Archives and Special Collections
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Collection Overview

Biographical Note

Scope and Content Note


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Title:William J. Canfield papers
Dates: 1946–2012 (bulk 1970–1999)
Call Number:M69

Biographical Note

William J. Canfield was a gay activist in New England, involved in the Boston gay liberation movement between 1970 and 1975. Canfield was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1946 and lived in Reading before attending boarding school and moving to Boston to attend Suffolk University. He later moved to Vermont to work on restoring a property known as Falinge Farm.

In 1971–1972, Canfield was president of the Homophile Union of Boston (HUB), founded in 1969 by Frank Morgan to broaden awareness of gay lifestyles and seek civil rights for gays and lesbians. HUB disbanded in 1975.

Canfield was also co–founder and business manager of Gay Community News (GCN), in 1973–1974. GCN was Boston's first newspaper written and operated by a collective of gay men and lesbians. The first issue of GCN appeared on newsstands in June 1973.

In 1989, Canfield and several Boston acquaintances decided to organize a reunion for gay activists who had been involved in the Boston gay liberation movement in the early 1970s. This 1990 Gay Liberation Reunion, held during Pride Week, was followed by the Boston Gay Reunion in 1999.

Activists involved in homophile organizations in Boston in the 1960s and 1970s privately maintained records created during these groups' operation. A small group of activists sought to establish a gay community archives to permanently preserve these materials. Records were collected from individuals who had participated in Boston's early gay liberation movement, with the agreement that these papers would be transferred to an appropriate archives when it was established. The first attempt to create a Boston Gay and Lesbian Archives failed when the records were inadvertently destroyed in the 1980s.

Along with John C. Graves, Canfield was a primary force behind the second effort to collect materials for a Boston Gay and Lesbian Archives. In 1990, materials brought together by Canfield, Graves, and others were microfilmed as a single collection (Series 5. Boston Gay Archives Microfilmed Selections). A formal archival repository was never formed, and the collected material was later separated. Graves donated his portion to The History Project, a volunteer organization that seeks to document Boston's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) history, and The History Project donated the Graves materials to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Department.

Besides Canfield, contributors to the materials microfilmed in Series 5 include:

John C. Graves, an MIT professor, psychologist, and psychotherapist at Homophile Community Health Services, an organization that provided Boston's gay population with psychological counseling, medical services, draft counseling, and referrals for homeless teens;

Stan Tillotson, who co–founded the Student Homophile League (SHL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969. SHL adopted its constitution in 1970 and changed its name to Gays at MIT (GAMIT) in 1976;

Rich Braun, who was involved in Gays at MIT (GAMIT);

Lois Johnson, who was involved in Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), an organization that sought to broaden awareness of gay lifestyles and seek civil rights for lesbians. The Boston chapter of DOB was founded in 1969;

Jim McCassie, who was involved in the Homophile Union of Boston; and

John Mitzell and Craig Thiersch, who were part of the Boston area's first Gay Community Center, opened in Cambridge in 1971.


"Multicultural Timeline." The History Project. June 22, 2000. (October 5, 2001)