1958-2016; bulk: 1982-1990

Guide to the Collection

Restrictions on Access

The Sylvia R. Gilman papers are stored offsite and must be requested at least two business days in advance via Portal1791. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice. If you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the sketches, notes, and organizational files of artist and peace activist Sylvia R. Gilman pertaining to her involvement in grassroots organizations working for peace and nuclear disarmament.

Biographical Sketch

Sylvia Royce Gilman was an artist and activist from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Born 16 July 1936 in Connecticut to Wilbert McKinnon and Mary Dorchester (Hatch) Gilman, Gilman had a younger brother, Jonathan. Gilman graduated from Wellesley High School and Vassar College, majoring in English Literature. She later studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Massachusetts College of Art.

As an activist, Gilman was involved in several grassroots organizations that focused on denuclearization and anti-war movements, including Massachusetts SANE and FREEZE, two organizations that later became Massachusetts Peace Action.

Gilman passed away from cancer on 28 October 2016 at the age of 80.

Sources U.S., Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 2 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

"Sylvia R. Gilman," obituary, Boston Globe, accessed February 13, 2023,

United States of America, Bureau of the Census; Washington, D.C.; Seventeenth Census of the United States, 1950; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007; Record Group Number: 29; Residence Date: 1950; Home in 1950: Wellesley, Norfolk, Massachusetts; Roll: 2874; Sheet Number: 12; Enumeration District: 11-332.

"Wilbert McKinnon Gilman," FamilySearch, accessed February 13, 2023,

Collection Description

The Sylvia R. Gilman papers include meeting notes, sketches, flyers, posters, mass mailings, conference materials, and newsletters from a variety of anti-war and denuclearization organizations. The papers also include correspondence from political figures, all in response to Gilman's letters, as well as a variety of sketches of meeting participants and artwork she designed for various organizational activities and events, including the letterhead for the New England Peace Test and promotional materials for the Festival for a Nuclear-Free Future. Gilman had a penchant for drawing squirrels, and there are a number of squirrels throughout her notes. Also in the collection is a small number of personal materials, including letters from family and friends, a daily journal, and a sketchbook from the Teach-In on Iraq at MIT in 1998 (of note is a sketch of historian Howard Zinn).

Arrangement Note

The bulk of this collection pertains to Sylvia Gilman's activism and participation in anti-war and peace organizations. Despite being organized into series and subseries, most of Gilman's folder titles have remained intact, unless clarification was needed for research purposes. Researchers may find duplication and connections between many of the folders due to the interrelatedness of the materials.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Jonathan Gilman, July 2017.

Restrictions on Access

The Sylvia R. Gilman papers are stored offsite and must be requested at least two business days in advance via Portal1791. Researchers needing more than six items from offsite storage should provide additional advance notice. If you have questions about requesting materials from offsite storage, please contact the reference desk at 617-646-0532 or

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Activism, 1979-2016

This series contains meeting notes, sketches, correspondence, newspaper articles, newsletters, and mass mailings pertaining to the organizations and causes that were important to Sylvia Gilman, focusing particularly on denuclearization and peace movements.

A. Political Correspondence, 1985-2013

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries contains letters from politicians to Sylvia R. Gilman in response to her letters, including President Barack Obama; Representatives Edward Markey, Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, and Michael Capuano; and Senator John Kerry.

Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 1
Thomas P. O'Neill, 1985
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 2
John Kerry, 1986-1990
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 3
Edward Markey, 1987-1988
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 4
Barack H. Obama, 2010, 2013
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 5
Michael Capuano, 2013

B. Denuclearization, 1979-2016

Arranged alphabetically.

This subseries contains files on a variety of organizations and grassroots efforts focusing on denuclearization, with particular attention to the Cold War and relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Files contain meeting agendas and flyers, newsletters and mass mailings, and newspaper clippings. Some folders relate to Massachusetts SANE and Massachusetts FREEZE, two organizations that were separate organizations before eventually becoming Massachusetts Peace Action. Also included in this subseries are letters to the editor, written by Gilman, and files on the Seabrook, New Hampshire, nuclear power plant.

Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 6
Campaign to Stop the First Strike Information Packet, circa 1985
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 7
Disarmament Action Network, 1983
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 8
Euromissiles (NECTSE), 1984-1985
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 9
Euromissiles- Information, 1983-1984
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 10
Euromissiles- Sketches and Miscellaneous, 1984
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 11
Festival for a Nuclear-Free Future, 2011
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 12
FREEZE Legislation, 1983-1986
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 13
Governor's Advisory Committee, 1986-1987
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 14
Hiroshima, 1985, 1990
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 15
Letters to Editors, 1984
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 16
Massachusetts FREEZE Voter, 1984
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 17
Massachusetts Nuclear FREEZE Committee, 1984-1986
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 18
Massachusetts SANE/FREEZE Conferences, 1989-1992
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 19
Miscellaneous Organizations and Information, 1983-1987
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 20
MIT Conference, 1983, 2005, 2016
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 21
Nevada Test Site, 1986-1988
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 22
New England Disarmament, 1982-1985
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 23
New England No First Strike Coalition, 1983-1985
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 24
New England Peace Test, 1988-1989
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 25
New England Peace Test Letterhead Artwork, undated
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 26
New England Walk for Nuclear Disarmament, 1987
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 27
Nuclear Disarmament Partnership, 2001
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 28
Nuclear Free Cambridge, 1983, 1985
OS Folder 1
Oversize Materials, 1983-1985, 1988, 2002
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 29
Peace Groups, 1982-1983
Box 1SH 1AMTFolder 30
SANE/FREEZE, 1989-1991
Box 1SH 1AMTFolders 31-32
Seabrook, 1979, 1987-1991

C. Iran-Contra, 1987-1991

Arranged alphabetically.

This subseries contains newsletters from The Christic Institute, the organization founded by the lawyers who represented Karen Silkwood, as well as information about the Intelligence Authorization Act of 1991.

Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 1
(The) Christic Institute, 1988-1991
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 2
(The) Intelligence Authorization Act, 1990-1991
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 3
Notes, Sketches, Information, 1987

D. Miscellaneous, 1982-2002

Arranged alphabetically.

This subseries contains materials related to Sylvia Gilman's activist interests in Central America, the file for which also includes a letter from Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy; the Palestine/Israel conflict; and local issues related to Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts.

Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 4
Central America, 1982-1983, 1990-1991
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 5
Palestine/Israel Conflict, 1989-2002
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 6
Trinity Church, Boston, 1982-1983

E. Peace Movements, 1980-2014

Arranged alphabetically.

This subseries contains files pertaining to various organizations and grassroots movements related to peace movements, including Massachusetts Peace Action, Interfaith Peace Center, Cambridge Interfaith Peace Council, and rallies against the Gulf War and the War on Terror. The file for the Gulf War includes letters from Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy and a draft of a letter Gilman wrote to then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Senator John Kerry, and Representative Gerry E. Studds.

Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 7
Cambridge Interfaith Peace Council, 1982-1984
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 8
Copley Square Peace Vigil, 1983
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 9
Episcopal Task Force, 1985-1987
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 10
Interfaith Peace Center, 1982, 1987
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 11
Massachusetts Peace Action, 1994, 1998, 2002-2003, 2008-2009, 2014
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 12
Misc. Organizations and Information, undated, 1983-2008
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 13
National Peace Day Celebrations, 1980, 1985-1987, 1992-1993
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 14
New England United, 2008
OS Folder 1
Oversized Materials, 1983-1985, 1988, 2002
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 15
Peace and Planet Rally (New York City), 2005
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 16
Peace Parks, 1988-1989
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 17
Peace Peddlers, 1982
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 18
Related Correspondence, 1987
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 19
The Committee on Common Security, 1989-1990
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 20
The Gulf War, 1990-1991
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 21
The Institute for Peace and International Security, 1987-1988
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 22
War on Terror, 2002
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 23
Women's Peace Initiative, 1987, 1989
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 24
YWCA, 1990

II. Personal, 1958-1990

This series contains a small amount of personal correspondence, including letters from a college friend, known only by her first name, Peggy; a daily journal and log with sketches; miscellaneous news articles from 1967 about Iran, Egypt, and Israel; and a sketchbook featuring sketches from a teach-in on Iraq at MIT in 1998. The sketchbook includes a sketch of well-known historian Howard Zinn. It is arranged chronologically.

Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 25
Correspondence, undated, 1958
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 26
Miscellaneous Notes, Sketches, Articles, undated, 1967-1968, 1982-1984
Box 2SH 1AMUFolder 27
Daily Journal/Log, 1983
OS Folder 2
Sketchbook- Teach-in on Iraq at MIT, 1998

Preferred Citation

Sylvia R. Gilman papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Capuano, Michael E.
Kerry, John, 1943-
Markey, Edward J.
Obama, Barack.
O'Neill, Thomas P., 1944-


Christic Institute.
Massachusetts Peace Action.
Massachusetts SANE/FREEZE.
National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (U.S.).
Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant (N.H.).


Iran-Contra Affair, 1985-1990.
Nuclear disarmament--United States.
Peace movements--Massachusetts--History--20th century.
Persian Gulf War, 1991.
War on Terrorism, 2001-2009.
Women and peace.
Women artists--Massachusetts.
Women pacifists.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Negatives and a contact sheet from the file on Peace Peddlers have been removed to the MHS Photo Archives.