This chapter explores a dominant story that academics tell about a particular historical document that has been identified as playing a key role in the development of US women’s liberation.  Casey Hayden drafted A Kind of Memo to address her hopes and concerns about the freedom movement to other female participants. Her friend Mary King helped her to edit it and appended her signature before the document was mailed to thirty-five women in November of 1965.

Although Hayden and King left social movement organizing immediately following this event, their missive took on a life of its own. Passed hand to hand in mimeographed form, it found its way into the packet of materials distributed at the December 1965 “rethinking” conference organized by SDS; Retitled Sex and Caste it reached a wide audience in the New Left when it appeared in the April 1966 issue of Liberation.

In 1979, Sara Evans positioned Hayden and King’s Memo as the bridge that connected civil rights and women’s liberation. In this account of the origins of women’s liberation, the Memo functions to legitimize women’s autonomous organizing on their own behalf. Rather than women’s liberation emerging from Friedan’s unhappy housewife, this account locates the impetus for feminism in white women’s experiences of sexism in the civil rights movement.

Digital analysis of texts published prior to Personal Politics (1979) suggests that A Kind of Memo circulated via three “viral” sentences. that spread a narrative of identity, affect, and primacy.  Consequently, the origins of women’s liberation have been rooted in white women, an occlusion of the presence and contributions of black women, and a conflation of primacy with influence.

The first frequently reprinted description of A Kind of Memo appeared in an essay by Linda Seese (figure 1).

In the fall of 1965, Casey Hayden and Mary King, two white women from the South who had been very active in SNCC and ERAP for years, wrote an article on women for the movement in the now-defunct journal, Studies on the Left.

Screenshot of Reveal Digital Independent Voices









Identity “2 white women”

Affective “storm of controversy” Marlene Dixon in Radical America reprinted From Feminism to Liberation (error Hayden interview in SOTL)

temporal “the first” Jo Freeman essay reprinted widely


Positioning a document authored by white women as the lynchpin between civil rights movement and women’s liberation inevitably and inexorably anchors women’s liberation in whiteness and more significantly white women’s encounters with blackness. The document suggested some “some parallels … between treatment of Negroes and treatment of women in our society,” and explored the way a sexual caste system, like a racial caste system normalized inequities. In women’s case, “system” that “uses and exploits women” functions invisibly, attributed to “biological differences” or “the ways things are supposed to be,” both pervasive assumptions that translated into women’s subordinate roles.

While Hayden’s analysis doubtlessly encapsulated many insights that drew individuals to women’s liberation, the document itself is barely mentioned in the first periodicals of the nascent movement, nor does it appear in the mass market anthologies that widely disseminated the ideas of women’s liberation.

If not this document, then what others can be identified with digital approaches?