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Jean O'Leary papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 1780

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of professional papers, correspondence, personal papers, photographs, and computer and audiovisual media by or relating to gay rights activist and former Catholic nun Jean O'Leary. Professional papers document her work as executive director of National Gay Rights Advocates, including a lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration over approval times for AIDS drugs. Also present are materials related to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Coming Out Day, Gay Activists Alliance, Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality, and the Democratic National Committee, and O'Leary's writings and speeches concerning advocacy and legal rights of gays and lesbians. Among the correspondents are Barbara Boxer, Ron Brown, Bill Clinton, Midge Costanza, Michael Dukakis, Dianne Feinstein, Ed Koch, Kate Millett, David B. Mixner, Sean Strub, Bruce Voeller, Sarah Weddington, Kay Whitlock, and Molly Yard. Personal papers contain awards, school papers, yearbooks, clippings, and interviews, in addition to pinback buttons, t-shirts, and other memorabilia commemorating gay rights milestones and political campaigns. Photographs feature O’Leary, Bella Abzug, Virginia Apuzzo, Tammy Baldwin, Costanza, Martin Duberman, Florynce Kennedy, Gloria Steinem, and Voeller, and events such as the Lesbian Feminist Liberation "Lavender Dinosaur Demonstration" in New York, Equal Rights Amendment march on Washington D.C., and the Democratic National Convention. Computer and audiovisual media chiefly relate to political campaigns.


  • 1963-2005


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Box 19 (computer media): Restricted Fragile Material. Reference copies of electronic files may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Box 20 (audiovisual material): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Jean O'Leary Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc. on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund, 2017.


Organized into five series: I. Professional Papers, 1973-2005, undated. II. Correspondence, 1976-2004, undated. III. Personal Papers, 1963-2005. IV. Photographs, circa 1970-2005. V. Computer and Audiovisual Media, circa 1990-1994, undated.


18.35 Linear Feet (20 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection consists of professional papers, correspondence, personal papers, photographs, and computer and audiovisual media by or relating to gay rights activist and former Catholic nun Jean O'Leary.

Jean O’Leary (1948-2005)

Jean O'Leary was a former Roman Catholic nun who left her convent in 1971 to join the gay rights movement in New York City. O'Leary was a member of the Gay Activists Alliance until 1972 when she broke away from the group and formed Lesbian Feminist Liberation. She was co-executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force from 1976 to 1979 and subsequently became executive director of National Gay Rights Advocates. In 1977 O'Leary and Midge Costanza, her then-partner and special assistant to President Jimmy Carter, organized the first meeting of gay rights activists at the White House. O'Leary was also a speaker at the 1977 National Women's Conference. In 1988, she co-founded National Coming Out Day. O'Leary was active in Democratic Party politics and chaired the Democratic National Committee's Gay and Lesbian Caucus from 1992 to 2002; her marketing company, O'Leary & Associates, worked on political campaigns in California for Barbara Boxer, Ron Brown, and Dianne Feinstein. She and her partner, Lisa Phelps, had a daughter, Victoria, and a son David de Maria.

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.

This collection received a basic level of processing, including rehousing and minimal organization. Information included in the Description of Papers note and Collection Contents section is drawn from information supplied with the collection and from an initial survey of the contents. Folder titles appearing in the contents list below are often based on those provided by the creator or previous custodian. Titles have not been verified against the contents of the folders in all cases. Otherwise, folder titles are supplied by staff during initial processing.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Jean O'Leary Papers
by Brooke McManus
October 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.