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The General Collections



Starting Places
arrow graphicPeriodicals
Periodical Indexes
Periodicals for Girls (and Boys)
Industry and Labor Union Journals
Fashion Magazines and Pattern Books
Publications of Organizations
State Historical Society Publications
Biographical Sources
Women's Writings
Other Sources




Periodicals (Serials, Journals, Magazines, Annuals, Proceedings)
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“The Winter Supplies.”. Will Grefé. Woman's World September 1915, cover (AP2.W74). General Collections.

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Items that are published periodically, such as magazines and journals, are a marvelous source for history of any kind, and the Library of Congress holds thousands of serial titles of value to historians of women.

Long runs of journals show changes in attitudes, in what was considered significant or marketable, and in styles of every kind—from hemlines to discourse—over an extended period. Studying many different serial titles for a given year or span of years can reveal much about the time period under examination. The span dates given for serial titles in this discussion of The General Collections indicate the holdings of the Library of Congress, not the full range of years in which the title was published.

Finding Periodicals

Published bibliographies are one of the best ways to identify magazines and journals on a given subject or published at a certain time. Two useful titles are

  • Women's Periodicals and Newspapers from the 18th Century to 1981: A Union List of the Holdings of Madison, Wisconsin, Libraries compiled by Maureen E. Hady et al. (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982; Z7965.H3 1982 MRR Alc, N&CPR) [catalog record]
  • American Women's Magazines: An Annotated Historical Guide by Nancy K. Humphreys (New York: Garland, 1989; Z6944.W6 H85 1989 MRR Alc, N&CPR)[catalog record]

The series Historical Guides to the World's Periodicals and Newspapers includes two descriptive volumes on women, both edited by Kathleen L. Endres and Therese L. Lueck.

  • Women's Periodicals in the United States: Consumer Magazines (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995; PN4879.W6 1995 MRR Alc, N&CPR) [catalog record]
  • Women's Periodicals in the United States: Social and Political Issues (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996; PN4879.W614 1996 MRR Alc, N&CPR) [catalog record]
Other volumes in this series—on African American, Native-American, and children's journals—will also lead to information on women and girls.

Titles such as Penelope L. Bullock's The Afro- American Periodical Press, 1838-1909 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981; PN4882.5.B8 1981 MRR Alc, N&CPR) [catalog record] give full publication histories and include geographical and chronological listings of journals.

The Ethnic Press in the United States: A Historical Analysis and Handbook edited by Sally M. Miller (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987; PN4882.E84 1987 MRR Alc, EurRR, N&CPR) [catalog record] leads to the rich periodical literature of the varied cultures that have contributed to American life.

Because many periodicals, especially older ones, lack good indexes, researchers must scan tables of contents or flip through pages of issues from an appropriate time period. This is time-consuming but sometimes it is the only way to find substantive evidence for many research topics. It is now possible to scan tables of contents of hundreds of American journals online through the Library's subscription to the database Periodicals Contents Index (see “Periodical Indexes”).

More and more old magazines are being digitized and are keyword searchable. See “The Nineteenth Century in Print” in American Memory.


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“Do Remember Camels Are First in the Service.” Advertisement. From the Saturday Evening Post, April 24, 1943, back cover (AP2.S2). General Collections. Courtesy of RJR Tobacco Company.

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Advertisements in women's journals are a source of much visual and verbal information—from the latest household appliances to fabrics, from patent medicines to Margaret Sanger's books on birth control.5 These advertisements show how women are portrayed at a given time, with intriguing variations by class, race, and region.

For one example, social debates about women and smoking and women and drinking can be explored.

  • When did liquor and cigarette ads appear?
  • What arguments, words, and images are used to promote these products?
  • How are women's bodies used to sell products to men? To women?
Rarely indexed, advertisements must be located by scanning runs of periodicals.

Ad* Access contains images of more than seven thousand magazine advertisements that appeared between 1911 and 1955 (see General Collections External Sites).

SEARCH TIPS: Primary custody of periodicals is shared between the General Collections and the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, although some periodicals can be found in most reading rooms.

The general rule is that periodicals published in the past eighteen to twenty-four months are housed in the stacks of the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room; older issues are bound and kept in the General Collections.

There are three major exceptions to this rule:

  • Serials published before 1801 are accessible through the Rare Book and Microform Reading Rooms
  • Law journals of all dates are held in the Law Library
  • Music journals of all dates are in the Performing Arts Reading Room.
Many older titles in all subjects are held only in microform and can be found through special guides in the Main Reading Room. Consult the online catalog and reference librarians to determine the locations of periodicals.

See Newspapers and Current Periodicals for further advice on how to identify which periodicals exist and for assistance on the history of magazines.

See Periodical Indexes for suggestions on how to locate articles within periodicals.

Other sections on the General Collections Web site also discuss periodicals. For missionary journals see Travel Accounts, and for household magazines see Cookbooks and Domestic Journals.

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