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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Images from Organizations' Records

Because images can be so useful for communicating ideas, for advertising products, and for documenting events, structures, and processes, organizations that have nothing to do with image production frequently assemble images in the course of their work. In many cases, pictorial materials that come to the Library's Manuscript Division along with the records of an organization are then transferred to the Prints & Photographs Division for cataloging, housing, and service.

It is important to note, however, that in some instances all or part of the visual material associated with manuscript collections is retained with those collections rather than being transferred.

Group portrait of men and women attending the NAACP sponsored Amenia Conference in Amenia, N.Y., Aug. 24-26, 1916. 1916 Aug. Visual Materials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Records. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

As organizations seldom systematically caption the photographs and other images they collect or produce, such visual materials frequently lack identifying information and are best used in conjunction with manuscript records and secondary sources that might help illuminate the context and content of the images. Nevertheless, these bodies of images can be valuable in gaining a sense of the activities and concerns of an organization and suggesting how members of an organization wished to portray its goals and activities to the public.

Among the Prints and Photographs Division's collections relating to women's organizations are images acquired from the League of Women Voters (more than 250 items, 1890-1935, LOTs 5539-5546). Next to the George Grantham Bain Collection, the League of Women Voters collection provides some of the division's strongest holdings relating to women's suffrage, including news photographs collected by the organization (and, probably, its initial parent body, the National American Woman Suffrage Association) and images prepared for use in promotional materials in the 1920s.

Images from the National Women's Trade Union League of America (NWTUL) (133 items, 1886-1950, LOTs 5793-5799) include:

  • individual and group portraits of officers and members
  • documentation of meetings and conventions
  • images of sites associated with the league
  • photographic copies of images found in periodicals showing women at work, probably used by the NWTUL as illustrative material

Women's participation in organizations focusing on issues affecting males and females alike is suggested by images in the Visual Materials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Records (4,596 items, ca. 1838-1969, bulk 1944-55), which reflect the active role women played in the fight for African American civil rights. The NAACP materials include portraits of officers, images of conferences, documentation of civil rights violations, and portrayals of protest activities. Women's presence in a much earlier organization, the American Colonization Society, is also reflected in images that came from that organization's records.

Lewis Hine, photographer. Heavy loads of garments for home-work. Near Bleeker St., N.Y. 1912 February. National Child Labor Committee Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Images by photographer Lewis Hine, acquired with the National Child Labor Committee Records (5,000 photos, 1908-21; LOTs 7475-7483), focus on work performed by children, including girls, and also include depictions of adult women working in various industries. The photos depict the conditions under which women labored at industrial homework (that is, the manufacturing of garments, flowers, and other items in family living quarters). Although the ethnicity of Hine's subjects is not consistently identified in his captions, he photographed members of several immigrant groups, as well as African Americans, in the work, home, and school settings he covered. His sometimes extensive captions can yield clues not only about the ethnicity of his photo subjects, such as their names, but about the conditions under which they worked, their family circumstances, and Hine's own documentary methods. In some cases, the images correspond to image numbers that Hine cited in written reports found in the Manuscript Division.

As another example, women's participation in--and leadership of--the arts in American is evident in the Visual materials from the MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, N.H.) records. After her husband, Edward's, death in 1908, Marian MacDowell led the artists' colony the couple had founded the year before. The collection includes portraits of the participants and their activities.

Searching the Collections

The principal pointers to groups of images from records of organizations are:

  • References in Manuscript Division finding aids point users of the records to associated visual materials transferred to the Prints & Photographs Division, although occasionally some visual items also remain with the written records.
  • The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog contains records for groups of images from records of organizations and, in some cases, for single items. The latter are generally accompanied by digitized images. For instance, the online catalog includes the following:
    • NAACP records—descriptions of the entire collection, of groups of images organized by subject matter (LOTs) and of single items for which copy negatives or transparencies exist. An online finding aid available through the Library's online finding aids system enables researchers to see detailed information about the entire body of materials in one document.
    • National Child Labor Committee records—a National Child Labor Committee Collection category provides an ability to search catalog records for all the images. The catalog records incorporate the detailed captions that came with the collection. Digitized images accompany the records.

The division has not had an opportunity to organize and describe all materials transferred to it from other divisions. Advance notice is required to view material that is unprocessed because the materials are frequently stored off site and require staff assistance, at least initially, to view. Descriptions of the unprocessed groups can be found in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Further Information

The following links provide access to digitized materials, descriptions of collections (catalog records), finding aids, and other ways to access visual materials from organizations, primarily through the Print and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC).

Collection Descriptions in PPOC

PPOC Search Results for Groups of Visual Materials

Sample Images