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American Women: Resources from the Moving Image Collections

Television

Donna Reed, as Donna Stone, and Patty Petersen, as her daughter, Trish Stone, in the television show "The Donna Reed Show". [Between 1958 and 1966]. Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.

In 1950 only 9 percent of American households had a television set, but by 1960 the figure had reached 90 percent. Despite the ubiquity of television in American life, serious study of television, its history, and its effects is comparatively new. Whereas film studies literature is rich in the area of gender-related issues, only a fraction of such scholarship can be found for television. The collections at the Library of Congress provide ample opportunities for researchers who wish to fill this gap in the literature.

The Library's television selection practices have been uneven through the years. Browsing through Three Decades of Television: A Catalog of Television Programs Acquired by the Library of Congress, 1949-1979 (see Using the Moving Image Collections in this guide), the researcher will find only a handful of episodes listed for I Love Lucy (1951-1957), Our Miss Brooks (1952-1956), Oh! Susanna (1956-1959), and The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966). As the commercial potential for older series was realized, however, many programs were deposited for copyright years after their initial broadcast. For example, thirty-five episodes of Oh! Susanna/The Gale Storm Show were registered for copyright in 1987 and selected for the archive. In 1982, a similar number of episodes of I Love Lucy were received as gifts.

Women on the Screen

As with motion pictures, television programs of all types can be invaluable resources in examining the spectrum of issues relating to women.  Linked programs below provide fuller bibliographic information from the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Researchers may be particularly interested in the division's sizable holdings of sitcoms featuring central female characters, such as:
Petticoat Junction (1963-70) I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70) That Girl (1966-71)
Julia (1968-71) The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) Maude (1972-78)
One Day at a Time (1975-84) Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-77) Laverne and Shirley (1976-83)
Facts of Life (1979-88) Designing Women (1986-93) Roseanne (1988-97)
Murphy Brown (1988-98) All American Girl (1994-95) Cybill (1995-98)
Moesha (1996-2001) Ally McBeal (1997-2002) Sex and the City (1998-2004)
Weekly dramatic series with leading female roles in the division's copyright collection include:
Peyton Place (1964-69) The Big Valley (1965-69) Little House on the Prairie (1974-82)
Police Woman (1974-78) Charlie's Angels (1976-81) Wonder Woman (1976-79)
Family (1976-80) Dynasty (1981-89) Cagney and Lacey (1982-88)
Sisters (1990-96) My So Called Life (1994-95) Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)
Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) Providence (1999-2002)  

Dozens of made-for-television movies deal with social, medical, and political problems that were once the realm of feature films. Civil rights, battered wives, and incest are explored, respectively, in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), The Burning Bed (1984), and Something about Amelia (1984). Breast cancer is the subject of First You Cry (1981, VBD 6577-6578) and abortion is the focus of Roe vs. Wade (1989). Alcohol and substance abuse are treated in The Betty Ford Story (1987).

Daytime programming received through copyright deposit includes two episodes of Home (additional kinescope episodes of which are found in the NBC Collection), a series aimed at the American housewife. Designed as an extension of the Today ShowHome (1954-57) offers coverage of fashion and beauty, food, gardening, home repair, and family affairs.

The Library holds thirteen episodes of the syndicated talk show For You . . . Black Woman (1977-78), centering on the interests and concerns of African American women. Three Decades of Television, published by the Library of Congress in 1989, lists only a handful of daytime game shows and soap operas, including a single program each of The Hidden Treasure Show (1957), Another World (1978), and The Doctors (1978).

During the early 1980s, however, copyright deposit holdings of soap operas increased dramatically with the selections of significant runs of All My ChildrenGeneral HospitalOne Life to Live, and Ryan's Hope.

Reni Newsphotos, Inc. Meet the Press with Patricia Roberts Harris. 1971. Lawrence E. Spivak Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The division's holdings of television news and documentary programming are of special interest to historians of women's place in America. Wide Wide World: A Woman's Story (1957) features a discussion of the role of women in American society, politics, and the arts with Helen Keller, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Margaret Mead, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson, and author Kathryn Hulme. Woman! (1959-1960), a loosely organized series of documentaries, analyzes different issues of importance to the modern woman. Episodes in the collection include "Do They Marry Too Young?" (FCA 3804-3805), "Is the American Woman Losing Her Femininity?" (FCA 1620-1621), and "The Lonely Years" (FCA 3806-3807).

Television responded to women's changing concerns. The emerging women's liberation movement in America, for instance, was examined in The American Woman in the 20th Century (1963, FDA 3698), showing the expanding roles of women in the United States. A few years later this issue was revisited in the CBS News Special: An Essay on Women (1967, FCA 5202). Now: Women's Liberation (1970, FBB 1050) compares and contrasts various groups within the women's liberation movement. The American Parade: We, the Women (1974, FBB 2551-2552) surveys the position of women in American history beginning with the settlers and continuing to the debate concerning the Equal Rights Amendment. Woman Alive! (1974, VDA 0045) profiles the feminist movement, and NBC News Special Report: Women like Us (1979) examines the options available to American women. After the movement made serious strides in the United States, it was time to consider what it all meant to men. In 1981, the new CBS daytime program Up to the Minute dealt with this subject in the five-part The Effects of Feminism on Men (VBC 7848-7852).

