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Karen DeCrow (1937-2014) Papers

Identifier: 31/6/94

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Karen DeCrow collection fills 236 boxes with 2.20 gigabytes of born-digital files and spans the years 1920-2014.

The Karen DeCrow papers encompass biographical materials, files from legal organizations and NOW, photographs, files relating to the work of colleague Dr. Robert Seidenberg, speeches and debates, general subject files, writings, audiovisual materials, and awards and other artifacts.

Biographical materials include correspondence, childhood papers and keepsakes, diaries, calendars, family papers (including those for DeCrow's mother, Juliette Lipschultz), clippings, and personal financial and medical records. For preservation purposes, a brittle scrapbook's contents were removed and foldered, and can be found in this series as "Scrapbook (#5)." General correspondence files are held within this series, with noteworthy correspondents given their own folder titles. Much correspondence exists elsewhere within various subject files, and no attempt was made to file material from the general correspondence files in this series into other existing named or subject files.

DeCrow was a member of many legal associations, including the Central New York Women's Bar Association (CNYWBA), New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), Onondaga County Bar Association (OCBA), and the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY). Files for committee membership, events and conventions are included. A highlight of this series are the materials relating to the Onondaga Five and University Club. These document DeCrow's efforts with four other female lawyers to integrate women into Onondaga County Bar Association leadership and to protest the OCBA's University Club meeting location, which did not admit women at that time.

As a member of NOW since 1967, DeCrow's records and papers relating to NOW are numerous and comprise their own series. Materials include meeting minutes and official memoranda, conference programs, notes on various NOW-related actions and issues, files on other presidents and correspondence.

The photographs in the collection depict DeCrow from childhood and family pictures to professional portrait photographs, but most are casual snapshots. The majority of photographs of DeCrow's early life are held in scrapbooks. She often said that as her parents' first child, every minute of her childhood was documented. The designations DeCrow herself had given to various groups of photographs are blurred between "family and friends" and "professional." Gatherings for local NOW meetings included many of DeCrow's friends and were sorted under "friends" even though her involvement in NOW could be considered a professional one. While DeCrow's original designations of "family and friends" and "professional" were retained, photographs within these designations are organized by size and format. A photograph album labeled as Album "#1" was taken apart, with photographs removed from the adhesive pages of the album and retained in folders according to their original page numbers.

Karen DeCrow was the literary executor of partner and collaborator Dr. Robert Seidenberg’s estate, so his papers are maintained as a series in the DeCrow collection. Seidenberg was a psychiatrist who was one of the first to fight for the removal of homosexuality as a disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. He was a writer and speaker on the subject of prescribing and marketing of psychiatric drugs to women as well as on other topics. This series includes his professional papers, photographs, and writings as well as personal notes between Seidenberg and DeCrow, other correspondence, and extensive notes by DeCrow on Seidenberg's health. Audio and video recordings relating to Seidenberg are stored within the appropriate format series and are noted accordingly.

DeCrow also kept files on her speaking engagements, with drafts of speeches, related travel records, and other pertinent correspondence. In this series are files on her association with Phyllis Schlafly, touring the country debating the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Subject files are wide-ranging, with material from friends and family members to research files of clippings and articles. This series contains a mixture of personal and professional material. Personal subjects include educational materials from DeCrow's elementary school through college and law school years including papers and class notes, correspondence from numerous friends, and subject files on personal interests like art and chamber music. Files that tend toward the professional include subjects such as the ERA, father's rights and shared parenting, the First Amendment, gay rights, politics, reproductive freedom, international feminism (including material relating to trips to the People’s Republic of China and the USSR in the 1970s, and other worldwide conferences), and files documenting her Syracuse mayoral campaign of 1969. Other materials corresponding to certain subjects in this series may be found in DeCrow's book research files, listed in the writings series under book title.

DeCrow kept meticulous files on her writings. The arrangement of this series includes sub-series for each published book (The Young Woman's Guide to Liberation, Sexist Justice, and Women Who Marry Houses), and sub-series for files by title of publication, published articles and letters (in date order, titled by title of article or column), unpublished material, and other publications. The final sub-series, "Other Publications," refers to books and journals from DeCrow's personal library, typically inscribed or annotated, representing work by friends or relating to her work. Some titles have forewords, introductions, or chapters by DeCrow, and these inscriptions and contributions are noted in the folder title where applicable.

