A New Banner for Butler

Based on an artifact in the Libraries’ collections and a historic campus event, the inside-outside exhibition aims to foster conversations about representation at universities. 

Eve Glasberg
September 27, 2019

Starting in early October, a banner bearing the names of eight women writers will be unfurled on the façade of Butler Library. Known as Butler Banner, it is part of an inside-outside exhibition led by Columbia students, which is supported and sponsored by Columbia Libraries. Based on an artifact—another banner also bearing the names of women authors—in the Libraries’ collections and a historic campus event, the exhibition aims to foster conversations about representation in University spaces and collections. The exhibition will be on display through December 16, 2019.

“The exhibition prompts exciting and important questions about who we are as a University community, what our sources of knowledge are, and how we interact with our campus environment," said Suzanne Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Vice President for University Life. "We look forward to working with the Libraries and others to convene campus conversations on these issues, together with our University Life Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging.” 

At Columbia’s commencement in 1989, Laura Hotchkiss Brown (GS ‘89) and four friends tried to hang a 140-foot banner bearing the names of women writers above the names of the male writers inscribed on the facade of Butler, in an attempt to push for more inclusion and diversity on campus. The students were stopped by security, and the banner was removed. With the support of the Libraries and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the banner was subsequently displayed on the Butler facade in September and October of 1989. Brown was invited to curate an exhibition and plan a concurrent lecture series by Columbia faculty to celebrate the authors: Sappho, Marie de France, Christine de Pizan, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, Bronte (intended to cover Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte), Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf.

In March of 1994, Columbia undergraduates created a new banner bearing the names of 10 women authors to commemorate Women’s History Month and, again, emphasize the need for more inclusion. This banner, which hung briefly on Butler’s facade, bore the names of Sappho, Murasaki Shikibu, Mirabai, Gertrude Stein, Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, Simone de Beauvoir, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko and Sandra Cisneros. 

This year’s iteration of the banner features the authors Morrison, Diana Chang, Hurston, Ntozake Shange, Maya Angelou, Silko, Gloria E. Anzaldúa and A. Revathi. The inside part of the Butler Banner exhibition also opens in early October, and will be installed on the third floor of Butler. The display will feature the original 1989 banner and student-curated material such as books, photographs and biographical information about each of the eight authors listed on the 2019 banner. The exhibition will include programming such as panel discussions and lectures.

Butler Banner enables the Libraries to showcase artifacts from the University Archives about historical events, and reinforces our commitment to working with our students and the broader Columbia community,” said Ann Thornton, Vice Provost and University Librarian.

More information can be found on the Butler Banner website, which was recently launched by student organizers of the project. These organizers sent out a survey in Spring 2019 to the Columbia College student body, soliciting nominations for individuals to be included on the banner. The organizers then researched those authors whose names were submitted and made their final selection this summer. Details about the selection process can be found on the student website.