My first-ever women’s studies textbook was a thick book with pages as thin as a Bible’s chock-full of primary sources. It was just page after page of original works and archived images, and I treasured it so deeply it was probably weird. Sometimes, the best way to learn about history is just to witness it, but most of us probably don’t live near a massive feminist museum situation. (If you do, hooray! If you don’t, please reference this video for sentiment.)
That’s where digital archives come in.
Collegiate libraries, non-profit organizations, and plucky websites alike have been collecting and archiving the history of the women’s rights movement for decades — and that means average people like you and me can sometimes spend hours fawning over what they’ve gotten their grubby little hands on depending on how available their materials are on the WWW. (Shout out to two archives I was psyched to include until I found out they’re not online which I think are relevant to your interests: ISU’s Archive of Women in Science and Engineering and the Sophia Smith Collection.)
Here’s a few diamonds in the rough to keep you warm this winter.
This is by no means a compete list of archives; you can check out this list of feminist archives, this database of resources on women’s history from the library system, and this website chronicling zine archives to find more of what you’ll find in here. (And the Internet, duh. Google is your friend! Even if the keywords you use are “riot grrl zine library.”)
The JWA document’s Jewish women’s work and stories to serve as inspiration for modern women in the faith. They’ve got a series of online collections including an Encyclopedia of Jewish women, Jewish women in feminist history, and a digital reproduction of early editions of “The American Jewess” — but probably if this is your jam (or bread and butter), you should check out their physical space in Brookline, MA.
Personal letters, polished pieces, and everything in-between from the anarchist who steals your heart over and over and over again.
I’m biased, but I see the SBC archives as a “who’s who” of feminist activism, largely unrelated to the fact that I spoke at an event for them once and was duly impressed with what I found when I checked them out. If you’re ever on the Duke campus, you should go digging through their full collection, but until then you can get lost in their digitized collections on everything from suffrage to women in vintage ads.
I MEAN, DUH. Whether you’re looking for first-person insight into the lives of lesbian legends or pictures of queer times past, the LHA website has got you covered. If you’re looking for some vintage pulp fiction covers, go check out their spot in New York.
The FTA collects papers from influential feminist theorists, including personal effects. A bulk of the collection unfortunately isn’t available online, but what little bit you can pull up on your pixel machine is totally worth the digging. From shaking up the status quo to the very amazing Feminist Theory Papers, their online exhibits are a selection of some of the best sh*t you never saw pictures of in your women’s studies class because you were too busy reading Judith Butler’s books.
This online archive is admittedly no longer active, but I’ve done my due diligence and it’s the largest one-stop-shop of its kind.
Wanna meet 48 badass women who actually rolled up their sleeves, Rosie-style, to pitch in during WWII? Would you prefer, by chance, if you met them via oral histories caught on tape? LOOK NO FURTHER, MY FRIEND.
Rebel Girls is a column about women’s studies, the feminist movement, and the historical intersections of both of them. It’s kind of like taking a class, but better – because you don’t have to wear pants. To contact your professor privately, email carmen at autostraddle dot com. Ask questions about the lesson in the comments!