri-state area. The crisis was like the 1918 flu epidemic, or the Black Death.

Elizabeth Taylor put her social influence to work to bring AIDS awareness to mainstream America.


But this story is about more than a community of people who died 30 years ago. This is a story about the things that make New York City an important city in the world, i.e. its arts communities. And it’s a story about how fear, ignorance and public policy can kill by ommission.







Sadly, ignorance and fear still drive policies which prevent poorer citizens from contracting and treating this potentially fatal disease. Several decades of decreases in sex and drug use education have increased incidences of AIDS-related illness in local groups. As recently as 2015 a county in Indiana had a major AIDS outbreak, apparently tied to opiate drug use in a financially-depressed area. The local health clinic, a Planned Parenthood, had been defunded, making health care and testing inaccessible for the victims.

The AIDS quilt: begun by Cleve Jones in San Francisco, a mourning symbol for thousands of people, at its 1987 showing on the Mall in Washington D.C. FIT made a small version which is displayed in the Dubinsky building lobby.

This vulnerability in poor communities can be seen writ larger in the infection statistics among African-Americans, where women have a chance of infection 3.5 times greater than white women. Similarly, African Americans account for 45% of annual new HIV diagnoses, but only 12% of the American population overall. Historically black Americans have had less access to health insurance and a greater distrust of the medical community, making diagnoses and subsequent care less likely. The Hispanic-American community continues to suffer in similar ways, in some part because of the cultural stigma against men who have sex with men.

NYC memorial for Pulse victims, Pride 2016. Photo by MSNBC.


Ignorance affects the LGBT community in other ways as well.  By 2014 hate crimes had been directed at a greater number of LGBT individuals than either Jews, Muslims, or African-Americans, the communities which suffer such acts in next order of frequency. The deaths of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Floriday last June 12 were merely the most visible and publicized such acts.


FIT has policies designed to protect our students and workers from such violence and harassment. If someone is hurting you, contact someone!


Descent into violence serves none of us, however. When people march for Pride month this coming Sunday, it is a celebration that, despite all the death, violence, ignorance and fear, the community of LGBT, with all it’s different colors, sizes, genders, shapes, and personalities, within the larger community of New York City, has survived. And will continue to thrive.


New York City Pride 2016 march, photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.



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Well-knit codes

American Red Cross knitting class, WWI.

A colleague here sent around this cool article about WWI and WWII spies who used knitting to code observations for the Resistance. It seems unlikely to me that a lot of knitters went to the trouble to learn codes in order to report findings, it seems perfectly reasonable that a person might use knitting or needlework as cover for close observation. There is something about these “womanly” pursuits that render the crafter seemingly harmless.


I think it unlikely that knitting was taught or practiced as an organized espionage technique because this article in the Telegraph references the exact same case of the Belgian woman making notes as she sat at her window, watching trains go by. If it were an organized and more widespread practice, it seems like more would have been published about it by now. (I could be wrong, but it generally seems like this kind of “women’s” task is just not on the radar of most military minds.)






Elementary school students knitting for the WWII effort in 1944


People were encouraged to knit to provide soldiers with warm socks and other clothing through multiple wars (see my post Textiles Speak) as this WWI poster from the National Archive shows. (You can read more about it here and here and here.) There is even a current project, through the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, to donate scarves to veteran’s hospitals and homes.



Revolutionary Women’s Club, by Pierre-Etienne Lesueur c. 1790



Knitting has a long history of being an observer’s pasttime during important political events. Madame Defarge, Charles Dickens’ famous guillotine observer, was based on historical women who knit while watching the public executions at the guillotine during the French Revolution. In Tale of Two Cities, Defarge encodes the names of each victim into her knitting.





The idea of knitting in codes has caught the imagination of knitters in recent years. A quick internet search turned up many examples of patterns where the creator used the stitches to spell out messages in the dots and dashes of Morse code. These seem to most often be worked on a plain knit ground with a single purl stitch as a dot and a row of three purl stitches as a dash. Knitting coded words into garments like these gives them an apotropaic or protective quality, not unlike wearing medieval Tiraz bands or glass evil eye pendants.

The stripes are Morse code. Hats designed by Kathy Walruth for chemotherapy patients. Pattern on

Knitting consists of two basic looped stitches, a knit and a purl. All larger pieces of patterns are made of these two stitches, making it similar to the binary coding aspect of computer programming.  These two women designed a collection of knits inspired by Bletchley Park, the WWII secret site where English secret service recruits developed the first computing machine and broke the Nazi’s Enigma code.

Computer coders play with the binary nature of both knitting and coding in all kinds of ways. Because of the similarities in logic, knitting is being used as a way to explain major coding concepts. Here are some other playful things knitter/coders have done with their yarn recently:

Happy knitting, everyone! Hurray for textiles!

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Magazine of the Week

Welcome back, everyone!

As I’ve mentioned, it’s been a bit crazy around the library. So I wanted to fill in some backstory for last week’s Mag of the Week before going on to the next one. Redbook is one of the publishing world’s Seven Sisters, a group of women’s magazines that dominated the publishing through the twentieth century. I wrote about three of these titles in December last year. As with many women’s magazines, Redbook has a storied past that has been largely forgotten in it’s current grocery-store-checkout-bland life.


Redbook was introduced in May 1903, published by a group of Chicago retailers. It began life as The Red Book Illustrated*, specializing in contemporary fiction. Authors Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, Dashiell Hammet, and Edith Wharton were featured, alongside social commentary, such as Eleanor Roosevelt’s “The Ingredients of An Ideal Wife” and Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.’s “Farewell to Fifth Avenue”. The title was modestly successful until the end of WWII.






By the end of WWII, social and demographic changes created a younger magazine reader. The new editor, hired away from film-fan title Modern Screen, redirected the title at the new audience of 18-24 year olds, offering readers conventional fiction and movie star news alongside reporting on social concerns such as racial prejudice, McCarthyism, and food additives.






Throughout the 1950s and ’60s the content focused on this educated upper-middle class, often married, female demographic, while also increasing its campaign for social justice issues. Margaret Meade, Benjamin Spock, and consumer advocate Bess Myerson were all regular contributors. The title advocated heavily for the Equal Rights Amendment, and it’s editor in 1976 talked 35 other women’s magazines into running pieces to support the amendment during their July 1976 issues.





In 1982, bought by Hearst Corporation and tone was immediately softened and the amount of fiction decreased. By 1990, the magazine conformed to more standardized “women’s” magazine territory: aimed at young mothers who took “me” time, the title increased the amount of editorial pages devoted to fashion, beauty, sex life, and parenting. These strategies worked to increase the title’s circulation and position it between Hearst’s Cosmopolitan and the other six Sisters.






Redbook continues targeting married women with children, and has reflected every pop-culture trend out there, from adding regular fitness and yoga advice, healthy recipes, makeup and fashion sections, changing parenting styles, and the sensationalist tone of social media.







That said, editorial highlights the strengths of its cover women over their beauty, publishes a regular “Mothers and Shakers” list, includes regular women’s health features, and showcases women of diverse ethnic backgrounds, ages, and sizes. The most recent editor has made it her project to ensure that the magazine looks like its readership, something that *isn’t* happening in most mass-market publications at all.




The PERS department carries the last five years of Redbook. The near-complete run of the title can be found in the ProQuest Women’s Magazine Archive.



* The same publisher also produced The Blue Book (specializing in pulp fiction) and The Green Book (aimed at career women).

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