Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Interest in the study of women's history has increased dramatically in the past twenty-five years and is beginning to affect how we view history in general. Women's history is a branch of the new social history, which focuses on average people instead of business, political, and social leaders. Studying women historically requires researching a wide variety of sources since many times "official" historical records and histories excluded women's contributions, accomplishments, and views. The Connecticut State Library contains many rich information sources such as diaries, letters, organizational materials, and court documents. The sources listed below represent only a small percentage of items available for research in women's history.
Researchers working in this subject area should note some potential hazards in using these materials. Because middle and upper-class women had the leisure time to keep diaries and do volunteer work, many sources reveal no information on poor and working women. At best, sources may simply reflect the wealthier women's opinions of the poor, who they were trying to reform, rather than the actual conditions or lifestyles of lower-class females. Government hearings on working conditions or letters to the governor requesting help often better highlight these women's experiences. The researcher should also consult resources that may appear to have little relevance to women, such as wills and other probate records, but which in fact may hold a wealth of information.
This research guide introduces researchers to primary source materials on women's history by listing major subject categories and briefly describing one collection in each category. Those interested in more information should consult the research guides available in the History and Genealogy reading room. All materials here are subject to the Rules and Procedures for Researchers Using Archival Records and Secured Collections Materials.
Several other collections, in the CSL's History and Genealogy Unit, Government Information Services Unit, and Law and Legislative Reference Unit contain published materials relating to women's history in the US and Connecticut. The Museum of Connecticut History at CSL also maintains the Connecticut Women's Suffrage Association Artifacts Collection and other items relating to the history of women in Connecticut.
For many years, CSL librarians classified individual archival materials under the Dewey Decimal system. Researchers will find the papers of many important women and/or their organizations, government records, church records, and some photograph collections listed in the Manuscripts and Archives card catalog under either subject or author. One example is the Hartford Equal Rights Club, 1895-1925, which was active in the Women's Suffrage Movement.
State Archives Record Groups
Social, Religious, Cultural and Political Reform Organizations
The best documented areas of women's activities are social clubs and cultural or political reform movements, which educated women created and ran. Organizational minutes, correspondence, and reports or papers articulate women's views on a variety of concerns. They also present observations of less articulate groups' lives and social culture. Often women's organizations established for one purpose took up additional causes, resulting in records that reveal much about Connecticut women and their lives.
One of the most extensive collections in this category is Record Group (RG) 101, Records of the Connecticut Women's Suffrage Association. Formed in October 1869, the Association's membership included some of Connecticut's most prominent 19th century women -- Isabella Hooker, Catherine Beecher, Frances E. Burr, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. It initially focused on the vote or women in school and local elections and later on women in state and national elections. Connecticut's ratification of the 19th Amendment on September 14, 1920 resulted in the Women's Suffrage Association being disbanded in June of 1921. In addition to minutes, correspondence, and campaign material, the collection includes photographs and memorabilia.Other collections
Family and Personal Papers
Many of the collections in RG 69, Manuscript Collections, contain significant material for studies of women's history. The letters, diaries and other materials were often collected for genealogical research but reveal much about family and community relationships. A prime example is RG 69:50, the Papers of William H. and Harrieta Noble, a father and daughter who served as agents for military pensioners from 1870 through 1908. These papers reveal much about women and late 19th-century business, but they also give insight into the lives of widows of veterans during the same period.
Government Records: State Executive and Legislative Branches
Government records are a largely untapped source of women's history and may require extra effort to research, since women may only be mentioned occasionally. Some Connecticut state agencies and departments dealt specifically with women, such as The Women's Committee of the Connecticut State Council of Defense (RG 30). The Council of Defense coordinated state efforts towards the special concerns that arose during World War I. The Women's Committee became an important department within the council, responsible for organizing local committees to perform educational and social services for the war effort.
Government Records: State Judicial Department
As with the records of the Executive branch of state government, researchers must look carefully and creatively in the records of the Judicial Department. Researchers should consult the research guides available in the History and Genealogy reading room before using court records.
Local Government Records
For many years the State Library has served as an official repository for original local government records. RG 62, Records of the Towns and Boroughs, contains a variety of tax, land, welfare, and school records useful in researching women's history.
Currently, historians use photographic images, posters, business cards and trademarks to document the lives and surroundings of families and to trace evolving social stereotypes, mores, and standards. Researchers will find the collections divided into specific Picture Groups by topic, donor, or photographer. The following collections will be of special note to researchers.
Prepared by the History and Genealogy Unit, Connecticut State Library, 11-96.