The NBC Collection consists of 10,000 programs, mostly in the form of kinescopes broadcast between 1948 and 1977. Highlights of the collection featuring women include scattered holdings of Today with Mrs. Roosevelt (1950-51), The Dinah Shore Show (1951-62), Home (1954-57), Miss America Pageant (1967-78), Modern Romances (1954-58), Queen for a Day (1956-60), Purex Specials for Women (1960-63), and The Shari Lewis Show (1960-63). Also covered are daytime programs for the early years of television not well represented in the copyright collection, such as game shows, soap operas, and children 's shows.

The NET collections (National Educational Television, the precursor to PBS), acquired at different times and from different sources, comprise 16mm prints of some 550 titles, preprint materials for approximately 10,000 programs, and 8,500 master films and videotapes. The Library continues to acquire a broad range of public television through PBS's ongoing gift of programs. At this time, the division has received approximately 24,000 master videotapes and 16mm films. Public-television programs broadcast during the 1960s and 1970s that were aimed at a female audience include Erica on needlepoint and quilting, Exploring the Crafts, Sewing Skills, Woman, and Parent Effectiveness. The French Chef, International Cookbook, Joyce Chen Cooks, and Vegetable Soup focus on food and cooking. The majority of these collections consist of kinescopes, preprint materials, and film and video masters that are not available for screening at this time.

Researchers can find television commercials scattered throughout the division's holdings, as individual copyright deposits—"Vanderbilt Fragrance: A Splendor You Feel" (1984, VBC 5844); in miscellaneous gift collections—"Exquisite Form Bra Television Commercial: Crown Jewel Collection" (195-?, FAA 9523); and in compilations—U.S. Television Commercials Festival: 1972 Awards (FDA 2763). Others are included as a part of television programs. Omnibus, for instance, includes commercials shown during the programs for the Scott Paper Company, Kelvinator appliances, and Norcross Greeting Cards. Since about 1987, commercials have been cataloged in the Library's online catalog beginning with the generic term “[Television commercial--],” followed by the name of the product or sponsor and, when known, the title of the commercial.

The Karr Collection, 1,928 commercials produced during the 1960s and early 1970s, is rich in representation of American life, often depicting topics and issues that characterize the period, including the women's movement and the sexual revolution. Included are commercials for appliances, girdles, lingerie, silk stockings, support stockings, dolls, baby food, frozen and prepared foods, air fresheners, laundry detergents, mops, pain relievers, hair products, perfumes, cosmetics, and skin-care products. A finding aid to this collection is available on this Research Guide. Finding aids also exist for the Dartmouth College Collection of approximately 500 commercials made by Robert Lawrence Productions during the period from 1952 to 1963 and the Robert R. Gitt Collection of 363 commercials made during the early 1970s. Finding Aids for the Karr, Dartmouth, and Gitt collections are available under Using the Moving Image Collections in this guide. For more information on television commercials, see the Television Commercials Research Guide.

Women Behind the Camera

Lucille Ball, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left]. 1960. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Lucille Ball (1911-1989) is the first name that comes to mind when thinking about women pioneers in television. Unfortunately, she is often the only name that comes to mind. A discussion of the role of women in early television is presented in a thin volume by Cary O'Dell, Women Pioneers in Television: Biographies of Fifteen Industry Leaders (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997). In it O'Dell addresses Ball's outstanding comedic and business achievements, which include co-founding Desilu Productions and becoming the first woman president of a major Hollywood studio. But he also identifies other significant women in the history of television.

Mildred Freed Alberg (1921-1984) began her career as a typist and rose to become executive producer of Hallmark Hall of Fame. Programs produced by Alberg include Macbeth (1954, FDA 9427-9428), Man and Superman (1956), and Little Moon of Alban (1958). Lucy Jarvis (n.d.) is an Emmy award-winning documentary producer of such programs as The Louvre: A Golden Prison (1964, VAB 8158), Who Shall Live? (1965, FDA 0353), and NBC White Paper: Cry Help! (1970, FDA 0755-0756). Lela Swift (n.d.) and Ida Lupino (1918-1995) were among the first few women who directed in television. Swift was the only woman to direct weekly, live, prime-time dramatic anthologies. She moved to daytime soap operas, such as Dark Shadows. Lupino directed westerns, crime shows, dramas, and situation comedies, including The Untouchables: The Man in the Cooler (1963), Mr. Novak: Day in the Year (1964), and Bewitched: A Is for Aardvark (1965). From 1950 to 1954, Lucille Kallen (b. 1925?) was the sole woman writer on Your Show of Shows and she later wrote for the Bell Telephone Hour (episodes of both of these shows may be found by searching the series titles in the Library's online catalog).

These women led the way for the many others who made their careers in television as writers, producers, and directors. Among them are Gloria Monty (General Hospital), Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (Designing Women and Evening Shade), Carol Black (Wonder Years), Marcy Carsey (Roseanne), Diane English (Murphy Brown), Susan Harris (Golden Girls), and Suzanne de Passe (Lonesome Dove).

Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel (n.d.) is a writer, television interviewer and producer, educator, and community activist for cultural affairs. Her interests include architecture, decorative arts, performing arts, and historic preservation, and her collection comprises interview shows and other works that focus on the arts. Women she interviewed between 1976 and 1986 include Betty Comden, Louise Nevelson, Charlotte Curtis, Grace Glueck, Kitty Carlisle, Diane Waldman, Connie Morella, Isabel Bishop, Alice Neel, and Marian McPartland.