Women’s Rights Movement: Collections

In July 1848, 300 suffrage movement activists gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, for the United States’ first Women’s Rights Convention. During the convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented her “Declaration of Sentiments,” which, in addition to demanding legal, moral, economic, and political equality between men and women, advocated for “the elective franchise” for women. The fight for suffrage by American women would take 70 years in the United States. The primary source materials in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive provide researchers examining the development of the women’s rights movement and the fight for suffrage in the United States and abroad with a rich collection of materials. 

Although some municipalities and states allowed women to vote in school board elections and the new state of Wyoming had given women the right to vote, in 1908, most women in the United States were still disenfranchised. The first major protest in support of women’s rights was organized by Maud Malone. The departure from the traditional tactics of the movement worried other suffragists, who believed that a march or protest could be harmful to the movement. In February 1908, Malone and 30 women marched with 2,000 men in defiance of a police ban in New York City. The response from the press to the march was universally positive. The march was peaceful, and Malone hoped that her tactics would differentiate herself from the more militant activism of the British suffragettes. Later in life, however, Malone would come to embrace more radical tactics. 

Throughout the next decade in the United States, the movement began to gain momentum, eventually leading to Congress sending the Nineteenth Amendment, granting the right of women to vote, to the states for ratification. By 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified and certified as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The women’s rights movement began to move on to new battles that focused on other issues affecting the lives of women. To examine these campaigns in greater detail, researchers can explore the primary sources available in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive, including collections charting the history of the women’s rights movement.

  • Alicia Escalante Papers

    Alicia Escalante was a Chicana activist who championed welfare rights, economic justice, and women’s rights in Los Angeles during the 1960s Chicano movement. She was involved in, and arrested for, participation in multiple social and economic justice movements. The collection includes correspondence, speeches, articles, publications, and internal organizational files that document her activism and involvement.

    The inclusion of material on Chicana leaders and activists allows researchers to understand a variety of perspectives on women’s experiences and their impact on society.

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  • Anna Garlin Spencer Papers, 1878‒1931

    Anna Garlin Spencer was a minister, feminist, educator, pacifist, and writer on ethics and social problems. She dedicated her life to social reform and was active in the cause of women’s rights for more than 40 years. Her interest in pacifism led to prominent positions in the cause for peace, including with the National Arbitration and Peace Congress and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, as well as being a founding member of the Woman’s Peace Party in 1915. The papers featured in this collection include correspondence and writings by Spencer as well as biographical and family material.

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  • European Women’s Periodicals

    This collection contains European women’s publications from Austria (over 20), Belgium (over 15), France (over 40), Germany (over 50), Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Dutch Indonesia (over 50). The majority of the material dates between 1880 and 1940. These periodicals informed readers and allowed them to express their views on a wide range of topics, including literature and the arts, women’s suffrage, birth control, education, and homemaking. Socialist women’s journals, such as Die Gleichheit, highlight the important role women played in socialist movements. Other periodicals focus on Catholic interests, issues of importance to young women or working women, and specific political parties and movements. Illuminating a wide range of women’s concerns, struggles for equality, and involvement in progressive movements, this collection is vital for researchers interested in the history of feminism in northern Europe.

    The collection includes Neues Frauenleben (1902–1915), the periodical of the General Austrian Women’s Organization, which advocated suffrage, marriage reform, education, and better working conditions for women. French publications comprise the earliest periodicals in the collection, among them the arts-focused Psyche (1836–1841) and the socialist La Vague (1918–1937). La Française (1906–1940), written for moderate, middle-class feminist women, advocated suffrage, battled stereotypes, and, after 1930, condemned the rise of fascism. German periodical Die Neue Generation (1908–1932) was edited by sexual reformer and pacifist Helene Stöcker, and advocated legal abortion, sexual education, and women’s equality.

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  • Grassroots Feminist Organizations, Part 1: Boston Area Second Wave Organizations, 1968‒1998

    The archives of eight Boston-area second-wave organizations are represented, with materials spanning a period from 1968 to 1998. Figuring prominently are the documents from the Women’s Educational Center; the Women School; the Abortion Action Coalition; and the Boston chapter of Women Against Violence Against Women, which combated offensive representations of women in media. Materials include meeting minutes, records of personnel and finances, correspondence, newsletters, files regarding affiliated organizations and opposition groups, and course descriptions. The collection demonstrates the wide range of issues Boston feminists tackled, such as domestic violence, racism, pornography, rape, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. The Female Liberation, Boston Women’s Union, and Boston Area Feminist Coalition records highlight theoretical underpinnings of the feminist movement, especially socialist feminism.

