In Her Own Right: A Century of Women’s Activism 1820-1920

PACSCL announces launch of project website

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Long before the women’s suffrage movement brought about the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, women were making themselves heard in ways that broadly transformed the American experience, including working for moral reform, abolition, and increased opportunities for education and employment. The Philadelphia region was among the most important centers for these movements.

In October 2017, the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) announced the launch of a pilot website to showcase stories from seven member libraries and provide a guide to these and other collections. “We wanted to move beyond the story of the suffrage movement to reveal the extraordinary efforts of Philadelphia women to better their condition and improve the lives of those around them,” explains Margery Sly, Director of the Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center and director of the project. “The groundwork for women’s suffrage was laid by women from all walks of life working to break down boundaries wherever they found them.”

The site is built on research on 46 documentary collections, and offers access to digitized materials highlighting three themes:

  • Crossing the divide: Work and friendship across racial lines
  • Doing good, making rules: Philanthropy, self-determination, and the occasional tension between the two
  • Women in medicine: Issues of race, respectability, and professionalism

Digitized materials totaling more than 4,000 images are drawn from members’ sites using an interface that allows searching and browsing, and includes letters, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, work and school records, and organization records. Materials included in the digital collection or collections guide on the site range from papers of such well-known activists as Sarah Mapps Douglass, Lucretia Mott, and M. Carey Thomas, to records and other documents by and about ordinary women — students in schools of medicine and nursing, working-class women, and the subjects of women’s philanthropy.

Margaret Graham, managing archivist at the Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center and member of the steering committee, observed, “We wanted to encourage users to explore the both the well-known and the lesser-known women and stories, and to seek out unexpected connections across the lines of race and class.” She added that the essays are designed to encourage new researchers, such as high school students, by introducing both the themes and the issues.

This pilot project contains only a small sampling of the materials surveyed. “We want researchers to know how much more is still waiting beneath the surface,” commented Sly. The site includes brief descriptions of all surveyed collections, including information on the likely research interests of each. These descriptions appear in the search results; additionally, the site offers a downloadable guide to all the surveyed collections at PACSCL libraries.

Sly noted that the project team hopes to build on the work of the pilot project, eventually resulting in the digitization of hundreds of thousands of pages of materials in PACSCL members’ and other regional repositories’ collections. Fundraising efforts for this purpose are ongoing.

Funding for the “In Her Own Right” project was provided by a Foundations planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project steering committee included Margery Sly, Margaret Graham, and Heather Willever-Farr (digital projects manager at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania during the time of the grant). The Historical Society also served as financial agent for the project.

Libraries contributing collections to the pilot were the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Bryn Mawr College, Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center, Haverford College, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Library Company of Philadelphia, Swarthmore College’s Friends Historical Library and Peace Collection, and the Temple University Libraries.

To view the site and search or browse the collections, visit:

National Endowment for the Humanities Fifty Years Logo.