Archives and Special Collections
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Historical Note

Scope and Content Note


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Title:William J. Canfield papers
Dates:1965-1999 (bulk 1970-1990, 1998-1999)
Call Number:M69

Historical Note

William J. Canfield II was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1946.  He was a gay activist in Boston and was involved in the Boston gay liberation movement between 1970 and 1975. In 1971-1972, Canfield was president of Homophile Union of Boston (HUB). The Homophile Union of Boston was founded in 1969 by Frank Morgan in order to broaden awareness of gay lifestyles and seek civil rights for gays and lesbians.  After Canfield's presidency, the Homophile Union of Boston continued to operate under three more presidents until it disbanded in 1975.  Canfield was also co-founder and business manager of the Gay Community News (GCN), 1973-1974.  In June 1973, the first issue of Gay Community News appeared on selected newsstands, providing Boston with its first newspaper written and operated by a collective of gay men and lesbians.  In 1989, Canfield and several Boston acquaintances decided to organize a reunion for gay activists who were involved in the Boston gay liberation movement in the early 1970s.  The 1990 Gay Liberation Reunion was followed by a second reunion, the Boston Gay Reunion, in 1999. 

Activists involved in establishing homophile organizations in Boston in the late 1960s and the 1970s privately maintained documentation created during their years of operation.  Together a small group of activists decided that Boston needed a gay community archives to preserve this documentation permanently.  Later, materials were collected from individuals working in Boston's early gay liberation movement with the agreement that they would be transferred to an appropriate archives when it was established.  The first attempt at collecting organizational records, flyers, and printed materials for a Boston Gay and Lesbian Archives failed when the records were inadvertently destroyed in the 1980s.


Along with John C. Graves (MIT professor, psychologist, and psychotherapist at the Homophile Community Health Services (HCHS), an organization that served Boston's gay population, providing psychological counseling, medical services, draft counseling, and referrals for homeless teens.), Canfield was a primary force behind the second attempt at collecting materials for a Boston Gay and Lesbian Archives.  In 1990, materials brought together by Canfield, Graves, and others were microfilmed as one collection. A formal Boston Gay and Lesbian Archives was never formed.  The collection was later separated, and John Graves donated his portion to The History Project (THP), a volunteer organization that seeks to document Boston's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender history, and The History Project donated it to the Northeastern University Archives.


Other contributors to the selected materials microfilmed in the Gay and Lesbian Archives:

Rich Braun was involved in Gays at MIT (GAMIT), previously the Student Homophile League (SHL); changed to Gays at MIT in 1976.

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

Jim McCassie was involved in Homophile Union of Boston, founded 1969.

Student Homophile League co-founded by Stan Tillotson, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was founded in 1969 and adopted its constitution in 1970.

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

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