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Women’s Studies

At the meeting of the League of Women Voters, Hyde Park, New York.

The study of women and gender is supported by holdings throughout RMC: from old Icelandic sagas to modern American sexual politics. Some materials are primarily about women, cataloged as such, and easy to find; other valuable documents about women are contained within collections or works not focused on women per se, and they take more thought and creativity to locate. Remember that not all original resources are represented in the Cornell Catalog online. When looking for original manuscripts and older printed materials, you will need to search both the online catalog and the card catalog to research topics comprehensively. Here are some examples of places to look for documentation on women and gender.

18 C. France: The personal and social correspondence in the French Revolution Collection provides information on marriage and relations between men and women, questions of inheritance and family lineage, and the caring for children. The Lafayette Collection includes correspondence with his wife, Adrienne de Noailles, written when Lafayette set off to the American colonies in 1777.

Literature and the Arts: Papers of British and American women writers include those of Violet Hunt, Laura (Riding) Jackson, Diane Ackerman, and Alison Lurie. RMC has three shelves of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, giving researchers the opportunity to study the dramatic changes in the way this pivotal novel with a lesbian protagonist was marketed since its first appearance in 1928. The papers of Theodore Dreiser, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Rudyard Kipling, Wyndham Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, E.B. White, and William Wordsworth also contain relevant materials. In addition, RMC holds the papers of silent film actresses Irene Castle and Mame Hennessy; a large number of portraits and autograph letters of 19c. French, British, and American actresses; and papers and drawings of landscape architect Ellen Shipman.

History of Science: The History of Science Collection doesn’t have many works by women authors, but it does have plenty of books that provide evidence of the perception of women at various times in (mainly European) history. These titles won’t necessarily have subject headings that tell you what they have about women, so you would do well to start by looking at the bibliographies in secondary sources such as Margaret Rossiter’s books or Londa Schiebinger’s excellent study, The Mind Has No Sex. The bibliographies will lead you to appropriate primary sources. Much of the History of Science Collection is not yet represented in the online catalog. But the card catalog for the History of Science Collection does include subject access, so you can find works specifically on women under headings such as:

  • Women—Health and hygiene
  • Women—Diseases
  • Women—Anatomy and physiology
  • Women in science
  • Women scientists
  • Anorexia (We have several medical dissertations on the subject, but they’re all in Latin.)

Women’s roles in research and teaching in the sciences are documented by the papers of ornithologists Elsa Allen, Margaret Morse Nice, and Sally Spofford; embryologist Susanna Phelps Gage; bacteriologist Alice Catherine Evans; nutritionist Hazel Hauck; scientific illustrators Anna Botsford Comstock and Elfriede Abbe; and historian of science Dorothy Schullian. The papers of Dr. Joyce Brothers provide substantial documentation on women’s roles and women’s sexuality. The archival records of the College of Home Economics include much information on women in the sciences because the college provided opportunities for women to teach and to do research when such possibilities were severely limited. The Division also holds the records of Sigma Delta Epsilon, the honorary society for graduate women in science.

Medicine and health care planning are documented by the records of individual physicians (including Mary Merritt Crawford, Theresa Scanlan, and Anne Tjomsland), nurses (Mary Beard, Charlotte Holmes Crawford, and Jean Broughton Hoyt Smith), social worker Elizabeth Greene Gardiner, the Medical Society of the Sate of New York, the Women’s Medical Society of New York State, and the Harmon Association for the Advancement of Nursing. Lecture notes document 19th c. medical education in obstetrics and gynecology. More substantive documentation of the history of medicine can be found in the Medical Archives of the Cornell University Medical College.

University Archives: Coed from its founding, Cornell has its own history of women, found within the official university and departmental records, photographs, and oral history interviews; the papers of women faculty and administrators including Martha Van Rensselaer, Flora Rose, Anna Botsford Comstock, Ethel Waring, Margaret Wylie, Elsie Murray, Hazel Hauck, and Rose K. Goldsen; the papers of Ezra Cornell, Andrew Dickson White, and Helen Magill White; the records of the New York State College of Home Economics, the Women’s Self-Government Association, and the Women’s Studies Program, and student scrapbooks.

Regional history: Family papers, church records, and other collections on upstate New York history provide information about women’s roles, family relationships, child-rearing, and other issues. The Johnson Family papers include discussion of family relations and matrimony, genealogy, domestic arrangements and social life of descendants of the Presidential Adams family living in Utica, New York. Papers of women in New York politics include: Assemblywomen Constance Cook and Jane Hedges Todd, and Congresswoman Katherine St. George.

Political and Social Movements: Abolition, temperance, woman suffrage, pacifism, higher education, and labor are all documented in many of the collections in the Rare and Manuscript Division. The May Anti-Slavery Collection, for example, includes the correspondence and writings of women abolitionists such as Angelina Weld Grim. The papers of Emily Howland, Dorothy Whitney Straight Elmhirst, and Sarah Cooper document a broad range of social issues of concern to women. Civil War materials include holdings on Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lydia Maria Child. Cornell’s Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives also contains important documentation of women in the labor movement and women’s work lives.

Human Sexuality Collection: The Human Sexuality Collection contains a wealth of information that documents women’s lives, including the emergence of the American lesbian and gay rights movement and different perspectives on the pornography business. Key collections include the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force papers; documentation of lesbian publishing including lesbian and feminist periodicals from the 1950s to the present from across the United States, lesbian pulp novels, and contemporary lesbian erotica; oral history projects; and Don Bachardy portraits of leaders of the gay rights movement, including Elaine Noble, Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin, Barbara Gittings, and Jean O’Leary. Roey Thorpe’s oral history interviews give details of the lives and communities of African American and white lesbians in Detroit from the 1940s to the 1970s that would not have been available without her exceptional efforts.

Related Online Resources

Collection Highlights