Women’s Archives And Women’s History

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Women’s Archives and Women’s History(Joan Wallach Scott’s comments on the dedication of the Christine Dunlap FarnhamArchives, October 10, 1986)Many of us are here today to celebrate theopening of the Christine Dunlap FarnhamArchives, a collection within the University libraryarchives especially dedicated to the history ofwomen at Brown, in the state of Rhode Island,and more generally in the United States. Thesearchives bring into visibility and make accessible toscholars and researchers the history of women atthe University and the history of women’s activitiesas private and public figures in the towns andcities of this state. These archives, too, are part ofa long and honored tradition of establishingwomen’s archives, a tradition that–not at all coincidentally–began in the 1890s and early 1900saround the time the Women’s College was founded. For there is a connection between the pursuitof women’s education and the documentation ofwomen’s past activities. The women and men whoinsisted that women were capable of and entitledto learning also understood the importance of providing historical evidence about women’s capabilities–and for that they needed records.Although books and articles on the history ofwomen have appeared throughout the ages, thepractice of creating special collections and archivesfor women is a relatively recent phenomenon, notquite a century old. It is only in the last few yearsthat historians have become aware that there was apattern to the establishment of women’s archives inWestern Europe and the United States. It turnsout that dozens of collections, large and small,were begun in the first decades of the twentiethcentury, usually by women active in the suffragemovement or in some other enterprise devoted toimproving women’s access to education, employment, the professions, public and political life.These women had a sense that they were makinghistory and that the memory of their activity mustbe preserved for posterity. They knew from expe-Photo Credit: Christine Dunlap Farnham ArchivesNo Documents, No HistoryChristine Dunlap Farnham ’48 was the first chair of the PembrokeAssociates Council and an early supporter of establishing an archivesof Brown and Rhode Island women.rience that women in the past had been neglectedin major libraries and document collections, andthey wanted to be sure that would not happen tothem. Some also wanted to make the experiencesof their predecessors visible to present and futuregenerations. “Seeking information regardingwomen of bygone days,” wrote one of these dedicated collectors, “is like looking for a needle in theproverbial haystack of historical writings.”Without visibility, they knew, women would notbe included in the record of the past and so wouldhave no sense of historical memory or identity.Mary Beard put it very succinctly when she set outto organize a world center for women’s archives in1935: “No documents. No history.”1

“Memory,” the philosopher/historian MichelFoucault has written, “is actually a very importantfactor in struggle. . . . If one controls people’smemory, one controls their dynamism. . . . It isvital to have possession of this memory, to controlit, administer it, tell it what it must contain.”Archives provide the stuff of memory, the rawmaterials out of which collective identity and aplace in history are fashioned. And so it is notsurprising that archives became the concern ofthose preoccupied with women’s collective identity, a preoccupation that took the form, in theearly years of the twentieth century, of a movement for education, employment, and the vote.Today I want to spend some time looking at thehistory of women’s archives. It is instructive, it isfull of wonderful stories, and it will help us graspthe full significance of the Farnham Archives atBrown University.A Preoccupation with Women’sCollective IdentityIn England, the great repository for women’spapers is the Fawcett Collection, an extensivelibrary built around the papers of two formidableleaders of the women’s movement. MillicentGarrett Fawcett headed the National Women’sSuffrage Society and actually negotiated the detailsof the legislation that granted British women thevote in 1918. Her sister, Louise GarrettAnderson, was one of the first women doctors inEngland and a longtime advocate of education aswell as professional access for women. Theirpapers are the basis of this now vast collection.In France, there are two major women’s archivalcollections. One, begun by Marguerite Durand(1864–1936), a feminist journalist, grew out ofDurand’s clippings and articles from her