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Identifier: MC 1105

Sisters in Crime Records


  • 1979-2004 (bulk 1988-1998)

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the records of Sisters in Crime (1988-present), an organization dedicated to combating discrimination and bringing recognition to woman writers in the detective and mystery genre. Most of the material in the records is in paper format. The collection also contains audiovisual materials, in the form of photographs and VHS videocassettes, and several items of memorabilia. The collection is approximately nine cubic feet in size and is composed of six records center cartons, seven manuscript boxes, one phase box and a map folder. It spans the period 1979 to 2004, with the bulk of the records dating from 1988-1998.

The collection is organized into several subgroups. One subgroup is the General Records, which includes the series BY-LAWS, MINUTES, ANNUAL FINANCIAL REPORTS, PUBLICATIONS, PUBLICITY AND PRESS COVERAGE, PHOTOGRAPHS, VIDEOTAPE RECORDINGS and MEMORABILIA. In addition, a separate subgroup is included for each officer whose records are in the collection. The officers thus represented are Sara Paretsky (one item only), Annette Meyers, Elaine Raco Chase, Barbara D'Amato, Linda Grant, P.M. Carlson, Margaret Maron and Eve Sandstrom, each of whom, as vice-president and as president, kept files that document the activities of the organization during her term of office.

Because each vice-president progressed into the presidency the following year, and most presidents were highly involved in other offices or activities within the organization, their records often overlap and interrelate on a wide array of subject matter. The variety of issues represented within each officer's files include but are not limited to SinC projects, local chapters, finances, publicity, nonprofit status, special interest groups, SinC publications, steering committee issues, SinC by-laws, major conventions and conferences, board meetings, membership, trademark protection, the Internet chapter, the Sisters in Crime writers retreat, the nominating committee and liability insurance, as well as general and specific correspondence. Some of the records also contain SinC-related documents that precede or postdate the years in which a person served as an officer of the organization.

The records of Sisters in Crime provide insight foremost into the formation, organization and upkeep of a successful, supportive advocacy and self-promotional group for women authors at the national and regional levels. They also depict the efforts taken by a group of women authors writing within a specific genre to document and counteract gender-based discrimination, still extant in the 1980s. In more general terms, the records provide insight into various aspects of publishing detective, crime or mystery fiction from the author's perspective.


9 Cubic Feet (6 cartons, 7 manuscript boxes, 1 phase box and 1 map folder)

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

No Restrictions.


Founded in part to document and combat gender-based discrimination in the field of publishing, Sisters in Crime has worked at the national and regional levels since 1987 to support and advance the interests of women authors of detective, crime and mystery fiction.

Historical Sketch

The organization Sisters in Crime (SinC) consists of "authors, booksellers, editors, agents, librarians, critics, teachers and readers, whose primary purpose is advocacy through communication." According to the organization's by-laws, the purpose of Sisters in Crime is "to combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise awareness of their contribution to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries."Although members agree that "much has improved since the early days of the organization," they still feel it is vital to continue their efforts. By 1999, the organization had "a membership of well over 3,000 worldwide," both female and male, and consisted of "50 chapters in the U.S., Canada, and in Hamburg, Germany."


In January of 1986, Phillis Whitney, a past president of Mystery Writers of America (MWA), wrote a letter to the MWA regarding sexual discrimination in the awarding of the MWA Edgars, annual awards given to mystery writers in various categories in the name of Edgar Allan Poe. Between 1945, when the MWA began, and 1986, when Phillis Whitney wrote her letter, only seven women were awarded best novel Edgar in the 41 years of the MWA's existence, and no American woman had won since Charlotte Armstrong in 1956. Whitney sent copies of her letter to nearly 100 members of the MWA organization, and in March of 1986, the MWA formed a committee to look into discrimination in the awarding of the Edgar. By October, the MWA board members submitted their report, which was divided over the report's statement that "there has been, in the past, bias in the Edgars Awards toward the traditional, male-oriented, 'hard-boiled' mystery." They even attached a dissension letter to the report from one of the committee members, Barbara Mertz.

