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American Women: Rare Books and Special Collections

Literary Works

Helen Hunt Jackson. The Procession of Flowers in Colorado. 1886. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

American literature holdings in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division are far from comprehensive, as most late nineteenth- and twentieth-century works remain in the General Collections, but there is sufficient unique material to merit attention.

The division routinely collects current copyright deposits of nearly eighty contemporary American women writers. For certain works by contemporary women writers and artists the Library's only copies are found in the Press Collection or the Artists' Books Collection.

Press and Artist Books

Susan E. King's Women and Cars (Los Angeles: Paradise Press, 1983; N7433.5.K56 A4 1983 Artists' Bks) and her Georgia (Los Angeles: Paradise Press, 1981; PS3561.I4834 G46 1981 Press) are in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division only and five of Johanna Drucker's works are found only in the Artists' Books Collection.

Three of Sylvia Plath's works, including The Green Rock (Ely: Embers Handpress, 1982; PS3566.L27 G7 1982 Press), are found only in the Press Collection, as is Arthur Miller's Homely Girl (New York: Peter Blum, 1992; PS3525.I5156 H66 1992 Press), with etchings by Louise Bourgeois.

Works found in these collections are often published in limited editions, sometimes numbering as few as ten, and with unusual artwork or bindings.

Earlier Women Writers

Significant holdings by a number of earlier writers include works by Laura Benet, Elizabeth Bishop, Alice Brown, Pearl S. Buck, Alice Carey, Emily Dickinson, Edna Ferber, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ellen Glasgow, Louise Imogen Guiney, Sarah Josepha Hale, Lorraine Hansberry, Lillian Hellman, Zora Neale Hurston, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Mitchell, Marianne Moore, Margaret Bayard Smith, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, and Edith Wharton.

Some of these were acquired as part of special collections like the Oliver Wendell Holmes Collection and the Finkelstein Collection. Others are particularly interesting because of inscriptions, unusual provenance, or special illustrations.

Women Writers and Artists

  • A unique extra-illustrated copy of Helen Hunt Jackson's The Procession of Flowers in Colorado (Boston: Roberts Brother, 1886; QK150.J12 1888) has six spectacular full-page watercolors of Colorado wildflowers in addition to the twelve in-text marginal watercolors and a tailpiece. Original artwork by Jackson's good friend Alice Stewart delayed actual publication of this limited edition of 100 copies for two years.
  • A number of the novels of Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) are in bindings designed by her friend Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), one of Houghton Mifflin's most respected designers. In particularly good condition are five in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Collection: Country of the Pointed Firs (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1896; PS2132.C64 1896 c. 3 Holmes), Deephaven (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1894; PS2132.D4 1894 Holmes), Life of Nancy (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1895; PS2132.L55 1895 Holmes), The Queen's Twin (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1899; PS2132.Q4 Holmes), and Tales of New England (London: R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., 1893; PS2132.T34 1893 Holmes) and Lost Lady (New York: Knopf, 1926; PS3505.A87 L6 1923 c. 2) have signed inscriptions by the author, expressing her admiration for Marian MacDowell, who supported Cather's writing.
  • Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944), was an American graphic artist and author and a preeminent designer of decorated cloth publishers’ bindings from 1890 to 1913. Her stylized designs, stamped in bold, contrasting colors and enhanced with gold and silver leaf, have exceptional visual appeal. Armstrong developed her own distinctive lettering and was known for her groundbreaking integration of type and image. She designed for major authors, including the Brownings, George Du Maurier, Paul Dunbar, Washington Irving, Henry Thoreau, Henry Van Dyke, and John Greenleaf Whittier, often creating sets of complimentary covers that identified particular authors. Between 1899 and 1913 Armstrong created covers for fourteen popular romance novels by Myrtle Reed and designed for other late nineteenth-century women writers. Margaret or her sister Helen Maitland Armstrong provided interior border designs for many of the books. As printed dust jackets displaced decorative bindings after 1910, Armstrong began a second career, compiling and illustrating her seminal handbook, Western Wildflowers, and later writing two biographies and three detective novels. The Library of Congress purchased a selection of her book bindings in 2008. The Margaret Armstrong Collection contains nearly 200 examples of these beautiful decorative bindings.
  • The Louise Imogen Guiney Collection contains approximately 95 late nineteenth-century works by this American poet and essayist.