Information about women's health and women's involvement in the medical profession may be found in a variety of manuscript collections, including such familiar sources as women's diaries, family correspondence, and the papers of medical practitioners and also in some unexpected places, including, for example, the papers of public relations executive Edward L. Bernays.
Some of these collections may be located by searching the manuscript records in the Library of Congress Online Catalog for likely subject headings such as: Physicians, Nurses, Medicine, Hygiene, and Psychoanalysts.
Other sources can be discovered only by plowing through hundreds of collections of family correspondence and diaries in which the writers unfailingly describe pregnancies, childbirth, illnesses, diseases, and medical treatments that they or members of their families experienced. Unearthing these latter sources requires a definite commitment of time and energy on the part of the researcher. A few examples illustrating the range of the division's holdings include the following:
These examples intend to show that by their very nature, collections of personal manuscripts contain a wealth of information about the health and well-being of the individuals and families featured in the papers. They also reflect the important role women have traditionally held in caring for the sick and elderly in America.
With the rise of the women's rights movement in the nineteenth century and greater wartime demands for their services, women's socially sanctioned role as family nurse-maids evolved into greater professional opportunities and medical training. The Library's manuscript collections document this development of women's medical careers beginning with Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell in the 1850s to Clara Barton and other women during the Civil War to the establishment of the Red Cross and the role its nurses played in World War I through the rise in public health nursing and the emergence of Margaret Sanger and others involved in various aspects of women's reproductive health. The papers of male doctors and of men and women active in mental health professions round out the division's holdings in medicine.
The following "Health & Medicine" collections are highlighted in these sections of the guide:
The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.