Audiovisual materials include VHS tapes, open reel audio tapes, and audiocassette recordings. The majority of the items feature recordings of professional appearances, but there are also some personal home movies and sound recordings of family members. Content lists, clippings, order forms, and notes are often inserted in the VHS tape cases. Some of the VHS tapes have been digitized; please contact the University Archivist for access to the digitized files.

Slides, sheet music, and various certificates, diplomas and awards are contained in oversize boxes. A scrapbook documenting DeCrow's 1969 mayoral run in Syracuse has been recreated with items in plastic sleeves and the original binder in a separate box. There are three scrapbooks (#2, #3, and #4) that were retained in their original bindings in the DeCrow collection. They consist mostly of photographs of DeCrow's childhood and early adulthood, including pictures of her time as a student at Northwestern. Other artifacts include medals, awards, buttons, and various personal items.

Addition: An addition to Karen DeCrow’s Papers fills one box and one oversized folder and contains primarily materials related to the end of DeCrow’s life, along with other biographical materials, photographs, and Greater Syracuse NOW chapter papers. The photographs and NOW papers may be duplicated elsewhere in the collection.


  • Majority of material found within 1920 - 2014


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is stored off-site and requires two business days advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.


236 Boxes

2.20 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



Karen DeCrow was a lawyer, writer, activist in the women's liberation movement of the 1970s, president of the National Organization for Women from 1974-1977, and a proponent of gender equality in all areas. DeCrow’s collection consists of papers, audio, video, photographs, and artifactual materials documenting her life and work.


The collection is arranged into eleven series: Biographical materials, Legal Associations and Organizations, National Organization for Women files, Photographs, Robert Seidenberg files, Speeches and Debates, Subject files, Writings, Audiovisual, and Oversize (including photographs, subject files, and artifacts).

Folders within series are mostly arranged alphabetically by folder title and then by date. The Photographs series retains DeCrow's "personal" and "professional" designations, and within these designations folders are arranged by title and date. DeCrow organized her published articles by date, and this arrangement is reflected in the Articles and letters sub-series, while retaining the article or letter title in the folder title.

Addition: The addition is arranged alphabetically by title.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Available born-digital materials in this collection are delivered to researchers in born-digital formats. Requests for different access methods, such as those not using computers or with the aid of assistive technologies, must be made in advance of a research appointment to Library staff.

Source of Acquisition

Gift of Karen DeCrow.

Method of Acquisition

Karen DeCrow sent ten shipments of materials to the Archives from 2009-2013: on 4/14/09 (accession number 09-101), 6/16/09 (09-134), 7/21/09 (09-167), 4/9/10 (10-62), 8/25/10 (10-148), 9/1/10 (10-163), 10/24/10 (10-195), 3/21/11 (11-63), 5/19/11 (11-87), and on 1/10/13 (13-9). After her death, the entire collection was received from the executor of her estate and her sister on 8/11/14 (14-125).

One DVD from DeCrow's visit and presentation at the library was deposited on 4/13/07 and added to this collection in 2010 (accession number 10-35).

Addition donated by Amy S. Doherty, friend of DeCrow, June 3, 2022 (Accession #2022-50).

Related Materials

Karen DeCrow's will also included provisions for her mother's papers. The Juliette Lipschultz papers provide access to boxes of correspondence between DeCrow and Lipschultz, among other papers and artifacts documenting Lipschultz's early ballet career.

Separated Materials

Removed 10 linear feet of duplicative material and 5.25 linear feet of out of scope material.

Addition: 1.5 inches of duplicates and extraneous materials were discarded.

Processing Information

Processed by Jill Waycie, Clark Terrill, and Joyce Kim, 2017. Detailed information on papers housed with videotapes (see Materials Specific Details notes within certain Audiovisual series items) written by Josh Yocum, added to finding aid by Jill Waycie, November 11, 2020.

Addition processed by Jill Waycie, 2022; born-digital materials processed by Kelsey O'Connell, 2023.

Guide to the Karen DeCrow (1937-2014) Papers
Jill Waycie
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US