Skip to Main Content

American Women: Resources from the Recorded Sound Collections

Radio Collections Featuring Women

Many of the extensive radio collections in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division contain broadcasts featuring American women. The collection descriptions below highlight the contributions that women have made in the field of broadcasting, ranging from the production side to performer/annoucers.

National Broadcasting Company (NBC) Collection

The NBC Radio Collection, one of the largest single collections of broadcast recordings (150,000 discs) in the United States, was donated to the Library in 1978. The collection contains all genres of radio from the early 1930s through the 1980s, including comedy, drama, public affairs, musical variety, sports, news, information, and international shortwave broadcasts. NBC programs can be found in SONIC, which contains more than 68,000 NBC catalog records, and in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Harris & Ewing, photographer. [Congressional children broadcast] Cong. Kids, NBC, Margaret Truman, Annie Laurie Perkin, Martha Polk. 1943. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Because topical access is limited, you should have a fairly good idea beforehand of particular names or NBC programs that interest you. Prior research and advance preparation will save time and make searching the collection easier. Print resources such as log books and an index card catalog created by NBC are available in the Recorded Sound Research Center, as well as manuscript materials detailing the history of NBC.

After searching NBC programs in SONIC and the Online Catalog, you should consult the NBC Collection Resources.

  1. The History Files cover the mid-1920s through the late 1940s. Access the linked online finding aid for the collection to access this information.
    National Broadcasting Company history files, 1922-1986 (Finding Aid)
  2. Print "log books" list daily programs and cover the period 1922-55.
  3. Print "master books" document programs and include scripts, news copy, and musical contents from 1922 to 1984.
  4. The division's "Index Card Catalog" is a comprehensive index to network programs and includes entries for credits and plots. The catalog is divided into five separate parts: program analysis cards; an index to performers and guests; a title segment listing adaptations of literary works by title of the original work; an index to all NBC news and public affairs broadcasts dealing with World War II; and an index of programs broadcast from service bases, radio plays on the war, and shows with war-related topics. The entire program analysis card index covers the period 1930-60. The sustaining program section contains a yearly index to “women's programs” such as Women's Patriotic Conference on National Defense (1939) (RWA 53A1), Federation of Business and Professional Women (1937, 1941-42), Wife Saver (1939-41, 1945, 1947), and Florence Hale's Radio Column (1937-39).

A detailed guide to the NBC Collection Resources is available on the Recorded Sound Research Center's website:

Harris & Ewing, photographer. Woman columnist advocates repeal of Neutrality Act to allow U.S. freedom of policy. Washington, D.C., April 26. Staging her second appearance before Senate Committees within a week, Dorothy Thompson, columnist, sat down before Foreign Affairs Chairman Key Pittman and told him and members that neutrality laws should be repealed to allow the country to be free in forming policies in foreign affairs. 1939. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

NBC broadcasts offer listeners examples of America's golden age of radio broadcasting on nearly a daily basis. They present a gold mine of material waiting to be tapped by researchers in their quest for information on American women's history and culture. Not only did NBC programs feature many of the major women comedians, actors, and performers of the day, they also featured programs about women, their history, and the issues that concerned them. Practically all the major women newsmakers of the day were featured on the radio. Women worked behind the scenes at NBC as writers, producers, directors, musicians, and newscasters. Programs and advertisements that were expressly created for the female audience offer insight into women's lives and perceptions of them.

Women Writers

In addition to the daytime programming that was so important to women listeners, the NBC Collection contains pertinent evening and special programs created or written by women, such as the light dramas Grand Central Station (1940-42), by Mary Brinker Post (1906-1967), Dena Reed (1903-1986), and others; and Grand Marquee (1946-47), by Virginia Safford Lynne. Gertrude Berg (1899-1966) was another such author, whose semiautobiographical House of Glass (1935) told the story of the Glass family, who ran a small hotel in the Catskills.

Women Journalists

Respected women journalists and reporters such as Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961), Helen Hiett (1913-1961), and Pauline Frederick (1908-1990) worked on several NBC news and special broadcasts. Hiett was one of the first female foreign correspondents for NBC. A 1930s series called Women in the News (1937-39) featured noteworthy women of the day. Dozens of programs sponsored by various Democratic and Republican party organizations dealt with women's issues and also featured prominent women. In 1940, Rose Kennedy (1890-1995) spoke on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's “road to peace” before the Democratic National Conference Women's Division. The Women's National Republican Club offered a 1948 program with Alma Kitchell, Irene Dunne (1904-1990), and Edith Willkie (1890?-1978), wife of Wendell Willkie.

Women Comedians

NBC employed many women comedians who were popular during radio's golden age, including Jane Ace (1905-1974), Fanny Brice (1891-1951), Lucille Ball (1911-1989), Penny Singleton (1908-1952), and Billie Burke (1885-1970).

