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Women's Studies Resources

The American Antiquarian Society's holdings are rich with resources relating to all aspects of women's lives throughout American history. Below, you will find information on resources that can be found in some of our major collections, including Graphic Arts, Children's Literature, Manuscripts, Newspapers, and books. These collections can be accessed through the AAS online catalog and inventories. Click on the images to view enlarged versions.

There are many ways to access works "about women" in the online catalog. For a full list of headings, search "women" and select "subject browse;" this will provide a full list of subject headings and sub-headings. Examples of subject headings include: women as authors, women's rights, women in Christianity, women in public life, women-legal status, women in literature, women abolitionists, women social reformers, women health reformers, feminist poetry, women in the book trades, single women, women teachers, widows, to name but a few.

Graphic Arts

The graphic arts collection contains an abundance of pictorial materials that shed light on the domestic, professional, and political lives of women. The sheet music collection contains some 70,000 pieces of music arranged for the piano. Performance of music was one of the popular pastimes for women. In addition many publishers issued sheet music with pictorial covers. They illustrate many aspects of women's lives including courtship. Also worth noting is the games collection, which provides insights into the use of leisure time by families in the household. Among the holdings is a collection of drawing cards, used both in schools and at home. Trade cards advertise a host of products used by women domestically; some illustrate women at work in the kitchen. An inventory or subject listing and information on each of these collections is available.

Women were active in many roles outside the home-as writers, artists, merchants, and publishers. Some of these activities can be traced through the graphic arts collections. Emma Cross (1850-1933), for example, worked as a professional artist after the Civil War. The Cross Family Archive contains examples of her work as a student and as an artist later in her life. Eliza (1798-1882) and Sarah Goodridge painted miniatures found in the Society's portrait collection; Eliza was also responsible for lithographs available in that collection.

AAS includes portrait prints of women active politically. The inventories of American portrait prints and cartes-de-visite photographs can be searched by personal name, as can the lithograph collection. Among the important images are Abby Kelley Foster and Sojourner Truth. The broadside collection, which can be searched in the online catalog, contains programs of women's rights conventions, such as the one for the 1866 National Women's Rights Convention that notes that the important issue facing that convention was "Equal Rights To All." In the sheet music collection is the cover for We'll Show You When We Come to Vote, published in Toledo, Ohio, in 1869. On the cover are references to Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), and Mrs. George F. Train.

Children's Literature

The Children's Literature Collection is a remarkably rich resource for the study of women and girls, encompassing relevant topics such as women in religion, girls' biography, gender roles, prescribed female reading habits, mother-daughter-sister relationships, young female authorship, and domestic education. Many of these children's books were written in simple, lucid language, thus making them highly accessible to the modern reader. The Society's collection is important because it contains significant holdings of both juvenile fiction and educational texts, such as A Catechism Explanatory of Some of the Principles and Precepts of the Christian Religion by Quaker author John Kendall in 1837. Not only does the text contain a clear discussion about the equality between men and women in the Quaker meeting, it also has a frontispiece of a woman preaching in a religious meeting, something tolerated by few other sects at the time.

Female authorship and children's literature developed together in Antebellum America, and they clearly benefited each other. A search of the subject heading, "Women as authors," in the AAS online catalog will reveal books for girls and women written by women authors including reformers Lydia Maria Child and Jane Grey Swisshelm. Lydia Maria Child compiled The Little Girl's Own Book, a lively miscellany of games, crafts, and stories in 1833--the same year that her Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans was published and embroiled her in a storm of controversy. Fortunately for Mrs. Child, The Little Girl's Own Book was re-published several times, and boosted her popularity in the lean years following the controversy. Jane Grey Swisshelm's Letters to Country Girls (1853) is a collection of essays by the women's rights advocate originally issued in the Pittsburgh Saturday Visiter, a paper published by Mrs. Swisshelm between 1847 and 1851. Under the guise of providing domestic advice to young white farm girls, Mrs. Swisshelm injects her outspoken beliefs about women's rights.

Works by child authors are accessible in the online catalog through the genre heading, "Juvenilia," and AAS is fortunate to have a nice selection, including The King's Daughter (1867) written by nine-year-old Grace Fisher Coolidge, who as Grace Fisher Pennypacker would later become a regularly featured author in the late nineteenth-century periodical press. Grace's father (and Boston publisher) George Coolidge lovingly issued this chapbook tale of a princess' rescue from an enchanted castle by a brave prince. This rare little book has its own envelope, featuring favorable reviews of the press printed in gold ink. Prevailing social attitudes toward girls and young women are perhaps most strikingly reflected in picture book images, and AAS has one of the best collections available of picture books published by McLoughlin Brothers, a New York firm that pioneered the systematic use of color print technology. AAS collects McLoughlin picture books from the company's founding in 1858 through the turn of the century. Among them are The Little Housekeepers (1886) and The Little Housemaid and Other Stories (1903); both are filled with images of girls cooking, cleaning, nursing, and entertaining their dolls. These lush color illustrations give compelling visual testimony to little girls using play as a preparation for marriage and motherhood.