newspaper, La Fronde. Over the years she enlarged thecollection to include books and various papers,and she invited the public to consult theseresources. (Lucky visitors to her library wereinvited to join Miss Durand for tea.) An extremely enterprising and shrewd planner, Durand begannegotiations with the city of Paris in 1930 to2secure official status for her books and papers.And in 1932, with all the arrangements in place,she turned her collection over to the city. Thatlibrary still flourishes as an independent institution today.The other French collection has a very differentand in some ways more typical story. MarieLouise Bouglé (1883–1936) came from a poorfamily, and she craved the kind of education thatwould have enabled her to read and buy books.Instead, she worked at various jobs in Paris and inthe 1920s joined women’s and pacifist groups.She was surrounded by women intent on creatinga history of their current activities and its links towomen in the past. Their small apartments werecrammed with papers and books; one was writinga women’s encyclopedia that came to 166 volumes; another clipped any articles in any newspapers having anything to do with women. Thedeath of any of these women created not only sadness but consternation. Who would take over acollection? Who would preserve and carry on thejob of amassing women’s archives? Usually, in the1920s and early 1930s, it was Marie-LouiseBouglé who took over her colleagues’ accumulations of paper when they could find no otherhome. Bouglé articulated the motive that manyof the group must have shared:The thought that all our efforts and ideas mightbe lost to the future worried me. I resolved tocollect everything concerning present daywomen’s activities. From there to the past wasan easy step. . . . Time pressed. Collectionsappeared each day and they had to be saved. Itold myself that what I saved would (last forever). And then began the development of a passion I didn’t know I had. The usefulness of myresearch, the growing interest in it, the success ofmy searches (for more books and papers), all contributed. At first, I planned only to save a fewdocuments, but as days passed, I filled a roomwith books, pamphlets, newspapers, documentsof all sorts, often rare and of great value and Ifound myself creating the vast library I had soyearned to have.

Each day after work, Marie-Louise Bouglé visited bookstores, riffling through materials until shefound some treasure. She spared no expense. Infact, in many years she spent more on her archivesthan on rent, food, and clothes combined. Shopowners began to put aside “Bouglé-type books”(livres du genre Bouglé). She would pay for them,take them home, and fill out a catalogue cardimmediately. In three years, Bouglé had twelvethousand documents assembled; by 1923, sheopened her “library” to the public two evenings aweek. Can you imagine the fervor that inspiredher not only to possess but to make available hercollection so that the work of creating women’shistory, fashioning collective memory, would happen? When Bouglé died in 1936, those whoknew about her work set up a Society of Friendsof the Marie-Louise Bouglé Library and tried toraise enough money to protect and permanentlyhouse the collection. They were not successfuland in 1942 her husband tried to donate the bythen crumbling and disordered lot to theBibliothèque Nationale. But that great library’scurators deemed the collection insignificant(thereby proving the need for separate women’slibraries and archives). Finally, it ended up at thelibrary of the city of Paris: the books were integrated into the general collection, and the papersstored in boxes in the basement. Only in 1977,when a graduate student looking for photographsfor a book she was about to publish on the historyof French women was directed to the boxes didthe collection see the light of day. It was eventually catalogued and is now preserved as a separatecollection, providing eager researchers (amongthem Brown graduate students) with invaluableand otherwise unavailable information about thehistory of women in France.The story of the Bouglé Collection is instructivefor many reasons, not the least of which has to dowith the reciprocal relationship between women’smovements, archives, and history. Bouglé wasdriven by the need to create and preserve the history of women’s experience. She assembled documents to make that possible. Forty years after herdeath, a young woman, inspired by a renewedattention to women’s status, used those documents to illustrate a book about women’s history.And she did more. She catalogued the entire collection, making it visible and available for futurescholars. She worked on