Skip to Main Content

American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections


Arnold Genthe, photographer. Portrait photograph of Edna St. Vincent Millay. From a negative dated 1914. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Joining the division's ranks of novelists and playwrights are several important women poets, foremost among them Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) and Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), both of whom were as well known for their political activities as for their literary achievements.

The Library first began acquiring Edna St. Vincent Millay's papers (32,625 items; 1892-1963; bulk 1921-44) shortly after the Pulitzer Prize-winner's death in 1950. Included are the original manuscript for Millay's long poem “Renascence,” which brought the young poet her first public acclaim in 1912; correspondence from numerous friends and associates such as Sara Teasdale, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Vita Sackville-West; and items relating to Millay's protest of the 1927 trial and execution of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, her defense of civil liberties, and her concern for the rise of totalitarianism in the 1930s. Also included in the collection are papers of Millay's husband, Eugen van Boissevain, and of his first wife, attorney and prominent suffragist Inez Milholland.

Muriel Rukeyser followed in Millay's footsteps —from Vassar College to a lifetime of liberal and humanitarian causes. In 1932, she covered for the proletarian Student Review the controversial second trial of the Scottsboro Boys (nine black teenagers wrongly convicted of raping two white women) and was arrested after associating with black reporters during the proceedings. With the publication of Rukeyser's first volume of poetry in 1935, Louis Untermeyer hailed her as “the most inventive and challenging poet” of her generation. She later wrote about the Spanish civil war, published a disturbing account of West Virginia miners dying of silicosis, and in the 1950s to 1970s lent her name in support of dissident Korean poet Kim Chi Ha, anti-Vietnam War protests, and the emerging women's movement. Her large collection (30,000 items; 1882-1980; bulk 1936-79) includes literary and political files as well as correspondence with family and friends such as Elizabeth Bishop, Carson McCullers, Marianne Moore, Katherine Anne Porter, May Sarton, and Alice Walker.

Other women poets whose papers are in the division include Elisabeth DuPuy (200 items; 1895-1928), Louise Imogen Guiney (1,500 items; 1884-1916), Louise Chandler Moulton (9,000 items; 1852-1908), and Anne Porter (1,200 items; 1911-2014).

Collections of male poets should also be consulted when searching for women's history resources. For example, poet and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish (20,000 items; 1907-81; 1925-70) corresponded with some of the most important literary and political women of the twentieth century, including Mary McLeod Bethune, Pearl S. Buck, Helen Hayes, Dorothy Parker, and Irita Van Doren.

Leading women writers and editors are also represented in the papers of poet and psychiatrist Merrill Moore (131,750 items;1904-79; bulk 1928-57) and poet Karl Jay Shapiro (2,300 items; 1939-68).

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.