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Finding aid of the Sheldon Ramsdell Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Separated Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Sheldon Ramsdell Papers
    Dates: 1974-1994
    Collection number: 1996-28
    Creator: Ramsdell, Sheldon
    Collection Size: 4.75 linear feet 3 manuscript boxes, 1 carton
    Repository: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society
    San Francisco, California 94105
    Abstract: Journal, ephemera, correspondence, and other materials collected by political activist and photojournalist Sheldon Ramsdell.
    Physical location: Stored at the Archives of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society in San Francisco, California.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Collection open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright to unpublished manuscript materials has been transferred to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Sheldon Ramsdell Papers, 1996-28, The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

    Acquisition Information

    Donated to the Library by Linda Alband, on July 28, 1996 with an accretion donated on February 2, 2003.


    Sheldon "Shelley" Ramsdell was a photojournalist, publicist and political activist who co-founded Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the 1960s. Since the early 1980s, Ramsdell was a advocate for people with AIDS, gays, lesbians, and veterans. He was also an activist in the Democratic Party on labor union issues.
    Ramsdell was born on August 31, 1935. After receiving an honorable discharge from the United States Navy in 1958, he went on to co-found, in 1967, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, one of the most influential anti-war groups of the era, which in 1971 staged a dramatic march on Washington in which veterans tossed their medals over a fence onto the Capitol Steps.
    Ramsdell was a press aide for the veterans' group and served in the same role for the presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy and New York Congresswomen Belle Abzug.
    After moving to San Francisco in 1984, Ramsdell became an increasingly vocal AIDS activist and member of ACT UP.
    Ramsdell substantial photography portfolio reflected his eclectic interests and included shots of Abby Hoffman, some of Barbara Streisand's first publicity photos, Bette Midler, William S. Buirroughs, and Joel Gray. His photographs were exhibited in the New York Public Theater and on NBC TV's Today Show, and were published in a range of newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Esquire, and Time.
    Ramsdell died of AIDS related complications in San Francisco on March 25, 1996

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Sheldon Ramsdell Papers document the activities of photojournalist and activist Sheldon Ramsdell. Most of these materials relate to Ramsdell's activities in San Francisco including his participation in ACT UP Golden Gate, his fight to over turn the ban on gays in the military, his battle with HIV, and various other causes in which he was heavily involved. His personal journals from the late-1980s to the mid-1990s dramatically illustrate Ramsdell's personal battle with AIDS as well as his more public struggle for civil rights.
    The collection is divided into 2 series: Personal and Activism. The Personal series contains one subseries: Journals/Notbooks. The Activism series also contains one subseries: AIDS.
    The Personal (1974-1994)series includes materials from the personal life of Sheldon Ramsdell. The subseries, Journals/Notebooks consists of 19 personal journals and notebooks. These journals cover a range of topics including Ramsdell's personal struggles with AIDS, reflections on current politics and issues, news clippings, letters, and other personal information. Also found in this series are newspaper clippings about or written by Ramsdell, items from a memorial service for a friend of Ramsdell's, information about an experimental HIV treatment Ramsdell was undergoing, a play, and an Oral History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
    The series Activism (1975-1993) documents Ramsdell's participation in various causes. The subseries AIDS Activism contains materials which illustrate Ramsdell's activities as an AIDS activist in San Francisco, particularly as a member of ACT UP Golden Gate and participating in the fight against Proposition 64, the "LaRouche Initiative" which sought to place AIDS back on the state's List of Communicable Diseases subject to Public Health law. Other material documents Ramsdell's participation in attempts to overturn the United States Military's ban on homosexuals and other materials particularly surrounding the formulation of President Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. The rest of the materials cover several other causes including petitioning for prison reforms, outreach to religious leaders and believers, interactions with the San Francisco Human Right Commission, and analysis of 1988 Presidential Candidate Michael Dukakis' rhetoric regarding AIDS.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    AIDS (Disease)
    San Francisco (Calif.)
    AIDS Activists
    Civil Rights

    Separated Material

    Several folders of newspaper clippings and photocopies of newspaper clipping from the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle, widely available elsewhere, were removed.