Women are extremely well represented in the AAS manuscript collections, and manuscripts at the Society can be used to study a very wide range of topics relating to women's history, particularly for the New England area. The collections are particularly strong in women's diaries and correspondence, but other collections detail women's activities in religious and voluntary organizations. Subject headings such as "Women--diaries" and Women--correspondence" make it possible to identify collections of possible interest.

One of the most notable collections containing women's correspondence is the collection of 219 letters written by Abigail Adams to female relatives between 1784 and 1816. Also, the Chase Family Papers contain letters written by two Massachusetts sisters, Lucy and Sarah Chase, while they were teaching at Freedmen's schools in the South during the Civil War.

Seven pocket diaries kept from 1865-1875 by Lizzie A Wilson Goodenough (b. 1844) of Brattleborough, Vermont, detail her efforts to support herself as a domestic and while working for a tailor. Also, Mary Ware Allen of Northborough, Massachusetts, kept four extremely detailed diaries during the period in 1838 when she was a student of Margaret Fuller at the Green Street School in Providence.

The Worcester Soldier's Relief Society was founded during the Civil War to coordinate the benevolent efforts of women from Worcester. The Society was engaged in various fundraising efforts; sewed, prepared packages of food and medical supplies, and operated a lodging house for soldiers passing through Worcester. The Manuscripts Collections includes several detailed volumes from volunteer societies such as this one.


The Newspaper and Periodical Collection has quite a variety of items associated with women. While no woman is known to have started a newspaper on her own in colonial America, it is evident that women were active participants in the businesses of their husbands or sons. When a publisher died, his widow sometimes took over the paper under her name. The seamlessness of this transition shows how involved women were with the day-to-day activities of operating a newspaper. The New-York Weekly Journal was published from Oct. 13, 1746 to Nov. 14, 1748. Cathrine Zenger published it for a while when she took over after the death of her husband, John Peter Zenger. The Providence Gazette; and Country Journal was published from August 9, 1766 to November 12, 1768. While Sarah Goddard published it, the imprint read, "Printed by Sarah Goddard, and Company…." Later issues have the imprint reading, "Printed (in the Absence of William Goddard) by Sarah Goddard, and Company…"

The Providence Gazette; and Country Journal

Amateur newspapers are publications produced by people who were interested in the process of publishing a newspaper for their personal interests. Young girls were often involved in the writing, editing, and publishing of these interesting little newspapers. In 1869, a table-top press was patented and the popularity of amateur newspapers increased because they could be produced in private homes. One example of an amateur newspaper is the Penfield Extra, which was published in Penfield, NY, by Nellie Williams. Her brother had been a printer, but was killed during the Civil War. At age 12 Nellie used his print shop to produce this amateur newspaper. She published it for several years, but her career was cut short when she died in her early 20s. In one issue she notes, "By Nellie Williams, A little Lass not yet in her teens who is the sole Editress and Compositor, and probably the youngest Publisher, and Editress in the world."

In the 1790's, periodicals printed for women began to appear. In the 1800's, as printing technology improved and became more economical, more periodicals appeared on the market for women. This opened up opportunities for women to be editors, publishers, and printers. Thanks to electrotyping, illustrations could be easily produced for large print runs making periodicals with wonderful graphics, such as fashion magazines possible. One interesting example is called The Matrimonial Bazar. A Monthly Journal, Devoted to the Interests of Love, Courtship and Marriage. This publication is filled with articles of matrimonial advice and advertisements from men and women looking for a partner. It is an early version of a singles newspaper. Other periodicals that can be found in the collection include The Toilet: a Weekly Collection of Literary Pieces, Principally Designed for the Amusement of the Ladies; The Ladies' National Magazine; The Sibyl. A Review of the Tates, Errors, and Fashions of Society; The Ladies' Musical Port Folio. A Choice Selection of the Most Admired and Original Songs, Marches, Rondos, Quadrills, &c. for the Piano Forte; and Harper's Bazar. A Repository of Fashion, Pleasure, and Instruction.

Primary and Secondary Resource Books

The Antiquarian Society's collecting efforts have documented the range and depth of cultural production of African Americans, both slave and free, female and male, literate and nonliterate. For almost 200 years we have sought to add these materials to our holdings and to make them available to researchers. Not unexpectedly, the majority of printed materials included in our collections are by free persons of color in the Northeast. Literary skills in this part of the United States were advanced and generated a rich production of sermons, religious tracts, society and convention minutes and proceedings, broadsides, periodicals, and newspapers in addition to books of fiction, autobiography, poetry, and drama. Illustrated here are just a few examples of books in our library written by African American women.

Phillis Wheatley was born in Africa and brought to Boston as a slave in 1761. Encouraged by the family that owned her, she learned to read and write. She became a Boston sensation after she wrote a poem on the death of evangelical preacher George Whitefield in 1770. Her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London: 1773) was the first volume of poetry to be published by an African American.

