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.
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.