The Richard Cornish Endowment Fund

bookplate sealThe Richard Cornish Endowment Fund was established in 1993 as a source of funding for the acquisition of gay and lesbian resources for the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. This endowment fund was made possible through the efforts of the William and Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae Association (GALA), an organization of gay and lesbian William and Mary Alumni/ae and their friends and supporters.

The Cornish Fund, as it is commonly known, was established as part of the commemorative activities celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of the College of William and Mary. It provides funding to the university’s library for the acquisition of books, periodicals, films, videos, cds… basically any form of media communication which would add to the library’s holdings in this area.

The fund was named in honor of Richard Cornish, believed to be the first person in North America executed for homosexuality. He was executed in Jamestown, Virginia, around 1624 – 25, and therein began a long history of anti-gay and lesbian traditions in Virginia which continue to this day. Now in 2005, Virginia is considered one of the most anti-gay states in the union. The details of this grisly case are available in Jonathan Katz’s book, Gay American History, Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (published by Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1976). Also see “Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England, A sourcebook complied by Rictor Norton” on the World Wide Web which gives an account of Richard Cornish’s trial and execution and the equally grisly aftermath.

To establish the fund, William and Mary GALA raised $25,000 in less than a year, and the fund became a reality. This was not done through a few major donations but through many many small donations some as small as $5. Continued fundraising efforts resulting in broadly based donations doubled the fund to $50,000 a few years later, and ongoing fundraising has raised the funding level to about $75,000 in early 2005. A campaign in 2005-2006 brought the funding level to $100,000 in time for GALA’s twentieth anniversary in October of 2006. The Cornish Fund has occupied a unique place among public universities, providing hundreds of gay and lesbian-related titles for the students and faculty of this 7,000 student university in politically conservative Virginia. It is now considered one of the largest, if not the largest, such designated endowment funds of any academic institution in the U.S. The fund’s establishment has also spurred donations of gay and lesbian related books and gay authors’ collections to Swem Library.

Author and screenwriter, Christopher Bram, a GALA member and William and Mary alumnus who graduated in 1974, and whose books include Surprising Myself, Hold Tight, In Memory of Angel Clare, The Notorious Dr. August, Almost History, Father of Frankenstein, Lives of the Circus Animals, Exiles in America, and most recently, Mapping the Territory, spoke at one of the fundraising events for the Cornish Fund. During his remarks, Bram discussed the continuing importance of gay literature, adding, “So much has changed in the past thirty years. The gay and lesbian world is no longer hidden in the shadows. But this much hasn’t changed: the individual still has to find his or her way – alone – out of a private darkness into that larger, brighter world. And books, with their greater diversity and subtlety and intimacy, do a much better job of showing the way than does a subscription to a gay magazine, or weekly visits to an internet site, or watching one of the many TV programs that deal with stereotyped gay characters. There will always be an important place for books in our lives. And something like the Richard Cornish Fund, making this variety of books available, will continue to be invaluable.”

You may support the Cornish Fund and the good work it does by making a donation. Send all contributions to: The Richard Cornish Endowment Fund, Earl Greg Swem Library, Development Office, The College of William and Mary, P.O. Box 1693, Williamsburg, VA 23187-9915.


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Related Links and Information

The Cornish Courier

Cornish Collection Master List

Make a Contribution to the Cornish Fund

Dire Legacy of Jamestown by Lew Leadbeater

The Ghosts of Jamestown by Adam Goodheart

Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England, A sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton. The Trial of Richard Cornish, 1624

Earl Gregg Swem Library of The College of William and Mary

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