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American Women: Resources from the Performing Arts Collections

Collection Overview

The Music Division has custody of all material in class M (Library of Congress Classification), music copyright deposits, and special collections in music, theater, and dance. The class M holdings are organized according to the three major subdivisions:

  • Class M -- music scores
  • Class ML -- literature about music
  • Class MT -- works on musical instruction and study

Class MT is a relatively small class and contains books on music education and pedagogy, theory instruction, and musical analyses. Most books dealing with the topic of women and music will be found in class ML: biographies and published letters of women musicians, histories of women in music, and musicological gender studies.

Library of Congress Online Catalog

The Library of Congress Online Catalog offers you an opportunity to search our collections for specific titles and authors/composers, or to browse our holdings via subject headings. 

Tip: Add Limits

To refine your search and locate materials in the custody of the Music Division, make sure to "Add Limits" below the search box and, under the "Location in the Library" menu, select "Performing Arts." Adding this limit should yield results for materials served in the Performing Arts Reading Room (and should eliminate materials served in the Recorded Sound Reference Center or the American Folklife Center, for example).

Tip: Browse Subject Headings

Subject headings are essentially tags in online catalog records that allow researchers to browse related material (perhaps if you don't have a specific title or composer/author in mind). To browse via subject headings, start a "Browse" search in the online catalog, select "SUBJECTS containing" from the drop-down menu, and enter words such as "women" and "music" together in the search bar. You will discover hundreds of subject headings related to women in music or music by/about women.

Classified-only Scores

The most important thing to remember when searching for music scores is that the online catalog contain records for a relatively small percentage of the Music Division's holdings. Most of the sheet music in the collection is classified only (assigned a classification number but not cataloged) or it is filed by its copyright registration number. To request a search for music by a woman that is not found in the catalogs, submit an email via Ask A Librarian and provide a composer's name as well as a description or genre of the kind of music sought. A reference librarian will then determine the appropriate call number and help you locate the music in question. The researcher interested in the song repertoire of Gena Branscombe, for example, would search for scores under the call number M1621.B, where M1621 denotes scores of solo songs with piano accompaniment and .B relates to the composer's surname. Such a search, specifying “all” or “everything” instead of a distinctive title, would retrieve all the songs by Gena Branscombe classified under this number.

Copyright Deposits

Music copyright deposits are shelved by their copyright registration number. Those that predate 1978 are stored offsite and require advance notice to retrieve. Bibliographic access to this material is through the catalogs of the Copyright Office. These catalogs are arranged in chronological segments by year of copyright registration: 1870-1897, 1898-1937, 1938-1945, 1946-1954, 1955-1970, and 1971-1977. Entries are filed by title and claimant, which may be the composer or the publisher. The catalogs do not follow library filing rules, nor do they always allow for multiple access points through added entries. Researchers must be diligent in looking under every possible name or title in every possible time period related to their query.

Researchers are able to access digitized copyright catalogs via the following links:

Special Collections

The Music Division is home to over 500 special collections in Music, Theater, and Dance. For more information about the Music Division's special collections and how women figure prominently in them, see the Special Collections section of this guide.

For a complete listing of all special collections in the Music Division, or to search across all of the Library's processed special collections using the Finding Aids database, use the links below: