Women's History Resources
Women have recorded their experiences and interests in infinite ways. In addition to the personal accounts found in diaries and correspondence, the records of many social, cultural and political organizations often reflect the lives and interests of women. Additional information may be found through the online catalog and the manuscripts catalog (available on-site only). The following is a brief discussion of the various sources available:
Diaries and Journals
Historians of women have found that diaries and journals contain the most direct, and subsequently most informative, narrative of women’s lives. Though impacted by literacy rates and the cost and availability of writing supplies, these accounts often provide rich documentation of the day-to-day experiences of women. Notable examples in The Society’s collections include those of Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker (1758-1807); Ann Head Warder (1758-1829); Sarah Logan Fisher (1776-1795); Deborah Norris Logan (1815-1839); and Katherine J. B. Wharton (1856-1920).
Household Receipt and Account Books
Many family collections contain examples of the types of records created and maintained by women in their roles as mothers and household managers. Information found in these accounts includes data about disease and the management of illness, cooking and food, childhood education, household economy, and fashion.
Throughout history, women have played an invaluable role in the activities and successes of many social, cultural and political organizations. In addition, charitable groups were created by women and men to serve the needs of women. The Society holds the records of literally dozens of organizations, societies, clubs and similar groups, in which women served as leaders or benefited as participants. Notable collections include the records of the Magdalen Society (Collection 2016); the Orphan Society of Philadelphia (Collection 1913); and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (Collection 2095).
Collections of correspondence to and from women are often found as part of larger family collections, and as individual collections. These are especially valuable for offering insight over time into family relationships and social networks. Some writers extend their observations to include commentary on larger social, religious and political culture. Notable examples include the correspondence of Hannah Penn, William Penn’s second wife, in the Penn Family Papers (Collection 485); Fanny Kemble, in the Wister Family Papers (Collection 1962); Gertrude Meredith (Collection 1509); Catherine Franklin Sharples (Collection 3062) and the letters of Florence Bayard Kane (Collection 2055).
Prints and Drawings
The Society’s collection of photographs, prints and drawings includes a number of images pertaining to women’s experiences. Notable subjects include prominent women, domestic views, and family groups. Specific collections to consider include the Society Print and Society Photograph Collections, the Philadelphia Record Photograph Collection, and many smaller family collections from the Collections of The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, now at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Some images may be available in our Digitial Library.
The library contains an extensive selection of contemporary and recent publications discussing multiple aspects of women’s experiences. Publications of many local and regional civic, religious, philanthropic and political organizations are represented. In addition, privately published biographies, histories and narratives are available. All publications can be located through the on-line catalog. Subjects of particular interest include personal narratives, Abolitionism, charitable organizations and general Women’s History.
Several 19th century periodicals published by or for women are available for research, including Godey’s Lady’s Book (edited by Sarah Josepha Hale - Dm .254); The Lady’s Friend (Dm .255) and Arthur’s Home Magazine (Dm .133). Later publications, many of them political or ethnic in nature, are also available. Please refer to the online catalog for further details.
Family history research can be conducted using a combination of published and unpublished sources, including church and cemetery records, newspapers, city directories, and manuscript collections. Please refer to the online catalog, the manuscripts catalog (available on-site only) or a Reference Librarian for further details.
Many of the Society’s published and unpublished holdings are available through Discover, our online catalog. HSP's website also contains collection-specific finding aids, and several databases can be accessed in our library. Reference questions may be directed via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 215-732-6200 x209.