Posted by: David | April 21, 2008

The Clothesline Project

The recent events at the polygamist compound out west bring this to the forefront of my mind. Especially after seeing the women “interviewed” on Larry King. Every year around this time, as spring begins, a devoted member of our Campus Safety team undertakes this huge project of displaying thousands of t-shirts made by women who have survived all kinds of abuse. It’s called The Clothesline Project.

This year there were so many t-shirts that some were hung outside since the weather was nice.

The intent of the display is to raise awareness and break the silence that tends to exist around abusive situations and environments. The statistics are sobering.

The exhibit is not easy to look at.

Most of the shirts were hung in our old gymnasium.

The photographs cannot possibly do justice to the amazing impact of this display. It’s very hard to convey the feelings that one gets witnessing these representations of the pain suffered by so many women. There are also life-sized plywood figures with plaques on them in memory of women who died at the hands of their abusers. Many of the shirts express the idea of a new beginning to a life almost shattered, and it is these that really help the viewer to absorb the shock of this still devastating issue.



  1. Wonderful!

    I am in a hurry, I am at work, just tried out something new and did get an access to your blog on my sidebar, but oliver disappeared.

    Right now I can’t correct that. I am only telling you in case you happen to see that strange thing.

    I am in a hurry too. I’m tired and I can’t stop reading blogs … Thanks for putting Oliver’s picture on your blog 😀

  2. I am sorry.

    I did not read your comments and thought you had photographed the laundry of some gym. I still do not understand why there are so many women who have been abused all living together. Is that a home for them?

    Laundry out in the sun always looks happy, and more so around gipsy huts here.

    Click the link for a little history of the Clothesline Project. It started in joanharvest’s vicinity- Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The shirts were not made in a single home for abused women, but are collected from many such places afterward or made by others in support of abused family or friends. The laundry theme was astute cantueso. The symbolism centers around the way the women hanging out their laundry in days gone by would chat about their lives.

  3. They did that in our town once a few years ago. It was scary how many T-shirts there were. They were all hanging outdoors on the lawn of the library.

    If anyone ever hit me, it would only happen once. There are no second chances. When my daughter was about 14, she had a boyfriend and he pushed her. She broke up with him then and there. He didn’t even push her very hard. But I taught her well. I drummed it in to both my children’s heads. I told my son if he ever laid a hand on a girl he would live to regret it. I would be out of his life.

    I never hit my kids, though, my son spent plenty of time in the corner. When he was young and did something inappropriate I didn’t even have to tell him to get in the corner, all I had to do was point.

    I’ve watched the show Supernanny and for the life of me I can’t understand how these parents let their children get so out of control. I never yelled at my kids or hit them. They just knew you don’t mess with Mama.

    “My son spent plenty of time in the corner” I know that was not intended as a joke but it reads funny to me. My son had his share of “time outs” too. I’m glad that spanking went away, but I also lament the population explosion of unrestrained children.

  4. It’s a shame really .. but in a strange way, those photos capture beauty.

    Thank you Red, but unfortunately I’m forced to disagree. The photos are perhaps the worst I’ve posted. But the subject matter is important so I posted them anyway. As you say, it’s an incredible, horrible, unbelievable shame.

  5. I’ve never heard about the Clothesline Project…it was a very stirring display…thanks for shedding some light on this.

    You’re welcome. I wonder Romi, is this kind of abuse as big an issue in Canada as it seems to be here in the USA?

  6. What an awesome and thought-provoking project. We get so much information overload that when we get introduced to the numbers in a physical way, it really hits one upside the head, doesn’t it. What’s the term again? crapstack flyby? and what is this hit to the gut called when we see/feel power like this teeshirt ‘exhibit’? And all I can do is sit here in somberness. and, yet… sunshine!

    Boy you got that right C! Hit upside the head is exactly how you feel after looking at a few hundred of these T-shirts. This “hit to the gut” is not what I’d call crapstack flyby. This is information that we should not filter out, but we should not overdose on it either. Being aware of others’ suffering, as well as our own, is what we must endeavor to achieve, so as to be of help when asked. But it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by such displays. Sunshine! Yes. 😀

  7. I just clicked on your link to the Clothesline Project and realized it actually started on Cape Cod. I didn’t even realize that. I just remember they did it in Falmouth and it was a long time ago. I remember thinking what a great idea it was.

    Maybe you saw the birth of it joanharvest!

  8. This is such a beautiful project, and it commands such attention. It’s too bad it’s often the only way to really make an impact, to basically stand on your head and say, “This is important, pay attention.” Thanks for posting this!

    Joan, are they still doing that bra project for breast cancer awareness? I thought that was such a great idea– people decorated bras and they were on display strung together in a similar fashion — and it really got people’s attention. I hope it’s still going on.

    You’re welcome Wendy, and thanks for visiting. 🙂 I’ll relay your thanks that special Campus Safety Operations Coordinator at Colby-Sawyer College who works her tail off bringing this to campus every Spring. You just may catch her on MTV- they came last weekend to do a piece on this display. Things are awfully busy as we close in on Commencement, so I haven’t had a chance to ask her how the MTV visit went, but I will.

    A quick googling of “the bra project” seems to reveal that it’s alive and well! As tempted as I am to run to a joke here, I refrain.

  9. They had this in a the college town I used to live in.
    It’s a beautiful project.

    I used to do volunteer work for a battered women’s shelter, and to me, the best part of this project is that it’s created by women who USED to be battered, but no longer are. You wouldn’t believe how many women can never escape that cycle of violence.

    I’ll bet your volunteer work was very helpful, knowing something of your empathy from your writing. (Thinking of your posts about the poor little boy from the ‘hood…)

    That’s a great observation moonbeam, I wish I’d thought of it. Each t-shirt represents a woman who has moved beyond the abusive situation and hopefully will recognize the “red flags” (should they appear) earlier in future relationships.

  10. To answer your question, I think it’s a big issue if you open your eyes to it…for example, at Christmas myself and a bunch of co-workers spent a day at a Women’s shelter, just painting the rooms, setting up donated furniture/tv’s etc…basically sprucing up the place…in the process we met SO many nice women with young children, and no you wouldn’t have thought for a second that these women were the victims of abuse…you’d probably pass them by on the street and nothing would even seem out of the ordinary..I think it’s hard to see…unless you look.

    Good of you to volunteer like that Romi. Thanks for your answer. I had hoped that since Canada was such a cool place that there would be less of that sorta crap there. But then that’s just the sort of shallow thinking that’s part of the problem … 😦

  11. I thought that “laundry” was proverbial for gossip and dirty laundry stood for mean gossip, and it was not symbolic, but euphemistic, because in city blocks everybody sees everybody else’s laundry hanging right in front of their noses and are always complaining about it. In the US there are LAWS against hanging out laundry! “Dirty laundry” has become synonym to “skeleton in the cupboard”: things that you can’t deal with, so you hide them.

    I think that the metaphor for the Clothesline Project alludes more to the picture of women hanging out their laundry and sharing their stories while so doing.

    No place I’ve ever lived has had laws controlling hanging laundry out to dry. It’s got some symbolic power though, doesn’t it, that dirty laundry? Everyone soils their shorts at some point …

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