the catalogue, moreover,under the direction of Michelle Perrot, the preeminent historian of women in France today.In April this year I visited the Netherlands forthe first time, and in Amsterdam I went to theInternational Archives of the Women’s Movement(IAWM). Established in 1935 with the supportespecially of women who had been active in pacifist movements during World War I, the archiveflourished for a few years. Its driving force wasRosa Manus, an active member of internationalfeminist organizations. She not only donated herown extensive collections but wrote to women allover the world asking for donations. DuringWorld War II, the Nazis confiscated the archive.Some of its contents were lost, some were transferred to Germany and have disappeared, some ofit was saved. After the war, the archive became apart of the International Institute of SocialHistory. In the 1960s, the rebirth of the women’smovement led to increased interest in and use ofthe library, and in 1981 it moved to its own, larger premises. The archivists at the Amsterdamarchives have proven what many of us havelearned in doing women’s history: when youdefine a subject or a source worth saving, itbecomes visible. In the 1960s, the IAWM undertook a search for diaries and letters by women,and within a few months they began pouring in.They arrived in potato crates and wire boxes, theyvaried from a single holiday diary to a file of letters, to seven hundred notebooks written by onewoman. This year, the archives became an incredibly important place because the Dutch Ministerof Education decided that one of the questions onthe history exam for secondary school teacherswould be on Dutch women’s history. Historianshave been working frantically with high schoolteachers to prepare curriculum materials so students can be prepared to take the exam.Arletta Jacobs Gerritsen (1854–1929), the firstwoman physician in the Netherlands, amassed anenormous collection of books, papers, and periodicals having to do with women. She felt she owedher ability to become a doctor to the women’s3

Photo Credit: Christine Dunlap Farnham Archivesgood deal of time collecting and raising money.In 1940, in the face of World War II, she abandoned the effort. The collections she acquiredwere dispersed to various libraries, among themthe New York Public Library, the Sophia SmithCollection at Smith College, and the SchlesingerLibrary at Radcliffe.Helen Warren ’59 takes advantage of the resources of thePembroke College Library.movement of her day. By 1900, the collectionwas so big that the family hired someone to prepare a catalogue for publication. Eventually thecollection was sold, and somehow it crossed theocean, landing first in Chicago at the CrearLibrary then at the University of Kansas. Sevenor eight years ago, as it became clear that university libraries were unprepared to meet the enormousdemand for materials generated by women’s studies courses, the Gerritsen Collection was filmedand copies sold to libraries. A grant from theLowe Foundation enabled Brown to buy a copy ofthe Gerritsen Collection, making available a majorresearch resource on women just as the PembrokeCenter came into existence.In the United States there are many variants onthese stories, and there are interesting connections. In the 1920s, a Hungarian pacifist namedRosika Schwimmer, who had immigrated to theU.S., urged Mary Beard to establish a WorldCenter for Women’s Archives in the U.S.Schwimmer had helped organize the firstInternational Congress of Women in the Haguein 1915 to mediate an end to the war, and shewas eager to preserve the records of these efforts.Mary Beard agreed to the project and spent a4The Schlesinger Library began with a donationof papers from Maud Wood (Parks), Radcliffe,class of 1898. Ms. Wood was an ardent suffragistin college, and when she graduated she organizedthe National College Equal Suffrage League, acoalition of local women’s college groups. In1917, she went to Washington to lobby for theVoting Amendment, and when it passed, shebecame the first president of the League ofWomen Voters. Ms. Wood saved everything–herpapers, those of her coworkers, materials on thehistory of all aspects of the women’s rights movement in the United States. In 1943, she donatedher collection to Radcliffe with the hope that ascholarly resource, a museum, and a memorial tothe cause would be set up. Radcliffe trustee andHarvard historian Arthur M. Schlesinger suggested that the Maud Wood Parks papers become thekernel for a much larger effort–a library andarchive of the history of women in America.The project was supported by individuals whogave their papers: the doctor Mary Putnam Jacobiand the