Whitney's letter and the following actions and structure changes to the MWA's awarding of the Edgars became the catalyst to Sara Paretsky's organization of an impromptu breakfast meeting in Baltimore at the October 1986 Bouchercon. This event is an annual convention of mystery fans, authors, booksellers, publishers, editors and agents working in the mystery field at which Anthony awards are given, annual awards presented to mystery writers in various categories to honor the memory of William Anthony Parker White. Paretsky's meeting brought women writers, readers, buyers and sellers of mysteries together to discuss common concerns for women in the field of mystery writing and from this meeting sprung the beginnings of the organization that was later named Sisters in Crime. By November of that same year, Sara Paretsky began to build the formal organization and to solicit members.

Formal Organization and Initial Projects

By May of 1987, it was official; the organization would be called Sisters in Crime (SinC). The organization's first steering committee was elected in May and it consisted of writers Charlotte MacLeod, Dorthy Salisbury Davis, Sara Paretsky, Nancy Pickard and Susan Dunlap, bookseller Kate Mattes, and mystery enthusiast Betty Francis. The by-laws of the organization outline the responsibilities of each officer and committee member, which in the beginning included the president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and three members at large.

At the same time that SinC was forming, however, Marilyn Wallace was in the process of editing and publishing the first book of five in an anthology called Sisters in Crime, an independent project from the Sisters in Crime organization. Because it was not clear which came first, the name of the organization or the anthology, the Sisters in Crime steering committee granted Marilyn Wallace permission to use the name. Although some Sisters in Crime members were included, authors who participated in the anthology did not have to be members of the SinC organization. So, Sisters in Crime stipulated that the anthology had to include a statement that it was not connected to the Sisters in Crime organization and the SinC logo could not be used.

By 1988, the Steering Committee began to meet formally twice a year, the Fall meeting always coinciding with the event of Bouchercon. During October of 1988, the first By-Laws Committee meeting took place and the members began to develop a working purpose and guidelines for the organization. By May of 1989, the Sisters in Crime by-laws were approved by a mail-in vote and a show of hands at the semi-annual business meeting during Edgar Week in New York. These by-laws would serve as the foundation of the Sisters in Crime organization. The next step was for the organization to become "official," and in April 1990, the state of New Jersey incorporated Sisters in Crime, Inc., as a not-for-profit corporation.

During 1988, as the organization began to develop, members initiated projects meant to further the cause of women writers in the detective and mystery genres. For instance, the Book Review Project was started as a way to judge the bias of book reviewers working for various periodicals. Members volunteered to monitor specific papers for book reviews in the genre in order to statistically point out bias to periodical owners. In an effort to correct this problem, volunteers counted reviews of books written by men and women and then Sisters in Crime would inform newspaper editors of their findings.

The Publications Program

Projects were also developed in order to keep Sisters in Crime members informed. In September of 1988, the organization began to publish the Sisters In Crime Newsletter. Member Kate Mattes served as the first newsletter editor/publisher, attempting to publish the newsletter twice a year in the beginning. By 1993, as the newsletter evolved with the organization, it became a national newsletter that was published four times a year. In addition to the newsletter, the organization began publication of the first Membership Directory in 1989, as a means to improve contact within the network of Sisters in Crime's current members.

In addition to keeping members informed about the organization itself, SinC became involved in creating directional and promotional publications for its members. For example, when a female bookseller informed the organization that Mysterious Bookshop's Christmas Catalog, which was distributed to mystery bookshops around the country, contained only a few female authors, Susan Dunlap compiled an informational pamphlet entitled What do Women Really Write?. This publication would serve as the first version of Sisters in Crime's Books-In-Print and Dunlap distributed the pamphlet to 185 bookstores in order to demonstrate the strength, vitality and variety of mysteries written by women. In October of 1989, the organization published the first edition of Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies, a tool for writers seeking better publicity and recognition of their work. The contributing editor of this publication was Linda Grant, who would later serve the organization as publicity chair, vice-president and president.

