Archival Research Project

Archival Research Project:

Tanya Ramesh, Kora Quinn, Yatin Sangwan, Grace Reber, & Max Newman

The core idea of all items is in one way or another is closely related to either exhibiting or challenging the role of women in society. The first two books, The Wyoming Girls by Carrie L. Marshall and The Girl Warriors by Adene Williams, exhibit the perspective society had towards “girlhood” at the time, while Pansy Billings and Popsy; Two Stories of Girl Life by Helen Hunt Jackson challenges the idea by displaying women in a more progressive role. Our other two items take this core idea to a more modern setting, the cover of Vogue magazine featuring Winnie Harlow redefines the perception of women’s beauty in society and Barbie’s Doll collection spotlights successful women. Our items display the evolution of challenging the societal roles of women through different mediums and throughout time periods.

All of the items we’ve chosen to elaborate on incorporate some form of girlhood. “Identity” seems to be another common theme that our pieces show, especially the Vogue cover featuring Winnie Harlow and the cast of dolls featuring different styles. Identity also seems fitting because one of the main themes we have studied this semester is how girls find their personal identity and how this journey is portrayed in literature. Karen Coats urges girls to explore their own identity “by posing the questions ‘who am I,’” and these texts are supportive of this thought (Coats 110). A common theme among the special collections items is that none of the texts are centered around one girl; instead detailing the lives of multiple girls. In Karen-Sanchez Eppler’s keyword essay “childhood,” she concludes by proposing, “the plural ‘childhoods’ could prove a more honest and productive keyword, and children’s literature may help inscribe this change by telling an ever wider array of new and different stories” (Sanchez-Eppler 41). In all of these texts, the importance of friendship and relationships that we’ve learned about throughout the semester is displayed, and how these can help overcome some of the obstacles girlhood brings. We’ve also learned a lot about the power of role models for girls within the public eye. Nathalie op de Beeck explores this idea in her keywords essay surrounding “image,” mentioning throughout the whole essay how likeness is a key factor. In the items we’ve chosen, role models exercising de Beeck’s perception of image are present, especially Winnie Harlow. Harlow is considered one of the most influential women in fashion and modeling and is widely considered an empowering idol for girls.

Our group decided to use three of the Special Collections Items in the final stages of the project because they are applicable to our study of girlhood. The items consist of three books “for girls” from the 1800s to early 1900s. The first two created a specific and distinct category of literature meant for girls and not boys, segregating children by what society thought they should be molded into. They encouraged girls to act morally, and confined them to a specific set of values and expectations. The third, however, was more progressive for its time. In light of this, our group decided to choose two additional items that juxtapose that of the books confining girls to a strict lifestyle. The first item was the cover of Vogue Magazine featuring Winnie Harlow, who has a chronic skin condition called vitiligo. The second item is the brand Barbie’s “Role Models”, or a collection of Barbie Dolls based on real women who are successful in their own unique ways. There is a distinct contrast between the expectations of girlhood in the Special Collections items versus what our group chose for the additional items. The latter of the two redefines society’s perception of beauty and allows girls to imagine themselves fulfilling their dreams and becoming whoever they want. Furthermore, the Vogue cover and the Barbie dolls reflect the true diversity of the world in which we live. Both aspects of the items are critical for understanding the evolution of expectations and perception of girlhood, and just how far we have come.

Memorial Library Special Collections Items & Annotations:

  1. Grace
A picture containing bag

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A short summary of the piece’s content or description of the item.

This item is a book by Carrie L. Marshall titled Two Wyoming Girls which follows the story of two sisters, despite hardships, making good of their homestead claim and fulfilling their duties of girlhood in the 1800s.

A close reading of how the item is doing what it’s doing (this may include commenting on its style and tone, or how it fits generically with other literature we’ve read, or a discussion of what kinds of activities the particular item “scripts” for people who engage with it.)