    Boston and San Francisco were hubs of the second-wave feminism movement. This collection provides primary sources that are essential for researchers examining second-wave feminism and other social movements in the United States during the period from 1968 to 1998.

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  • Grassroots Feminist Organizations, Part 2: San Francisco Women’s Building/Women’s Centers, 1972‒1998

    The materials from San Francisco detail the work of the first woman-owned-and-run women’s center in the United States from 1972 to 1998. Many of the files document the founding, planning, and daily administration of the center, including the building itself and its place in the surrounding community. The Women’s Building/Women’s Center housed or sponsored more than 100 projects and women’s groups. Documents highlight its extensive involvement with organizations that supported women from different countries, cultures, religions, races, and life circumstances. Other projects involved gay and lesbian rights; health care; legislation; reproductive rights; and even issues not explicitly connected with women’s rights, such as Central American intervention, AIDS, and affirmative action. The collection also details the many film, theater, poetry, music, and visual arts events hosted and sponsored by the organization. Materials include meeting minutes, financial records, correspondence, newsletters, records of center-related groups, and flyers about events and projects.

    Both Boston and San Francisco were hubs of the second-wave feminism movement. This collection is essential for researchers examining second-wave feminism and other social movements in the United States during the period from 1972 to 1998.

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  • Herstory Collection

    The Herstory Collection comprises full texts of journals, newspapers, and newsletters tracing the evolution of women’s rights movements in the United States and abroad from 1956 to 1974. Compiled by the Women’s History Library from materials donated by the organizations that published them, the collection includes documents from the National Organization for Women (NOW), Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Women Strike for Peace (WSP), and many other groups.

     Among the longest-running periodicals in the collection is The Ladder, the journal of the Daughters of Bilitis, which was the first organization in the United States specifically dedicated to lesbian civil and political rights. Issues include those from October 1956 to August 1971—nearly a complete run. Also featured are the newsletters of many local and regional chapters of the National Organization for Women, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Portland, Oregon, and many larger and smaller cities in between. Several newsletters are devoted to efforts to legalize abortion. Among these are the newsletters of the Women’s Ad-Hoc Abortion Coalition, the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, and the Indiana Abortion Coalition. These texts date from 1969 to 1971, and provide unique insight into the activism leading to the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v. Wade.

    Researchers interested in the evolution of women’s rights in the late twentieth century will find this collection indispensable for its primary source materials on a wide range of topics, from equal pay and reproductive rights to the role of women in the peace movement.

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  • Records of the Equal Opportunities Commission

    The Equal Opportunities Commission was set up as an independent statutory body that worked toward the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex or marriage, promoted equal opportunities for women and men, kept the Sex and Discrimination Act under review, and provided legal advice and assistance to individuals who had been discriminated against. In 2007, it merged into the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The collection includes minutes and papers of Equal Opportunities Commission meetings, minutes and papers of its legal committee, surviving papers of other committees and working parties, and major case papers.

    With material covering 1962 to 2001, this collection is especially important in bringing the conversation on women’s voices and visibility into the twenty-first century.

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  • Women and Law Collection

    Compiled from 1969 to 1975 by the Women’s History Research Center Inc., the collection covers six broad topics within the framework of women and law, including general information on women’s legal issues; politics; employment; special films on rape, prison, and prostitution; and issues specific to Black and minority women. Much of the content is contemporary to the collection, but historical documents can be found as well. The collection includes texts on a wide range of legal issues relating to women, and also includes sources related to early equal-rights efforts and protests and the women’s liberation movement. Also of interest to legal scholars are files related to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Women’s Rights Project, which was established in 1971 by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Rutgers law professor at the time. Other source materials consider laws that apply to women’s access to employment and education, as well as legal cases that tested common practice, such as challenges to employee benefits and maternity leave.