labor organizer Leonora O’Reilly; by historians like Mary Ritter Beard, whose efforts toset up an international women’s archives in NewYork had been interrupted by the war and whothen redirected her attention to Radcliffe; byArthur Schlesinger and his wife–also ahistorian–who donated their large etiquette andcookbook collection; and by activist book collectors like Miriam Holden, who described theRadcliffe archives as a place “that makes possiblethe study of women’s inherited traditions.” It alsogave a home to unwanted collections like that ofAnnie Dillon. Dillon was a Chicago suffragistwho decided that the movement for the voteought to be documented for future generations, soshe began collecting suffrage pamphlets. Beforethe collection grew too big, she contacted theNorthwestern University library, which assured

her of its interest in her work and promised totake the collection when she was ready to give it.When the time came, however, and Dillon offeredNorthwestern the collection, its archivists were nolonger interested and so refused to accept Dillon’sboxes of material. Shocked and dismayed, Dillonsought another repository for her papers.And–despite a belated attempt by Northwesternto reclaim them–they are now in the SchlesingerLibrary. In 1965, when Arthur Schlesinger died,the library was renamed in honor of the historianand his wife, and it has since been devoted to documenting not only famous women’s lives but thelives and achievements of American women.For me, the purpose of that library (and indeedof women’s archives generally) is wonderfully illustrated in an article written in 1957 by ElizabethBancroft Schlesinger. Although she never held theinstitutional positions won by her husband andson, Mrs. Schlesinger was an accomplished historian in her own right, and she was particularlyinterested in establishing the place of women inhistory. The article I want to tell you about wascalled “The Philosopher’s Wife and the Wolf atthe Door.” It was the account of the life ofAbigail Alcott, the wife of the eccentric NewEngland figure Bronson Alcott, and the mother ofLouisa Mae Alcott, author of Little Women. Inthe article, Elizabeth Schlesinger refutes thenotion that the lack of fame won by women likeAbigail Alcott was due to the insignificance of heractivities. Using Abigail’s diaries to make her case,Mrs. Schlesinger shows how she ran the household and earned most of the money that supported the family. “Mr. Alcott cannot bring himselfto work for gain,” Abigail noted, “but we havenot yet learned to live without money.” Anotherentry, commenting on Bronson’s penchant forphilosophical musings, gives insight into Abigail’sperspective: “Give me one day of practical philosophy,” she wrote. “It is worth a century of speculation and discussion.” To earn money for thefamily, Mrs. Alcott became a Boston city missionary in 1848. Visiting the poor and writing casereports as a paid employee, Mrs. Alcott was a pioneer in what would become the field of socialwork. In the article, Elizabeth Schlesinger notonly examines Abigail’s life but contrasts it sharplywith her husband’s. In a barely veiled condemnation, Mrs. Schlesinger writes: “One may wellwonder what Bronson Alcott did in Boston whilehis wife was working.” And she goes on to pointout that the answer is, not very much. Mr. Alcottdid have an occasional twinge of conscience, butfor the most part, Schlesinger notes (and these areher words), he was “quite smug about the importance of his own thoughts.” “While they feed notmy own family,” he wrote, “they will serve as anexchequer from whose drafts coming generationsare to be fed and nourished.” One concludes thearticle with great admiration for Abigail and amuch deflated impression of her famous husband,and that, surely, was Schlesinger’s intention. Hereis the conclusion of her piece:She (Abigail) ranks high among the Alcotts.Louisa lives in her books, not as the neuroticpersonality she actually was. Bronson livesbecause of his friendship with Emerson andThoreau, not because of the intrinsic merit of hisphilosophy. But Abba, although now nearly forgotten, lives anew in her diary as a gallant wifeand devoted mother and in her reports as a pioneer social worker.That conclusion is surely the explanation and justification for women’s archives. They gather thedocuments–written by and about women–thatmake it possible for later generations to glimpsetheir lives, to extract the meaning of those lives,and to give them historical significance. ForElizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger, it was not simply amatter of giving due to obscure lives but of establishing their place and their worth as the subjectsof history.The history of individual private collections hasyet to be written. But when it is, the name ofMiriam Holden will be prominent. Mrs. Holdenwas a member of the National Women’s Party aslate as 1965, and she wrote regularly on questionsof women’s history and women’s employment.She was particularly interested in librarians, perhaps because of her own passion for books, andshe called attention to “discriminatory practices”that led libraries to hire large numbers of womenfor low-level positions while high-paying directorship jobs were reserved for men. Miriam5

