Exploring Harvard’s “Women Working, 1800-1930” Collection

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection

I never had to walk five miles in the snow to get to school, but I used to travel long distances to libraries and archives in order to do my research. These days you can sit at home and discover treasures. I was looking for a copy of Woman’s Home Companion on line when I came upon a truly remarkable internet resource made available to everyone by Harvard University. This collection, “Women Working, 1800-1930,” includes books written by pioneering social scientists, publicity materials from industrial firms, magazines, pamphlets, and even diaries. I’ve already spent hours scrolling through its contents and have barely touched the surface.

For those interested in fashion history, it has a number of magazines including The Ladies Home Journal and The Delineator. None is complete, but the scanned images are extremely clear. There are also trade catalogs from department stores and specialty clothing companies. In addition, you can find scrapbooks from institutions and photographs taken by businesses and government agencies.

Because of the nature of the collection, there are many photos of women in workplace settings. That opens up an interesting area of dress history—work clothes. Some of the work outfits are surprising, like these nightgown looking smocks above worn by women at the Royal Worchester Corset Company in 1903.

Baker Library, Harvard Business School

Baker Library, Harvard Business School

There were so many fascinating photos, it was hard to choose which ones to share. But I couldn’t resist this 1936 picture of a Western Union telegraph office where one woman worker sports the most fabulous accessory of all—roller skates.

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2 Responses to Exploring Harvard’s “Women Working, 1800-1930” Collection

  1. eimear says:

    wow – roller skates…. how fantastic. (didnt SJP wear skates in that steeve martin movie) – cant be that many jobs that would include skates, I am rather jealous

  2. Thank you for that link to the Harvard magazine collection — I just frittered away an hour and will have to return. Wonderful ads! (Besides, there is a story by E. Nesbitt in the Dec. Delineator that I haven’t ever seen before!) About roller skates: When I was in high school my idea of a dream job was working at the San Francisco Public Library — they hired teens as library pages, who roller skated through the closed stacks to fetch books that patrons requested. (Imagine the bliss of a library that big!) By the time I lived in SF, those jobs had disappeared — and that building is now The Asian Art Museum.

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