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Topical Essays

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Topical Essays

The original print version of the American Women research guide contained five topical essays, each exploring an aspect of women's history by analyzing resources held in different Library divisions. The purpose of these essays was to demonstrate for researchers how to identify collections relevant to a topic that are physically separated across the Library's twelve major reference centers.

Slightly modified for online navigation, the essays complement the division-by-division collection descriptions that constitute the bulk of the research guide. They permit discussions of topics only briefly mentioned in the broader divisional overviews, and they illustrate how different aspects of American women's history may be investigated by focusing on:

  • events–1913 suffrage parade
  • people–Marian MacDowell
  • movements–campaign for the equal rights amendment
  • geographical regions–California before 1850
  • types of material–pictorial representations of American women before 1800.

Many more topics and avenues of research await the staff's attention, and additional essays will be added in the future. For now, the original five essays are available together with historian Susan Ware's introduction to the book and a brief piece describing the 1780 broadside "The Sentiments of An American Woman," which graced the end papers of the print volume.

"Introduction" to American Women: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States. Susan Ware, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. December 2001.

Abstract: Ware, a noted expert on twentieth-century American women and a former professor of history at New York University, chaired the academic advisory board for the book American Women. She is currently editing the fifth volume of Notable American Women and is nearing completion on a biography of radio talk show pioneer Mary Margaret McBride, whose personal papers, radio broadcasts, and other materials are held by the Library of Congress. In this introductory essay, Ware traces the evolution and current status of the field of women's history, highlights major research themes and scholarly concepts, and describes her own research experiences identifying and utilizing women's history materials in the various divisions of the Library of Congress.


"The Sentiments of an American Woman." Rosemary Fry Plakas, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. December 2001.

Abstract: Plakas describes an early episode of American women's collective patriotism by focusing on a 1780 broadside,"The Sentiments of an American Woman," believed to have been written by Esther De Berdt Reed, first lady of Pennsylvania, to inspire women throughout the colonies to raise funds for General George Washington's poorly provisioned troops.


" With Peace and Freedom Blest!"Woman as Symbol in America, 1590-1800." Sara Day, Publishing Office, Library of Congress. December 2001.

Abstract: Day, one the editors of American Women, searched the Library's pictorial and textual collections for images of women in pre-1800 America, analyzed the content of these pictorial depictions, and concluded that stereotypical and allegorical representations of women belied the reality of most women's lives and helped to limit women's roles in early America.


"Marching for the Vote: Remembering the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913." Sheridan Harvey, Humanities and Social Sciences Division, Library of Congress. December 2001.

Abstract: When Alice Paul and Lucy Burns returned to the United States after working with the radical wing of the British suffrage movement, they sought to infuse the lethargic American campaign with techniques and strategies that had proven successful across the ocean. Their first activity was mobilizing five thousand women for a massive suffrage parade on the eve of President-elect Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Harvey identifies sources throughout the Library that can be pieced together to tell the story of the parade, including the mistreatment of marchers by rowdy crowds and inept police, the contested participation of African American women, and the parade's impact on the larger suffrage movement.


"The Long Road to Equality: What Women Won from the ERA Ratification Effort." Leslie W. Gladstone, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. December 2001.

Abstract: Only fifty-one words in length, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment drafted by National Woman's Party president Alice Paul in 1923 became one of the most contested pieces of legislation in the twenthieth century. Through a variety of Library sources, Gladstone reconstructs the arguments for and against its ratification and summarizes the impact of the struggle on women's legal status in the last two decades of the century.


"Women on the Move: Overland Journeys to California." Patricia Molen van Ee, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress. December 2001.

Abstract: Van Ee contrasts the experiences of various women who left their homes to put down roots in California during the last quarter of the eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. She discusses women who were part of Juan Bautista de Anza's overland expeditions in 1774-75 from the Spanish provinces of Sinaloa and Sonora in what is now Mexico to the San Francisco Bay area; women who lived in California when it was under Spanish (1769-1821) and Mexican (1822-46) control; and women who were drawn to the area following the discovery of gold in 1848.


"The House That Marian Built: The MacDowell Colony of Peterborough, New Hampshire." Robin Rausch, Music Division, Library of Congress. December 2001.

Abstract: Demonstrating the rich potential of the Library's collections for biographers, Rausch provides a portrait of musician and philanthropist Marian MacDowell, who in memory of her husband, composer Edward A. MacDowell, founded an artists' retreat in 1907 that remains in operation to this day, having inspired, nurtured, and supported the creative output of hundreds of artists in this country.

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