Al Aumuller, photographer. Vivien Kellems, half-length portrait, seated at desk, facing right, holding a Kellems Grip. 1941. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Meet the Press, the NBC News program that is still going strong today, began on the radio in 1945. Martha Rountree (1911-1999), a pioneer of broadcast journalism, was one of the creators of the program and its moderator until 1953.

The first woman to be featured on Meet the Press was Martha Taft (1891-1958) in 1948, wife of Senator Robert A. Taft, an activist for the League of Women Voters and at the time one of the most quoted women in the country. Other women who were guests early on in the program include Vivien Kellems (1896-1975), a fiery businesswoman known for her battles against the federal tax system's discriminatory practices against single people; Elizabeth Bentley (1908-1963), a former Communist Party member and spy who later collaborated with the FBI; and Judge Dorothy Kenyon (1888-1972), an influential force in the struggle for women's rights and social reform. This collection is a treasure trove of appearances by just about every notable American woman from the past fifty years, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995), Geraldine Ferraro (1935-2011), Elizabeth Dole (b. 1936), Congresswoman Edna Kelly (1906-1997), and journalist and political activist India Edwards (1895-1990).

The Library holds most of the Meet the Press radio broadcasts, as well as audio recordings of the television broadcasts that began in 1947. The entire audio collection spans the period from 1945 to 1984. Programs can be searched by name and date in SONIC, but subject searching is limited. The Library also has Meet the Press materials in the Manuscript Division; the Prints and Photographs Division; Moving Image Section of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division; and the General Collections.

Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) Collection

The AFRTS collection provides radio (and television) programs to service members and families overseas. It obtains informational and entertainment radio programs from commercial networks and syndicators or specially produces them and distributes them to stations and outlets around the globe. The Library has more than 300,000 AFRTS electrical transcription discs from 1942, when the organization began as the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS), through 1998 when the service stopped distributing hard copies of its programming. Hundreds of musical, educational, and dramatic programs are included in the collection, but news broadcasts and local programs are not.

A partial inventory of pre-1959 AFRTS titles is available. Many materials from the AFRTS Collection are available for searching through SONIC, providing title and episode number, and in many cases, performers and song titles. Additional AFRTS titles are cataloged in the Library's Online Catalog where they are searchable by program title, genre, and in many cases performer name and song title.

Print Materials

Seven published indexes to selected AFRTS programs are available in the Recorded Sound Research Center.

William P. Gottlieb. Portrait of Lena Horne and Lennie Hayton, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. 1946. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The biggest names in Hollywood and Broadway recorded for  Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS)  during the war years, including female stars such as Lena Horne (1917-2010), Doris Day (b. 1922), Rita Hayworth (1918-1987), Betty Grable (1916-1973), Linda Darnell (1921-1965), Jo Stafford (1918-2008), Billie Holiday (1915-1959), and Peggy Lee (1920-2002). In the early 1940s, when radio station WCVX sent a questionnaire to civilians and troops asking for, among other things, their five favorite female singers, the following came out on top in the overwhelming response from the troops: Dinah Shore (1917-1994), Kate Smith (1907-1986), Ginny Simms (1915-1994), Frances Langford (1913-1997), and Helen O'Connell (1920-1993), all of whom are heard on AFRTS broadcasts.

The program Jubilee (1943-53), featuring African-American performers, broke the color barrier and created an opportunity for African Americans to appear on the popular AFRS variety show Command Performance (1942-ca. 1951). G.I. Journal (1943-45) and Mail Call (1942-49), popular musical variety programs, showcased many well-known female performers. In addition to entertainment, G.I. Journal broadcast information on the activities of service personnel throughout the world.

Women Disc Jockeys

Two extremely popular women disc jockeys were heard over the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) airwaves during two different wars. During World War II, G.I. Jive featured “G.I. Jill,” the armed services answer to Tokyo Rose—whose broadcasts in the Pacific for the Japanese military were designed to demoralize American troops. Jill was portrayed by Martha Wilkerson (1918-1999), a young mother who had worked with the Office of War Information. Her combination of music and friendly conversation reminded the troops of their girls back home, and she became a particular favorite of Allied troops around the world. Aspiring movie actress Chris Noel (b. 1941) hosted the AFRTS radio program A Date with Chris, which ran throughout most of the conflict in Vietnam. Her appealing style and attractiveness made her an instant hit with American troops. She began touring South Vietnam as an AFRTS goodwill ambassador and was so effective in boosting morale that the North Vietnamese offered a $10,000 reward for her assassination.2

Other Major Networks

In addition to the NBC and AFRTS collections, American women are well represented in several other major network collections described below.

