On August 26, 1943, Radcliffe College received from the alumna Maud Wood Park, Class of 1898, her collection of books, papers, and memorabilia on the suffrage movement, in which she had been a leader. Park’s Woman’s Rights Collection became the nucleus of the College’s research library, called the Women’s Archives, which continued to grow throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In 1965 the Women’s Archives was renamed the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America in honor of the Harvard University historian Arthur M. Schlesinger and his wife, Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger, who were strong supporters. With the surge of a new women’s movement in the 1960s and1970s, the library’s collections grew rapidly, as feminist activists highlighted the importance of women’s history and created their own documents and publications.
As its name suggests, the Schlesinger Library’s mission is to document women’s lives from the past and present for the future. Its holdings illuminate a vast array of individuals, families, organizations, events, and trends and contain a wealth of resources for the study of social, political, economic, and cultural history. The library’s collections are especially rich in the areas of women’s rights and feminism, health and sexuality, social reform and activism, work and family life, culinary history, and education and the professions.
More than 3,500 unique manuscript collections span time, class, geography, and race. Documents such as diaries and letters reveal the day-to-day lives of families and women of all ages and the struggles and triumphs of well-known women of accomplishment. The records of women’s organizations, beginning in the early 19th century, document a broad range of American women’s activism for human, civil, and women’s rights and women’s activities at home and abroad.
The books and collections of printed materials are a comprehensive gathering of more than 80,000 books and 4,000 periodical titles documenting every aspect of American women’s lives and history. An additional 20,000 books are culinary titles, including cookbooks and works on food in domestic life from the 16th to 21st centuries and many countries. In addition, the library holds 4,500 culinary pamphlets and nearly 2,000 menus.
More than 150,000 photographs—from daguerreotypes to digital images and from casual snapshots to the works of professional photographers—create an unparalleled visual record of women’s private and public life. Audiotapes, videotapes, and oral history tapes and transcripts add the soundtrack to the story of women’s lives.
The archives of Radcliffe College, which include the papers of officers, students, and alumnae, document not only the history of the College but also the history of women in higher education.
The library’s collections continue to expand to include new topics, such as pop culture, and new formats, such as “born digital” materials, that will document the exciting diversity of women in America into the 21st century and beyond.