Whose voices have we heard in history, and whose are silent? Whose records, speeches, and chronicles do we know and honor? The roots of our cultural stories are overwhelmingly male, because men listened to and celebrated and echoed each other; less often did they carry forward the thoughts and stories of women. And women, for most of the history of the universe, haven’t been in an overwhelmingly powerful position such that they could celebrate their own accomplishments.
There are exceptions. Enheduanna, the Sumerian high priestess, may be the first named poet in the historical record; she named herself in her pleas to and praises of the goddess Inanna. And we know of Aspasia, although we lack any of her own writing or records of her speeches. She taught Pericles oratory and influenced the sophists, which would affect the work of Plato and Aristotle. And yet, most of the names you might recall from history are male names: Hammurabi, Homer, Hedjkheperre Setepenre Smendes … In the U.S., the popular regard of important historical women is often only for their supporting roles in the deeds of the great men. Or, as is the case with Sally Hemings, as their victims.
Gale’s got a plan for that. In its Women’s Studies Archive database series, we are introduced to a new set of primary materials to document women’s history. The January 2020 release of Voice and Vision comes some 3 years after the release of the series’ first installment, Women’s Issues and Identities. Voice and Vision pays “[p]articular attention … to material produced by women, not simply for women.”
Let’s review what this new database builds upon. 2017’s Women’s Issues and Identities contains a wide-ranging set of sources from U.S. and European perspectives. These include the records of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1918 to 1974; records from smaller, grassroots women’s organizations that encouraged women’s liberation from men (including teaching skills such as automotive mechanics and self-defense); papers of women missionaries; journals and diaries of the pioneer women of the American West; and a collection of European women’s periodicals spanning 1840–1940.
Listen to Their Voices
What’s in Voice and Vision? At least some holdings for 55 periodicals (including The Barmaid; The Sempstress; The Woman Engineer; The Woman Worker: A Journal for Women Trade Unionists; Woman’s Opinion, Representing the Social, Domestic and Educational Interests of Women; Women and Work, A Weekly Industrial, Educational, and Household Register for Women; and Women’s Penny Paper) and 15 collections of individual and organization papers (including Anna Garlin Spencer Papers, 1878–1931; Hannah Johnston Bailey Papers, 1858–1923; Lydia G. Wentworth Papers, 1902–1947; Edwin D. Mead and Lucia Ames Mead Papers, 1876–1936; and Hannah Clothier Hull Papers, 1889–1958; as well as The National Network of Hispanic Women archives; records created or inherited by the Women’s National Commission; records of the Equal Opportunities Commission; and monographs on and by women from the American Antiquarian Society). This is a significant expansion for the Women’s Studies Archive.
The two installments are only independently searchable through Gale’s advanced interface, where you may limit to either Women’s Issues and Identities or Voice and Vision, but this means that only a basic search will fetch results from the whole of the archive.
There is a publication search and an advanced search, as well as Topic Finder, which a Gale resource page defines as a tool that “takes the titles, subjects, and approximately the first 100 words from a subset of your top results and feeds them into an algorithm.” The term “suffrage,” for example, brings back results (viewable in tiles or as a wheel) that the software determines may be conceptually related. From “suffrage,” we can find our way to “annual meetings” about women’s suffrage to “The Suffrage in Other Lands,” an article in the October 1908 edition of Women’s Franchise. The following image is an example that takes researchers from “suffrage” to “societies.” (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
The advanced search feature allows searching within eight facets (entire document, keyword, document title, publication title, place of publication, subject, author/creator, and Gale document number). It has a toggle to allow variations, which can “retrieve imperfect matches to accommodate spelling variations or approximate spellings sometimes found in historical documents.” You may also search by content type (photos or manuscripts), illustration (cartoon or graph), document type, archive (here you may limit to Voice and Vision), collection and subcollection title, language, or source library. The date limiter allows searching between 1777 and 1999, which would appear to be the dates of the earliest and latest documents in Voice and Vision.
The wonder is in getting to know the documents in detail. For example, in the Personals column of The Barmaid, from Jan. 14, 1892, I found a comment on a job change for a Miss Lucy Graves. Although she is “of the most sunny disposition,” she is a strict manager of The Cheshire Cheese pub and can “make her people do just as she wishes, and anyone who does not toe the mark has to have a very good reason for not doing so.”
Nevertheless … Persist!
With two installments established now in its Women’s Studies Archive, Gale has established a pattern of working for the preservation of women’s history. With Voice and Vision, the company’s concern for women documenting their own stories has been elevated, even if the scope remains Euro- and U.S.-centric. Sample searches for “African American” as a subject reveal a substantial amount of material, although it seems mainly from the point of view of liberal white women, or in the case of the 19th-century book The College of Life or Practical Self-Educator: A Manual of Self-Improvement for the Colored Race, Forming an Educational Emancipator and a Guide to Success, Giving Examples and Achievements of Successful Men and Women of the Race as an Incentive and Inspiration to the Rising Generation, Including Afro-American Progress, Illustrated, The Whole Embracing Business, Social, Domestic, Historical and Religious Education, white men.
With this database, we will hear new voices. Whether through the songs of Fleet Street barmaids or the minutes of suffragist annual meetings, we will come to better know, and better honor, women’s history. I look forward to Gale’s third addition and hope for increasingly diverse women’s voices in future offerings.