For Women’s History Month this March, we offer a broad overview of some of the great women’s history resources the Library has to offer. Whether you’re interested in the lives and thought of particular Quaker women, in the history of the Society of Friends and Quakerism, or in women’s history more generally, we hope this blogpost will give some pointers to fruitful sources for research and reading.
Archives of women’s meetings
Quaker women gathered together regularly in London from the late seventeenth century, though an official Yearly Meeting of Women Friends was only formally established in 1784 (having first been proposed in 1753). It was finally laid down in 1907. The records of the Women’s Yearly Meeting include minute books from 1759 to 1907, and epistles 1753-1906.
Meetings around the country also had their own separate women’s meetings. London and Middlesex women’s meetings records are here in the Library, including those of the Women’s Two Weeks Meeting and Box Meeting. Surviving records of other local women’s meetings are deposited locally along with other monthly meeting archives. For more information about specific local women’s meeting records and their whereabouts, contact us.
Women’s published writings
17th century Quaker publishing was remarkable both for its abundance and for the unusual number of women authors, at a time when women’s public writing was as uncommon (and as deprecated) as women’s preaching. It’s not surprising that many researchers have found the Library a rich resource for early modern women’s writing and publishing.
Some key reference works and anthologies for research into 17th and 18th century Quaker women’s published writing include:
- Booy, David, Autobiographical writings by early Quaker women (Ashgate, 2004)
- Foxton, Rosemary, “Hear the word of the Lord”: a critical and bibliographical study of Quaker women’s writing 1650-1700 / Rosemary Foxton (Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, 1994)
- Garman, Mary [et al], Hidden in plain sight: Quaker women’s writings 1650-1700 (Pendle Hill Publications, 1996)
- Skidmore, Gil, Strength in weakness: writings of eighteenth-century Quaker women (Altamira Press, 2003)
- Smith, Hilda L., and Cardinale, Susan, Women and the literature of the seventeenth century: an annotated bibliography based on Wing’s Short-title catalogue / compiled by Hilda L. Smith and Susan Cardinale (Greenwood Press, 1990).
Quaker women have of course gone on writing on a wide range of topics and in a variety of forms ever since. Not only does the Library aim to collect all Quaker publications, but it also holds a representative range of books by Quakers on unrelated topics, including works by women authors who wrote for a living, such as botanical books for children by Priscilla Wakefield (1751-1832), or the poems and fiction of the novelist Amelia Opie (1769-1853).
So if you’re looking for the writings of a particular Quaker woman, or a particular title, your first stop should be the Library’s online catalogue. We’ve produced some catalogue search tips, to help focus your search – for instance by genre and date – and make good use of the results.
Women’s diaries, letters and other personal papers
Women’s stories have often gone untold through lack of documentation. Any surviving personal papers – diaries, correspondence, note books – can be invaluable sources for learning more about women’s public and private lives. You will find many examples of these, from the 17th to the 20th century, in the Library’s collections, including travel journals and spiritual diaries, which, by their nature, are more likely to have been preserved for posterity.
The most iconic are probably the diaries of Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), prison reformer, whose presence in recent years on the five pound note gives an indication of her continuing fame. The recently conserved diaries (MS Vol S 255-271) give a fascinating insight into the inner life of a Quaker minister and social reformer, documenting her private moral and spiritual struggles as well as her philanthropic activities.
Here is a selection of some other women’s diaries to whet your interest (click on the links for full catalogue descriptions of these manuscripts, or contact us for a longer list).
