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Susan Rosenberg Papers, 1966-2002
14 boxes (14 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 713

Abstract:
Author; Poet; Political activist; Prison reformer; Educator. Papers are primarily associated with her sixteen years in prison (1984-2001) and include correspondence, legal documents, photographs, poetry and essays written by Rosenberg, course work, her Master's thesis, and syllabi for courses she taught while incarcerated. Of particular interest are the personal journals she kept during her time in prison. [NOTE: The contents list for this collection is not online. Contact the Sophia Smith Collection if you would like one sent to you.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection with the following caveats:

  • This collection has not been fully processed and therefore may be difficult to use.
  • Access to audiovisual materials may first require production of research copies.

Restrictions on use:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to the unpublished works in this collection created by Susan Rosenberg. Copyright to materials authored by others may be owned by those individuals or their assigns. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify all copyright holders.

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note

Susan Rosenberg was born in New York City in 1955, the daughter of Emanuel and Bella Rosenberg, both of whom were progressive leftists. Her father was a dentist who practiced in Spanish Harlem and her mother was a theatrical producer; they regularly took their only child to rallys in support of the civil rights movement and to demonstrations againt the war in Vietnam. Rosenberg grew up on the Upper West Side and attended the very liberal Walden School from grade school through high school by which time she was actively engaged in the anti-war movement. After high school, she initially attended Barnard College but transferred to the less elitist City College, earning a degree in history. She later went to Canada to become a doctor of Chinese acupuncture and holistic medicine.

Rosenberg worked first as a drug counselor in Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx and by the early 1980s was working at the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture where the ancient Chinese practice was used to treat drug addiction. The Institute was founded by the Black Nationalist Mutulu Shakur who had worked alongside Rosenberg at the Lincoln Hospital. Like Shakur, Rosenberg was much involved in several radical political movements of the day. She was active in the New Afrikan and Puerto Rican independence movements and even more active in the May 19 (in honor of the birthdays of both Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh) Communist Organization, a coalition of sorts consisting of one faction of the former Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army.

In 1982, accused of assisting in the 1979 prison escape of Assata Shakur, Rosenberg went underground. She was also accused of driving the getaway car in the 1981 Brinks robbery that led to the deaths of two police officers and an armored-car guard in upstate New York. She was captured in 1984, along with Timothy Blunt, while transferring guns and explosives from a car into a Cherry Hills, New Jersey storage unit. Found guilty of the illegal possesion of firearms and explosives, Blunt and Rosenberg were each sentenced to fifty-eight years in jail. Many at the time felt the unusually long sentences were due to the revolutionary beliefs both expressed throughout their trial. She served sixteen years before President Bill Clinton pardoned her on his last day in office, January 20, 2001.

While in prison, Rosenberg was one of the first immates assigned in 1987 to the newly opened High Security Unit for Women in Lexington, Kentucky. Located underground, below the Federal Correctional Institution there, this was an experimental program aimed at "political prisoners," subjecting them to sensory deprivation, isolation and frequent strip-searches. After several groups brought a law suit, a federal judge ordered the Unit closed in 1988. That same year, Rosenberg was one of six people charged with the US Capitol bombing in 1983, along with several other bombings in Washington, DC and New York City in which no one died but there was property damage. In what became known as the Resistance Conspiracy Case, many again felt the charges were politically motivated. Eventually, these charges against Rosenberg were dropped and she was then transferred to a federal prison in Florida, later to California and served out the end of her sentence in Danbury, Connecticut at the Federal Correctional Institution.

Also while in prison, Rosenberg earned a Master's degree from Antioch College, wrote a screenplay, published poetry and essays, taught her fellow immates courses on Black history, worked as an AIDS activist and as an advocate for more humane treatment of prisoners, in particular, female immates. Throughout her time in prison, her mother and father (until his death in 1993) worked tirelessly to gain their daughter's release, an effort that many others joined, including attorneys who volunteered on the Rosenberg case. Clinton's pardon in 2001 was not without controversy as some Americans saw her not as a political prisoner but as a homegrown terrorist. After complaints were made in 2005, Rosenberg's adjunct contract was not renewed after two years of teaching at John Jay College, a CUNY school. A year earlier there was so much objection from alumni and parents of current students to an invitation to serve as a visiting professor at Hamilton College that Rosenberg herself declined the offer. Her memoir, published in 2011, has engendered similar negative responses from the right and praise from more liberal reviewers. Entitled An American Radical: A Political Prisoner in my Own Country, her autobiography focuses on her time in prison, her struggles there and those of others to maintain a sense of self-worth and humanity in a system designed, she contends, to do exactly the opposite.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Susan Rosenberg papers are primarily associated with her sixteen years in prison (1984- 2001) and include correspondence, legal documents, photographs, poetry and essays written by Rosenberg, course work, her Master's thesis, and syllabi for courses she taught while incarcerated. There is a significant portion of the papers that reflect the constant effort by others to gain Rosenberg's release. There is also a large amount of printed matter relating to the American prison system, the state of political prisoners in this country, and the specific concerns of women in prison. Of particular interest are the personal journals she kept during her time in prison.

[NOTE: The contents list for this collection is not online. Contact the Sophia Smith Collection if you would like one sent to you.]


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection with the following caveats:

  • This collection has not been fully processed and therefore may be difficult to use.
  • Access to audiovisual materials may first require production of research copies.

Restrictions on use:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to the unpublished works in this collection created by Susan Rosenberg. Copyright to materials authored by others may be owned by those individuals or their assigns. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify all copyright holders.

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Susan Rosenberg Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

History of the Collection

Susan Rosenberg donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection beginning in 2013.

Accruals:

Periodic additions to collection are expected and may not be reflected in this record.

Processing Information

Accessioned by Kathleen Banks Nutter, Sep 2013


Additional Information
Contact Information
Smith College Special Collections
Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: (413) 585-2970
Fax: (413) 585-2886

Email: specialcollections@smith.edu
URL: https://www.smith.edu/libraries/special-collections
Language
English


Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

Subjects
  • AIDS (Disease) -- Law and legislation -- United States
  • Baraldini, Silvia
  • Berkman, Alan
  • Blunk, Tim
  • Buck, Marilyn,1947-2010
  • Female offenders -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History
  • HIV Infections -- prevention and control
  • Jewish women -- United States -- Biography -- Sources
  • Left-wing extremists -- United States -- Biography
  • Poets, American -- Biography -- Sources
  • Political prisoners -- United States -- History -- 20th century -- Sources
  • Prison reformers -- United States -- History -- Sources
  • Prisoners -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History
  • Radicalism -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • Radicals -- United States -- Biography -- Sources
  • Rosenberg, Susan (Susan Lisa), 1955-
  • United States -- Social conditions -- 1960-1980
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Protest movements -- United States
  • Whitehorn, Linda
  • Women political prisoners -- United States -- Biography
  • Women prisoners -- Abuse of -- United States


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