Harriet Wilson's Our Nig: or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a Two-Story White House, North. Showing that Slavery's Shadows Fall Even There (Boston: 1859) has generally been identified as the first novel published by an African American in America. Recent scholarship has established that it is autobiographical. The author describes her sufferings as a nominally "free black" in ante-bellum New Hampshire.

Julia A. J. Foote's A Brand Plucked from the Fire (Cleveland, Ohio: 1881) is representative of a number of texts published by 19th-century African American and white women who believed that Christianity had made them the spiritual equals of men and hence equally authorized to lead the church. When the minister of Foote's church in Boston refused her access to his pulpit, she set out on an independent preaching career. She participated in the holiness revivals that swept the Midwest during the 1870s and later became a missionary in the A.M.E. Zion church.

Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, Presented to the First African Baptist Church & Society, of the city of Boston (Boston: 1835) was written by Stewart who was a teacher and public speaker known for four public addresses delivered in Boston at a time when virtually no women (whether African American or white) had the courage to speak from a public platform. William Lloyd Garrison gathered her lectures together and published them in this volume. The last is her farewell address delivered in 1833, when she announced her decision to leave Boston "for I find it is no use for me, as an individual, to try to make myself useful among my color in this city."

Ann Plato's only known publication is Essays; Including Biographies and Miscellaneous Pieces, in Prose and Poetry (Hartford: 1841). Scholars have not been able to reconstruct Ann Plato's life from sources other than this book. We do know that she was part of a vibrant African-American literary community in Hartford CT. Matters of religion and patterns for good living tend to dominate her writing.

At the beginning of this Web page are suggestions of ways to access works by and about women in the online catalog. Using those subject headings and combining them with the terms African American(s), black(s), or Negro(es) will reveal many of our holdings. As is always the case, be imaginative in your search strategy and ask our staff for help, either in person or by e-mail.

Women's Studies is a very popular research topic at the American Antiquarian Society, and our holdings include many secondary sources. A sample of recent books researched at AAS in women's studies can be found in this checklist of twenty-four titles. These include studies about women in politics, religion, law, medicine, theater, reform movements, and crime. There are also studies on gender, domesticity, witchcraft, biography, and poetry, among other topics extending from the colonial period through the Civil War. For an excellent overview of AAS collections that support research in areas of women's studies, see Patricia Cline Cohen's essay, "Doing Women's History at the American Antiquarian Society," cited at the end of the checklist.

-Georgia Barnhill, Curator of Graphic Arts
-Laura Wasowicz, Curator of Children's Literature
-Vince Golden, Curator of Newspapers
-Thomas Knoles, Curator of Manuscripts
-Nancy Burkett, Marcus A. McCorison Librarian
-Joanne Chaison, Research Librarian

For additional information, please view the on-line exhibition A Woman's Work is Never Done

Chromolithographed Trade Card for Dry Hop Yeast
Chromolithographed Trade Card for Dry Hop Yeast

Painting by Emma Cross from the Cross Family 
Painting by Emma Cross (1850-1933) from the Cross Family Archive

National Women's Rights Convention broadside, 1866
National Women's Rights Convention broadside, 1866

Sheet Music Cover We'll Show You When We Come to Vote, 1869
Sheet Music Cover We'll Show You When We Come to Vote, 1869



Frontispiece of a woman preaching at a religious meeting
Frontispiece of a woman preaching at a religious meeting, from A Catechism Explanatory...

The King's Daughter, 1867
The King's Daughter, 1867

Cover of The Little Housemaid and Other Stories, 1903
Cover of The Little Housemaid and Other Stories, 1903



Letter written by Abigail Adams to her sister Mary Cranch, August 2, 
Letter written by Abigail Adams to her sister Mary Cranch, August 2, 1784

Letter written to the Chase Sisters in 1866
First page of letter written to the Chase Sisters from a friend,
February 18, 1866

Pocket Diary kept by Lizzie A. Wilson Goodenough
Pocket Diary kept by Lizzie A. Wilson Goodenough



of masthead from the Penfield Extra
Detail of masthead from the Penfield Extra, published by Nellie Williams in Penfield, NY

Funny sample ad printed in The Matrimonial Bazar
Funny sample ad printed in The Matrimonial Bazar

"Ladies' Spring Wrappings," from Harper's 
Bazar, April 29, 1871
"Ladies' Spring Wrappings," from Harper's Bazar, April 29, 1871



Selected books written by African-American women
Selected books written by African-American women

Frontispiece portrait of Phillis Wheatley 
from Poems on various subjects, religious and moral
Frontispiece portrait of Phillis Wheatley from Poems on various subjects, religious and moral

"Holy is the Lamb," music from A 
Brand Plucked from the Fire
"Holy is the Lamb," music from A Brand Plucked from the Fire



Liberty's Daughters, by Mary Beth Norton, 1980
Liberty's Daughters, by Mary Beth Norton, 1980

Secondary sources researched by scholars at AAS
Secondary sources researched by scholars at AAS




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