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Searching Online Exhibitions for Women's History

Library of Congress Exhibitions: From Physical to Online
Exhibits Featuring Women
Finding Women Within Other Exhibits
Of Special Interest: American Treasures
Searching by Gallery/Subject

Searching by Keyword
Research Centers as Exhibition Sources
Participate in the Exhibitions Survey
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Washington, D.C. public schools field trip - viewing exhibit. Frances Benjamin Johnston. 1899?
Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-68191
bibliographic record

From Blondie and Dagwood to sharecroppers, battlefield reporters, actresses, political activists, and urban shopgirls, the online versions of Library of Congress exhibitions are peopled with dynamic images of women. The Exhibitions Web pages are a good place to find photographs, lithographs, and designs by women artists, as well as images of allegorical women, famous faces, and representative women from all walks of life. Women's words and voices can also be found here in the many letters, speeches, books, films, and sound recordings that fill these digital exhibit halls. To find exhibited women's history materials, begin with the Exhibitions home page, which is highlighted on the home page of the Library of Congress Web site

Library of Congress Exhibitions: From Physical to Online

The Exhibitions home page offers digital versions of actual physical exhibits curated for display at the Library and/or as traveling exhibits by the Library's Interpretive Programs Office (IPO). IPO curators work closely with librarians, conservators, and subject specialists throughout the Library and often in collaboration with other institutions and sponsoring agencies, sometimes incorporating items from other institutions in the displays (see, for example, Exhibitions on Tour). Library of Congress exhibitions are free and open to the public.

Sometimes before a major exhibition is mounted, exhibit previews (with condensed or sample content from an upcoming exhibition) are posted on the Exhibitions page. After an exhibit has opened, a digital version of its images and captions is presented online within an interpretative framework. This digital exhibition continues to be available through the Library's Exhibitions Web site long after the actual exhibit has disappeared from the Library's walls and showcases. Thus, the Library's Exhibitions Web pages provide:

  • advance notice about upcoming exhibits
  • information during the runs of exhibitions
  • a permanent online version of every exhibit within an interpretive framework, as a resource for scholars and the general public
Collectively, these digital exhibitions have become a trove of multiformat resources for scholarly researchers.

Exhibits Featuring Women (Exhibit-Level Searching)

Of the fifty or more exhibitions available online, some focus specifically on individual women or women's themes. Others have a high degree of "women's" content.

You can locate exhibitions specific to women by skimming the lists of titles on the Exhibitions home page. Select any link to begin scrolling through an exhibition. Since many of the online exhibitions do not have separate internal search capabilities, scrolling is the most effective and satisfying way to identify materials relevant to your interests.

A quick glance at the lists on the Exhibitions home page reveals several Library of Congress exhibitions focused on women, their work, or their creations. The six listed below represent women's experiences and perspectives from the disparate worlds of the arts; cultural anthropology; print, photo, and broadcast journalism; graphic arts and illustration; and design:

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Margaret Mead standing between two Samoan girls, ca. 1926.
Manuscript Division.
exhibit display

Finding Women Within Other Exhibits (Item-Level Searching)

There are at least three ways to locate "women's" content in exhibits that do not at first glance appear to feature women prominently.
  • The most thorough (and fun!) way is to scroll through every exhibition, but that approach is not always feasible.
  • You can conduct searches across all the Exhibitions Web pages or across the entire Library of Congress Web site, using the search box located on the Exhibitions home page. Such searches result in a list of Web pages, ranked according to the positioning and frequency of your search words in the pages; the results may highlight just what you were looking for or at least give you ideas of places to look that may not otherwise occur to you.
  • Thirdly, you can look at the Object List or Exhibition Checklist available for each exhibition.

The following examples demonstrate how using object lists can assist in locating materials relating to women.

