In the summer of 2015, I sat with my grandmother Lucille Reed at her home in Illinois and asked her questions about her life, recording what she had to say on my iPhone. I had started researching the lives of two women for a book project: my grandmother as well as my great-grandmother, Edna Hellman, who lived from 1884 to 1982 in New York City. Soon I began to think of what it would be like to gather grandmother stories from people everywhere, and to establish an archive of stories that could be read, listened to, and shared.
The women these stories are about lived in different times and places, yet if you look closely, those times and places are not all that different from our present moment in many ways. My great-grandmother Edna declared in an interview with my father in 1979, “I was brought up ridiculously, and so many of my friends the same,” when speaking about the way girls were raised at the turn of the twentieth century. Now that we are well into the twenty-first, can we honestly say that men and women are treated equally? Without listening to these women’s stories and saving them for future generations, the chance to acknowledge the differences, and especially the astonishing similarities, vanishes.
This archive establishes a space in which the stories of women—of all backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities—are amplified. By skipping one or more generations backward in time, we create enough distance to see the past clearly. Maybe we can see enough to understand what to do next.