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American Women: Resources from the Geography and Map Collections

Pictorial Maps

Dorothea Lawrence. Folklore music map of the United States from the Primer of American Music. 1946. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

With the drawings on the Folklore Music Map are a few words from the lyrics of the folk song that they illustrate. Bayou ballads, Creole folk songs, early California music, songs of the open range, Louisiana folk music, folk hymns, African American spirituals, and songs for children are included. One of the best maps in the division's collections for illustrating American diversity, this map was drawn by a woman and half of the many sources listed in the bibliography on the map were written by women.

A genre of map that uses illustrations to convey information about geographic locations, pictorial maps are an important but underused resource. Many of these maps are found in the division's single map file under the term “pictorial map” for a geographic area, followed by the date.

A sampling of pictorial maps of the United States dated from 1900 to 1950 reveals an abundance of material about cultural attitudes toward women. More than half of the maps surveyed show at least one female figure, often portrayed stereotypically in activities and settings that reflect social and cultural norms for females. A variety of women from different racial and cultural backgrounds are shown. White women are depicted in familiar roles that include teachers, nurses, bathing beauties, westward-bound pioneers in covered wagons, and southern belles. Native American women are almost always shown performing chores, such as cleaning animal hides, weaving, and making pottery or baskets, usually in close proximity to their tepee homes and often with infants on their backs. African American women are often shown picking cotton, in contrast to only one white woman shown at work in the cotton fields. There is also a dramatic depiction of an African American slave and her child escaping via the underground railroad.

Americans of Negro Lineage by Louise E. Jefferson shows in great detail the contributions African Americans have made to American society and is one of the few maps in the Library's collections to include illustrations of black women as nurses, teachers, housewives, performing artists from the theater, musical, and motion picture industries, musicians, explorers, WAVES and WACS, journalists, and bankers.

Another map rich in detail about women's ethnicity and regional roles was drawn by Dorothea Dix Lawrence. Her Folklore Music Map of the United States depicts a multicultural society, with a wide variety of women in traditional dress (see illustration). Black, Hispanic, Cajun, Creole, Native American, and white women dressed in ethnic clothing are shown in close proximity to the areas where these groups lived in the 1940s.

Federal Theatre Project. [Tours in the United States by famous American actors and actresses, 1865-1904]. [1935?]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Two manuscript pictorial maps created by the Federal Theatre Project document the tours of actresses Fanny Davenport and Lotta Crabtree, providing sketched portraits of them in costume for their stage appearances and showing illustrations of the theaters where they performed. Also among the pictorial maps are literary maps, which show places associated with authors and their works. Literary and other pictorial maps published within the past thirty years are more likely to have included women and minority authors as subjects than those of earlier periods. Language of the Land by Martha Hopkins and Michael Buscher is one such guide.

Especially valuable to studies of gendered spaces are the detailed manuscript pictorial maps produced by members of the Shaker congregations or, as they called themselves, “families.” A religious sect that lived communally and believed in the equality of men and women, the Shakers made simple but elegant drawings depicting the neat, tidy villages in which they lived. Although they considered men and women to be equal, the Shakers also believed in celibacy. Except for the church which always had double doors so that the men and women could enter the church on an equal footing, each sex had its own buildings, labeled on the maps, showing where they spent their time and what activities were associated with both space and gender.

Print Materials Referenced