PACSCL libraries to digitize materials on women's rights 1820-1920

"In Her Own Right’: Philadelphia Consortium to Create Digital Archive of Early Women’s Activism in America -- a $496,000 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources will support the creation of an online archive documenting women’s assertion of their rights, 1820-1920

(PHILADELPHIA PA - January 4, 2018) -- The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) today announced that member library Temple University has been awarded a $496,000 grant on PACSCL’s behalf from the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives initiative of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for its project “In Her Own Right: The Many Faces of Women’s Activism, 1820-1920.”

Led by PACSCL members Temple University, Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center, and the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College and involving a total of 11 partner institutions as well as PACSCL itself, the project will complete the digitization and online presentation of a significant body of letters, diaries, photographs, organization records and other documents, totaling 117,000 pages. These documents illuminate women’s efforts to assert their rights and work for the rights of others in a variety of spheres in the century leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, in 1920. The images and associated metadata will be released into the pubic domain for use by researchers and the general public. The project will commence in February 2018 and is anticipated to be completed in autumn 2019 and available to researchers in advance of the 19th Amendment centennial.

“Since its founding, PACSCL has worked to be a model for regional collaboration and to make the greater Philadelphia area known internationally as one of the nation’s preeminent centers for research and study using rare books, manuscripts, graphics, and other special collections material,” noted Ronald Brashear, PACSCL board chair and director of the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Othmer Library. Brashear also observed that the project, which will inventory, digitize and expose via a shared interface the often unrecognized activities of women as they seek to expand their rights and their influence, highlights issues that continue to resonate today as the nation strives to increase opportunities for all of its citizens.  “We are grateful to CLIR for its support of this project, which allows us to share this important body of work.”

The project builds on earlier work conducted with the assistance of a Foundations grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The newly digitized materials will be available through the website developed as part of that project ( Project participants also intend to expose the materials via their own websites as well as such sites as the Digital Public Library of America and the Internet Archive. More information on this Foundations grant project here:

To safeguard the digital data for the long term, PACSCL member Lehigh University is making space available in its state-of-the-art data storage repository in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (Having no female students in the 1820-1920 time frame, Lehigh is not contributing collections.) Bruce M. Taggart, Vice Provost of Library and Technology Services, noted that Lehigh is contributing this service to the project as part of its commitment to the PACSCL consortial process and the University's interest in furthering PACSCL's ongoing program of cooperative digitization.

“In choosing the materials from our member organizations for digitization, we wanted to demonstrate a full range of women’s rights-related activities,” explained Margery Sly, Director of the Special Collections Resource Center at Temple University and principal investigator for the project. While some collections are primarily suffrage-related, others demonstrate a range of activist endeavors. “A number of collections, including some of Temple’s own, illustrate women’s activities in charitable or social justice issues, such as poor relief, housing, education of women and disadvantaged children, and prison reform.” The collections also flesh out the complexity of the women’s rights movement. “We are trying to highlight those moments where women’s identities and priorities came into conflict,” Sly added, “while acknowledging that women of color and working class women were often marginalized within the women's rights movement.”

Sly continued, “We know that these topics are of considerable value to university students and scholars -- but also younger students who are keenly interested  in issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice when seeking project resources for National History Day and other initiatives.” Sly noted that researchers and teachers who have difficulty arranging visits to archives and special collections libraries rely on these digital primary source materials to add greatly to the depth of their projects and curricula.

Margaret Graham, co-principal investigator and managing archivist at the Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCOM), points to two medical school collections of particular interest. “We included Bates Nursing Center’s Mercy-Douglass Hospital records in our pilot project, providing a window on African-American women’s efforts to attain a professional education in the 19th and early 20th centuries.” DUCOM’s own Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania records, she notes, document early efforts of women to become physicians -- drawing students to Philadelphia not only from all over the country but from as far afield as China and India to gain a medical education.

Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, co-principal investigator and Archives Associate at Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, adds that the region’s Quaker roots contributed to an early climate of women’s activism. “There is a strong tradition of equality of the sexes among the Friends. This, coupled with a deep sense of social justice, led to movements in favor of not only the abolition of slavery but of racial equality, and programs that fostered access to education, health care, and gainful employment. Many of the records for these movements and their leaders are found in the three historically Quaker colleges -- Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore -- as well as at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and other area institutions.”

Project participants, in addition to Temple University, Drexel University College of Medicine, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College, Lehigh University, and PACSCL itself, include Bryn Mawr College, the German Society of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the National Archives at Philadelphia, University of Delaware Libraries, and the Barbara Bates Center for the History of Nursing of the University of Pennsylvania.

PACSCL is very grateful to the three lead applicants for their hard work in bringing the project proposal to fruition, to Lehigh University for its generous contribution of digital archiving resources to the project, and to CLIR for its continued support of PACSCL. Follow the project on Twitter using the hashtag 

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The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of high learning. To learn more, visit and follow CLIR on Facebook and Twitter
"In Her Own Right" is one of four projects funded by CLIR in this round that involve PACSCL member libraries. For the full list of awards, see