Malice Domestic and the Agatha Award

With controversy still surrounding bias in the MWA Edgars, the first Malice Domestic convention was held in April of 1989, an annual convention in metro D.C. that salutes books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. This new convention would provide authors with the opportunity to win the Agatha Award for "mysteries of manners." Instead of the traditional hard-boiled detective type mysteries, the "mysteries of manners" are loosely defined as "works without explicit sex or excessive violence" that "feature an amateur detective, confined setting and characters who know each other." Sisters in Crime held its annual Spring meeting at this first annual Malice Domestic conference, a joint meeting tradition that they would attempt to uphold. In addition, Sisters in Crime member Carolyn Hart, who would later serve the organization as publicity chair, vice president and president, was presented with the very first Agatha.

Publicity Activities and Programs, 1990-1991

In 1990, the organization increased efforts of self promotion, first by creating a pamphlet, entitled An Introduction to Sisters in Crime, which described the goals of the organization and how to become a member. Then in 1991, Sisters in Crime supported a booth at the American Library Association convention for the first time. Also, the Sisters in Crime map, "Solving Mysteries Coast to Coast," was created for distribution to bookstores, both as a promotional device and for individual collectors. This map carried the character representations from books by 44 Sisters in Crime authors and would bring recognition to the organization as well as to individual SinC authors. Also in 1991, Ed Gorman offered Sisters in Crime a column in the national Mystery Scene Magazine, a project welcomed by SinC and undertaken by member Eve Sandstrom, who would later serve the organization as newsletter editor. In addition, the National Women's History Project began to collect publicity clips and other information about Sisters in Crime authors and their protagonists for archival purposes, a venture in which 118 authors participated.

In addition to programs that would promote the organization, Sisters in Crime initiated projects that would assist in bringing recognition to SinC authors. In 1991, the Sisters in Crime Speakers Bureau was formed, which would be a way to unite authors with organizations needing speakers, such as libraries and bookstores, for seminars and to conduct interviews. Sisters in Crime also made the decision to support the American Crime Writers League's comprehensive royalty statement, which would legally "give writers a clear statement of the status of their books."

An Executive Secretary

In order to better administer Sisters in Crime, with its rotation of officers, the position of Executive Secretary was incorporated into the organization in May of 1992. Beth Wasson was appointed to process dues, handle bank accounts, put out mailings, maintain the membership database and handle general correspondence. The organization's officers felt very strongly about having a specified person to handle given tasks or inquiries. Since the officers were spread about the country, a single location for specific office duties helped to better organize SinC.

Publicity Activities and Programs, 1992-1993

Publicity efforts continued as Sisters in Crime secured a booth at the American Booksellers Association convention for the first time in 1992. In addition, a Sisters in Crime National Press Kit was developed by SinC's publicity chair, Elaine Raco Chase, who would later serve the organization as vice-president and president. The organization also began to publish an informational booklet for authors entitled, So You're Going to do an Author Signing, which was compiled by SinC's secretary, Barbara D'Amato, who would later serve the organization as vice-president and president. In 1993, the organization began a clipping service that enlisted members to clip book reviews for other SinC authors. In addition, Jan Burke compiled a publication entitled Breaking and Entering: A Guide to Finding an Agent, Selling a Manuscript and Other Mysteries of Publishing. In regards to publicity, Mae Woods began work on a Sisters in Crime TV series in 1993 and the first Sisters in Crime television program, V.I. Warshawsky, actually scripted in 1994, aired in the fall of 1995. The organization also began the Radio Tape Project in 1993, which would broadcast 30-minute pre-taped programs featuring Sisters in Crime mystery writers.

