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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections


Few eighteenth- or early-nineteenth-century women writers are represented in the Manuscript Division's holdings. One exception is historian, poet, and playwright Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), whose pioneering account of the History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805) may be read in the original longhand draft (7 volumes; 1801-05) held by the division.

Nineteenth-century novelist Constance Cary Harrison (1843-1920), the wife of Jefferson Davis's private secretary, wrote satires about southern and New York society. Her papers, part of the Burton Norvell Harrison Family collection (18,600 items; 1812-1926; bulk 1913-21), contain diaries, manuscripts of writings—including her autobiography Recollections Grave and Gay (1911) —and correspondence with Varina Howell Davis, Lady Fairfax, Minnie Maddern Fiske, Louise Chandler Moulton, and others.

Popular novelist Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte [E.D.E.N.] Southworth (1819-1899), whose books are replete with tales of abandoned and mistreated women, is represented by a small collection of papers (500 items; 1870-1918; bulk 1890-99) consisting principally of letters she wrote to her daughter, Charlotte Southworth Lawrence, during the last decade of her life.

Ben Pinchot, photographer. Ayn Rand, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left. 1930. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Among the division's twentieth-century literary holdings are the papers of prolific novelist Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton (1857-1948), consisting of correspondence and manuscripts (35 items; 1889-1943) of her books The Jealous Gods (1928), Golden Peacock (1936), and The Horn of Life (1942).

The papers of Peter Marshall, a Presbyterian clergyman and Senate chaplain (10,000 items; 1933-61), contain the writings of his wife Catherine Marshall (1914-1983), including her most famous book, A Man Called Peter (1951), which was turned into a motion picture.

Shirley Jackson (1919-1965), a writer whose short stories frequently focused on witchcraft, the occult, and abnormal psychology, is perhaps best known for a macabre story about a community's yearly ritual of selecting a person to be brutally stoned to death. Drafts of “The Lottery” are among Jackson's papers (7,400 items; 1932-70), which also contain diaries, letters, and files on the vaguely autobiographical works Life among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), in which she presents a humorous albeit strange account of raising children, cleaning house, and cooking meals in a disordered suburban environment. Other Jackson items are in the papers of her husband, literary critic and educator Stanley Edgar Hyman (14,000 items; 1932-78).

Few American women novelists have generated as much controversy as Russian expatriate Ayn Rand (1905-1982), proponent of “objectivism,” a philosophy that embraced “rational self-interest” and rejected altruism, religion, and communism as “incompatible with a free society.” Drafts of four novels—We the Living (1936), Anthem (1938), The Fountainhead (1943), and Atlas Shrugged (1957)—together with a small amount of material pertaining to Rand's newsletter (150 items; 1933-76; bulk 1933-59) form the nucleus of her papers.

Small collections also exist for women novelists Marcia Davenport (4,000 items; 1932-70), Margaret Landon (6 items; 1944), Anne Morrow Lindbergh (25 items; 1943), Ann Petry (15 items; 1973-78), and Elizabeth Madox Roberts (500 items; 1921-41).

Collections of male novelists are also rich sources of information for women's historians.

Layne's Studio (New York, N.Y.), photographer. Ralph and Fanny McConnell Ellison smile at each other as Fanny holds a stack of "The Invisible Man". Circa 1952. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
  • Women writers Gertrude Atherton, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Edith Wharton corresponded with western novelist Owen Wister, whose papers (26,130 items; 1829-1966) also include those of his grandmother, actress Fanny Kemble (1809-1893); his mother, author Sarah Butler Wister (1835-1908), who wrote Worthy Women of Our First Century (1877); and his wife, civic reformer Mary Channing Wister (1869-1913).
  • Leading women writers are also represented in the papers of crime fiction novelist and screenwriter James M. Cain (30,000 items; 1901-78; bulk 1925-78). In addition, Cain's papers contain letters of his wives, including his third wife, silent-screen movie star Aileen Pringle (1895-1989), and his fourth wife, opera singer Florence Macbeth Cain (1891-1966).
  • Among the male novelists who worked for the Federal Writers Project was the future National Book Award-winner Ralph Ellison, author of the now-classic Invisible Man (1952), whose personal papers (46,100 items; 1890-1996; bulk 1933-90) are held by the Library. They include the papers of his wife, Fanny McConnell Ellison (b. 1912), pertaining to her work for the American Medical Center for Burma and her contributions as one of the founders of the Negro People's Theatre in Chicago.

Manuscript Resources Referenced

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.