This is part of an occasional series that looks behind the scenes at the work of Manuscript Division staff.
This guest post is by Manuscript Division senior archives technician Rosa Hernandez.
After more than a century of lobbying for women’s rights and educating the public about women’s history, the National Woman’s Party (NWP) dissolved in December 2020, and donated its remaining organizational records and feminist library to the Library of Congress. Many of the artifacts, such as suffrage banners, political buttons, and feminist artwork, in the NWP’s collection were gifted at the same time to the National Park Service, which in 2016 had assumed ownership of the historic house that had been the NWP’s headquarters on Capitol Hill, now known as the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument.
The NWP was founded by Alice Paul in 1913 as the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, eventually becoming the NWP in 1916. The NWP agitated for what became the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, extending to women nationally the right to vote. In 1923, Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the NWP began the unfinished struggle to pass it. The Library of Congress has held some records of the NWP since 1921 when Alice Paul presented a temporary loan of historical materials, but it was not until 1938 that the Manuscript Division officially established its NWP collection. With several additional gifts over the years, the collection grew to approximately 200,000 items. The material sent after the 2020 disbanding of the NWP is approximately 300,000 items plus almost two and a half terabytes of electronic records. This new material is being processed by a team of archivists and technicians and organized as Group V of the NWP Records. Items in Group V date from the entire existence of the organization. Among these items is a large and important collection of scrapbooks.
Fellow archives technician Shandra Morehouse and I tackled the largest group of scrapbooks in the collection: 47 volumes mostly containing newspaper clippings collected from the late 1800s to the early 1930s. The clippings document the life of suffragist Alva Belmont, her involvement in the woman suffrage movement, the work of other suffragists, and perspectives on the suffrage movement from newspapers around the country. These scrapbooks hold significant research value, documenting the timeline of the woman suffrage movement through press coverage from major metropolitan newspapers and smaller local news outlets around the nation.
The biggest challenge in preparing these scrapbooks for research use was dealing with the fragile newspaper clippings, particularly those that were folded to fit into the scrapbook. If a clipping easily folded out without deteriorating, it was left in place and interleaved with acid-free paper to protect it. If a clipping ripped or disintegrated when we unfolded it to see the contents, then we preserved the pieces in a Mylar sleeve, or made a photocopy of the article. Due to the age of the clippings and acidic nature of newsprint, some clippings would simply come apart when unfolded, so we had to decide on a case-by-case basis the best way to preserve the content of these unique clippings.
Another challenge in preparing the scrapbooks for research use was the condition of the volumes themselves. In some cases, the binding was damaged, and the scrapbooks required a cradle to be viewed properly without causing further disintegration. In other cases, the binding was completely gone and we have only loose pages. Without the covers of a bound volume to protect them, these pages needed to be trimmed, housed in Mylar sleeves and tied together with archival string. After Shandra Morehouse and I finished our treatment of the Belmont scrapbooks, Leslie Long, a preservation specialist in the Library’s Conservation Division, took measurements and created custom-made boxes for the volumes. Unfortunately, the condition of some of the scrapbooks is so fragile that they cannot yet be handled by researchers and will remain restricted pending a more extensive treatment plan by Library conservators.
While our team continues to process Group V, the scrapbook collection is now neatly boxed and almost ready for researcher use! We still have more work to do on the remainder of Group V, but we look forward to updating the finding aid and opening this section of the collection in late 2022.
Do you want more stories like this? Then subscribe to Unfolding History – it’s free!
How wonderful that this news comes on International Women’s Day! Thank you.
Wonderful blog Rosa- I learned so much about this great collection! Thanks to you and Shandra for your important work on these fragile scrapbooks!
How wonderful that this collection is being preserved, and really interesting to hear what’s involved in that preservation. Are any of them digitized (yet)?
It’s hard to imagine millionaire Alva Belmont cutting up newspapers to make her own scrapbooks — did she use a clipping service? I’ve heard that were many scrapbooks of hers at the Belmont-Sewall House – are these the same ones?
Thank you for your interest in the National Woman’s Party records! Yes, these are the same scrapbooks that were housed at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (previously known as the Sewall-Belmont House). The National Woman’s Party donated their remaining archival collection, including these scrapbooks, and their library to the Library of Congress in 2020. We are just beginning to process the scrapbooks, so none of them have been digitized. It is likely that Alva Belmont used a clipping service to compile the scrapbooks. While the majority of the scrapbooks contain primarily newsclippings, other materials are also occasionally included, such as photographs and correspondence.