Outreach Initiatives and Local Chapter Formation

In 1992, Sisters in Crime began to explore ways to expand its membership through outreach programs. The Women of Color outreach group searched for ways to encourage minority women in the mystery business, to inform them about Sisters in Crime and to invite them to join the organization. In 1993, Nicole St. John launched the formation of a special interest group within SinC for young adult mystery writers called the Sisters in Crime Writing for Youth Network, which by 1994 sent out its first group press kit to over 200 bookstores. Also in 1993, Carolyn Wheat began to coordinate the Outreach to Lesbian Mystery Writers program.

Groundwork was also laid in 1993 for an outreach program to Internet users. The Sisters in Crime Internet Chapter was originally founded on Genie, an Internet computing service providing "real time conferencing," or interfaces that allowed for immediate responses to inquiries, and electronic bulletin boards. It was created in order to provide a convenient meeting ground for members outside of local chapter areas. In addition to the Internet Chapter, a Sisters in Crime section was opened on Time Warner and Mysterious Press's on-line Authors Forum in 1994, at the request of the two organizations. The same year, Rhonda Keith opened and oversaw the first Sisters in Crime folder on America On-Line. By this time, at least sixteen local chapters were already in formation under the umbrella of the national organization. Although the national organization agreed to the formation of chapters for local support for members, each chapter had to be a member of the national and abide by its by-laws. Voting members and officers must be members of the national SinC and each chapter must write its own set of by-laws and include the chapter name when using the national SinC logo. In the beginning the issue of chapters was a fragile one as the organization did not want to isolate members outside of chapter areas by having too much information passed through the local level or selecting chapter members only to be national officers. The focus was to have smaller chapters, local reports in the national newsletter and to make sure communications from national got to all members.

Organizational "Rewards"

In 1994, the organization presented Elaine Raco Chase with the first and only "Athena Reward" in recognition of her work in publicity for Sisters in Crime. The decision to call it a reward instead of an award was important to the organization because it did not want to be viewed as favoring certain members, and their work, over others. This reward came in the form of a magician's hat and was presented to her at the Sisters in Crime breakfast during Malice Domestic VI. Other rewards prior to the Athena included the first and only "Good Old Girl Reward" presented to Marilyn Wallace during the 1992 Bouchercon in acknowledgment of her writing, teaching, editing and support for other writers.

Publicity Activities and Programs, 1994-1995

Publicity continued to suffuse the organization's efforts. In May of 1994, member Kate Mattes buried a time capsule of Sisters in Crime materials in a tomb in front of her Mystery Books store in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sisters in Crime was also added to the 24-hour Talking Book Directory in 1994, which provided talking books by telephone. Exhibiting the growth and strength of the organization, Sisters in Crime sponsored the organization's first Writers Retreat and Conference in Houston in August of 1995, called Murder My Sweet. The same year, member Jan Burke organized the publication of the Sisters in Crime Tour Directory, Hit and Run: Mystery Authors on Tour, a booklet intended to assist authors who are traveling on tours in contacting libraries, bookstores and groups who are looking for mystery writers as speakers and for book signing events.

Special Interest Groups

Special interest groups also continued to emerge and reform themselves within the organization. In 1994, the True Crime Writers Network was organized by E.W. Count, later appointed chair of the group, in order to bring together members of this genre. Sisters in Crime's Mysteries for Minors group began its own clipping service and speakers bureau in 1995. By 1996, the first juvenile and young adult book list was published called Kids Love Mysteries, later changed to Mysteries for Minors. Because of the emergence and strength of each individual special interest group by 1995, member Kate Daniel was named liaison between the national organization and the various SIGs (special interest groups) within Sisters in Crime. In 1996, Outreach to Women of Color changed its name to Outreach to Authors of Color. And in 1997, Barbara Lakey initiated the Guppy Group for "pre-published" (i.e., unpublished) writers of full-length mystery novels as the newest special interest group of Sisters in Crime.

