Last summer, Maine’s leading AIDS activist and exemplary member of the Portland community, Frances Peabody, passed away. Members of her estate recently donated a large number of her files to USM and the Glickman Library. The collection includes hand-written journals on her activities, photographs, and a collection of VHS movies.
This donation, known as the Peabody Papers, represents a wealth of social and academic information to the USM and Portland Community, according to Susie Bock, head of Special Collections/Archives at Glickman Library.
“To me, her papers are one of those foundation collections that will help underwrite the gay and lesbian community,” said Bock. She added, “If the stories aren’t saved in libraries, the gay and lesbian community fears they aren’t going to be told.”
Though AIDS is not a “gay/lesbian disease,” as was once believed, a large portion of Peabody’s involvement was with the homosexual community. Her papers are therefore of great importance to the gay and lesbian community, and may perhaps lead to greater understanding of the disease and its origins,
according to Sarah Holmes, resource coordinator, GLBTQA Resource Center.
“There is still a great deal of stigma, myth, and ideas that gay men started and spread AIDS,” said Holmes. “We are realizing more and more that this is not a gay disease.”
She hopes the collection can further dispel rumors and erase the stigma surrounding AIDS.
The papers will not only serve the homosexual community, according to Bock, but will be useful to many departments, including Women’s Studies, the Social Work Department, and the Program for American and New England Studies.
The papers are being included in the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity, a program established by the University to promote and highlight diversity and human and civil rights in Maine.
Peabody, known to most as Frannie, was an active volunteer throughout her life. She served with the Red Cross through both World Wars, worked to preserve historical landmarks through Greater Portland Landmarks and the National Society of Colonial Dames, and actively participated in countless other volunteer activities, according to the Portland Press Herald.
It was not until she was 81 and her grandson Peter died of AIDS that she became a prolific AIDS activist. She founded The AIDS Project, Maine’s first agency to address AIDS issues. On Valentines Day, 1995, she opened the Peabody House, a refuge for AIDS victims.
The papers, which are expected to fill at least eight feet of shelf space, are currently being sorted through, examined, and catalogued. The process is tedious and time consuming, according to Bock, and the completion date is not yet certain. However, the papers are currently available for research.
Assistant News Editor Matthew Clifford can be contacted at [email protected]