Skip to main content

American Women: Rare Books and Special Collections

Reform Efforts

Women Changemakers

Anti-slavery fair. It is proposed by women of the Massachusetts anti-slavery society to hold a fair in aid of the treasury, some time in the month of October next, in the city of Boston ... [n. p. n. d.]. [ca. 1835]. Printed Ephemera Collection. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Women's participation in all the major reform movements may be traced through an abundance of material in the division, chiefly from the nineteenth century, in a variety of formats, including magazines and newspapers, books, pamphlets, scrapbooks, and broadsides, many of which complement collections of personal papers held in the Manuscript Division.

Playing a significant role in the antislavery movement, women developed skills and expertise that they would apply to other reform efforts. Lydia Maria Child's Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (Boston: Allen and Ticknor, 1833; E449.C53) not only presents the first comprehensive synthesis of facts and arguments refuting myths of black intellectual inferiority but also is credited with bringing many women into the antislavery movement and broadening the male leadership.

Angelina Grimké (1805-1879), who had freed her slaves and left the South, became an abolitionist lecturer and organizer. Her Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (New York, American Anti-Slavery Society, 1836; E185 .A254 G:117 Afr Am Pam) is extremely rare because so many of the copies were destroyed by Southern postmasters.

Women's innovative organizational efforts can be followed in reports of the Proceedings of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women (Philadelphia: 1837-39: E449.A621/E449.A6234/ E449.A6235) , an early attempt at interracial cooperation. Maria Weston Chapman (1806-1885), who was active in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and American Anti-Slavery Society, organized antislavery fairs and edited the first successful antislavery annual gift book, The Liberty Bell (Boston: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839-58; E449.L69) , to raise funds for the cause.

Susan B. Anthony Collection

[Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing, three-quarter length portrait]. [between 1880 and 1902]. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The Susan B. Anthony Collection includes printed speeches, pamphlets, convention proceedings, serials, and scrapbooks that document the formative years of the suffrage movement and complement the personal papers held in the Manuscript Division. Particularly illuminating is Anthony's annotated copy of An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the Charge of Illegal Voting, at the Presidential Election in Nov. 1872 (Rochester, N.Y., 1874; JK1899.A6 A5 Anthony Coll), which documents Anthony's efforts to test the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as to whether it guaranteed universal suffrage.

The collection is of interest both to those investigating the history of the movement and those interested in Anthony herself. Anthony's scrapbooks are particularly significant as they chronicle the history and progress of the suffrage movement and demonstrate the gradual change in public opinion from 1848 to 1900 through newspaper clippings, programs, trial reports, letters, and memorabilia. Thirty-three volumes of Anthony's scrapbooks, as well as one volume compiled by her sister, Mary Anthony, are also available on microfilm (Microfilm 42106 MicRR).

Many of Anthony's 272 books are inscribed to her by the author or donor and later by her to the Library of Congress. Her inscriptions highlight the importance of the book in her life and work. For example, Anthony's copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh (New York and Boston: C.S. Francis & Co., 1857; PR4185.A1 1857a Anthony Coll), celebrating a woman's choice of career over marriage, was given to her by her mother. Anthony notes that she had carried it about in her satchel, read and reread it, and “always cherished it above all other books.”

Anthony's inscriptions include comments about her niece and “right hand” assistant Rachel Foster Avery, as well as Lydia Maria Child, Paulina Davis, Frances Ellen Harper, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. Elizabeth Cady Stanton inscribed her autobiography, Eighty Years and More (New York: European Publishing Co., 1898; JK1899.S7 A3 c. 3 Anthony Coll) , to Anthony in a bold hand: “We cement our friendship of half a century with an exchange of our autobiographies . . . 1899.”

Accessing the Susan B. Anthony Papers Collection

The papers of reformer and suffragist Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) span the period 1846-1934 with the bulk of the material dating from 1846 to 1906. The collection, consisting of approximately 500 items (6,265 images) on seven recently digitized microfilm reels, includes correspondence, diaries, a daybook, scrapbooks, speeches, and miscellaneous items.

National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Collection

Constitution of the National Woman Suffrage Association. 1883. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division

The reference library of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was donated to the Library in 1938 by the organization's last president, Carrie Chapman Catt. (Note: The association's records and Catt's personal papers are in the Manuscript Division.)

The nearly 1,000 titles in the NAWSA library include books, pamphlets, serials, convention proceedings, and scrapbooks, some formerly owned by Susan B. Anthony, Alice Stone Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, Mary A. Livermore, Elizabeth Smith Miller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and other suffrage leaders.

The original arrangement of the NAWSA Collection has been retained, divided into sixteen sections under one classification number: JK1881.N357.

