In honor of Women’s History Month, I decided to investigate archival repositories that focus on women.  Here are some representative examples of repositories from different regions of the United States.

The Sophia Smith Collection was founded at Smith College in 1942.  It began as a collection of works by women writers but has expanded over the years, with strengths in subjects including birth control and reproductive rights, women’s rights, suffrage, the contemporary women’s movement across race, class, and sexual orientation, U.S. women working abroad, the arts (especially theatre), the professions (especially journalism and social work), and middle-class family life in nineteenth- and twentieth-century New England.

Author and feminist activist Sallie Bingham endowed a women’s studies archivist position at Duke University in 1988; five years later, The Center was permanently endowed, and it was named the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture in 1999.  Its mission states very broadly that The Center “acquires and preserves published and unpublished materials that reflect the public and private lives of women throughout history.”  The collections focus on domestic culture, girl culture, the history of feminist theory and activism, lay and ordained church women, southern women, women artists, women authors and publishers, women of color, and women’s sexuality and gender expression.

The Iowa Women’s Archives was founded at the University of Iowa in 1992.  It currently “holds more than 1100 manuscript collections that chronicle the lives and work of Iowa women, their families, and their communities.”  Here is its mission:

Inspired by the vision of its founders, the Louise Noun – Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives nourishes creative research, learning, and teaching by providing collections and a separate space dedicated to the women of Iowa and their history.  The Archives fulfills its mission by collecting and making available primary sources about the history of Iowa women from all walks of life.  It undertakes a robust outreach program to gather and preserve the history of groups underrepresented in archives.  Through its programs and online resources, the Iowa Women’s Archives serves a broad audience ranging from students and scholars to the general public.

The Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University of Chicago was established in 1994.  They have special interest “in the subject areas of women in politics, the arts, sciences, education, philanthropy, and business” as well as “records related to second and third wave feminism, women’s social justice activism and community building as well as collections related to Catholic women, both lay and religious, Catholic theology, and feminist theology.”  They are the only repository included here that is highlighting holdings in honor of Women’s History Month — a post about the Feminist Forum collection.

The Nevada Women’s Archives at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas documents the lives and careers of significant Southern Nevada women.

The Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship at Union Theological Seminary “provides access to the records of women who have reshaped theological education and American church life since 1900 and serves as the living memory and documentary repository for materials pertaining to Christian women’s movements for progressive social change during this period.”  It is the only one of the collections described here that posts its Collection Development Policies online.

 

It is interesting that most of these institutions were established within the last twenty-five years.  Women’s history was strong before the 1990s, so it stands to reason that the interests of researchers may have driven these developments.  Perhaps “The Year of the Woman” (1992) also pushed the needle forward a little bit.  Two things surprised me about my investigations of these repositories:

  1. Most do not have explicit collection development policies posted online.  I would think that repositories would want to define their archival turf clearly for the benefit of both researchers and potential donors, but this is not reflected in the online presences for these repositories.
  2. Only one of the repositories I investigated had any sort of online exhibit or even acknowledgment of Women’s History Month.  Perhaps the powers that be feel that women deserve to be emphasized throughout the entire year, but much as I mused last month about Black History Month, it seems that this is a missed opportunity for outreach when users might be looking to these repositories to highlight their collections at this time of year.

There’s still a sense that the records of women and women’s organizations still deserve special attention.  As evidence of this, one of the roundtables for the Society of American Archivists is the Women’s Collections Roundtable, which “promotes the preservation and research use of records documenting women and networks archivists with holdings concerning or created by women.”  Many of the repositories have been established in the last generation, so as time goes on, it will be interesting to see whether repositories continue carving out a particular niche or whether collections development becomes more all-inclusive.

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