This item is titled as a “Story for Girls.” This closes off not the ability but the social normality of boys reading this. With the first-person narrative in the point of view of one of the girls, it does almost script for a girl in her childhood to read it and relate to the narrative. 

A summary of what topics are important for understanding the item and how it relates to other things we’ve read or discussed so far this semester. 

One topic that is important for understanding is the keyword of Girlhood. While this story is not exactly a modern or relatable story, it is still important to understand how their girlhood is different from the girlhood we think of but also how it could be similar to the ideas of girlhood as we know them.

Information about the piece’s author or creator (if she or he is known).  What other things is she or he known to have produced?  What might you be able to tell about this creator even if she or he is anonymous?

Carrie L. Marshall is also the author of “The Girl Ranchers” and also “Her College Days.” Most of her books are fit for young children, being featured on the series “Best Books For Boys and Girls,” a list of books that fit this category feature in the back of the book. 

Information about the archive in which it appears (What do we know about this item, given its listed catalog information? Do we know how/when/from whom it was acquired?)

This book was published in 1899 in Philadelphia, PA by The Penn Publishing Company. The book itself is a rare book from the William B. Cairns Collection of American Women Writers from 1630-1900.

Information about the specific historical context of the piece. What events or circumstances may have influenced the creation of the piece? What information beyond the listed library catalog information is necessary for understanding this piece?

This story takes place at an unknown time during the 1800s during a time of claiming land on the homestead in the fields of  Wyoming. As this was published in the very late 1800s, this could be also a reaction to many farmers, ranchers and traders moved into the midwest due to the railroad.

Any other pertinent information about the piece (Does the piece discuss or  suggest events, places, people, or issues that you can do some historical research to illuminate?) 

There is some mention of African American men and women and they are written to be speaking in vernacular English, and presented in a borderline racist way. This highlights the insensitivities that occurred at this time. Also, the author is presented as “Mrs.” Carrie L. Marshall instead of just Carrie L. Marshall, suggesting that at this time a woman in any sort of working position, like an author, had to still have her titled as a wife in her work.

The significance of this piece for the study of American girlhood today. Why is this piece interesting? Why have you chosen this to present to your classmates?  Might you recommend it to be taught in a similar course in the future?

I chose this book because I was 1). Intrigued by the minimalist front cover and 2). by the segregated list of books for boys and books for girls in the back of the book. This is obviously at a time in American history when girlhood and boyhood were not to overlap. While there is a brother figure in the book, the heavy focus is on the two sisters. I have chosen to present this to my classmates because I found the heavy distinction between boyhood and girlhood interesting and I was interested to learn more about the similarities and differences between girlhood now and girlhood in the 1800s, featuring domestic responsibilities like tending to her father coat, washing around the house, etc. 

2. Kora

A close up of text on a whiteboard

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A short summary of the piece’s content or description of the item. 

“The Girl Warriors: A Book for Girls” by Adene Williams is a children’s book published in 1901 about a young girl named Winnifred Burton who gathers her other girlfriends together to “kill giants”. When they say they are killing giants, the girls mean they are attempting to overcome their flaws. For Winnie, her biggest flaw is her procrastination. They are girl warriors in the sense that they are fighting against their own bad habits. 

A close reading of how the item is doing what it’s doing (this may include commenting on its style and tone, or how it fits generically with other literature we’ve read, or a discussion of what kinds of activities the particular item “scripts” for people who engage with it.) 

Much like Alcott’s “Little Women” which is referenced in this work, “The Girl Warriors” is a story about girls for girls, instilling moral values and lessons on domesticity and hard work. Williams has very straight forward, matter-of-fact writing mixed with prose which states what the girls’ giants(flaws) are, and how they plan to kill them. This type of literature scripts imitation for young girls, telling them to acknowledge their biggest character flaws and fight them. Adding the element of imagining these flaws are treacherous giants to kill makes it seem like a game, when in reality the girls must force themselves to do what they otherwise find boring.

