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The General Collections



Starting Places
Biographical Sources
Women's Writings
arrow graphicLiterary Works
First-Person Accounts
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Literary Works (Novels, Drama, Poetry, Short Stories)

“You will be wise to commit your novels to the flames, rather than to the hands of your daughter” (1808),11 for “Novel reading strengthens the passions, weakens the virtues, and diminishes the power of self-control” (1843).12

see caption below

Harriet Beecher Stowe. Alonzo Chappel, artist. c1872. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-10476 (b&w film copy neg.)

bibliographic record

Despite these strictures, women read and wrote novels, and so did their daughters. See the 1857 article "Novel-Reading" [full item] from Putnam's Monthly Magazine. Within the Library's General, Microform, and Rare Book Collections lies much of the literary output of American women, as well as extensive literary criticism and literary biographical works. The research possibilities from this vast array of women's voices are many, among them

  • what books did women and girls read?
  • which women wrote and when?
  • at what stages in their lives?
  • what subjects attracted them?
  • what words have they used?
  • how are clothes, manners, relationships, and emotions described?-and so on
(See also the sections on “Women in Popular Culture” and “Literary Works” in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and “Literature and Journalism” in the Manuscript Division.)

Literature has also allowed women to put their feelings and opinions before the public. Harriet Beecher Stowe's powerful antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (Boston: J.P. Jewett & Co., 1853; PS2954.U5 1853 [catalog record]; many editions in RBSC) moved more readers than any abolitionist sermon (see General Collections External Sites).

In her long poem An Idyl of Work [catalog record], factory worker Lucy Larcom vividly recounts her mill experiences, asking poignantly,

“How can I like the clatter of the looms,
The grime, the dust, the heat, the dizzy din”
and later
“Heads like to be employed, as well as hands;
Is there no way to give each a fair chance?” (1875).13 [full item]

In her novel Journey to Topaz [catalog record], Japanese American Yoshiko Uchida depicts one aspect of life in a World War II evacuation camp for her eleven-year-old heroine: “One of the worst things about being in camp was that there was no place to go to be alone. Wherever she went, people pressed close—in her own stall, at the mess hall, at school, on the track, even in the latrines and washroom.”14 (See Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar.)

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Mitsu, Margaret, Jane and Roy Nakai and baby, Manzanar Relocation Center. Ansel Adams, photographer. [1943] Prints and Photographs. LC-DIG-ppprs-00248 DLC.
bibliographic record

Descriptions of women and girls in literary works of any sort—westerns, mysteries, science fiction, romances, children's literature, adventure tales, novels, poems, plays, or short stories, whether by women or men—contribute evidence for women's history, but caution must be exercised when using this evidence, for it is the product of imagination as well as of experience. In the Prologue to Journey to Topaz quoted above, Yoshiko Uchida explains, “Although the characters are fictitious, the events are based on actual fact, and much that happened to the Sakane family also happened to my own.”15 But such forthright statements are uncommon. It is for each reader to determine to what extent fictionalized accounts of the lives of girls and women can be used as historical truths.

Cover art and illustrations within volumes give visual accompaniment to verbal depictions of women. (See the Serial and Government Publications section for a discussion of the pulp fiction cover collection.)

Literature is one of the main avenues for women's voices, and from this vast quantity of material can be sifted information about the lives of women and girls in all time periods, regions, classes, and races.


Davis, Gwenn, and Beverly A. Joyce, comps. Drama by Women to 1900: A Bibliography of American and British Writers. London: Mansell, 1992. Z1231.D7 D38 1992 MRR Alc [catalog record].

———. Poetry by Women to 1900: A Bibliography of American and British Writers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. Z2013.5.W6 D38 1991b MRR Alc [catalog record].

Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. 5 vols. New York: Ungar, 1979-94. PS147.A4 MRR Biog [catalog record].

Yellin, Jean Fagan, and Cynthia D. Bond, comps. The Pen Is Ours: A Listing of Writings by and about African-American Women before 1910 with Secondary Bibliography to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Z1229.N39 Y44 1991 MRR Alc [catalog record].

SAMPLE LCSH: The subdivision “Fiction” can follow more recent subject headings; for example, “Man-woman relationships—Fiction.” Most older literary works do not have any subject headings.

The following terms help locate authors in reference and collective literary works:
Women authors, American
American literature [poetry; drama; fiction]—Women authors
American literature—[Arab American authors or, Asian American, Chinese American, Catholic, etc., authors. . .]
African American women authors
Indian women in literature
Feminism and literature
Feminist literary criticism
Children's literature, American—Bibliography

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