Although primarily documenting the suffrage movement from the point of view of the white middle- and upper-class leadership, it has sections on working women and on prostitution. Biographies of women of various nationalities and time periods, and literary works by and about women are also well represented. The suffrage movement in England, particularly the work of the Women's Social and Political Union, is also covered.

Many of the individual books in this collection are not unique to the Library of Congress or other libraries that collect in the field of women's history. As with the Anthony Collection, the NAWSA Collection is of particular interest when studied as a whole, as the reference library of one of the leading suffrage organizations in the country. Provenance is an important aspect of its value to scholars. There are many editions and copies of Stanton's Woman's Bible in the Library, but this collection holds Catt's personal copy, inscribed by Stanton, which has bound with it a rare Stanton pamphlet, Bible and Church Degrade Woman (Chicago: H. L. Green, [1898]; JK1881.N357 sec.5, no. 25 NAWSA). (See also Stanton's handwritten draft of the Woman's Bible in the Manuscript Division.)

The NAWSA library also includes Lucy Stone's personal copy of Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century (Boston: Jewett & Co., 1855; JK1881.N357 sec. 1, no. 162 NAWSA), some very rare early suffrage pamphlets, and a typescript of Maud Wood Park's (1871-1955) “Front Door Lobby,” which describes the NAWSA Congressional Committee's efforts during the last push to get the federal suffrage amendment adopted.

Accessing the NAWSA Collection

The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Collection is a library of nearly 800 books and pamphlets documenting the suffrage campaign that were collected between 1890 and 1938 by members of NAWSA and donated to the Rare Books Division of the Library of Congress on November 1, 1938. The collection consists of a variety of materials including newspapers, books, pamphlets, memorials, scrapbooks, and proceedings from the meetings of various women's organizations that document the suffrage fight. A selection of 1,930 items from this collection is available online:

Catalog records for items in the NAWSA collection are accessible in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Beyond searching for specific pieces by author, title, or subject heading, each bibliographical record contains the name of the collection as part of the Call No. (NAWSA Coll).

Women's Education

Chauncey M. Depew. Emma Willard, pioneer of the higher education of women, founder of the Troy female seminary. Extract from the address of the Hon. Chauncey M. Depew at the dedication of Russell Sage Hall of the "Emma Willard" School, Troy, N. Y. 1895. Printed Ephemera Collection. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Progress in the education of girls and women can be studied in a variety of the division's collections.

Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) was one of the most powerful and prolific early advocates of improved educational opportunities for females of all ages. In her first published essay, “Desultory Thoughts upon the Utility of Encouraging a Degree of Self-Complacency, Especially in Female Bosoms,” which appeared in the October 1784 issue of the Gentleman and Lady's Town and Country Magazine (Boston, 1784; AP2.A2 G3) , Murray, writing as “Constantia,” argues for better education for girls in order to encourage their achievement and self-respect. In addition to poetry, drama, and extensive correspondence, Murray wrote eloquent essays, as “Constantia” and “The Gleaner,” for the Massachusetts Magazine advocating women's equality at home and in employment and religious independence as manifest in Universalism.

On the threshold of a lifetime of self-education, Murray at sixteen had declared The Oeconomy of Human Life to be the best book ever written. Murray's interest in this popular work on conduct apparently was shared by First Lady Martha Washington, whose inscribed 1790 Philadelphia edition (BJ1561.D6 1790 Carson Coll) was collected by Marian S. Carson along with two other earlier editions. Carson further showed her interests in women and education by acquiring several textbooks written for young ladies, reports of girls schools, and advice books and guides to conduct.

Of special note are Milcah Martha Moore's Miscellanies, Moral and Instructive (Philadelphia: Joseph Crukshank, 1793; PE1120.M55 1793 Carson Coll) , which was reprinted at least fifteen times during the author's lifetime, and an extremely rare copy of a history of the first Philadelphia charter school for girls, The Rise and Progress of the Young Ladies' Academy of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Stewart & Cochran, 1794; LC1421.R57 1794 Carson Coll) . This school history complements two related essays on education. In Thoughts on Education (Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1787; LB41 .S93 Franklin Coll) , John Swanwick, a “Visitor” of the Academy, proposes that all useful and ornamental branches of knowledge, including languages, mathematics, science, and instrumental music, be included in the curriculum. James A. Neal's An Essay on the Education and Genius of the Female Sex (Philadelphia: J. Johnson, 1795; LC1421 .N4 Am Imp) is published with an account of the 1794 commencement ceremonies of the academy. Other early works on the education of girls are classified in LC1421.

Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870) proposed a plan for improving female education with state funding in An Address to the Public (Middlebury, Vt.: J. W. Copeland, 1819; LC1756.W6) . This address and other relevant lectures and proposals may be located under the subject heading “Women—Education,” as well as the older heading, “Education of women.” Willard was a leader in teacher education at her Troy, New York, school and in Europe. She also wrote textbooks on history and geography and scientific treatises on respiration.