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The Weaker Sex. Charles Dana Gibson. 1903
Prints and Photographs Division

exhibit display
  • A look at the Exhibition Checklist for Monstrous Craws & Character Flaws: Masterpieces of Cartoon and Caricature at the Library of Congress reveals items such as:
    • Charles Dana Gibson's drawing "The Weaker Sex" (1903), which features a group of women idly examining a minuscule man on his knees with a large pin and magnifying glass
    • Peggy Bacon's "Quest for Beauty" (ca. 1936-41), a cartoon of a richly adorned woman examining objects of art as well as a reflection of her own face in a museum case
  • Scrolling through the Object List for Religion and the Founding of the American Republic will reveal images of:

    • Mrs. Juliann Jane Tillman, Preacher of the A.M.E. Church, an engraving by P. S. Duval after a painting by Alfred Hoffy (1844)
    • Shakers near Lebanon state of N[ew] York, their mode of worship, an engraving drawn from life (n.d., early nineteenth century), including male and female worshipers

A combination of these approaches reveals "hidden" sources for women's history in a variety of subject areas, including the following.


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The Dolly Sisters. ca. 1915 - 1920. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-127315
exhibit display

Example: Popular Entertainment

In the field of popular entertainment, the exhibition Bob Hope and American Variety provides many resources on women comedians, actresses, dancers, singers, and other performers. The Bob Hope home page offers linked access to various subject sections of the exhibit, as well as to the overall Object Checklist. Searching the subject category/exhibition section "The Bill," for example, you can find women's history items from the period of vaudeville's heyday relating to:

  • vaudeville performer Eva Fay
  • contortionist Tomah Genero
  • the Dolly Sisters family act
  • fan dancer Sally Rand
  • sophisticated dance couples Irene and Vernon Castle, Paul and Grace Harman, and Fred and Adele Astaire
  • comedy team George Burns and Gracie Allen
  • female impersonator Julian Eltinge
  • comic singers Fanny Brice and May Irwin
  • entertainers Lillian Russell and Nora Bayes
  • actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Anna Held

Are you a Fanny Brice fan? You will find a photograph of Bob Hope with Fanny Brice as Baby Snooks listed in the Object List, or by scrolling within the "Moving On" section of the Bob Hope exhibition, on the 1930s.

Interested in the representation of gender in vaudeville productions? In the "Vaudeville" section you will find a Ziegfeld Follies program for a vaudeville musical in four acts called "Everywife," in which actresses portrayed various female allegorical figures (Everywife, Happiness, Jealousy, Squabble, Care, Dress, Excitement, Elegance, Kindness, Gaiety, Amusement, Vanity, and Romantic) and actors portrayed various male allegorical figures (Everyhusband, Rhyme, Reason, Drink, Gamble, and Nobody). "Nobody" was a signature song of Bert Williams, who performed it as part of the Everywife cast.

In Al Hirschfeld–Beyond Broadway you will find sketches of women entertainers, the artist's advertisement for Woman to Woman Magazine (1923), and caricatures of women in the theater.

Researchers interested in the career of Judy Garland might scroll through the The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale to enjoy the entire exhibit. They would find images of Garland in the "To See the Wizard: Oz on Stage and Film" section; or they could look at the Object Checklist for Garland materials, as well as various images of the character of Dorothy.


Example: African American History and Culture

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The Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1843 (cover). L[ydia] M[aria] Child, comp. 1843 Rare Book and Special Collections Division
exhibit display
  • The African-American Mosaic: African-American Culture and History is an online exhibition site that was developed out of a physical exhibition on display at the Library from February 5 to May 5, 1998, in celebration of the publication of The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture. The exhibition covers four areas–Colonization, Abolition, Migrations, and the Works Progress Administration–out of the many subject areas contained in the more comprehensive guide. The exhibition, like the guide it celebrates, draws on materials from many different sections of the Library and multiple formats. Both the African-American Mosaic home page and the Introduction page feature a search box to help you find specific items within this online exhibition. Among the individual women's history items within the African-American Mosaic exhibition you will find:

    • Lydia Maria Child's Anti-Slavery Almanac (1843) from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division
    • Susan B. Anthony's "Make the Slave's Case Our Own" (1859), from the Manuscript Division
    • a photograph of Jenny Smith Fletcher, postmistress and schoolteacher in the black township of Nicodemus, Kansas, from the Prints and Photographs Division.