Holden supported the Schlesinger Library,corresponded with Arletta Jacobs and otherbibliophiles like herself, and spent a great deal oftime and money acquiring documents by andabout women. Mrs. Holden’s collection–carefully compiled and fully catalogued by theowner–now fills a room in Princeton’s FirestoneLibrary. The Holden Collection is a special spaceat a (still) very male-oriented institution, a spacewhere the importance of women quietly assertsitself from every shelf.The Stuff of MemoryAmong Brown alumnae, we have some avidcollectors too. Margery Leonard ’29 amassed animpressive number of feminist books, many ofwhich she has given to Brown, and Ethel NicholsThomas ’34 in 1985 presented her treasured collection of books on women to the Sarah DoyleCenter library. There are dozens more who havegiven us their papers, their diaries and memorabilia of college life at Pembroke, their letters andclippings from later years. And to organize andmake visible and usable all of this wonderfulmaterial, we now have the Christine DunlapFarnham Archives. I think you can see that theFarnham Archives continues a long tradition ofestablishing collections of women’s papers. Butit is worth taking a bit more time to point outthe way in which this archive relates to a veryspecial local history. The women I have talkedabout today were determined to preserve for posterity the record of their own actions and togather up in one place records of women’s experience in the past. The Farnham Archives doesjust that for women at Brown University. Itspurpose, as Chris enthusiastically understood it,is to restore to visibility the history of theWomen’s College that for a time was lost to view.In boxes in the basement of the John HayLibrary are the records and papers of the Deansof Pembroke College, hastily removed from filedrawers when the merger was declared, nowwaiting to be catalogued and organized by ournew archivist. In files and cartons in offices ofthe Pembroke Center are documents that alumnae have given as they cleared out their attics or6moved house. And all over the University arescattered papers and reports about women thatneed to be cross-indexed so that researchers willbe able to track them down. All this has begunto be supplemented by oral history interviewsthat enrich and flesh out the story of women atthis University and by letters we have solicitedfrom alumnae like Esther Cook ’16 that document in wonderful detail undergraduate life inthe early days of the Women’s College and thatprovide the beginnings of her autobiography.From a purely institutional point of view, theChristine Dunlap Farnham Archives are a vitalreminder that women at Brown University havean extraordinarily rich and exciting history.But of course, we are even more ambitiousthan that. In recent years, Brown undergraduates in women’s studies courses have unearthednot only the fascinating history of Pembroke butthe important connections between the Women’sCollege and women’s organizations and activitiesin Rhode Island. Local women like the schoolteacher Sarah Doyle worked tirelessly to getwomen admitted to Brown, and Pembroke graduates served as teachers, social workers, clubwomen, and political volunteers in the state.Women’s college graduates went on to extraordinary lives of reform and political activity–someof you have heard Martha Sharpe Cogan ’26 tellher story, others of you can now read about thisunique woman in the papers she has contributedto the Farnham Archives. Providence womenlike Mary Elizabeth Sharpe served on Pembrokeadvisory committees, contributing hours toefforts relating to women’s education. Thepapers of this remarkable woman, too, have beendonated to the Farnham Archives by her family,and they will enable students of women’s historyto gain real understanding of the workings ofvarious kinds of women’s organizations. Becauseof the interconnections between women ofBrown and women of Rhode Island, we decidedto make the Christine Dunlap Farnham Archivesa repository for papers of both those groups.The Farnham Archives is now the center in thestate for research on women.

