Skip to main content

American Women: Resources from the Geography and Map Collections

Women's Map Collections

Several of the division's special collections were assembled by women and reflect the influence of female collections and collectors. The Clara Barton and Margaret Mead collections were acquired by the Library along with their manuscript collections. The thirty-six items in the Barton collection were assembled between 1877 and 1903 and are primarily maps of Europe and the United States. The Mead collection is smaller and consists of several sheets from map sets showing her study areas and other maps containing practical information, such as steamship routes, that Mead used for her work in the field. Manuscript cartographic material that is part of a larger collection is frequently housed in the Manuscript Division.

Emma Lee Aderholt. Bird's eye view of the campus of the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina. [nd]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Sponsored by the Home Economics Club, this map of the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina was drawn by Emma Lee Aderholt “and assistants.” Its scale is indicated by an inchworm saying, “I'm measuring as fast as I can,” a bow to the stereotypically masculine domains of measurements and mathematics. Around the border of the map are illustrations of “then and now” showing how things have changed since the college was founded—where women once rode horses to college, they now travel by automobile, train, boat, or airplane. A scene showing women in caps and gowns notes that their graduation day will be a sad one. The colorful, detailed images show both a sense of humor and a deep attachment to alma mater.

In contrast, the Ethel M. Fair and the Muriel H. Parry collections are large, with well over eight hundred maps in each. A detailed online finding aid exists for the Ethel Fair Collection. The unpublished inventory for the Parry Collection provides information about each individual map.

Both Fair and Parry collected pictorial maps, and both collections include a large number of maps made by women. A fascinating aspect of the maps in these collections is the way they convey cartographic information from the point of view of the women who made them. Several maps show women's college campuses—gender-specific space—and interpret the features of the area, often in great detail.

There are also large numbers of historical thematic pictorial maps in the two collections. A Map of Exploration in the Spanish Southwest, 1528 to 1793, compiled by Joseph J. Hill (Fair Collection no. C654) depicts the route taken by the Anza party, which traveled overland from Tubac, then in the Mexican province of Sonora, to California in 1775.

Few original contemporary maps match the degree of detailed information about historical events presented in thematic maps based on primary source material. Frequent use of thematic maps in educational settings, particularly in elementary schools where a majority of the teachers were women, may explain why so many of these maps have been created and collected by women.

The Mary J. Webb Collection acquired in 1941, consists primarily of maps that were traced from original surveys in an effort to establish property rights to early Texas land grants. Copied in the early years of the twentieth century, the maps are listed and described in an unpublished finding aid, which in most cases names the original map sources.

The Janet Green Collection, given to the Library of Congress by her estate, is a magnificent collection of maps, many of which are both old and rare. It reflects Green's collecting interests, which spanned the globe and included maps from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. She was particularly interested in rare historic maps of Virginia. A cross-referenced finding aid arranged by call number of the individual maps in the collection and author is available for use in the division's reading room.

Print Materials Referenced