    A Table of Contents on the exhibition home page helps guide you to the subject areas covered within the exhibition pages.

  • A special online presentation of the Library of Congress exhibition The African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship offers images of women from Freedmen's school teachers to Mary Church Terrell to tennis great Althea Gibson.

  • The exhibition With An Even Hand: Brown v. Board at Fifty, on display at the Library from May to November 2004, commemorates the historic May 17, 1954, U.S. Supreme Court decision which overthrew the decades-old “separate but equal” doctrine and set into powerful motion local actions to desegregate the nation’s schools.

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    School integration. Barnard School, Washington, D.C. Thomas J. O'Halloran. 1955 May 27. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-DIG-ppmsca-03119.
    bibliographic record

    The digital exhibition highlights three thematic sections:

    Following the Supreme Court decision, many female students put themselves on the frontlines in their home states and cities for the cause of greater educational opportunity. Some school districts integrated peaceably. Many did so only under extended protest.

    Featured in The Aftermath section are pioneers of school integration. Among them are the very young–notably the irrepressible first-grader Ruby Bridges, who attended an elementary classroom by herself after white students fled in the wake of her admission. There is also a “who’s who” of young adults mature beyond their years. These are students who challenged authorities and withstood catcalls and physical intimidation to enter state schools at the collegiate level. Faces you will find in this section include those of Autherine Lucy, Dorothy Geraldine Counts, Vivian Malone, NAACP activist Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine, as well as Linda Brown herself, grown to adulthood.


Example: Political and Social Commentary

If you are researching women in popular culture or the way in which women's issues are depicted in political cartoons and caricature, several of the online exhibitions will interest you.

  • In Herblock's Gift you will find several allegories of women used in the service of political commentary. A down-and-out housewife or household servant receiving a bouquet of roses serves as a symbol of Washington, D.C., being granted a self-government charter in "Gee–It seems like such a dream!" (1946). Lady "Justice" drops her scales as she is chloroformed from behind in "Mugging," (1973), Herblock's comment on the assault on justice of the Nixon White House in the Watergate era.
  • In Oliphant's Anthem: Pat Oliphant at the Library of Congress, you will find Oliphant's cartoon "The Moral Inquisition," with the caption "Sandra O'Connor, How Plead You to the Heinous Charge of Secular Womanism?"
  • In Blondie Gets Married, you will find–well, Blondie, getting married. ("You'll help me with the dishes, won't you darling?" she says as a bride being rushed away from the altar to the honeymoon), as well as twenty-six other Blondie drawings (on themes such as love, family, homemaking and courtship) and a history of Chic Young's creation of the popular cartoon strip.

Example: Artists and Their Art

Political commentary intersects with fine art in the Library of Congress digital exhibition Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912-1948. In gallery sections such as "The Radical Impulse," on political activism among American artists in the years just before World War I, or "The American Scene," on the impact of the Depression on the art scene and the depiction of social content in art of the Depression era, you will find several powerful images of women–as consumers, clerks, factory workers, city dwellers, rural migrants, dance hall mavens, tenant farmers, and the Christian faithful.

In addition to the depiction of women in illustrations, lithographs, and paintings, Life of the People also features art works by women artists, including, among others:

  • Clare Leighton's The Baptism (ca. 1948)
  • Elizabeth White's All God's Chillun' Got Wings! (ca. 1933)
  • Peggy Bacon's Heywood Broun (1930)
  • Lucienne Bloch's Diego Rivera (ca. 1933)
  • Mabel Dwight's In the Crowd (1931)
  • Isabel Bishop's Office Girls (1938)
  • Blanche Graham's No Work (1935)

Art and artists is also the focus of Creative Space: Fifty Years of Robert Blackburn's Printmaking Workshop, an exhibition on the innovative work that emerged across decades from the cooperative workshop Blackburn founded in New York City in 1948. This exhibit includes both images of women in art and images by women artists. Images of women and girls by male artists include such works as

  • Ernest Crichlow's Lovers (1938), depicting a black woman grappling in the arms of a robed and hooded Klansman
  • Reuben Kadish's Lilith (1945)
  • Robert Blackburn's lithograph Girl in Red (1950), an abstract portrait of a determined girl seated at a table, arms akimbo, the day dawning outside her window

Women artists whose work is displayed in Creative Space include Kathy Caraccio, Lucy Hodgson, Elizabeth Catlett, Camille Billops, Faith Ringgold, Margo Humphrey, Kay WalkingStick, Ana Golici, Susan Weil, and Emma Amos. Creative Space has both an Object Checklist and an internal search capability that you can use to find specific works.


