How to use this guide
Documenting Women's Lives was originally organized into two parts; the first contained descriptions of manuscript collections, and the second consisted of entries for free-standing volumes. Following standard archival practice, collections were further subdivided into categories of personal papers and records of organizations and institutions. The experience of reference archivists and librarians at the VHS, combined with suggestions from a host of other users of the guide convinced us to reorganize this new, electronic version along different lines, arranging entries in a strictly alphabetical order, based on the name of the individual or corporate author or compiler of an item or collection. This allows a more immediate visual association of related items when browsing the guide listings, although searches for scattered materials based on genre or familial connection are still easily conducted in this format.
Each entry in Documenting Women's Lives contains several levels of description. A bold-face heading gives the title of the collection, item, or volume, dates of its full chronological span, size, and its VHS call number, as well as indicates whether or not the item or collection is available on microfilm. Descriptions include names of individuals (followed by birth and death dates in parentheses) or agencies that generated the manuscripts, the places where they were produced, and the different types of documents contained within each collection. To assist researchers in tracing references to individual women in other finding aids, they are identified by their full names at death, with surnames at birth given in parentheses. Entries also contain information on subjects discussed by the collections' creators, as well as topics of interest to contemporary scholars addressed within specific collections. Because no finding aid can index all the subjects addressed in the collections that it describes, decisions regarding which topics to include have been shaped by the quality and quantity of information within a given collection and by our assessment of areas where collections might best contribute to ongoing scholarly debates or raise new questions.
Limitations of space and time precluded our listing every document pertaining to women in the collection at the VHS in this guide; however, we have included free-standing volumes written by women and a majority of the collections that contain information on women and gender. Locating manuscripts by or about women for the period before 1800 proved especially time-consuming, and for that reason the eighteenth-century holdings of the VHS may be slightly underrepresented here. For an overview of manuscripts collections at the VHS before the initiation of the online public access catalog, researchers should consult Waverley K. Winfree's Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Virginia Historical Society (1985). The most detailed index to names of people and places appearing in collections processed before 1997 is contained within the manuscripts card catalog in the library of the Virginia Historical Society. The bulk of the descriptive records covering those collections has been converted into electronic format and uploaded into the VHS online catalog, and all descriptive records generated after 1996 have been produced exclusively online.
Although the compilers of entries in this guide have attempted to use standardized descriptive terminology, the natural absence of an index or library subject headings means users should think in broad terms when searching this electronic resource. Search terms may be narrowed when appropriate, but users should consider using related or alternative terms when searches produce minimal results.
Although the manuscript collection constitutes the single most significant component of the research collections at the VHS, a wealth of complementary materials in collections of maps, rare books, newspapers, sheet music, and other printed materials are available at the VHS and most directly accessed through the online catalog. The Virginia Historical Society also owns portraits of some of the women whose manuscripts are discussed here; access to them is provided through Virginius Cornick Hall's Portraits in the Collection of the Virginia Historical Society (1981) and through the museum department database of the VHS online catalog, the latter of which also includes information on artifacts among the museum holdings related to women.
How to use this guide |