The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America is a research library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. According to Nancy F. Cott, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director, it is "the largest and most significant repository of documents covering women's lives and activities in the United States." The library is named after Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., a noted history professor at Harvard during the 20th century; and his wife Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger, a noted feminist. The library was begun on August 26, 1943, when the Radcliffe College alumna Maud Wood Park '98, a former suffragist, donated her collection of books, papers, and memorabilia on female reformers to Radcliffe. This grew into a research library called the "Women's Archives", which was renamed in 1965 after Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger and her husband Arthur M. Schlesinger, as they were strong supporters of the library's mission.
The Schlesinger Library exists to document women's lives and endeavors. Its wealth of resources reveals the wide range of women's activities at home in the United States and abroad from the early 19th century to the present day. The library’s holdings include manuscripts; books and periodicals; and photographic and audiovisual material.
- There are more than 2,500 unique manuscript collections from individuals, families, and organizations. Women's rights movements past and present, feminism, health and sexuality, social reform, and the education of women and girls are core manuscript holdings. Ordinary lives of women and families and the struggles and triumphs of women of accomplishment are richly documented in diaries and other personal records. Many collections, such as the papers of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Pauli Murray, and the records of the National Organization for Women, feature political, organizational, and economic questions.
- Books and periodicals
- More than 80,000 printed volumes include scholarly monographs as well as popular works. These cover topics including women’s rights; women and work; women’s health; women of color; comparative material about women in other cultures; works on women in the arts and in music; women and family; feminist and anti-feminist theory; and lesbian writings. Hundreds of periodical titles, including popular magazines such as Ladies' Home Journal, Ebony, Seventeen, highlight domestic concerns, leisure pursuits, etiquette, fashion, and food.
- Photographic and audiovisual material
- More than 90,000 photographs, ranging from casual snapshots to the works of professional photographers, create an unparalleled visual record of private and public life. Audiotapes, videotapes and oral history tapes, and transcripts add the soundtrack to the story of women’s lives.
The library has two distinguished special collections. A culinary collection of over 15,000 books — spanning five centuries and global cuisines — is one of the world's most significant. This collection also includes the papers of several famous chefs and foodwriters such as M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Elizabeth David. The archives of Radcliffe College, 1879–1999 — including papers of college officers, students, and alumnae — richly record the history of women in higher education.
While its focus for collecting is American women, the library has an abundance of print and manuscript materials bearing on issues around the globe as a result of American women's extensive travel and foreign residence. Some examples are letters of early missionaries in China, activists' accounts of the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, and the world-spanning speeches and writings of Shirley Graham Du Bois.
Detailed records for the library’s manuscript collections as well as books and periodicals can be found in HOLLIS. The catalog record gives a description of the item or collection and provides other important information such as offsite location or access restrictions. Researchers can learn more about the manuscript collections by consulting the Schlesinger Library's Research Guides. Research Librarians can be reached through Ask a Schlesinger Librarian.