Of Special Interest: American Treasures

American Treasures of the Library of Congress is a permanent revolving physical exhibit featured in galleries located in the exhibition halls of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building. It is organized in thematic sections that match Jefferson's vision for categorizing knowledge:

  • Memory (history)
  • Reason (government, law, science, invention, education, exploration and mapping)
  • Imagination (architecture, art, music, theater, literature and criticism)

The American Treasures exhibit borrows from all the Library's divisions and changes the objects on display in thrice-yearly rotations. Because of the rotating nature of its content, it can be thought of as a series of American Treasures exhibits rather than one.

Searching American Treasures by Gallery/Subject Category

You can search broadly within the version of American Treasures currently on display by using the subject links to digital subsections of the various galleries, found at the bottom of the home pages for Memory, Reason, and Imagination.

For example, you could go to the home page for the Memory section to use the link to the subsection on the "Progressive Era" in Memory Gallery C, or the home page for the Imagination section to enter the subsection on "Domestic Arts" in Imagination Gallery B. This is a quick way of scanning the broad topic ranges for the various sections of the exhibition, and then searching American Treasures by desired subject category.

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Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning . . . . [Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America]. Anne Bradstreet. 1678. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
exhibit display

The content dealing with women will vary from rotation to rotation. Looking at the "Progressive Era" section of Memory for the rotation on display from December 2002-April 2003, for example, would reveal several works by Washington, D.C., photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston. Looking at the "Domestic Arts" subsection of Imagination for the same rotation would yield images on cooking, millinery, and home economics. The "Literary Arts" subsection during that rotation included images of (or from the works of) Phillis Wheatley, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Anne Bradstreet. Check the American Treasures site at regular intervals to see the changes in the items on display.

The galleries and subsections in Memory are arranged more or less chronologically by major period or era (e.g., "Colonial Life," "Civil War," "The Depression Era"), which greatly facilitates categorical searching by time period. The galleries and subsections in Reason are usually arranged by discipline (e.g., law, government, education; recording and mapping; technology, invention, and transportation). The same is true in Imagination, where objects are grouped topically within certain genre (e.g., Fine Arts, Popular Literature, Leisure Arts).

Every major rotation of American Treasures has an Object Checklist of current content and their origins within the divisions of the Library.


Searching American Treasures by Keyword

If you are looking for materials on particular people, places, events, or things, you will be glad to find that American Treasures is equipped with an internal search engine at the top of the American Treasures home page. The drop-down menu enables you to search American Treasures, all the Exhibitions Web pages, or all Library of Congress Web pages. Here are results from some sample American Treasures searches in Spring 2003.

  • If you were interested in finding exhibition images dealing with women and aviation, you might search on the names of various female aviators to find out if items about them appear in the American Treasures exhibition. A search on "Amelia Earhart" would give you a list of results, the top choice of which would link you directly to an item in the Reason section–a character sketch of Earhart by Nellie Simmons Meier, based on Meier's "reading" of Earhart's palm print.
  • If you were researching the careers of women spies and looking for objects or images about them on display, typing the word "spy" in the search box would first yield a link to an item in the Memory section–a lace cap and collar made by Confederate spy Antonia Ford Willard while she was imprisoned in Washington during the Civil War. You would also find a photograph of Willard on the same page. A search on the word "Confederate" would yield twelve results. Willard would be among them, but first in line would be another Memory item, a page from Betty Herndon Maury's Confederate diary, written in 1861.
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    Wasted Life Blues. Bessie Smith. Manuscript copy, 1929. Music Division

    exhibit display

  • Interested in women and the Blues? Entering the word "blues" in the American Treasures search box will bring you Carl Van Vechten's photograph of the "Empress of the Blues," Bessie Smith, and a manuscript score of Smith's "Wasted Life Blues." Searching on "Bessie Smith" gives you the same result.

