By AUDREY FISCHER
The Library of Congress hosted a two-day symposium in June titled "Resourceful Women: Researching and Interpreting American Women's History," which was focused on women's private and public lives and the historical resources used to explore them.
The program featured the Library's multiformat holdings in American women's history and highlighted current research in the field by historians, museum curators, filmmakers, children's book authors and others involved in presenting this information to a variety of audiences.
"These resources exist in every conceivable format—books, letters, diaries, maps, newspapers, prints, photographs, periodicals, sheet music, sound recordings and moving images," said Diane Kresh, director for the Library's Public Service Collections. "With more than 9 million volumes in languages other than English, these materials concern not only women in the United States but in nearly every country in the world."
The symposium, which drew more than 300 people from three continents, capped a multiyear effort to identify and publicize the Library's holdings in American women's history. In December 2001, the Library, in cooperation with the University Press of New England, published a 456-page book titled "American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States." The symposium marked the formal debut of the Library's new "American Women" Web site (see page 204). Building on the guide, the Web site serves as a gateway to conducting research in the Library's online and traditional holdings in women's history. The latest addition to the Library's American Memory Web site comprising some 8 million digital items, "American Women" can be accessed at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/.
"From the beginning, my colleagues and I sought to assemble a group of speakers who reflected the diversity of the Library's researchers and could explore the connections between different types of audiences, sources, media and research products," said Janice Ruth of the Library's Manuscript Division. "We were so pleased with how thoughtful, humorous and informative the speakers were in discussing their findings and in sharing their insights about researching American women's history at the Library of Congress as well as other institutions. We were also gratified by how receptive and engaged the audience was throughout."
Ruth, along with Sheridan Harvey (Humanities and Social Sciences Division), Barbara Natanson (Prints and Photographs Division) and Barbara Bair (Manuscript Division) organized the conference. Ruth, Harvey and Natanson also edited the resource guide along with Publishing Office editors Evelyn Sinclair and Sara Day.
The two-day symposium featured panels dealing with women and the law, biographical research, women's private lives, political and social reform, and labor.
Moderated by Georgetown University law professor Wendy Webster Williams, with presentations by Columbia University law professor Patricia J. Williams and University of Iowa history professor Linda K. Kerber, the Thursday evening (June 19) panel on women and the law featured brief remarks by Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Susan Stamberg, former host of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," welcomed the audience on Friday morning with personal remarks about her experiences as the first woman to anchor a nightly news program and the strides made by women in the field of journalism during the past 30 years.
"We are major players today," said Stamberg, "and I believe our presence makes a difference in the stories that are chosen and told. What matters is that we are at the table and have our arguments heard."
Fellow journalist A'Lelia Bundles, an Emmy Award-winning producer currently with ABC News in Washington, kicked off the biography panels on Thursday afternoon with a discussion of her research into the life of her great-great-grandmother, Madam C. J. Walker, the first African-American millionaire.
Bundles was introduced by historian Susan Ware, who chaired two panels devoted to biographical research (see related story on page 202). Ware, who edits the "Notable American Women" series at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, headed the committee of scholars who advised the Library on the publication "American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States." Ware wrote the introduction to the guide, and she is working on a biography of radio pioneer Mary Margaret McBride, whose papers and radio broadcasts are in the Library's collections.
Panelists discussed their biographical research on subjects ranging from the famous, such as first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and anthropologist Margaret Mead, to the less well-known, such as spiritualist and water-cure physician Juliet H. Severance.
As part of Friday's session on private life, panelists discussed their research into the lives of teenagers and girls in Japanese-American communities, the Hispanic Southwest, and in popular culture. Several acknowledged a debt to the Library of Congress and its staff for preserving and making available a veritable treasure trove of resources.
The last panel, "Women and Labor," chaired by historian Sharon Harley, featured New York documentary filmmaker Lisa Ades and historian Elizabeth Clark-Lewis. Both spoke about their efforts to record women's struggles in the work force. Ades, whose film credits include the critically acclaimed PBS series "New York," as well as "Coney Island," "The Donner Party," "The Way West," "Miss America," and "Beauty in a Jar," showed clips of her work and said the lives of women need to be more extensively captured in film. She said she frequently used materials from the Library's Prints and Photographs Division.
Clark-Lewis, professor and director of the Public History Program at Howard University, showed clips from "Freedom Bags," her award-winning PBS documentary about the lives of African- American women as domestic servants. Clark-Lewis stressed the importance of diaries and other precious primary sources that are still in family hands and need to be collected by institutions. The audience was also treated to film clips from the field work of Margaret Mead and fellow anthropologist and literary figure Zora Neale Hurston.
Playwright Lynn Schrichte performed segments from her one-woman show
about the actress Minnie Maddern Fiske. Independent scholars Linda
Peavy and Ursula Smith—known as "P.S., a Partnership"—demonstrated
how they dramatize women's lives through a series of "tandem dialogues."
The two were previously senior historical consultants for the PBS reality
history miniseries, "Frontier House."
As part of the discussion about women and labor, Sheila Kirschbaum and Sheli Turocy, educators from the Tsongas Industrial History Center, dramatized the life of Annie, a 19th-century cotton mill worker who was injured on the job.
In the symposium's closing address, historian Nancy F. Cott discussed her indebtedness to the availability of historical resources. Cott is the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University and director of the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Cott devoted much of her talk to reviewing the progress of the women's history field from its inception in the early 1970s to its expansion 30 years later.
"The bulk of the practice of the women's history field moves in waves over time," said Cott. "I think it has moved from a focus on economic issues to political issues to cultural issues as historians try to tell the truth of history from a newly revealing angle. More documents come to light, we hope, enabling more telling of truths. But even from the same documents, new approaches continue to surface, meaning that women's history and gender history continue to reflect contemporary thought about the past."
Funding for the symposium and the accompanying film series was made possible by grants from the Library of Congress Manuscript Division Benjamin Fund and the James H. Billington Endowment, which is funded by the generous support of Library of Congress Madison Council members Abraham and Julienne Krasnoff.
The symposium can be viewed on the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/rr/women/awprogram.html.
Audrey Fischer is a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office.