Administrative Changes

Minor changes to the organization continued as Sisters in Crime grew. For instance, in June of 1994, the Internal Revenue Service denied the organization tax exempt status and its appeal was also denied in 1995. In October of 1994, a motion was passed to increase the size of the Sisters in Crime steering committee from seven members to nine, expanding the number of members-at-large from three to five. In 1995, another change in the by-laws was agreed upon when members voted to make the office of treasurer appointive. They did this in order to retain Mary Lou Wright as treasurer because her five year limit as part of the steering committee had expired. This steering committee felt this decision was imperative for the stability of the organization. In April of 1995, a trademark protection motion was passed, a process that protects the name and logo of Sisters in Crime from being printed in any design or typeface without the authorization of Sisters in Crime.

In addition to these changes, the immense growth of Sisters in Crime led to a decision concerning regional representation in 1996. The organization was divided into three regions, Western, Central and Eastern, by number of members in each region. Then a representative was selected from each region to work with the chapter liaison on the national board. In addition, a Concern Committee was created in 1997 by the national board in order to improve the lines of communication between the national steering committee and the chapters and members of the organization. The organization also began to consider the idea of giving its records to an archives, and in 1997, SinC chose to donate the records to Douglass College of Rutgers University, in recognition of it being the largest women's university and of its "women in the arts" initiatives.

Publicity Activities and Programs, 1996-1997

Publicity efforts continued throughout 1996 and 1997. In 1996, BuffCon, the Buffalo (N.Y.) Mystery Convention, hosted Sisters in Crime as its special guests. Then the Sisters in Crime "Solving Mysteries Coast to Coast" map became a part of the Library of Congress's annotated bibliography of literary maps. In addition, the new World Wide Web site opened in 1996, and was attached to Bookstacks, so that people could order books directly from the SinC Books-in-Print Catalog. Furthering this effort, the paper copy of Books-in-Print was distributed to 9,000 bookstores and 1,500 libraries in June of 1996. In April of 1997, Sisters in Crime was invited to join other author groups as part of the Authors Coalition, which helps authors to reclaim non-title specific royalties from photocopies made abroad.

Ongoing Programs

Sisters in Crime is still engaged in ongoing projects that help women to gain recognition within the detective and mystery genres. This effort includes the Books-In-Print catalog, which lists members' works and is distributed twice a year to more than 10,000 wholesalers, distributors, libraries, bookstore chains, mystery bookstores, and other independent bookstores. The catalog also has a pull-out insert that lists SinC authors who write young adult and juvenile mysteries. The organization continues to produce publications, such as Breaking and Entering, Shameless Promotions for Brazen Hussies and So You're Going to do an Author Signing. It also continues to support several special interest groups, such as those for authors of color, writers of true crime, writers of young adult and juvenile mysteries, and pre-published writers. The organization maintains booths at the American Library Association National Convention, as well as at regional conventions, and regional American Booksellers Association Trade Shows. Sisters in Crime also sponsors group ads in Publishers Weekly, as part of the magazine's twice a year survey of the mystery genre. In addition, the SinC Internet Chapter proceeds to grow and produce on-line visibility for the organization and its members. The national newsletter continues to be published four times a year and "covers upcoming events, news about members and the publishing world, [with] columns and articles of interest to writers, fans, and members in the book trade."

Related Materials

The Newberry Library in Chicago holds the papers of Sara Paretsky. These papers include materials relating to Paretsky's role as founder and first president of Sisters in Crime.

Processing Note

The collection contained some newspaper clippings and facsimiles that have been photocopied onto acid-free paper due to their brittle condition. Also for preservation purposes, three folders of photographs, primarily depicting past presidents, have been removed as noted from their respective series and filed together. In addition, the BY-LAWS, MINUTES, ANNUAL FINANCIAL REPORTS and PUBLICATIONS were originally found scattered throughout the officers' files, but were brought together as separate series for the researcher's convenience, as these materials are most often found together in an organization's records.

In 2004, additional material was added to the collection. It was processed in a manner consistent with the original accession and filed in boxes ten through fourteen (and in a map folder). The PUBLICITY AND PRESS COVERAGE series was created at this time.

Inventory to the Sisters in Crime Records MC 1105
Edited Full Draft
Carmen Godwin; updated by Alexandra Rimer.
April 2006
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.