- Freeborn, Susanna (fl. 1704-5). A journal of the travels of Susanna Freeborn and Esther Palmer from Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, America (1704). MS Box X1/10
- Weston, Mary (1711/2-1766), of Southwark and Wapping. Journal 1735-1752, including her travels in the ministry in North America between 1750 and 1752. MS Vol 312
- Darby, Abiah (1716/7-1794), of Sunderland and Coalbrookdale. Diary c.1744-1769, with an account of her earlier years. MS Vol 310
- Wilson, Rachel (1720-1775). An account of her religious visit to Friends in America carefully transcribed from her manuscript, 1768-1769. MS Vol S 20
- Chorley, Elizabeth (1752-1809). Diaries of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Chorley, born Fothergill, 1769-1770. MS Vol S 51/1-3
- Bishop, Betty (1751-1801). Diaries 1779-1801; and one (by Anne Bishop, one of her daughters?) 1809. MS Vol S 83
- Hill, Lydia (1754-1816). Diary written while keeping a school in Frenchay, Bristol, Somerset, 1780-1783. MS Box Q5/1
- Ransom, Mercy (1728-1811), born Bell. Journal of a visit to Bristol and Bath, 1792. MS Box 2/11/3
- Day, Susanna (1747-1826), of Stepney and Saffron Walden. Diary 1797-1804. Temp MSS 36/3
- Reed, Rachel (1786-1845). Diary, 1805-1820. MS Box P1/3
- Robson, Elizabeth (1771-1843). Journals, lists and accounts of meetings visited in America etc., 1813-1837. MS Vol S 129-133, 135, 137-139, 141-143, 145
- Yeardley, Elizabeth (-1821). Diaries, 1815-1820; 1819-1821. MS Box R2/11
- Capper, Anne (1817-1882). Journals 1824-1830. Temp MSS 310
- Godlee, Mary (1820-1894). Domestic diaries of the life and travels of Mary Godlee, 1828 – c.1846. MS Vol S 497-500
- Alexander, Catherine (1806-1878). Diary of travels in the West Indies with her husband, 1849-1850. MS Vol S 124
- Braithwaite, Martha Gillett (1823-1895). Journals (1837-1895) including a journal of a visit to France and Italy in the ministry, 1875 (MS Vol S 332). MS Vol S 301-332
- Braithwaite, Catherine L. (1864-1957). Journal, concerning journeys to France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany (1892) and to Norway (1897). MS Vol S 298-299
- Gilpin, Helen (1834-1907). Journal while a missionary in Madagascar, 1884-1887. MS Vol S 461
- Cowles, Sylvia (1881-c.1975). Diaries written while working for the American Red Cross in France during World War I, and for the Society of Friends Anglo-American Mission in Germany and Poland after the war, 1915-1922. Temp MSS 198/1
- Renton, Sara (1867-19–). Diaries while a Friends War Victims Relief Committee worker at Châlons-sur-Marne, France, 22 January 1917 – 31 August 1918 and 1 September 1918 – 6 April 1919. MS Vol S 446-447
- Wilson, Francesca (1888-1981). Typed transcripts of diary extracts, 1919-1964. MS 1006/2
- Caton, Ann (fl. 1921). Journal of a Journey to Buda Pest and Serbia, February 1921. Temp MSS 840
- Radley, Myrtle Aldren (1903-1991). Journal concerning the Young Friends General Conference, America, summer 1932. MS Vol 272
- McNeill, Margaret, 1909-1985. Margaret McNeill papers. Including: Journals 1945-1948. Temp MSS 981
- Henkel, Dorothy (1886-1983). Journal extracts for years 1948, 1956, 1957 and 1962. Temp MSS 1003/9/2/1
Besides published biographies of individual women or families, the Library holds historical studies of Quaker women of different periods, written from various standpoints. Mabel Brailsford’s Quaker women 1650-1690 published over a century ago was the first substantial study in the field, taking the biographical narrative approach which continued to be favoured in popular works on the subject, often for a mainly Quaker audience. More recent historical writing has been influenced by the increasing academic professionalisation of history, but also by the growth of social and economic history, women’s history and gender studies, and the study of material culture (particularly in the domestic sphere). These developments, along with the impetus to tell untold stories and publish anthologies of source material on less well documented areas, have led to a proliferation of valuable secondary sources for anyone interested in studying Quaker women. Here’s a short selection of some of these important and useful works.
