Women's Studies


“This Great and Glorious Country”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

The January release of Black Authors, 1556-1922: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a philosophical exploration of death and future life, a moving slave narrative, and the autobiography of the U.S. Army’s first African American nurse. 


Death, Hades, and the Resurrection (1883) 

By Theophilus Gould Steward 

Educator, clergyman, and Buffalo Soldier, Theophilus Gould Steward was born to free African Americans in New Jersey in 1843. This work was published when Steward was 40, eight years before he joined the 25th U.S. Colored Infantry and two years after he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from Wilberforce University.    

Steward begins Death, Hades, and the Resurrection by asking questions pondered since time immemorial: 

What is it to die? Do we live after death? Can anything be known of the experiences, and employments, of those beyond death? Is there any possible means of communication between the living and the dead? Is there any communication among the dead themselves? Are there any individual joys, or sorrows, among them? 

Steward turns to religion, specifically Christianity, to answer these seemingly scientific queries. He begins by acknowledging religion “has no self-evident axioms from which it may proceed, as science has; no list of experiments by which it can be tested beforehand; but claims Faith first, and investigation afterward.” But he then muddies that distinction: 

“This Great and Glorious Country”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

Women in Disguise, Distress and Even in Battle: Riveting Works by Women in American Pamphlets

Although men constitute a preponderance of the authors of the more than 25,000 American pamphlets in the New-York Historical Society’s extraordinary collection, many works written and published by women are also included. From the most recent release of American Pamphlets, Series 1, 1822-1922, here are brief descriptions of three gripping personal narratives by American women:


The life and adventures of Ann Eliza Dow being a true narrative written by herself (1845)

Women in Disguise, Distress and Even in Battle: Riveting Works by Women in American Pamphlets

The First Woman Elected to Congress: Jeannette Rankin’s Historic Victory

On Nov. 7, 1916, the U.S. Congress—and the entire nation—forever changed when Montana’s Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress, winning a seat in the House of Representatives. Women at that time did not have universal suffrage—the 19th Amendment, granting all American women the right to vote, was passed by Congress in 1919 but did not become law until it was ratified on Aug. 26, 1920.
The First Woman Elected to Congress: Jeannette Rankin’s Historic Victory

African American Women’s History in the Digital Age: A Readex Breakfast Presentation

On January 26, 2014, during the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, will present “Still Reading the Silences: African American Women’s History in the Digital Age.”

Prof. Dunbar’s talk will focus on the work of recovering early African American women's history, both before and during the digital revolution. She will examine the utility and limitations of digitization in early African American history. For many historians, the digitization of documents and images has allowed scholars wider access to important evidence. Yet for historians of women and people of African descent the evidence trail remains elusive. While digitization promotes the wider dissemination of historical evidence, it doesn't provide a remedy for absent voices. Dunbar will discuss the ways that historians of women and people of African descent must engage in new digitization technology as well as older techniques of gathering and interpreting evidence.

African American Women’s History in the Digital Age: A Readex Breakfast Presentation

Just published — The Readex Report: September 2012

In this issue: celebrating a milestone of African American freedom; China's canal system sparks domestic curiosity and competition; students reveal the history of Radical Republicans; and fetching females hawk clipper-ship trips. Freedom Bound: The Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation By Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Associate Professor of History, University of Delaware, and Director of the Program in African American History, Library Company of Philadelphia
In 2013, people across the United States will celebrate the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. As the country approached a third year of bloody civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued what has become the most symbolic of mandates. Although limited in many ways, the Proclamation stands as a centerpiece in the long struggle to end racial slavery in America, an institution that spanned more than two centuries and brought death and despair to millions of people of African descent. (read article)
Lake Erie by Way of Guangzhou: Or, The Other Canal Boom By Dael Norwood, Ph.D. Candidate in History, Princeton University
Just published — The Readex Report: September 2012

Freedom of Movement: The Shocking Life of Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan (May 27, 1877 - September 14, 1927). Image from America's Historical Newspapers

Isadora Duncan was dance-struck as a young child in San Francisco. By the time she was six, she was teaching neighborhood children how to move like ocean waves. The strict rules of ballet and conventions of the music hall never held her interest. Indeed, throughout her life as a dancer and teacher, she rebelled against the forms and costumes of traditional dance, preferring movements based on nature and emotion. In 1895, still a teenager, she moved to Chicago and joined the Augustin Daly Company, touring from the Midwest to New York to London. While in London, she also danced solo performances at society events.

Freedom of Movement: The Shocking Life of Isadora Duncan

Hoochie Coochie: The Lure of the Forbidden Belly Dance in Victorian America

“It was downright indecent.  I saw women go out after the creatures had begun what they call their dance.  I did not stay it through. I just couldn’t.”1

(A woman’s indignant account of her visit to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893)

From America's Historical Newspapers

Danse du ventre, oriental dance, the hoochie coochie, coochie coochie, muscle dance, or better known to us as belly dance, was almost unknown in the United States until 1893 when brightly colored dancers dressed in exotic garb from the Middle East appeared at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Their dancing both fascinated and scandalized Victorians.  The Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, commemorated the 400-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World.  It was the first world’s fair with an area of amusements set aside from exhibitions.  This area was known as the Midway Plaisance.  One of the most popular attractions on the Midway was “A Street in Cairo,” where the dancers performed.  Over 27 million people attended the Exposition during its six-month run.2 "The Streets of Cairo” was one of its more memorable attractions for many visitors, as well as one of its most controversial. Victorian visitors often viewed the dancers, now identified from the published descriptions of their costumes as gypsy ghawazi from Egypt3, with a mixture of fascination, amusement and moralistic revulsion:

Hoochie Coochie: The Lure of the Forbidden Belly Dance in Victorian America

Announcing the digital edition of Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star, 1852-1922

Old Evening Star Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. -- Source: Carol M. Highsmith Archive (Library of Congress)

This spring Readex will begin releasing a complete 70-year span of The Evening Star—one of the most influential newspapers in U.S. history. For more than a century, historians have regarded The Evening Star as the newspaper of record for the nation’s capital. Today, curators from leading newspaper repositories cite this long-running afternoon daily as one of their most heavily researched papers.

Man buying The Evening Star from newsboy -- Source: National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)

Announcing the digital edition of Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star, 1852-1922

The Lady’s Maid: A Life in Service in America

Downton Abbey, a drama that recently ended its second season on PBS about the English aristocracy and their servants during the Edwardian era, has become a cult hit in the United States. A great deal of its appeal is nostalgia for an elegant way of life unfamiliar to most of us. And there is likely not a woman alive who has not wished for a lady’s maid (of a nicer sort) than the dour and scheming O’Brien, lady’s maid to Lady Grantham (Cora Crawley). Ladies’ maids were part seamstress, masseuse, hairdresser, beautician and secretary. Unlike the rest of the servants, they reported directly to the lady of the house rather than to the housekeeper or butler, which set them apart from the others. As Downton Abbey makes abundantly clear, a strict hierarchy ruled "below stairs" too. The butler, housekeeper and ladies' maids were at the top. Because of the close nature of the relationship between the lady of the house and her maid, maids were carefully selected. According to The Lady’s Maid: Her Duties and How to Perform Them, a manual published in 1870,
The Lady’s Maid: A Life in Service in America

How to Get Ahead: Century-Old Advice for the “Woman of Business”

From The Idaho Statesman (April 30, 1911). Source: American Newspaper Archives

How to Get Ahead: Century-Old Advice for the “Woman of Business”

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