Explore materials illustrating the diversity of women's experiences

Feminine-presenting people do not always share common experiences; they have faced different challenges based on the specificities of their race, class, religion, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, and gender expression. In Her Own Right recognizes that “the women’s movement” was not a monolith and has made a special effort to seek out documents that evidence the diversity of women’s experiences and the intersectional nature of their struggles for equality. Read more about why it’s important for archivists to put effort into Addressing Historical Inequities.

The list below highlights some of the most promising collections for exploration of the following identities and experiences, but is not comprehensive. To discover more resources, explore our Guides and consult our Search Tips.

*Archives beyond the Consortium

This project was spearheaded by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, but made a special effort to include a broader range of institutions beyond PACSCL. Non-PACSCL member institutions are listed below; see our Browse by Contributor Guide for a full list of all archives.

Ability and Illness

Stories of women with disabilities and chronic illness may be found in records of institutions (such as the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf) or as individual stories. Try the links below, or searching keywords like “blind” or “deaf.”

African American Women

Black women have had huge impacts on U.S. history, and this is particularly true in Philadelphia (the focal point for this project), which boasted a large and relatively affluent African American population (compared to other Black population centers in the US) throughout the period of 1820 to 1920. The sources below feature Black women’s voices; you can also browse topics in our Subject Guide Visualization by clicking on “Race and Class” and then “Race Relations.”


Narratives of 19th century women’s activism and the woman suffrage movement in the U.S. often focus on middle and upper class women, ignoring or minimizing the experiences of working class and low income women. However, middle and upper class women often volunteered through agencies whose records provide glimpses into the lives of working class and low income women, as in the featured resources below. You can also browse topics in our Subject Guide Visualization by clicking on “Race and Class” and then “Social Service.”


Immigrant women faced a variety of challenges in the 19th and early 20th century, from finding housing, work, and financial support to provide for themselves and their families, to racism and xenophobia. In Her Own Right includes records of mutual aid organizations, established by immigrants to support each other; charities, established by long-established resident women to provide support and encourage assimilation of immigrants; and non-governmental organizations focused on managing immigrants. Browse topics in our Subject Guide Visualization by clicking on “Immigrants and Immigration.”

Institutionalized environments

Women confined to prisons, mental health facilities, and reform homes were the most disenfranchised in society. In some cases, simply continuing to exist and living life on her own terms, and resisting pressures to align to societal expectations, can be understood as a form of activism. Browse topics in our Subject Guide Visualization by clicking on “Incarceration and Institutionalization.”

Jewish people & organizations

American Jewish communities have embraced the importance of tzedakah, meaning “charity,” as well as tikkun olam, “repair the world,” which many thinkers today interpret as a call to social justice. American Jewish activism in the 18th and 19th century includes charitable work to help those in need as well as political work to change society and address the causes of inequity. A keyword search for “Jewish” can help identify additional materials.

LGBTQIA and romantic friendships

While it is difficult to classify people of the past according to identity categories that did not exist at that time (such as “lesbian” or “bisexual”), queer communities today find strength in recognizing their ancestors, the struggles they faced, and the resilience they showed. Try searching for subject terms Homosexuality and Female friendship.

Native Americans

Views into Native American communities are present in this database, although usually from the perspective of white people. Explore resources by searching specific tribes as keywords, e.g. “Seneca” or “Cherokee,” or using the subject Indians of North America. (We recognize this term is outdated and may be harmful to some users, but most libraries in the country utilize terms authorized by the Library of Congress, and this is the approved heading at this time.)

Transnational women

While some activist women have focused on local issues and domestic policy changes, others have contributed to advancing the rights of women worldwide. International medical aid was one channel for this work; in the 19th and early 20th centuries, international church structures provided another channel. Browse topics in our Subject Guide Visualization by clicking on “Religious Activism” and then “Missionaries.”