Sunday, March 16, 2014

Women's History Month

Women's History Month prompts us to celebrate the women in our archives. In the past, documentation about women was elusive. Today, archivists are aware of the need to fill gaps in the story of women and we are working to remedy the loss of information about women in history as much as we are able. We are continually finding more materials in our communities. Our goal, as with all archives collection development, is to flesh out and create as accurate an account of women's role in society as possible.

We have not been the only underrepresented group in American archives: people of different ethnic backgrounds, the poor and middle classes, people of different religions all fall into this category. Archivists are aware of this. Yet, as a woman, I have felt particularly attached to the "women's issue." Why did parents hope for male children? Why was I not allowed to compete in a sport that was labeled as just for the boys? Why was reading a historical book about someone named Molly or Clara unusual during my childhood, while names like George,  John, Benjamin and Martin were pervasive? I have thought about these things for as long as I can remember.

A few years ago, I began collecting orphan photos in antique shops. At first I was attached to the costume, faces, and settings. I wondered about the stories. I wondered about the occasion upon which the photos were taken. I wondered about the personalities of the people. Pretty soon, most of my collecting started leaning toward images of women. I wondered about the relationships between wives and husbands, mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, sisters, classmates...Collecting images of women reminded me of the own strong women in my life and helped shed a light on my own relationships.

Archives have a role to play in boosting personal pride. My photos of women are one way I am reminded of my connection to the past - to something bigger than myself. The things I think and do today are grounded by the people who helped build civilization before me. What I do today will help grow the roots and ground my daughter and her daughters (and sons) to something bigger. We keep moving forward, but we are never alone.

Earlier this week, an English teacher in my school brought in an album of images that he collects. Most of the images were of men with beards. My colleague does not have a beard, but it was interesting that he chose these hairy gentleman for his focus...I'll have to ask him if his father had a beard. I found the beards interesting. In fact, images of bearded men remind me of a painting in my living room growing up. The painting was of a rabbi that my mom said reminded her of her grandfather. But the attachment that I have to those visuals is more of curiosity. It does not feel as immediate or intimate to me. Theirs is a related story, but (for better or for worse) it is not entwined so deeply with my own.

Each of us can find something inspiring in history that helps inform our own lives. This post contains some of the photos in my collection to which I am most attached: Women who remind me of my neighbors and my mother; Women who could have been my ancestors; Girls with curls; teenagers with obvious angst (yes, these remind me of me too);  young women who remind me of myself during happy and calm times. The struggles, happiness, and education of women found in these images fills me with pride and understanding.

And yet, within each image is also a story of those not shown. We women form a very large community. The community of men stands beside us and overlaps us. So while women's history is noteworthy, it does not forget the rest of humanity.

Men and Women: A Shared History. Women's History Month

Happy women's history month. May you too find inspiration and connection to our shared history.


  1. The photograph of the women reading letters is stunning! It made me think of the letters in my possession and the women who came before me. Great post!

    1. Kari, that is one of my favorite found photos. It speaks toward literacy, friendship, strong women and so much more. The women are so happy and obviously close. I always wonder what is in those letters they are reading. I wish I had those letters to go with the image, but I can only imagine...