The University Record, April 8, 1998

Clements Library to catalogue the role of women in history

By James Matthew Wilson
News and Information Services

The Clements Library is well known for its archive of American historical manuscripts. It holds more than one-half million letters and documents that have survived, some for centuries, some for decades, by luck or by pluck.

Until now, however, these collections have been catalogued with a clear focus on the military and political careers of "great white men," says John Dann, Clements Library director. Over the next 18 months, the library will create a new guide to manuscripts that addresses the role and writings of women in history. The project will "go back to the starting line," Dann says, to provide a woman's perspective on history that has long been lacking.

The need for such a guide comes from the increased interest of historians in social history and gender issues, Dann says. Manuscripts that lend insight on such aspects of life as courtship, marital relations, child rearing and education have long been "completely ignored," but are of much interest today, he adds.

Because the Clements collection is so large and national in scale, the guide will aid research on women in every geographic region and historical period of the country, as well as on all ethnic groups. Approximately 25 percent of the library's letters collection are written by women, among them, Dolly Madison and Abigail Adams. Other papers in the collection are by women journalists, entertainers and nurses from different American wars.

The guide is still in the early stages, says Rachel Onuf, the project's director, but each addition will be posted on the Clements' Web site. Funding for the project is provided by a grant from the President's New Century Fund. For more information, see the Clements' Web site at http://www.clements.umich.edu.