Native American Women & Education

Some understanding of the education of Native American women may be gleaned from reports of training at Eleazar Wheelock's Indian Charity School in Connecticut in A Continuation of the Narrative of the Indian Charity-School (London: J. and W. Oliver, 1769; E97.6.M569) . More than a century later, the mission work of various Catholic sisterhoods in schools, hospitals, and orphanages throughout the United States is described in Mission Work among the Negroes and the Indians (Baltimore: Foley Bros., 1893; E185 .A254 container M, no.195 Afr Am Pam).

In a government report on education of Indians at Hampton Institute (Senate Ex. Doc. no. 31; E97.6.H3 L38 1892) , 205 girls and women are described and some are photographed doing various tasks or with their families. Then and Now at Hampton Institute, 1868-1902 (Hampton, Va: Hampton Institute Press, 1902; E449.D16 vol. 16, no. 11 Murray Pam) also includes photographs of female Indian students, as well as a listing of graduates and their careers.

African American Women & Education

Contrasts in educational opportunities available to black girls are evident by sampling other titles in the Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection. Catalogue of Pupils of Saint Frances' Academy for Colored Girls (Baltimore: John Murphy & Co., 1868; E449.D16 vol. 23, no. 21 Murray Pam) offers courses in French, embroidery in silk, tufted work, wax flower and fruit work, music, and painting, in addition to religious training, history, arithmetic, geography, and writing. More typical is the Annual Report of the Colored Industrial Training School (Spartanburg, S.C., 1892; E449.D16 vol. 18, no. 7 Murray Pam), which lists ninety-eight girls receiving training in cooking, sewing, and general housekeeping. High praise for the success of nursing programs at Hampton and Spelman is offered by A Report Concerning the Colored Women of the South (Baltimore, 1896; E449.D16 vol. 22, no. 1 Murray Pam).

A cooking class in 1880. Then and now at Hampton Institute, 1868-1902. [Hampton : Hampton Institute Press, 1902]. Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
Annual report of the Colored Industrial Training School, ending May 20, 1892, Spartanburg, South Carolina.. Spartanburg, S.C. : Press of Warren Du Pre, Bookseller, Stationer and Printer, [1892]. Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
Emily Ford sketch of working girl viewing posted sign "Factory Acts Regulation for Women" with caption "They have a cheek. I've never been asked." Suffrage Postcard. 1908. Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911; Scrapbook 9 (1910-1911). Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Working Women & their Rights

A glimpse of the variety of work available to women is offered in Life in New York, In Doors and Out of Doors (New York: Bunce & Brother, 1851; HD6096.N6 B8) through forty engravings accompanied by profile stories. The tedious suffering of the needlewoman is contrasted with the pleasant surroundings of the shop woman. Most descriptions discuss actual tasks, working conditions, and wages. Teaching and nursing are praised and jobs related to printing are encouraged, whereas corset makers are chided for bringing misery to other women. Tasks performed by poor girls, including fruit vending and ash picking, are described by Emma Brown and illustrated by Katherine Peirson in The Child Toilers of Boston Streets (Boston: D. Lothrop & Co, 1879; HD2350.U5 B72) .

Lucy Stone's copy of Caroline Dall's Woman's Right to Labor (Boston: Walker, Wise, and Co., 1860; JK1881.N357 sec. 9: 20 NAWSA) and the memorial edition of her The College, the Market, and the Court; or Woman's Relation to Education, Labor, and Law (Boston: Rumford Press, 1914; JK1881.N357 sec. 9: 22 NAWSA) are among the labor works gathered in the NAWSA Collection. Here also are several works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, including Women and Economics (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1898; JK1881 .N357 sec. 6: 20 NAWSA) , as well as Alice Henry's Trade Union Woman (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1915; JK1881 .N357 sec. 3: 9 NAWSA) and a complete set of the Bulletin of the Women's Bureau of the Labor Department (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1919-37; JK 1881 .N357 sec. 3: 27-34 NAWSA).

Hannah Mather Crocker. Observations on the Real Rights of Women, with their Appropriate Duties. 1818. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

The Division also holds a copy of Observations on the Real Rights of Women, with their Appropriate Duties by Hannah Mather Crocker (Boston: Printed for the author. 1818; HQ1423 .C9) the first book on women's rights published by an American. It is a landmark work of feminist philosophy and American political thought. The work can be compared in importance to Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London, 1792), both in terms of its genre (the traditionally masculine philosophical treatise) and its politics (engaging the controversial question of women's rights in the post-revolutionary era). The book is also important because of its rarity, with only a few known repositories registering it in their collections.

Loading ...