Jo-Ann Mayer Mullen papers
Language of Materials
This collection documents the professional work and activism of Jo-Ann Mayer Mullen, a feminist and social worker who primarily operated in Schenectady, New York. Mullen was involved with an array of political advocacy groups at the local and state level including the Schenectady Human Rights Commission's Committee on Violence Against Women, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Schenectady League of Women Voters. She was also a Services Coordinator for the Schenectady YWCA. Besides Mullen's working papers, this collection contains clippings, creative writing, and correspondence that contextualize Mullen's work and position within the politics of the feminist movement of the 1970s-1990s.
Biographical / Historical
Jo-Ann Mayer Mullen (1929-2019) was born in New York City, NY, to Frances Silberstein and Edgar Mayer. She attended Cornell University and graduated with her bachelors degree circa 1950. She continued her education at Syracuse University and completed two years of graduate study in Sculpture before marrying Earle Mullen in 1954. She and her family moved to Schenectady in 1973. During her period in Syracuse in which she raised three children, Mullen became politically active, primarily through organizations such as the League of Women Voters (LWV) and the National Organization for Women (NOW). She remained an active member of these organizations throughout her lifetime and her politics continued to replicate their concerns.
Mullen can be understood as a member of the second-wave feminist movement, as her primary political work began in the 1960s and continued to center around issues of gender equality, reproduction, rape and domestic violence, and other moral and legal issues that emphasized women's positions within the state and society. Interestingly, Mullen's political and professional work sustained through the turbulent reshaping of the mainstream feminist movement in the United States during the 1980s-1990s; she remained committed to her struggle for resources and rights for women, particularly victims of domestic abuse and rape, which she sought through legalistic means.
As a member of the Schenectady Human Rights Commission Committee on Domestic Violence, Mullen worked with local and state organizations and government agencies to advocate for research, training, and resources to adequately address the needs of domestic violence victims. She also sought preventative solutions that intervened upon potential abusers and women and children in vulnerable situations. She performed similar advocacy at the state level, first on then-Governor Mario Cuomo's Governor's Commission on Domestic Violence, then with the New York State Committee Against Violence Against Women and the New York State Coaltion Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV), as well as regional taskforces. These efforts were primarily centered around lobbying for research and legislation on domestic violence issues, particularly marital rape, law enforcement response, and transitional housing.
Mullen worked as a YWCA Services Coordinator circa 1982-1987. There, she worked as a legal advocate for women and children seeking services. She also liaised with legal experts, law enforcement, and local government to explore policy reforms. She produced reports and policy handbooks on how to navigate the legal system as a victim while also advocating for police reforms and trainings.
Mullen also explored the issues of violence against women through art and creative writing. She wrote poetry, songs, and speculative fiction about the issues of rape and doemstic violence in order to raise the consciousness of other women and provide support. Her play, The Wide-Eyed Bride, was performed as part of a lobbying action by the League of Women Voters.
The collection is arranged according to subject and format. The materials were delivered to N-YHS without a clear original order, though there were relationships between certain adjacent pages. The archivist decided to intervene in order to construct a more legible intellectual order; papers pertaining to each of the main organizations that Mullen worked with were collated and brought into chronological order when deemed necessary. Other printed matter such as letters to the editor, clippings, or research files were arranged together. Original order was preserved within the clusters of working papers when possible.
Scope and Contents
The collection comprises personal and professional printed matter including brochures, clippings, correspondence, research files, reports, agendas and minutes, notes, and speeches. The bulk of the collection was created between 1977-1993. Major organizations represented in the professional files include the National Organization for Women (NOW), the League of Women Voters (LWV), the New York State Committee Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV), Schenectady Human Rights Commission's Executive Committee and Committee on Domestic Violence, and the YWCA of Schenectady. There are also many other legal advocacy groups from the region and state represented.
Clippings and research primarily pertain to cases of domestic violence, legal responses to violence against women, and statistics on related issues. Major developments that are documented in the research and lobbying papers include the debate over marital rape law in New York State between 1981-1984 and the US Violence Against Women Act of 1990. Letters to the editor by Mullen illustrate a dialogue between the public and the individual during these debates; the correspondence underscores Mullen's role as part of the mainstream feminist movement and her concerns with consciousness and women in society. Brochures and broadsides from various feminist and political groups in New York State also capture the array of programs and actions that made up the anti-domestic violence movement during the 1970s-1990s.
Finally, Mullen's personal and artistic life is captured in a small collection of resumes, letters, awards, and creative works. These materials connect Mullen's various projects and professional developments, including her increased attention to law and the legal system as well as her lifelong artistic endeavors. The poems, song lyrics, and creative writing that deal with domestic violence and feminist issues demonstrate the multi-dimensional approach Mullen brough to her professional and political work, adding an essential personal element to the documentary record.
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The collection should be cited as: Jo-Ann Mayer Mullen Papers, MS 3209, New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Jocelyn Mullen, daughter of Jo-Ann Mayer Mullen, in 2021.
About this Guide
The collection was processed by New York University archival intern Lia Warner in 2022.