Fred Palumbo. Betty Friedan, half-length portrait, facing right. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Sound Archive Collection

The Library is the sole repository of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Collection in the Western Hemisphere. Spanning the late 1880s to the 1980s and numbering more than six thousand LPs, the collection contains a selection of the most important recordings of current affairs and cultural radio programs made by the BBC during its existence. Virtually every major twentieth-century political figure is heard on these recordings. Although obviously primarily British in scope, this collection contains programs on American topics and personalities as well. First ladies Nancy Reagan (1923-2016), Pat Nixon (1912-1993), and Rosalynn Carter (b. 1927) speak on several programs. American women from varied walks of life who are featured in broadcasts include singer Mary Travers (1936-2009), actress Shirley MacLaine (b. 1934), evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton (1929-1983), Princess Grace of Monaco (1929-1982), politician Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005), and feminist author Betty Friedan (1921-2006).

Researching BBC

Microfiche and paper indexes to the collection offer name, subject (e.g., “gynaecology,” “abortion,” and “marriage”), keyword, and program title access. The program Woman's Hour, for which there are dozens of entries in the index, often features notable American women and addresses a wide range of topics pertaining to American women. Any entry with a cataloging number beginning with “LP” may be in the Library's collections.

The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Collection actually contains two collections: complete twenty-four-hour programming for two full weeks (May 13-26, 1957) from Washington, D.C., affiliate station WTOP; and selected CBS current affairs and news broadcasts from the 1960s. The CBS material includes press conferences with Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson; coverage of space flights, civil rights; and sports events; the 1964 Olympics; United Nations Security Council meetings, and broadcasts on China and Vietnam. Further examination of these broadcasts will yield information pertinent to the history of women.

The CBS material is indexed by title in the Recorded Sound Catalog Supplement, available in the Research Center. A paper finding aid with general information about the collection is also available.

National Public Radio (NPR), a noncommercial radio network, produces its own programming and also uses programming supplied by member stations or made by noncommercial networks outside the United States or by independent producers. In 1976, NPR started giving the Library its arts, cultural, and performance programming tapes dating back to its inception in 1971. (The news and public affairs programs broadcast by NPR are not held by the Library but are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration.) The Library's collection, dating from 1971-1992,  consists of more than 25,000 reels of live jazz festivals, opera, symphonic music, chamber music, folk and bluegrass music, radio dramas, interviews, and poetry.

Featuring a wide variety of women artists who have made their mark on the cultural scene over the past thirty years, this collection includes appearances by Asian American filmmaker Christine Choy (b. 1954), actress France Nuyen (b. 1939), and Hispanic American writer Julia Alvarez (b. 1950). Marian McPartland (1918-2013), Fiona Ritchie (b. 1960), and Mary Cliff exhibit their prodigious musical knowledge as hosts for NPR programs. Women instrumentalists, feminism and women's art, and women in orchestras are some of the topics that have been discussed. The program Woman's Work (1980) primarily features classical music written and performed by women.

The NPR Collection can be searched in the Library's Online Catalog by personal and corporate name, program title, subject, keyword, and genre.

Another major radio collection in the Library of Congress is that of WOR-AM, New York City. In 1984 RKO General, Inc., donated the complete archives of this flagship station of the Mutual Broadcasting Network. The collection offers thousands of hours of programming (ca. 15,000 discs), and, like the NBC Collection, contains a diverse array of genres, including news, documentaries, musical variety, dramas, comedies, soap operas, quiz shows, and information.

The collection includes the Martha Deane show, one of the first talk shows for women and a precursor to Mary Margaret McBride's show (Martha Deane programs can also be found in the Cynthia Lowry/Mary Margaret McBride and NBC Collections, and span—including those in all three collections—the period from about 1934 to 1953). McBride was actually the first of several different women to play the grandmotherly character. Even after McBride left to start her own show, Martha Deane continued to be very popular into the 1970s.

Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen (1913-1965) and model and movie star Jinx Falkenburg (1919-2003), both part of husband-wife radio teams, appeared with their spouses on breakfast shows during which they conducted interviews, dished up the latest Broadway gossip, and discussed current events.

The manuscript portion of the WOR donation has also been processed by the division. Of particular interest are scripts and papers relating to writer and producer Phillips H. Lord's programs, including Gang Busters (1937-53), which featured crime stories based on FBI files, and Policewoman (1946-47), which was based on the life of New York City policewoman Mary Sullivan. The archive also includes scripts for many of the radio adaptations of books by Kathleen Norris (1880-1966).

The WOR broadcasts are searchable by program title in a published finding aid available in the Recorded Sound Reference Center. Many of the broadcasts can also be found using the Library's Online Catalog.

