Home Confinement: A Peculiarly Suitable Setting for Engaging with Women’s History

By NYPL Staff
May 4, 2020
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from [her] point of view, until you climb inside of [her] skin and walk around in it.” 

    —Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Pamphlet, Is Women's Only Sphere the Home?

If you are one of the many people currently chafing againt home confinement, you might be in just the right frame of mind to appreciate women’s history. After all, women were largely confined to the “domestic sphere” not for mere months, but for centuries.

Just as many of us are finding ways to zoom beyond being stuck at home, so history is filled with fascinating “inside” stories of women who have overcome the restrictions of traditional gender roles. Having walked a few miles in her shoes—or at least, paced a few miles between her walls— we may be in a better position to understand the challenges women have faced in moving beyond closed doors.

Luckily, there are many resources available online to help you explore women’s hidden history—enough to keep you busy however long we remain confined at home, and long afterward too. Here are a few highlights, from the Library’s collections and beyond.

NYPL Research Guides

These online research guides identify useful resources for researching women’s history, approached from various angles. Whether you are interested in discovering more about the women in your family, focusing on African American women, or learning how to uncover information about women in particular types of resources, the Library has you covered. Bonus: all of these guides include online resources that are available for use at home.

Crowdsourcing Projects

Don’t confine yourself to learning about women’s history—here’s your chance to actively contribute to it! These crowd-sourcing projects invite the general public to transcribe records relating to women’s history and to share their own knowledge—including any information learned by using one of the guides listed above—of the women in their families or local communities. When your grandchildren ask you what you did during the terrible COVID-19 period, you can tell them you did more than just live through history—you helped make it available to everyone.


NYPL Blogs

In addition to research guides, NYPL librarians, curators and scholars regularly publish blog posts to highlight women represented in the Library’s collections. Some of these are collected on our Women’s History Month blog channel—to make sure you don’t miss any future Women’s History Month blogs, you can subscribe to our RSS Feed here.

The list below is just a small sampling of the many other library blogs relating to women (in chronological order starting with the most recent). 

NYPL Digital Collections

Women’s history is richly represented in the Library’s growing collection of digitized material, available to everyone at home before.

Among the highlights are two collections that document the contributions of feminists that history has often overlooked. Noted Negro women: their triumphs and activities includes portraits from an 1893 book of that title which compiled the biographies of notable African American women, many of whom have been almost entirely forgotten.

Mrs. Zelia R. Page. Dramatist, Teacher of Natural Science; Friend of the Poor.

Mrs. Zelia R. Page. Dramatist, Teacher of Natural Science; Friend of the Poor. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1221511

The Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection features photographs of annual congresses held by the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), a feminist organization that has largely escaped Americans' notice, despite its signficant influence on the U.S. suffrage movement. The digitized photographs represent only a small fraction of the extensive Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection available on-site.

Members selling the feminist paper on Budapest's streets, 1913-1914.

IWSA  Members selling the feminist paper on Budapest's streets, 1913-1914. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1536655

You can search the Digital Collections by keyword, or browse by women-specific topics and collections, including the following:


Collections (for more information about these collections, click the “about” tab)

Databases at NYPL and Beyond

In addition to the databases identified in Women's History Month: Researching with NYPL's E-Resources, try the following NYPL databases (all accessible at home by NYPL cardholders):


  Free Databases

Many additional free databases are identified on the Women page of the National Archives Library Information Center. And don’t miss these online resources relating to the upcoming centennial celebration of women winning the right to vote! 

Last but not least, keep an eye out for NYPL’s upcoming exhibition Her Vote, Her Voice: The Fight for Women’s Equality, currently scheduled to open Fall, 2020. In the meantime, happy at-home researching!