Keyword searches using the search box in American Treasures can be a hit-or-miss process. The same searches will also yield different results over time as the content of the American Treasures exhibition changes.

Research Centers as Exhibition Sources

Library of Congress online exhibitions frequently serve to highlight other activities of the Library of Congress, such as special acquisitions and publishing projects. Such exhibitions may be presented through the Web pages of the sponsoring units as well as the Exhibitions page. A sampling of such offerings includes the following.

Prints and Photographs Division

The Library's Prints and Photographs Division, with nearly fourteen million images in its collections, is an indispensable source for exhibition items (especially photographs, posters, prints, cartoon and architectural drawings) at the Library of Congress and a primary resource for those planning exhibitions on women at their own institutions (see Prints and Photographs Division section of the Research Guide). The Prints and Photographs Reading Room home page includes a link to Exhibits and Exhibit Loans.

Among its other activities, the Caroline and Erwin Swann Fund for Caricature and Cartoon administered by the Prints and Photographs Division supports an ongoing series of exhibitions of caricature and cartoon in a gallery bearing its name (see the Caroline and Erwin Swann Foundation Home Page for a list of these exhibits).

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Mother and child at Okeechobee migratory labor camp, Belle Glade, Florida. Marion Post Wolcott. 1940. Prints and Photographs Division

exhibit display

Among online photographic exhibits you will find When They Were Young: A Photographic Retrospective of Childhood, which opened in conjunction with the publication of a companion book, When They Were Young by Robert Coles, and draws extensively on Coles's text. It has both an Object Checklist and an internal search mechanism (see the search box). Among its black-and-white and sepia images you will find girls of all descriptions, as well as mother-and-child scenes. The exhibit features work by female photographers Toni Frissell, Emily and Lillian Selby, Florence Ward, Suzanne Szasz, Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott and Frances Benjamin Johnston, as well photographs of girlhood by male photographers Lewis Hine, Edward Curtis, Clarence White, Alan Lomax, Russell Lee, Jack Delano and others.


American Folklife Center
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Web of Life quilt by Sherri Wood/United Church of Chapel Hill Quilters. 1996 North Carolina State Winner. Lands' End All-American Quilt Contest Collection. American Folklife Center.
exhibit display

Quilts and Quiltmaking is an example of an American Memory site that contains a online exhibition as well as information about collections. Within the site you will find The Land's End All-American Quilt Contest, a special illustrated presentation by Laurel Horton that provides links to prize-winning quilts made by women. These can also be displayed in gallery-image format, making your computer monitor into a virtually exhibition wall. You can also browse through the site using the names of individual quilt makers, which displays each prize-winner's quilts one by one.

Members of Congress and individuals across the nation were involved celebrating the Library of Congress Bicentennial in 2000 and simultaneously recognizing America's richly diverse culture through the Local Legacies project. For more than a year, Local Legacies teams documented the creative arts, crafts, and customs representing traditional community life. Photographs, written reports, sound and video recordings, newspaper clippings, posters, and other materials from close to a thousand Local Legacies projects have been sent to the Library to become a permanent part of the collection of the American Folklife Center. A selection of materials can be viewed through the Local Legacies Project Listing.

The American Folklife Center's September 11, 2001, Documentary Project is reflected in Witness and Response: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress, which features acquisition information from several different divisions of the Library and highlights individual items by and about men and women, boys and girls, including an artwork entitled "God Bless America" by Sara Deathridge, a third grader at Sequoyah Elementary School in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Participate in the Exhibitions Survey

When you spend time searching, viewing, and enjoying the Web Exhibitions, please give the Exhibitions staff your evaluation of your experience through the Library of Congress Exhibitions Online Survey.


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