News

Baker Library launches Women in Business website

Baker Library has just completed the first year of a project to identify the holdings on women’s history in its manuscript collections. According to Laura Linard, Director of Historical Collections at Baker Library, the project’s Web site, Unheard Voices: American Women in the Emerging Industrial and Business Age, www.library.hbs.edu/hc/unheard_voices, went online last week.

Women’s history records are often overlooked because they were not identified as such either in the printed guides to the collection or in the online records. As a result, Baker Library’s Historical Collections Department had some catching up to do on women’s history.

The ongoing survey, which so far has concentrated on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, has identified a wealth of women’s history records in over 219 of Baker Library’s collections. The material attests to historic female entrepreneurship and offers a window on the lives of working women. “We have been surprised by the great number of women’s letters and diaries among business records,” says Linard. The evolving Web site offers an online guide to the library’s findings. Here are some highlights:

o Eighteenth-century account books in the collection routinely credit women of the household for their production.

o Despite legal restrictions on women’s ability to hold property until far into the 1800’s, the library has located records of female merchants, storeowners, farmers, hat makers, weavers, and teachers. These papers reveal how many women navigated law and custom to obtain credit and control their own property in order to engage in a variety of entrepreneurial ventures.

o Baker Library’s extensive employee records of nineteenth century textile and other manufacturing firms also document the lives of the many women workers in the mills and factories of the newly industrialized northeastern United States. Some companies went so far as to list reasons for termination, such as illness, marriage, and, in one instance, five women’s “mutiny.”

o The photography collection contains a large number of images of women at work in early twentieth-century factories.

o In addition to materials specifically dealing with business and economic issues, Linard and her colleagues have found many letters and diaries that speak of education, religious practices, personal relationships, and travel throughout the United States and abroad. They include the diary of a woman traveling on a whaling ship in the 1850s, a diary of another woman who toured Egypt and Italy in 1849, and the letters of a female missionary in Kurdistan during the 1860s.

The second phase of this project, managed by historian Clara Bouricius, will make the survey results available to the public and the scholarly community in various ways. “The Web site will continue to grow as we add records and begin to survey the twentieth-century business manuscript collections,” says Bouricius. In the coming year, the unearthed women’s history materials will be identified in Baker Online Catalog and the Historical Collections reference system. Baker Library will publish a guide to women’s business and economic history in the manuscript collections, and Historical Collections will present an exhibit featuring material discovered as a result of this survey project.

For more information please contact: Clara Bouricius, Project Manager, Women in Business Project Historical Collections, Baker Library, (617) 496-6822, cbouricius@hbs.edu.

January 29, 2001
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