Turkish Women’s Movement Repository: Women’s Library

The Istanbul Women’s Library and Information Center Foundation is a testament to 150 years of women’s movement in Turkey, offering a new perspective to the country’s history.

In a historic building near the Golden Horn, Turkey’s first and only library dedicated to women’s works has been shining a light on the lives and struggles of Turkish women for three decades.

The Foundation for Women’s Library and Information Center (WLICF), established in 1990 as part of the women’s movement in Turkey, consists entirely of works created by, for and about women.

“In the 1980s the women’s movement was gaining momentum in Turkey, but we noticed that the efforts of women were largely invisible as the materials they produced faded into the pages of newspapers and magazines. », Fusun Ertug, one of the founders and president of the foundation. , Recount TRT World.

“We felt a pressing need for a place where we could keep these records, and hence the movement, so we started to work to form a foundation.”

The foundation was established on March 8 – International Women’s Day – by Fusun Akatli, Jale Baysal, Asli Davaz and Sirin Tekeli with Ertug. The library opened on April 14.

WLICF’s mission was to preserve, investigate and make accessible the history of women in Turkey dating from the end of the Ottoman Empire through works created by and about women.

women’s works

The library has a total of 16 collections which consist of a wide range of women’s works including books, newspaper clippings, magazines, photographs, posters, ephemera, audio material, thesis dissertations and articles.

Currently, WLICF houses approximately 15,000 books, 8,000 ephemera and approximately 500 periodicals.

“We mainly rely on donations to acquire the works entrusted to us, but some items are those that we have specifically selected from bibliopoles and auctions,” Ertug explains.

An early 20th century image featured at WLICF in a 1992 exhibition by photographer Mediha Erten Askin titled “Evvel Zaman Suretleri” (Once Upon a Time). (Courtesy: Women’s Library and Information Center Foundation)

While each collection has its own meaning, a few more prevalent examples are their collection of female writers, their collection of rare works, their collection of female artists, and a collection on women’s organizations which documents the operations of around 700. women’s organizations of the Republic of Turkey.

The Writers’ Collection consists of literary works by women as well as personal effects of writers such as drafts of handwritten books, diplomas, plaques and pictures. There are articles from about hundreds of authors, 22 of whom produced their works in the pre-Republic period.

The Rare Works Collection consists of over 300 rare items found at auctions and bibliopolies, including signed copies of early editions and a stone-printed poster from the Turkish War of Independence calling on women to join resistance.

The collection of female artists consists of paintings, photographs, statues, ceramics and art installations donated by artists that adorn the interior walls of the library, transforming the library into a continuous exhibition hall.

“The staff are political”

One of WLICF’s most interesting and special collections is the Women’s Private Document Collection which includes personal effects such as diplomas, academic work, official documents, letters, diaries, drawings. , images and much more.

“Throughout history, women have left fewer written sources than men. But if you can manage to put together enough private records of women, you can create a social history of a specific period by looking at the combined private records, ”says Ertug.

The collection includes the private archives of famous Turkish figures as well as those of ordinary women. Each item in the Women’s Private Papers collection is unique.

“The staff are political. This collection gives us a unique insight into the lives, thoughts and feelings of women.

The winning photo of a 1991 photography competition called

The winning photo of a 1991 photography competition titled “Kadin Gozuyle Kadin” (Women through Women’s Eyes), by photographer Sema Kilicer. (Courtesy: Women’s Library and Information Center Foundation)

Ottoman women

Before the establishment of the WLICF, the works of the Ottoman women’s movement were scattered throughout Turkey. They were also inaccessible to many as they were written in Ottoman Turkish with Arabic letters.

The foundation saw these works collected and translated into modern Turkish as part of their mission. “We now have a large portion of women’s magazines from the late 19th century. We collect almost all volumes, ”said President Ertug.

They have been translating these magazines into Turkish since 2010, as part of a project called “Kadinlarin Bellegi” (Memory of Women). The translations are carried out entirely by volunteers.

Their collection includes 10 volumes of the magazine “Hanimlara Mahsus Gazete” (ladies’ newspaper), published in Istanbul from 1895 to 1908, which gives valuable insight into the etiquette and everyday life of Ottoman women. The magazine was digitized as part of an effort to increase accessibility of books in the library.

“These magazines show that Ottoman women were intellectuals. Most of them were multilingual and spoke several languages ​​fluently such as Greek, Armenian, French, English and German, ”Ertug said.

“They were well aware of what was going on in the world and were in close contact with the West, closely following women’s movements, like the suffragists,” she added.

As the documents show, Ottoman women were active in claiming their rights and led a powerful movement.

The WLICF collection of works by Ottoman women also includes Armenian periodicals and photos from Armenian and rum photographer studios.

A huge fight

“We are interested in all the works that have traces of the experience of women in Turkey,” says Ertug. Their collections are not limited to Turkish and include works from several other languages ​​and many foreign writers.

The foundation, which relies on donations, also produces its own publications using the works in its custody, including the “Kadinlarin Bellegi” project which translates Ottoman periodicals.

Since 1991, WLICF has published agendas each year, each with a different theme, such as paintings by women artists, photographs, caricatures, clothing, etc., the last one focusing on women’s organizations.

They also published a Women’s Thesaurus with the aim of eliminating sexist terms and discourse in the Turkish language by considering the psychological and sociological effects of speech acts.

“Our collection of feminine works is an immense historical source for generations to come. The library contains valuable information not only on women and history, but also on sociology, gastronomy, fashion, etc. », Explains Ertug.

Their aim is to commemorate the experiences of women in Turkey by preserving their works.

The library building, provided by the Municipality of Istanbul, dates back to the late Byzantine-early Ottoman period and has a historic amphitheater where the foundation holds events.

The library building, provided by the Municipality of Istanbul, dates back to the late Byzantine-early Ottoman period and has a historic amphitheater where the foundation holds events. (Courtesy: Women’s Library and Information Center Foundation)

“The WLICF contains the struggle of Turkish women and all the women who have passed through Turkey in their lifetime,” Ertug adds.

The foundation continues to bear witness to the experiences of women in Turkey, expanding their collection with each passing day.

Archiving and preserving women’s works created on digital platforms is a major challenge for WLICF, according to Ertug.

Asked what she has learned in the 30 years since the founding of WLICF, Ertug said: “I have learned so much from the works and the women we have met. Each work and each research sheds light on a different part of the lives and struggles of women.

“But the prevailing lesson is that women got to where they are today thanks to a huge struggle. The library reminds me of this every day.

Source: TRT World