A summary of what topics are important for understanding the item and how it relates to other things we’ve read or discussed so far this semester. 

Topics important for understanding this item include keywords such as girlhood, children’s literature, childhood, domestic, and education. Each keyword surfaces in this text in overlapping ways, as it does in many of the American Girl books we have read so far this semester. 

Information about the piece’s author or creator (if she or he is known). What other things is she or he known to have produced? What might you be able to tell about this creator even if she or he is anonymous? 

The author of this text is Adene Williams. Upon researching her name, I found she has only published this one book. There is little information on Williams, but what I can gather just based on the type of book “The Girl Warriors” is, she had a mission to educate young girls not only in overcoming their flaws, but what sort of behavior is expected and encouraged for women.

Information about the archive in which it appears (What do we know about this item, given its listed catalog information? Do we know how/when/from whom it was acquired?)

This text is a book from the beginning of the 1900s, owned by someone named Miriam Anne Firmage. Miriam’s name is printed on a sticker stuck to the inside cover of the book, and written in neat text on the opposite page. However, under the written name, Miriam is written again but in a more illegible handwriting. I assume the book was gifted to a young Miriam, and the gifter wrote her name inside the book. Miriam’s scribbles appear throughout the entire novel.

Information about the specific historical context of the piece. What events or circumstances may have influenced the creation of the piece? What information beyond the listed library catalog information is necessary for understanding this piece? 

The book makes references to United States history, which is a big influence of the girls when they identify and kill their giants. I don’t believe there are any large, well-known events that influenced the creation of this piece, but understanding societal norms for girls in the early 1900s America is crucial.

Any other pertinent information about the piece (Does the piece discuss or suggest events, places, people, or issues that you can do some historical research to illuminate?) 

The piece is a fictional story, and outside of references to US history, there are no major events or people to research. 

The significance of this piece for the study of American girlhood today. Why is this piece interesting? Why have you chosen this to present to your classmates? Might you recommend it to be taught in a similar course in the future? 

This piece is significant for the study of American girlhood because it is a historical representation of what good American girls should have been behaving like in the early 1900s. It follows their lives and mission of becoming moral women. I chose this piece because it highlights the values expected of young girls (in stark contrast to expectations of boys) and promotes the acquisition of them, although I would not recommend it be taught in full in the future, but maybe in excerpts. The content itself is dull and drawn out, and I expect even little girls reading it upon its release found it boring.

3. Yatin

A close up of a piece of paper

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A short summary of the piece’s content or description of the item. 

Pansy Billings and Popsy; two stories of girl life” was written by Helen Hunt Jackson and was published in 1898. The book consists of two stories of two young girls, Pansy Billings and Popsy and their childhood experiences in the 1800s.

A close reading of how the item is doing what it’s doing (this may include commenting on its style and tone, or how it fits generically with other literature we’ve read, or a discussion of what kinds of activities the particular item “scripts” for people who engage with it.) 

Both the stories in the book were progressive for the time they were written in. In both the stories, the girls find their true purpose and passion in life, for e.g., Pansy runs her own business at the end of the first story.

A summary of what topics are important for understanding the item and how it relates to other things we’ve read or discussed so far this semester. 

Some key topics would be the girlhood and childhood keyword essays. It would be interesting to draw a comparison of “girlhood” from the keyword essay and Hunt’s progressive view of girlhood in the 1800s.

Information about the piece’s author or creator (if she or he is known). What other things is she or he known to have produced? What might you be able to tell about this creator even if she or he is anonymous? 

Helen Hunt Jackson was an American poet and writer who became an activist on behalf of improved treatment of Native Americans by the United States government. A lot of her books revolved around the mistreatment of Natives by the United States government. A lot of her work was commercially popular back then. She was also inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985.

Information about the archive in which it appears (What do we know about this item, given its listed catalog information? Do we know how/when/from whom it was acquired?)

