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

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Johnnie Phelps papers and memorabilia
    Dates: 1943-1999
    Bulk Dates: 1975-1998
    Collection number: Coll2008-068
    Creator: Phelps, Nell Johnnie, 1922-1997
    Collection Size: 2 archive cartons + 3 flat archive cartons + 1 oversize envelope + 1 map drawer. 7.1 linear feet.
    Repository: ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.
    Los Angeles, California 90007
    Abstract: Correspondence, awards, certificates, articles and other material from Johnnie Phelps, World War II veteran and lesbian activist. The majority of the collection dates from 1975-1998, with most materials pertaining to Phelps' involvement with the National Organization for Women, Southern California Women for Understanding, the Los Angeles County Veterans' Advisory Commission, and the Alcoholism Center for Women; along with personal correspondence and newspaper articles written about Phelps' involvement in World War II. The collection also contains various organizations' textiles and buttons, trophies and certificates awarded for service, military materials, and photographs.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    The collection is open to researchers. There are no access restrictions.

    Publication Rights

    Researchers wishing to publish materials must obtain permission in writing from ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives as the physical owner. Researchers must also obtain clearance from the holder(s) of any copyrights in the materials. Note that ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives can grant copyright clearance only for those materials for which we hold the copyright. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain copyright clearance for all other materials directly from the copyright holder(s).

    Preferred Citation

    Box #, folder #, Johnnie Phelps Papers and Memorabilia, Coll2008-068, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of Grace Bukowski, date unknown.

    Processing Information

    Collection processed by Lilly Insalata, December 4, 2008.
    Processing this collection has been funded by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.


    Johnnie Phelps was born Nell Louise Phelps in North Carolina on April 4, 1922 and was raised with an adoptive family. Her adoptive parents were abusive, and Phelps spent many of her teen years in and out of jail.
    By the 1940s, Phelps married a Navy man, but they constantly fought, and she sought to escape by joining the military in 1943. She served as part of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and was honorably discharged in 1945. She re-enlisted in 1946 and was honorably discharged a second time. Phelps left the army to establish her own printing business, which she ran for years. Living in Southern California, Phelps became politically active in the 1970s. It was around this time that she met her partner, Grace Bukowski.
    Phelps joined the National Organization for Women and founded the San Gabriel Valley - Whittier chapter in 1979. She chaired the California Lesbian Task Force (a branch of NOW), and spearheaded protests on behalf of the Norton Sound Eight--eight female crew members aboard the USS Norton Sound who were charged with "homosexual misconduct." In addition, she joined the Southern California Women for Understanding organization and served on the Los Angeles County Veterans' Advisory Commission. A recovering alcoholic, she also served as president of the Alcoholism Center for Women.
    Phelps died on December 30, 1997 at the Veterans Home in Barstow, California at the age of 75. She is buried in Veteran's Cemetery in Westwood, California.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Awards, correspondence, clippings, photographs, textiles, medals, buttons and other memorabilia from lesbian activist and World War II veteran, (Nell) Johnnie Phelps. The bulk of the material relates to Phelps' military service and her activism in women's rights groups and dates from the late 1970s until her death in 1997. The collection is divided into two series: (1) Personal Papers and (2) Memorabilia and Textiles. The Personal Papers series includes printed material related to Phelps' activities in veterans and women's rights organizations, such as the Los Angeles County Veterans' Advisory Commission, the National Organization for Women and the Alcoholism Center for Women. This series also includes correspondence with Phelps' partner, Grace Bukowski, after Phelps' death. The Memorabilia and Textiles series includes buttons, medals, trophies, military uniform paraphernalia, key chains, a United States flag and other material related to Phelps' military service, activism and other accomplishments.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Phelps, Nell Johnnie, 1922-1997
    Gays in the military
    Lesbian activists--United States
    Lesbians--Services for
    National Organization for Women
    Women veterans
    World War II

    Separated Material

    Two books-- Thoughts and Meditations (1960) by Kahlil Gibran and Secrets of the Heart (1968) by Kahlil Gibran--have been separated from the Johnnie Phelps collection.