Voice of America

Carl Van Vechten, photographer. Portrait of Marian Anderson]. 1940. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The Voice of America (VOA) is one of the largest news gathering organizations in the world. Originally a division of the OWI, it has presented music, as well as news and information, to millions across the globe since 1942. The Voice of America Collection at the Library of Congress (spanning the years 1945-88) comprises more than fifty thousand recordings of arts, culture, and music performances recorded by the VOA for overseas broadcast. This collection features recordings of live musical performances, many unique, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic. The works of many great women performers and composers are heard on these broadcasts, including opera stars Marian Anderson (1897-1993), Leontyne Price (b. 1927), and Eleanor Steber (1914-1990); American pianist and harpsichordist Rosalyn Tureck (1913-2003); and American composer Mary Howe (1882-1964). VOA broadcasts can be found in the Library's online catalog where they are searchable by program titles, performers, genres, and composers.

VOA Highlights

Hundreds of musical artists have been interviewed over the past fifty years by the VOA. Conductor and pianist Antonia Brico (1902-1989), conductor Sarah Caldwell (1928-2006), composer and pianist Margaret Garwood (1927-2015), and singer Eartha Kitt (1928-2008) are just a few of those interviewed. These interviews have been cataloged and can be searched individually by name in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Newport Festivals​

The VOA Collection also contains recordings of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals. The Newport Jazz Festival features many great female jazz and pop artists, including Ella Fitzgerald (1918-1996), Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington (1924-1963), and Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972). Helen Humes (1913-1981), Nina Simone (1933-2003), Roberta Flack (b. 1939), Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010), Carmen McRae (1922-1994), Dionne Warwick (b. 1941), Tina Turner (b. 1938), Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990), and Maxine Sullivan (1911-1987) were also recorded at these festivals, as was alto saxophonist Vi Redd (b. 1928), who has been called the best female jazz musician since Mary Lou Williams. The Newport Jazz Festival recordings are cataloged in SONIC and are searchable by name, song title, performing group, and date.

Office of War Information

John Falter, artist. It's a woman's war too! Join the WAVES--Your country needs you now--Apply to your nearest Navy recruiting station or office of naval officer procurement. 1942. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Soon after World War II several thousand instantaneous lacquer discs representing propaganda broadcasts made by the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) were transferred to the Library of Congress. Most of this collection has since been copied onto tape and is available to researchers. In addition to more than eight thousand programs in English, the collection includes broadcasts in many other languages. It features domestic and foreign news, entertainment, information, and propaganda broadcasts from 1942 through 1945.

The OWI made a concerted effort to recruit women into wartime service at home. Programs such as Place of Women in WarWomen's Part in the War, and Women's Contribution to the War Effort, all from 1942, sought to convince women that it was their patriotic duty to apply for wartime work. Yet, as Michelle Hilmes points out in her book on American broadcasting, “all of these appeals were directed at the class of women whose lives permitted a solely domestic role, leaving many working-class and black women outside the boundaries of developing feminist address.”3

There are OWI reports on the activities of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) and the Women's Naval Reserve (WAVES). Other programs focus on women from a particular industry, city, or culture, for example, Women in Railroading, Detroit Woman War Worker, and Spirit of '43. The last program deals with African American women at war. Stars such as Ethel Merman (1909-1984), Billie Burke (1884-1970), and Patrice Munsel (1925-2016) were featured in OWI broadcasts to help build morale and raise spirits.

The OWI collection is cataloged in SONIC and can be searched by name, program title, genre, date, and subject.

Pacifica Radio Archive

Pacifica Radio is the nation's first listener-supported, community-based radio network. Since 1949 the network has pursued its mission to promote cultural diversity and pluralistic community expression. Just over one hundred cassettes representing 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s Pacifica Radio programming form a small but important collection of radio shows that feature thought-provoking stories not aired on mainstream, commercial networks. Topics that are pertinent to the study of American women, such as prostitution, women alcoholics, women's social networks, the women's music scene, and lesbianism are addressed. Women of Color, Voices of Resistance broadcasts the songs and poetry of American minority women such as Babette Vasquez (n.d.) and Miya Iwataki (b. 1944). Interviews with many women, including Maya Angelou (1928-2014), singer and songwriter Holly Near (b. 1949), and Sister Ita Ford (1940-1980), who was interviewed just before she was murdered in El Salvador, are available as well.

The entire collection is fully described in the Library of Congress Online Catalog by name, by subject, and by program title:

Notes

  1. Rainer E. Lotz and Ulrich Neuert, The AFRS “Jubilee” Transcription Programs: An Exploratory Discography (Frankfurt am Main: Ruecker, 1985), vii. Back to text.
  2. Message from Gene Frederickson, AFRTS Web site, <fredegw@dodmedia.osd.mil>, sent October 13, 1999. Back to text.
  3. Michele Hilmes, Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922-1952 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 266. Back to text.