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The Jo Anne Russell Papers

The Jo Anne Russell Papers

Good news! The Jo Anne Russell Papers have been processed and are now available to researchers at Albertsons Library. The collection, which consists of twenty-one boxes, contains the fascinating research of Jo Anne Russell, a student at Boise State during the 80s and 90s.

Color photo of Jo Anne Russell in 1990

Jo Anne Russell in 1990

I’m getting ahead of myself. My name is Rachel, and I’m a student at Boise State majoring in History with minors in Spanish and Philosophy. During this fall semester, I worked as a manuscript processing intern in Albertsons Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Most of my time was spent processing (organizing and writing a description of) the Jo Anne Russell papers, which were given to the Archives after Russell passed away in 2000.

After completing her undergraduate studies in Communication, Russell entered the History Master’s program at Boise State. Within this collection is all of the research behind her thesis on the history of prostitution in Boise: “A Necessary Evil: Prostitutes, Patriarchs and Profits in Boise City, 1863-1915.” Russell’s research includes hundreds of newspaper articles, as well as photographs, maps, and legal documents pertaining to Boise’s red light district.

Russell had a deep passion for women’s issues in modern and historical contexts. How did the status of women differ in disparate economic systems? How can women reinterpret patriarchal theology for their own liberation or find meaning in ancient matriarchal religions? What does popular culture say about the triumphs and pitfalls of the second wave feminist movement? Her interest in these topics is apparent based on her course selections and their accompanying hand-written notes, which span dozens
of legal pads.

For me, perhaps the most compelling components of the collection were student response papers from a summer workshop. One woman admitted that her grandmother was a “madame and a bootlegger,” and that this risqué part of her family history had been neatly kept under wraps for decades. Another woman lamented the tragedy of forced prostitution, commodification of women’s bodies, and the common practice of child marriage in her native country. Still, others were appalled that they never noticed how much Americans had normalized prostitution in the recent past. Students admitted they never thought critically about movies like “Pretty Woman,” let alone compared popular narratives to the real experiences of sex workers.

A collection of papers belonging to a single individual — regardless of their contents –will inevitably say something about their creator, and I learned from these papers that Jo Anne Russell was an inquisitive and passionate writer who never gave up on her education or educating her peers. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to examine her life and works in such a unique, intimate manner.

Rachel Taylor
Special Collections and Archives Intern, Fall 2019

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