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The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library
on the History of Women in America

10 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone 617-495-8647

The library dates its origin from August 26, 1943. On that day Radcliffe College received from alumna Maud Wood Park '98, who had been a leader in the movement for woman suffrage, her collection of books, papers, and memorabilia on women reformers. Her "Woman's Rights Collection" became the nucleus of a research library called the Women's Archives, which the college gradually augmented during the 1940s and 1950s. To honor Harvard University historian Arthur M. Schlesinger and his wife Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger, who were strong supporters of its mission, the library was renamed in 1965. When a new women's movement surged in the 1960s and 1970s, the library's collections grew very rapidly, as feminist activists highlighted the importance of women's history and created their own documents and publications.  Housed in the former Radcliffe College library building, the library was completely renovated in 2004-2005 to become a state-of-the-art facility.  Open to all, the Schlesinger Library is part of Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study| 

Subject Strengths

The Schlesinger Library's principal holdings date from the founding of the United States to the present and are especially rich in the areas of women's rights movements, feminism, health, social reform, education, professional life, volunteer and civic efforts, family relationships, and travel. Personal documents such as diaries and letters provide fascinating insights into the ordinary lives of women of all ages and pursuits and record the struggles and triumphs of women of accomplishment. Many collections—such as the papers of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Pauli Murray and the records of 9 to 5: National Association of Working Women—address political, organizational, and economic questions. Other holdings, including popular magazines such as The Ladies' Home Journal, Ebony, and Seventeen, highlight romance, domestic life, adolescence, occupations, religious observance, leisure pursuits, etiquette, and fashion.

One can find handwritten correspondence of the first professionally trained women doctors and lawyers, the baby book kept by the mother of aviator Amelia Earhart, sketches made by artist Judy Chicago, or the papers of Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West and poets Adrienne Rich and June Jordan. Organizational records cover a huge span, from the women's auxiliary of the First Methodist Church of Greenville, Mississippi, in the mid-nineteenth century to the Boston Women's Health Book Collective in the 1970s and the contemporary records of the national Association of Women Judges. The library has abundant material bearing on issues around the globe, because of American women's extensive travel and foreign residence. These include, for example, letters of early missionaries in China, reports from nurses in France during World War I, and the speeches and writings of global reformer Shirley Graham Du Bois in the mid-twentieth century.

The Schlesinger Library’s holdings of culinary works include close to 15,000 titles from the United States and the world over. Begun as a collection intended to document the domestic focus and contributions of women, the collection grew around a core of cookery books transferred from Harvard’s Widener Library to Schlesinger when the latter opened. It has expanded to become an international collection covering the entire field of culinary history, the culinary professions, gastronomy, the history of domestic life and management, and the role of food in history and culture.

In addition to holding collections that document both the history of women in America and culinary history, the Schlesinger Library also serves as home to collections that document Cambridge, Massachusetts individuals, families, and organizations.  Papers of individuals include those of long-time and well-known Cambridge culinary pioneer, Julia Child, as well as the lesser known Sylvia Mitarachi, whose papers consist of her work on an unpublished biography of her great aunt, Melusina Fay Peirce, feminist and founder of the Cambridge Cooperative Housekeeping Association.  Family papers include those of the Dana, Cannon, Fay, and Palache families which serve to document aspects of the social history of Cambridge.  Organizational records include those of the Berkeley Street School, the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club, and the Cambridge Political Equity Association, among others.