Did you ever have a small question evolve into a bigger, more complex question through no fault of your own? That’s the situation I find myself in.
In the archives of the late Hank Kaplan, who was referred to as the “Sweetest Scientist” for his knowledge of the fight game (boxing’s version of Dave Meltzer, of you will), there was a file on women wrestlers, many of whom have been forgotten by time. I was intrigued by the names of these women in Kaplan’s papers and, in trying to find out more about them, a wrestler named Cora Combs stood out. A quick trip around Google found that she’s cited as the first woman to wrestle legally in New York State.
Peering further into the rabbit hole, I found that the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) didn’t let women do a host of things legally into the 1970s: wrestle or box professionally, umpire a baseball game, or even be a reporter in a locker room.
I can see the Victorian paranoia behind not letting a woman box (they’re so dainty!), but reporters? It was, of course, for reasons of modesty. Those poor men in various states of undress would be unduly harassed by besuited ladies bearing notepads and pens. For shame!
I had an innocent question about exactly when women reporters were allowed in locker rooms in New York, so I emailed NYSAC about the commission meeting at which their entrance was approved.
The Athletic Commission emailed me a response (the signature at the bottom read “Executive Director,” but it could have been a secretary or an intern) and replied with “Based on a search of our records here at the State Athletic Commission, I am unable to provide you with an answer. We do not have minutes dating back to 1972.” He also cc’d the Commission’s lawyer. I have no idea why. Probably standard operating procedure. Maybe the lawyer knows more about NYSAC records management and retention than the Executive Director.
I asked the same question to the New York State Archives (which did not cc their legal department). They said there are meeting minutes going back to the 1910s — but none for the period of December 1969 to March 1973.
For readers who aren’t big on American sports and social history, this period is when the federal government forced NYSAC to reinstate Muhammad Ali‘s boxing license in 1970. It also includes the months before (and immediately after) Title IX was enacted, which gave women in New York and all American states equal access to education programs and any federally-funded activity.
According to the New York State Archives (and this is a direct quote), “Unfortunately there is no documented or obvious reason for the gap in the Athletic Commission minutes.”
What does that mean?
As an archivist, how do you not know? The Archives began operating in 1971 — surely the whole concept of “preserve and do no harm” was fresh on the brain.
And what was going on at NYSAC between December 1969 and March 1973 that caused a few folders of meeting minutes to vanish into the ether? Why this stretch of dates? The Archives’ finding aid shows only one gap in the record: this one. Why?
A legislative body in New York just mysteriously ….. lost…. a few years of records. I am leaning towards extreme administrative incompetence as a reason for this (on the Commission’s side, not the Archives), but still… how are YEARS of minutes just lost?
All I wanted was a date. To hell with that. Now I want to know where these records are or if copies of them might exist. And it’s driving me crazy!