I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits,
A Poets pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on Female wits:
If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,
They’l say it’s stoln, or else it was by chance.
– Anne Bradstreet, 1678
Anne Bradstreet (1613-1672), the first woman poet to be published in America, was praised by many of her male contemporaries for her work addressing home and family, philosophy, religion and sensitivity to prejudices against women’s writings. Her poetry collection, “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America,” was showcased recently during a special display hosted by the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division that highlighted creative women and celebrated Women’s History Month.
Curators exhibited items from the 16th through the 21st centuries, illustrating several areas of strength in the division, including the domestic role of women, reform efforts, women in popular culture, literary works and collections formed by women.
American History Specialist Rosemary Plakas arranged the intimate exhibit, calling on her more than 40 years experience working with the collections. During a quick walkthrough, she pinpointed some items of interest. One of her favorites is the Susan B. Anthony collection.
“In 1903, she gave to the Library of Congress her personal library, including abolitionist materials, speeches, suffrage scrapbooks,” said Plakas. “She wrote annotations in all her books.”
On display was her annotated copy of the printed transcript of her trial for illegally voting in the 1872 presidential and congressional election. The volume documents Anthony’s efforts in testing the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Anthony was found guilty, although not by jury. The federal judge had made his decision before even hearing the case.
Also on display was one of seven scrapbooks from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Between 1897 and 1911 Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, filled seven large scrapbooks with ephemera and memorabilia related to their work with the Geneva Political Equality Club, which they founded.
“You turn the pages and you never know what you might find,” Plakas said of the scrapbooks. “Teachers really use the material.”
Of particular note is a rare copy of a report from the first women’s rights convention, held at Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848.
From the Copyright Deposit Collection was a selection of advertisements featuring women in cigar label art. Cigar smoking was popular during the 1870s, and women were often a favorite subject. With women’s suffrage such a hot button issue of the time, these ads capitalized on the resulting fear. In these ads, women can be seen smoking while voting and taking men’s jobs, as well as in the use of the brand name “Sixteenth Amendment,” which was expected to be the woman suffrage amendment in 1870.
Highlighting women as collectors, Plakas pointed out items from the Marian S. Carson Collection. Her interest in children’s literature brought to the Library some 300 early and rare books, games and amusements printed during the first half of the 19th century. On display was “The Diligent Girl as Lady of the House,” an “amusing game for good girls,” that gives a glimpse into the upper class family household.
The display was also particularly strong in items relating to the culinary arts and the household. Sixteenth century needlework designs joined a 17th century Japanese text on carving, with intricate block print illustrations depicting methods of preparing fish and fowl.
While the Rare Book and Special Collections Division is strong in its holdings related to women’s history, they complement materials from across the Library of Congress, which are some of the finest and most comprehensive anywhere.