Schlesinger Library staff are midway through a year of collaboration with their peers in the archives and special collections of the schools once known as the “Seven Sisters.” In the early spring of 2014, the library received word that the National Endowment for the Humanities had funded a one-year planning grant titled “The History of Women’s Education Open Access Portal Project.” Spearheaded by the Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women's Education at Bryn Mawr College, the project seeks to develop a digital portal that gathers the letters, diaries, scrapbooks, and photographs of students, from the founding of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837 through the mid-20th century. In addition to Radcliffe College and Bryn Mawr College, the project involves the other five “sibling” schools: Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Vassar College, and Wellesley College.
Through virtual meetings, as well as an in-person summit at Barnard College, the project group has been addressing the challenges of merging the cataloging practices and digitization standards of seven different institutions. They have also worked with a developer to create specifications for a pilot portal to which each institution will contribute a small sample of digitized resources.
This early work of planning, researching, and cooperating has already proved fruitful. Here at the Schlesinger, staff reviewed the extensive collections of the Radcliffe College Archives and have prepared several small collections for digitization. These materials will be added to our quickly growing array of digitized collections and will be available through Harvard University’s local online resources, including HOLLIS, OASIS, and VIA, as well as the future project database.
Already cataloged and available in VIA, photographs from the Radcliffe College Archives capture a range of student life: a whimsical (and probably staged) photograph shows freshman students taking an exam in 1922. A caption with the photograph reads:
Six Radcliffe “Freshies” and one lonely “Soph” in “characteristic” pose. The pose of these feet resulted from the midyear exams which Radcliffe girls have been taking.
Another photograph shows Radcliffe students playing basketball in the Radcliffe gymnasium during the 1930s. Other Radcliffe College Archives photographs illustrate the current events of the times, particularly World War I. In 1918, a contingent of Radcliffe students is shown marching in a parade to support the purchasing of war bonds.
In addition to photographs, the project will provide access to diaries, letters, and scrapbooks of Radcliffe students. The busy social and academic life of students at the beginning of the 20th century is illustrated by the scrapbook of Lucia R. Briggs. A graduate of the Radcliffe College class of 1909, she was the daughter of Le Baron Russell Briggs, Harvard professor, dean, and second president of Radcliffe. Lucia Briggs eventually served as the president of Milwaukee-Downer College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her college scrapbook is filled with the tangible evidence of student life; it contains letters, calling cards, playbills, and theater tickets, as well as exams, photographs, and other mementos.
Even in this early phase of the project, this small selection of archival materials demonstrates the vast potential the project has to offer to researchers of women’s history and beyond.