This book was published in 1898 by Lothrop Publishing Company and is a part of William B. Cairns Collection of American Women Writers from 1630-1900.

Information about the specific historical context of the piece. What events or circumstances may have influenced the creation of the piece? What information beyond the listed library catalog information is necessary for understanding this piece? 

The events of this book take place in the 1800s, although there are no particular events that may have influenced the creation of the story. Understanding women’s role in society during the 1800s is crucial to understand the progressive nature of women-centered stories in this book.

Any other pertinent information about the piece (Does the piece discuss or suggest events, places, people, or issues that you can do some historical research to illuminate?) 

The book does not specifically refer to events in US history or point out particular issues in society.

The significance of this piece for the study of American girlhood today. Why is this piece interesting? Why have you chosen this to present to your classmates? Might you recommend it to be taught in a similar course in the future? 

I thought this book was interesting because it explored the dynamic of “girlhood” through stories of two young girls in the 1800s. I also thought that this book was unique because, unlike other “girlhood” centered books of the time, this book had a progressive approach towards the role of women in society. 

Additional Items & Annotations:

  1. Tanya
Winnie Harlow, Shahad Salman, June issue, Saudi issue

An explanation of what this item is and what we know about where, when, and how it was created. 

The item that I chose to annotate was this cover of a Vogue magazine. The cover features Winnie Harlow, a Canadian model of Jamaican ancestry that suffers from a chronic skin condition called vitiligo. This edition of the magazine came out in June of 2019 in the Middle East. 

A summary of what topics are important for understanding the item and how it relates to other things we’ve read or discussed so far this semester.

There are many keywords that relate to the importance of this magazine cover including, race and beauty. Some things in class that we studied that relates to this is the documentary we watched titled “A Girl Like Me” as well as The Bluest Eye. The magazine cover aims to defy societal views on the word beauty and the ideal of what makes one beautiful. 

Information about the piece’s author or creator (if she or he is known). What other things is she or he known to have produced? What might you be able to tell about this creator even if she or he is anonymous? 

The creator of this issue of the magazine is by a woman named Alexandria Gouveia. Along with her position being an editor at the fashion magazine Vogue, Gouveia is a spokesperson for UN Women, advocating for women’s rights. Through her work I can tell that she is passionate about female empowerment and works to create meaningful efforts for change. 

Information about the archival collection in which the item is held. Do you know anything about how the item was obtained by the archive?

The item was featured on Vogue Arabia’s issue on Culture and their movement for female empowerment throughout the Middle East. 

Information about the specific historical context of the piece. What events or circumstances may have influenced the creation of the piece? What information beyond the listed library catalog information is necessary for understanding this piece?

This issue of the magazine stemmed from the lack of representation and diversity within beauty that individuals like Winnie Harlow faced in society. There are many things we see in the media today surrounding models and beauty creating this false reality that having no flaws makes you “perfect.” This magazine cover works to defy this by promoting body positivity as well as the diversity that has been underrepresented in the past.

The significance of these items for our study of American Girls and American Girlhood. Why is this piece interesting? Why have you chosen this to present to your classmates?

I thought that this magazine cover of Vogue displaying Winnie Harlow had a lot of significance, especially regarding American Girls and Girlhood. During the lecture, we learned a lot about the perception of beauty and the idealized form of it. Throughout history, the representation surrounding black girls and girlhood was perceived in an entirely different way. Black girls especially those with darker skin were seen as “ugly” or “less beautiful” when compared to white girls their age influencing how many were treated and looked at. This magazine cover opposes this way of thinking. Harlow not only being an African American Woman but also suffering from the skin condition vitiligo, helps young girls and women see that beauty comes from within, showing the importance of being confident and content in your own skin. Through this Harlow is also able to show that beauty is not defined by one thing and comes in a diverse range. I found this piece to be very interesting as it is unlike anything you usually see in the media. For women especially, beauty and perfection is always something that every girl strives for. Being featured on the cover of Vogue, Harlow demonstrates that to be beautiful you do not have to be perfect, suffering from vitiligo herself, Harlow serves as a role model for women all over the world. Seeing how she embraces who she is, she helps to pave a path for many to embrace who they are no matter, their size, shape, or race. The reason I chose this to present to my classmates was that I thought it demonstrated how our perception of beauty has evolved over time, especially compared to the treatment that black girls faced that we saw within Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye. 