Photo Credit: Christine Dunlap Farnham ArchivesThe Archives has its own history of determinedsupporters. Unlike the stories of individualwomen I have told you today, the FarnhamArchives has been from the beginning a collectiveeffort. The idea for the archives grew with thePembroke Center. Those of us involved in theCenter became increasingly aware of a need toknow more about the history of women at Brown,and we became aware of the rich resources thatexisted to write that history. We began to schemeabout ways to bring together those resources thatwere scattered throughout the library, bundled inboxes in basements and forgotten in attics andclosets. With the help of Martha Mitchell, welocated files and papers already in the Universityarchives. We asked people to clean out their closets and give us Pembroke materials, and they didwith enthusiasm. We interviewed alumnae andfollowed their suggestions about others to interview. We assigned students papers on the historyof women at Brown and in Rhode Island, and theycame up with new documents as well as new interpretations. Soon we realized we had begun to collect more material than we could control, and wesought the advice of experts. Polly Kaufman ’61,herself a historian of women, headed a committeeof Pembroke Center Associates that came up witha plan for an archives, and she insisted (with thekind of passion that must have inspired MarieLouise Bouglé and Miriam Holden) that we do itright. The directors of the libraries, Merrily Taylorand Sam Streit, endorsed the plan, and it became ajoint University Library–Pembroke Center project.Chris Farnham was then founding president of thePembroke Associates, and she supported the ideawith even more than her usual enthusiasm. Chrisknew the importance of history, and she wantedPembroke’s history to have a permanent and proudplace in the story of Brown University. WhenChris died and we sought a way to memorializeher, Phyllis Young and Judith Charles led the effortto establish the archives she had so energeticallysupported. Their efforts enabled us to hire KarenLamoree, who turned a dream and scattered effortsinto a wonderful reality by establishing a researchguide to the holdings. And those are only a few ofthe people involved in the creation of this women’sarchives. It is truly a collective effort, and it willcontinue to be so–as it should be.A photo from the early 1960s, Roberta Erickson ’61 and MarleneDrummond ’62 operate the Pembroke switchboard.With the establishment of the FarnhamArchives, Brown University proudly acknowledgesthe history of its women, gathering together thematerials from which many different kinds of collective memories will be fashioned. With thefounding of the Women’s College in 1891, theUniversity granted that women had the right andthe ability to be educated just as men were. Thecreation of the Women’s College declared andsecured women’s identity as rational, educablepeople with a distinctive sense of purpose. Thelong years of Pembroke’s history provided generations of women with an experience of equalityand difference. They were equal to men in abilitybut treated as a separate group; indeed, the deansspelled out in great detail the virtues and duties of“womanhood.” Infused in the Pembroke experience was the notion Sarah Doyle articulated in1897. Women had a separate sphere, shebelieved, but it was one of “infinite and indeterminate radius.” The confusion and anger thatsurrounded the merger in 1971 threatened toobscure this long and interesting history, and itthreatened, by entirely absorbing women into theUniversity, to lose sight of the distinctive positionwomen had fought to hold. The PembrokeCenter took its name as part of an effort to bring7

Photo Credit: Christine Dunlap Farnham ArchivesThe Ivy Chain procession leaving Pembroke Hall in 1911.women’s experience, its accomplishments and its problems, back into community consciousness. TheFarnham Archives is the historical arm of the Pembroke Center, accumulating the documentation uponwhich a permanent, though inevitably changing, historical memory can be built.For more information about the Christine Dunlap Farnham Archives or for inquiries aboutdonating materials, please contact pembroke [email protected] or (401) 863-6268.To view a small selection of items from the Christine Dunlap Farnham Archives, please visitour website: www.pembrokecenter.org/farnham archives/Published byThe Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Brown University – Box 1958, Providence, RI 02912Website: www.pembrokecenter.org E-mail: Pembroke [email protected] Phone: 401-863-2643 Fax: 401-863-1298

women’s archives, a tradition that–not at all coin-cidentally–began in the 1890s and early 1900s around the time the Women’s College was found-ed. For there is a connection between the pursuit of women’s education and the documentation of women’s past activities. The women and men who insisted