    Unique to this collection is its presentation of multiple perspectives on a wide range of legal issues that affect the lives of women. While most of the materials focus on women in the United States, there are categories that consider international issues and women in different countries. These texts include newspaper, magazine, and journal clippings, speech transcripts, academic and position papers, newsletters, legal test cases, films, images, surveys, and other media.

    This wide-ranging collection offers researchers the opportunity to study the changing roles of women in the United States and abroad, and to examine the legal underpinnings of the American feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

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  • Women’s Labor League: Conference Reports and Journals, 1906‒1977

    This collection consists of the conference proceedings, annual reports, and publications from the Women’s Labor League (WLL) and the Labor Party Women’s Organization. The Women’s Labor League was a UK-based, feminist-driven organization aimed at increasing women’s involvement in Parliament and other significant forums. The organization’s primary goal was the achievement of women’s suffrage, but it also advocated for the promotion of women’s rights in the UK more generally. It held its first conference in 1906 and dissolved as an independent institution in 1918, becoming the Labor Party Women’s Organization. Much of the collection relates to organizational conferences. Yearly conference proceedings and annual reports from 1906 to 1918 provide insight into the operations and program work of the Women’s Labor League. The conference proceedings of the subsequent Labor Party Women’s Organization begin in 1919 and continue through its 53rd conference in 1977, after which it merged with the Labor Party’s main conference. The remaining files in this collection are printed periodicals, including 28 issues of the League Leaflet and the complete run of The Labor Woman.

    The proceedings, reports, and periodicals in this collection provide exclusive insight into the progression of the Women’s Labor League, from its origins as a pressure or interest group in 1906 to its affiliations, negotiations, and eventual merger with the UK Labor Party in 1977.

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  • Women’s Lives

    This collection covers the lives and activities of important women of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Women’s Lives includes the lives of women missionaries who traveled the globe between the years 1840 and 1980, as well as the records of American pioneer women, their migration on the Oregon Trail, and their lives in the Pacific Northwest.

    Materials related to the women’s missionary movement include journals, letters, and manuscripts written by female missionaries about their experiences and the people and customs of the countries in which they resided. They provide accounts of living in East and South Asia, South America, the African Congo, and the United States.

    Diaries, memoirs, photographs, and letters document the lives of a selection of American pioneer women who traveled the Oregon Trail or settled or lived in the Pacific Northwest. These materials provide insight into the farm, family, and social life of nineteenth century women in rural America.

    This collection uniquely highlights the activities and lives of a selection of specific women with regards to their activism, missionary work, or American pioneer activities.

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  • Women’s Trade Union League and Its Leaders

    The Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) was founded in 1903 and disbanded in 1950. Its goals were to organize working women into unions, advocate for legislation protecting working women, and educate both workers and middle-class people about the benefits of unionization. This collection includes materials from the national WTUL, records of local branches, and papers of five women active in the organization. The largest section consists of the papers of Margaret Dreier Robins, who led WTUL from 1907 to 1922, during which time it became larger, better funded, and more influential. Records include articles, speeches, meeting minutes, and extensive correspondence detailing the day-to-day life of a women’s rights activist in the first decades of the twentieth century. Other collections of individual women’s journals, correspondence, and assorted papers include those of Leonora O’Reilly, active in the suffrage and vocational education movements in addition to WTUL; Mary Anderson, longtime head of a government bureau for working women; Rose Schneiderman, leader of the New York WTUL from 1918 to 1944; and Agnes Nestor, president of the International Glove Workers Union of America and head of the Chicago WTUL. The collection also includes papers from the national and New York branches of the WTUL. The New York collection is the largest, revealing the day-to-day work of the WTUL’s most active branch. Included are minutes of general and executive board meetings and monthly reports of the group’s actions.

    The WTUL collection offers first-person perspectives into the leadership of the WTUL and women’s activism in the first half of the twentieth century. It’s an essential resource to researchers studying organized labor, gender and women’s rights, or Progressive Era politics. The collection includes the papers of five women active in the organization. Several of these women worked in the federal government doing labor-related work as well as in the WTUL. Some helped develop vocational education programs, and many supported suffrage. Some were active in the pacifist movement during World War I. Thus, this collection illuminates the wide range of women’s activism in the first half of the twentieth century.

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