2. Grace

https://barbie.mattel.com/en-us/about/role-models.html

A group of people posing for a photo

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An explanation of what this item is and what we know about where, when, and how it was created. 

The Barbie “Role Models” collection features dolls based on real life, inspiring women who have many times defied the odds and become successful in what they do. The collection was released for the 60th anniversary in 2019 and featured dolls inspired by famous women to inspire girls all over the globe, including dolls from many different countries, races, and abilities. 

A summary of what topics are important for understanding the item and how it relates to other things we’ve read or discussed so far this semester.

Topics that are important to this collection include Girlhood and Scripting. These dolls relate to our topics this semester as we’ve discussed how dolls and toys can script our play with them and our attitudes toward them which is extremely important when talking about girlhood as a whole. If dolls are shown to need mother figures, girls may fall into the idea that they need to be wives and mothers in order to have value, but by having empowering dolls who have successful careers, girls can have role models to aspire to be like one day.

Information about the piece’s author or creator (if she or he is known). What other things is she or he known to have produced? What might you be able to tell about this creator even if she or he is anonymous? 

While a single creator of the collection is not known, Barbie has continued to release dolls in the “Role Models” collection since it’s unveiling. Creator of Barbie, Ruth Handler, passed away, but today Kimberly Culmone is the creative director for Barbie. Culmone is known to support the advancement of girls and women, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community, serving on the board of many non-profit organizations that are dedicated to the advancement of girls and women. It is obviously through her work for Barbie and other organizations that Culmone is dedicated to empowering both girls and women.

Information about the archival collection in which the item is held. Do you know anything about how the item was obtained by the archive?

These dolls are a part of the 60th anniversary “Barbie: Role Models” collection, featuring 48 successful and empowering women from all around the world.

Information about the specific historical context of the piece. What events or circumstances may have influenced the creation of the piece? What information beyond the listed library catalog information is necessary for understanding this piece?

The collection was released on Barbie’s 60th anniversary in 2019, amidst an era of inspiring women. This was not the first time Barbie inspired their dolls after empowering women, but it was the largest release of real women at one time. Developing dolls of all shapes, sizes, skin tones, abilities and nationalities reflects the past decade of strong women working hard to establish their place and voice in the world.

The significance of these items for our study of American Girls and American Girlhood. Why is this piece interesting? Why have you chosen this to present to your classmates?

This collection means so much more than a doll in my opinion. Throughout the entire semester, we discussed many times that some of the books we read involve the idea that girls should learn domestic skills like cooking and cleaning and how to be a good wife and mother, instead of being able to use their voice and learn what they actually want to be in the world. This theme is seen in “Little House on the Prairie” from Laura’s mother and father, in Little Women from Aunt March, and so many other stories of girlhood. It is so important for girls to realize that they don’t need to grow up to be wives and mothers to have value, they can be successful businesswomen and doctors, and it is so important for this to be reflected in the dolls girls play with. When we talked about the keyword “scripting,” I realized how important it was for girls to have dolls and other toys that reflect successful and inspiring women. Creator of Barbie Ruth Handler realized that girls did not want to just be a mother figure to their dolls, but rather be inspired by their dolls. I found this extremely interesting and close to my heart as I played with Barbie Dolls growing up, and I can’t really remember owning dolls that were nearly as empowering as the ones that are being released today. I presented this to my classmates because this course focuses heavily on how dolls shape american girlhood, and these dolls of strong and powerful women will shape girlhood in an empowering way.

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