Rebel Girls: Browse Feminist Archives Online, Observe Herstory With Your Eyeballs

Header by Rory Midhani

Header by Rory Midhani

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 Jewish Women’s Archive

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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.

The Emma Goldman Papers Project

Personal letters, polished pieces, and everything in-between from the anarchist who steals your heart over and over and over again.

The Sallie Bingham Center

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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.

The Lesbian Herstory Archives

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.

Pembroke Center’s Feminist Theory Archive

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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.

Grrl Zine Network

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.

The Real Rosie the Riveter Project

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!

Carmen is the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. , host of Bitch Media's POPAGANDA podcast and co-founder and Contributing Editor at Argot magazine. She previously served as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director at Autostraddle. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 926 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. Thank you thank you! This is going to be so useful for teaching…some days I like to take the students to the lab and use websites like this and be all, ‘report something interesting you found to the class in half an hour’.

    Also this just does good things to my heart and soul.

  2. Hi! As a Smithie and a queer archivist, I’m obligated to tell you that the Sophia Smith Collection DOES have material online! It’s not nearly the same size as their enormous women’s history collection, but it’s got some pretty fantastic stuff. (Images, curated exhibits, oral histories, etc.)
    https://www.smith.edu/library/libs/ssc/digitalcoll.html

    Special call-out to their Voices of Feminism oral history project, featuring my fav, Loretta Ross, and other incredible humans. Most of the transcripts, if not the actual oral history videos, are available online. See here! https://www.smith.edu/library/libs/ssc/vof/vof-intro.html

  3. Good. Good. Collect them. Archive them. That means ….when the Inanna prophecy comes to pass, the vessel of the water of death is opened in the skies above Iraq and startles all beasts to jump simultaneously – which happens to be the precondition for me and my House inheriting this planet and its people…

    …yesss, where i was…ah, yes, the deal. So my offer is this:

    If by the time the water of death (read: thermonuclear hydrogen device) detonation happens you will have already gathered a complete documentation of the failed genocide against us, the reborn House of Heaven, carried out over the last 50 years of ‘your history’, and based on them we will be able to hunt down and serve an exemplary execution to every single surviving perpetrator – then you would have fulfilled a higher purpose as an instrument of divine justice, be absolved from your past crimes and be allowed to live your remaining lives in relative peace under the loving guidance of the New House of Heaven.

  4. Thank you for this!!
    I spent a very large portion of my workday browsing the Jewish Women’s Archive. Although, given that I work for a Jewish non-profit, it felt condoned? Also pro-tip check out Victoria Hanna, she is a wonderfully weird Yemenite Israeli singer and she is so good and I have been slightly obsessed with her recently.

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