My Job: Elizabeth Novara, Historian of Women and Gender

Color portrait of Liz Novaro, wearing a black blazer over a green blouse.

Elizabeth Novaro. Photo: Pete Duvall.

Elizabeth Novara is the historian of women and gender in the Manuscript Division.

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in a rural area in western Maryland and have lived in various places around the state, so I’m a local to this region. I attended Saint Mary’s College of Maryland as an undergraduate, majoring in history and French. Then, I earned master’s degrees in history and in archives, records and information management through the history and library and information science programs at the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park.

After getting married and becoming a mom, I decided to return to graduate school at UMD part time while continuing to work full time. I earned a graduate certificate in women’s studies, and I am now a Ph.D. candidate in American history focusing on women’s suffrage history.

Before arriving at the Library, I was a tenured faculty curator of historical manuscripts for UMD Special Collections for over 10 years, and I held other positions at the UMD Libraries. As a manuscripts curator, I was responsible for special collections materials relating to Maryland history and culture, historic preservation and women’s studies.

What brought you to the Library, and what do you do?

The amazing women’s history collections in the Manuscript Division and throughout the Library — and the fact that the Library is just amazing!

Early in my professional career, I became involved in the Women’s Collection Section of the Society of American Archivists. When I realized there were jobs in the archives field focused on my specific research and writing interests, a position concentrated on women’s history became a professional goal. I was also very fortunate to have a job at UMD that allowed me to work with women’s studies collections and to hone my scholarly pursuits on women’s history.

My position at the Library as a manuscript historian for women’s and gender history really is the perfect intersection of my expertise, training and interests. My major responsibilities include acquisitions, outreach and reference related to the Manuscript Division’s women’s history collections.

What are some of your standout projects?

When I first arrived at the Library, I was immediately immersed in the task of being a co-curator of the exhibition “Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote” with Janice Ruth and Carroll Johnson-Welsh.  I was also involved in many outreach initiatives (exhibit tours, lectures, conferences, published works) related to the exhibition from 2019 through 2021.

I am also very proud to have been the Library’s main point of contact for the recent acquisition of a major addition to the National Woman’s Party (NWP) records.  The addition, dating from the 1860s to the 2020s, contains over 300,000 items and is currently being processed by Manuscript Division archivists and technicians.

An important scholarly resource, these materials document the efforts by the NWP to promote congressional passage of the federal women’s suffrage amendment and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), as well as to ameliorate the legal, social and economic status of women in the U.S. and around the world.

Most recently, with Manuscript Division reference librarian Edie Sandler, I published a revised and updated version of American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections,  part of the Library’s larger American Women Guide Series.  The guide highlights many of the women’s history collections in the Manuscript Division. It was a pleasure to collaborate with Edie and division reference staff on its publication.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with family; taking long walks or runs in Rock Creek Park; gardening; visiting museums and other cultural heritage institutions (especially ones that are local and off the beaten path); and, oh yeah, researching for my dissertation. When I have time, I also love baking pies with locally grown fruit.

What is something your co-workers may not know about you?

As an undergraduate, I spent my junior year studying and living abroad in Paris and traveling as much as possible. This experience had a lasting impact on my life, opening my perspectives to other cultures and creating lifelong friendships.

Subscribe to the blog— it’s free! — and the largest library in world history will send cool stories straight to your inbox