Children's Literature: Collections

To twenty-first-century readers familiar with the overwhelming success of children’s books, such as the Harry Potter series and the iconic stories created by Roald Dahl, it might be surprising to learn that children's literature as a genre did not truly emerge until the 1700s. Due to Puritan influence, early children's tales were both entertaining and moralistic, intended to teach and shape the character of a child through the story—Aesop's Fables and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are good examples. It was not until the late 1800s that children's literature lost its didactic style, and stories designed purely for entertainment began to emerge. During this time, children's books also became more available as improved printing technologies made books more affordable and literacy rates increased. Having lost their didacticism, books like The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia Peabody Hale, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett emerged, leading many to consider the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the golden age of children's literature. It wasn't until the creation of the Newbery Medal in the 1920s however, that publishers finally began to take children's literature seriously as a marketable genre.

The early history of children's literature in America was closely tied to the preferences that came out of England. It was not until the end of the Civil War that American children's books began to develop their own style. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was revolutionary in creating interest in realistic family-oriented books, while The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain was central to popularizing realistic fiction for children. Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, influenced the development of beginner's books and the fantastical in children's literature. Children's magazines were also important in circulating and popularizing stories aimed specifically at children.

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Alongside its growth as a genre, children's literature was significant to the development of female creativity and freedom. In the early nineteenth century, women writers were often confined to genres that were considered feminine, especially poetry and children's literature, due to their sentimentality and association with the domestic sphere. Writing for children, therefore, became an important source of income for female authors, until later in the century when they would contribute to fiction more widely.

Containing primary sources that highlight female-authored children's literature, Gale's Women's Studies Archive is an essential resource for those researching the history of children's literature, the history of female authorship, or the interconnection between women and children. From books of nursery rhymes like “Old Mother Hubbard” to influential later works like Hans Brinker by Mary Mapes Dodge, to lesser-known works like The Candy Country by famous authors such as Louisa May Alcott, the Women's Studies Archive is full of interesting sources that allow researchers to thoroughly explore the literary works available to young readers throughout the nineteenth century.

  • Monographs on and by Women from the American Antiquarian Society

    Voice and Vision features a substantial monograph collection from the American Antiquarian Society. These books contain the output of predominantly female authors in a variety of forms, including poetry, fiction, instructional guides (domestic and professional), personal letters, recipe books, memoirs, pamphlets and leaflets, biographies and autobiographies, personal papers, children’s literature, commentaries on fashion, diaries, and religious tracts. The material covers an eclectic mix of topics, such as the abolition of slavery, education, African American women, alcohol and temperance, American life, divorce, domestic service, education, female crime, poetry, health and hygiene, Native American women, Irish women, juvenile literature, mental health, moral reform, religion, sexual discrimination, social reform and charitable organizations, women in publishing, women’s legal status, and women’s suffrage and rights.

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  • Rare Titles from the American Antiquarian Society, 1820–1922

    Containing over one million pages of women-authored works from the American Antiquarian Society, the pre-eminent collector of pre-twentieth-century Americana, this archive includes over a century of female writing. This unique corpus of female-authored literature centers on the American female experience in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The database not only provides women’s perspective of history but is an essential resource for researchers wanting to undertake in-depth analysis into women’s authorship, enabling researchers to track the development of female language, literature, and ideas.

    Curated by the American Antiquarian Society, the monographs were selected from across the library’s collections, including a diversity of fiction genres and non-fiction subjects but primarily because they were authored or edited by women in an attempt to provide users with a canon of women's literature. This artificial collection has been kept deliberately broad and includes fiction, poetry, instructional guides on domestics and etiquette, personal letters, recipe books, memoirs, histories, pamphlets and leaflets, biographies and autobiographies, personal papers, children’s literature, commentaries on fashion, diaries, legal accounts, oration, political ephemera, and religious tracts. This incredibly wide scope supports a variety of research, helping users answer questions about women's cultural contributions as well as provide insight into women’s day-to-day lives. The individuals range from famous figures to complete unknowns, allowing scholars to make new connections and rediscover lost or ignored works from the past.

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