Joan Preiss papers, 1970-2006

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Preiss, Joan Papert
Community and labor movement organizer in Durham, N.C.; chair of the Triangle Friends of the United Farm Workers; board member of the National Farm Worker Ministry; member of the Farmworker Ministry Commission, N.C. Council of Churches. Accession (2009-0279) (40,500 items; 54.0 lin. ft.; dated 1970-2006) includes Preiss's personal papers as well as organizational records from her role in the Triangle Friends of the United Farm Workers (TFUFW), the National Farmworker Ministry (NFWM), the Farmworker Ministry Commission, and the AFL-CIO's Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Each of these organizations worked to improve the lives of farmworkers through unionizing, educating the public about the origins of food, and pressuring farms and companies through boycotts, petitions, and publicity. Includes materials from UFW campaigns and boycotts that Preiss helped organize in Durham, such as Campbell's, Gallo wines, Prime mushrooms, strawberries, California grapes, and Mt. Olive pickles. Includes publications and photographs from visits from labor organizers such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Also present are materials from labor issues such as pesticide use, migrant education, the H-2 Workers program, child labor, slavery, and farmworker health. Acquired as part of the Human Rights Archive.
54 Linear Feet
40,500 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Materials in this collection represent both Joan Preiss's personal papers as well as organizational materials from the various groups that she worked with throughout her career. Heavily represented are the activities of the Triangle Friends of the United Farm Workers, which Preiss managed from her house in Durham, N.C. Materials from the TFUFW include meeting minutes, administrative files, publicity and flyers, newsletters, and other miscellaneous papers. Preiss's own organizational notes and agendas are heavily mixed in with official materials from the organization, reflecting the large role that she played in its activities. The majority of files center around the TFUFW's various campaigns and boycotts, which included California grapes, Gallo wine, Prime brand mushrooms, Driscoll and other brands of strawberries, Campbell's products, Red Coach lettuce, and Mt. Olive pickles. Of these, the largest amount of material appears to be from the Mt. Olive boycott, presumably because it lasted for about five years and was one of the last boycotts that Preiss participated in. Materials from these boycotts include leaflets, news clippings, flyers, posters, petitions, endorsements, and photographs of TFUFW members (including Preiss) demonstrating and distributing literature at area grocery stores, frequently wearing costumes or tiaras to draw attention. Along with protesting to the companies themselves, TFUFW frequently targeted the sellers of boycotted products, resulting in a plethora of material about various North Carolina grocery stores and supermarket chains, including Kroger, Wellspring/Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and Food Lion. Preiss's correspondence with store owners and managers, copies of customer petitions, and information about the various chains are present in the collection. In a similar vein are the materials regarding Duke University's participation (or lack thereof) in both the Red Coach lettuce and the Mt. Olive pickle boycotts, and the Preiss's lobbying towards both students and Duke administration to stop selling and serving boycotted products.

Other labor advcocacy groups are also well-represented in the collection, and frequently the materials from different organizations are mixed together, as Preiss worked with each of them. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee was another organizer of consumer boycotts and protests, and TFUFW activities were often in support of FLOC's goals. FLOC was heavily involved in the Mt. Olive pickle boycott. Also included in the collection are administrative and organizational materials from the National Farm Worker Ministry, such as board meetings, conferences, and publications. In addition, Preiss was very involved in the Farmworker Ministry Committee, and its publications, newsletters, and meeting minutes are also present in the collection.

Aside from boycotting products, these labor groups were active in attempting to improve working conditions for farm workers, through petitions, educating the public through publications and protests, lobbying for legal protection, and marching and organizing to gain attention from the media. Farmworker issues heavily represented in the collection include the use of pesticides and its harmful effects on farm workers and consumers; the H-2A program, undocumented workers, and the abuse of immigrants on North Carolina farms; the attempts to establish a North Carolina anti-slavery law; child labor, particularly of migrant children; occupational safety and hazards in agriculture; violence towards farmworkers attempting to unionize; and obtaining fair contracts for farmworkers to prevent employer abuse. Material formats for documenting these campaigns include newspaper clippings, brochures and leaflets, copies of proposed laws, reports from farm bureaus and other government authorities, and other administrative files such as meeting minutes. Along with Preiss's local organizations, she frequently received updates on these issues from national groups like the UFW, and those newsletters and correspondence are present in the collection as well.

Along with her involvement in different local and national labor organizations, the collection also reflects Preiss's interests in the city of Durham. Although materials from her community involvement in Durham revitalization, Duke Campus Ministry, political campaigns, community health, and human rights issues are not overwhelmingly large, they are substantive enough to offer insights into her activities outside of (or in parallel to) the labor movement.

Biographical / historical:

Joan Papert Preiss (pronounced Jo-anne Pa-pert Price) was born in New York City on January 4, 1925, and lived throughout the country before settling with her husband, Jack Preiss, in Durham in 1959. The couple had three children: Stephen, Tony, and Andrew. Preiss attended an organizational meeting for a United Farm Workers support group on August 23, 1973, that resulted in the formation of the Triangle Friends of the United Farm Workers, which she chaired until her retirement in the 2000s. Preiss also joined the National Farm Worker Ministry as a board member, and was a member of the N.C. Council of Churches' Farmworker Ministry Committee. Other organizations that she and the Triangle Friends have worked with include the Student Action for Farmworkers, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and the Farmworkers Advocacy Network. Preiss died in Durham on June 1, 2012.

Abbreviations of organizations frequently found in the collection:

  1. FAN: Farmworkers Advocacy Network
  2. FLOC: Farm Labor Organizing Committee
  3. FMC or FWMC: Farmworker Ministry Committee
  4. GWFC: Grape Workers and Farmers Coalition
  5. NAFO: National Association of Farmworker Organizations
  6. NCCoC: North Carolina Council of Churches
  7. NFWM: National Farm Worker Ministry
  8. PCUN: Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste/Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United
  9. SACSM: NC State Advisory Committee on Services to Migrants
  10. SAF: Student Action for Farmworkers
  11. TFUFW: Triangle Friends of United Farm Workers
  12. UFW: United Farm Workers
Acquisition information:
The Joan Preiss Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 2009.
Processing information:

Processed by Meghan Lyon, January 2010

Encoded by Meghan Lyon, January 2010

Materials may not have been ordered and described beyond their original condition.


Items have have only been refoldered when required for preservation or access. The materials and files were organized by Preiss in her Durham home office, and although different filing cabinet drawers have been grouped together in the finding aid, in general the collection is fairly loose in its arrangement. Loose series have been created intellectually in this finding aid to help researchers interested in only one portion of the collection. Due to the minimal processing, folders have not been united across boxes, and therefore different series are sometimes spread across several boxes. Preiss appears to have maintained name and subject files, but these folders often included a broad scope of information. Similar subjects frequently appeared in several different drawers in her filing cabinets, and organizational files appear to have been spread around the room; therefore, different chronological pieces of the same organization or subject are often present in several boxes throughout the collection.

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Access note. Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Use of these materials may require production of listening or viewing copies. Please contact Research Services before coming to use this collection.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Joan Preiss Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University