- Garman, Mary Van Vleck ‘Quaker women’s lives and spiritualities’ and other chapters in Angell, Stephen and Dandelion, Pink, The Oxford handbook of Quaker studies (Oxford University Press, 2013) 097 ANG
- Brown, Sylvia, ed. Women, gender and radical religion in early modern Europe (Brill, 2007) 093.4 BRO
- Crawford, Patricia, ‘Women’s published writings 1600-1700’ in Prior, Mary, Women in English society 1500-1800 (Methuen, 1985) 096.02 PRI
- Feroli, Teresa, Political speaking justified: women prophets and the English revolution (University of Delaware Press, 2006) 096.04 FER
- Gill, Catie, Women in the seventeenth-century Quaker community: a literary study of political identities 1650-1700 (Ashgate, 2005) 097.01 GIL
- Mack, Phyllis, Visionary women: ecstatic prophecy in seventeenth-century England (University of California Press, 1992) 097.01 MAC
- Nevitt, Marcus, Women and the pamphlet culture of revolutionary England 1640-1660 (Ashgate, 2006) 096.03 NEV
- Trevett, Christine, Quaker women prophets in England and Wales 1650-1700 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2000) 097.01 TRE
- Wilcox, Catherine M., Theology and women’s ministry in seventeenth century English Quakerism (Edwin Mellen Press, 1995) 097.01 WIL
- Jennings, Judith. Gender, religion and radicalism in the long eighteenth century: the “Ingenious Quaker” and her connections (Ashgate, 2006) 092.4 KNO/JEN
- Larson, Rebecca, Daughters of light: Quaker women preaching and prophesying in the colonies and abroad, 1700-1775 (Knopf, 1999) 097.02 LAR
- Anderson, Bonnie, Joyous greetings: the first international women’s movement 1830-1860 (OUP, 2000) 051.2 AND
- Brown, Heloise, “The truest form of patriotism”: pacifist feminism in Britain, 1870-1902 (Manchester University Press, 2003) 051.59 BRO
- Holton, Sandra, Quaker women: personal life, memory and radicalism in the lives of women Friends, 1780-1930 (Routledge, 2007) 097.03 HOL
- Kett, Anna Vaughan, Quaker women, the free produce movement and British anti-slavery campaigns: the Free Labour Cotton Depot in Street,1853-1858 (University of Brighton PhD thesis, 2012) Theses 051.69 KET
- McFadden, Margaret H., Golden cables of sympathy: the transatlantic sources of nineteenth-century feminism / Margaret H. McFadden (University Press of Kentucky, 1999) 051.2 MCF
- Midgley, Clare, Women against slavery: the British campaigns, 1780-1870 (Routledge, 1992) 051.69 MID
- Morgan, Sue, Women, religion and feminism in Britain, 1750-1900 (Palgrave, 2002). 096.05 MOR
- O’Donnell, Elizabeth, Woman’s rights and woman’s duties: Quaker women in the nineteenth century, with special reference to Newcastle Monthly Meeting of Women Friends (Thesis (PhD) – University of Sunderland, 1999) Theses 097.03 ODO
- Logan, Anne, Feminism and criminal justice : a historical perspective (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
- Mombo, Esther Moraa, A historical and cultural analysis of the position of Abaluyia women in Kenyan Quaker Christianity, 1902-1979 (University of Edinburgh PhD thesis, 1998)
- Oldfield, Sybil, Women humanitarians: a biographical dictionary of British women active between 1900 and 1950 (Continuum, 2001) Ref. shelves
- Ronan, Alison, “A small vital flame” : anti-war women in NW England 1914-1918 (Scholars Press, 2014) 051.59 RON
- Storr, Katherine, Excluded from the record: women, refugees and relief 1914-1929 (Peter Lang, 2009) 066.46 STO
And much more…
This short blog post has merely scratched the surface of what’s available for the study of women’s history in the Library. We have omitted general biographical sources, such as the Dictionary of Quaker biography. And we haven’t even mentioned images and artefacts (photographs, cartes de visite, art works by and about women Friends, costume, museum objects), despite their importance for the study of women’s everyday lives. It’s clearly impossible to produce a single conspectus of all relevant Library sources, given the wide compass of possible topics relating to women’s history, and the range of potential users of the collections. Thankfully, the online catalogue will take you much further – and of course we are always ready to welcome new readers and answer enquiries about the collections.
Above all, we hope you will all join us in celebrating Quaker women’s lives and history, whether you’re a seasoned researcher or just dipping your toe in for the first time.
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What an amazing resource! I need more days in the week, but would love to follow up my Quaker women forebears one day.
We look forward to seeing you in the Library some time!
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