Deep Dives

Untold women’s history: Know their stories, vol. 2

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Wendy Apple and Rita Ogden hold a Portapak camera. Photo by Paul Goldsmith
Wendy Apple and Rita Ogden using a portapak camera in the late 1960s.
Photo by Paul Goldsmith

I n honor of Women’s Equality Day, we asked a group of historians, archivists, and curators to recommend resources that shed light on lesser-known aspects of women’s history. Explore this collection of suggested books, online exhibits, regional archives, and more.

Have a resource you’d like to nominate? Leave a comment below. We'll continue to showcase untold women's history.

Drawings and notes of Rachel West

“At the top of my list of little-known gems that give a look into the life of an early 20th Century African American women’s lives are the autobiographical drawings and notes of Rachel West. Rachel was the mother of Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West. Dorothy, who wrote, most notably, The Wedding, asked her mother to write her autobiography. What she received in return was a series of images—some with notes, some without—depicting her life over time.

Rachel’s drawings are important, in my opinion, because they push back the conventional notions of what is important to keep in an archive and expand the definition of autobiography. Researchers get a glimpse into her life and can see, very literally, her life from her perspective. Everyone doesn’t keep a diary or want to write a narrative, but Rachel’s drawings show us that we can find other ways to tell our stories.”

— Kenvi Phillips, PhD, Curator for Race and Ethnicity, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Iowa Women’s Archives

“While many consider the Midwest flyover country, there are rich primary resources and unique stories of the American experience to be found there by researchers, scholars, and students. The Iowa Women's Archives (IWA), founded in 1992, collects expansively and has documented women throughout the state—rural, African American, Jewish, and more. For its Mujeres Latinas project, the IWA has recorded over 80 interviews with Iowa Latinas and Latinos in communities including Des Moines, Fort Madison, Mason City, Muscatine, the Quad Cities, and Sioux City.”

⁠ — Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Senior Librarian and Director, Special Collections & Archives, Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University

Still Raising Hell: The Art, Activism, and Archives of James V. Hatch and Camille Billops

“This online exhibit features the work of Camille Billops, who for more than fifty years advocated for the preservation of the papers of African American artists and art historians as acts of resistance from erasure. Within the contexts of the 1960s civil rights struggle, New York’s emerging black artists movement, and her personal struggles for affirmation, Camille Billops came into her own. As an artist, she used her creativity to express her unique ideas about the world and her purpose in it.”

⁠— Pellom McDaniels III, PhD, Curator of African American Collections, The Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University

Media Burn Archive

“Starting in the late 1960s, a mostly forgotten media revolution called the Guerrilla Television movement was underway. Artists, activists, and community groups were drawn to the new medium of videotape as a way to circumvent the ‘boys' clubs’ of the film and television industries. The first generation of female video makers paved the way for all the women in media today. You may not currently know names like Wendy Apple, Annette Barbier, Judith Binder, Eleanor Boyer, Nancy Cain, Judy Hoffman, Anda Korsts, Julia Lesage, Valjean McLenighan, Cindy Neal, Lilly Ollinger, Barbara Sykes, Jane Veeder, Megan Williams, Eleanor Bingham Miller, or Denise Zaccardi, but Media Burn aims to change that.”

⁠— Sara Chapman, executive director, Media Burn Archive

Red Dirt Woman and Power

“This video and oral history of activists in Oklahoma's campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment sheds light on a unique part of the larger ERA story. Few people know that Oklahoma was the first state to vote down the ERA. Here, first-hand accounts from activists and guerrilla artists bring to life in vivid detail the campaign to ratify this landmark legislation.”

⁠— Tara Carlisle, MA, MS, Head, Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Oklahoma Libraries

Women’s Leadership in the Civil Rights Movement

“Meet the women who led the Civil Rights Movement as organizers, political strategists, marchers, freedom riders, and more. Each item in this collection of primary source materials—photographs, posters, oral histories, letters, speeches, and more—was hand-selected to highlight the stories of women like Fannie Lou Hamer, Septima Clark, Dorothy Cotton, Victoria Gray, and Angela Davis and the diverse leadership roles women played in the fight for civil rights. The materials on this list (which is part of a larger collection about the Civil Rights Movement) were chosen from millions of items made available through the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). DPLA brings together digital materials from libraries, archives, and museums across the country in a one-stop discovery experience, freely available to all at”

⁠— Samantha Gibson, Engagement and Use Coordinator, Digital Public Library of America

The Center for Women's History: Women and the American Story

The Center for Women's History at the New-York Historical Society focuses on the lives and legacies of women—the lesser-known in particular—who have shaped and continue to shape the American experience. One of my favorite digital resources we offer is “‘Women and the American Story,’ an extraordinary curriculum aid for K-12 educators and other curious individuals that brings women's stories into the entire scope of the mainstream history survey. The primary sources, life stories, essays, and learning activities included in each of the ten units were designed for middle school students but also to be easily scalable for elementary and high school classrooms.”

⁠— Valerie Paley, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief Historian and Director, Center for Women's History, New-York Historical Society Museum & Library

Umbra Search African American History

“Umbra Search African American History, a free national database of hundreds of thousands of digitized Black history materials, takes its name from the Latin term, 'umbra'—the darkest part of the moon's shadow. The purpose of the database is to expand not only historical knowledge about things that are generally not well taught in school, but also our understanding of how history can come to account for that which it cannot fully document—the known and unknown individuals engaged in acts of great importance that may take place beyond the reach of conventional historiography. Through the photographs, letters, and manuscripts found Umbra Search, we start to recover some of the names and stories of black women who are largely lost to mainstream American history. We also start to see more clearly who is written into history, and who is written out.”

⁠— Cecily Marcus, Curator, Givens Collection of African American Literature, Performing Arts Archives, Upper Midwest Literary Archives and Principal Investigator, Umbra Search African American History

Posted: September 3, 2019
Edition: Disrupt