Until recently, Princeton University Library’s (PUL) Special Collections contained a number of family papers and collections documenting the American Revolution, early national period, and the abolitionist movement, yet lacked documentation of women’s experience during this era. Over the past year, PUL acquired several collections that fill this gap and detail a range of women’s issues, from abortion trials to land inheritance.
Special Collections acquired an 1856 diary of a school teacher from Orange, New Jersey whose name, unfortunately, has been lost to time. This diary is of particular interest because it contains not only quite early commentary on women’s rights and the education of girls, but also because it is from a woman who was not well-known as a women’s rights activist at the time.
Another recent addition include legal documents from the Ohio State trial of Ann Porter for abortion in 1829 such as a warrant for Porter, as well as an affidavit, summons of witnesses, and a document by the Justice of the Peace Richard George summarizing the actions in the case. Porter served prison time for her actions, and these documents illuminate her story.
The Martha Bradstreet Family papers document the life of Martha and the Bradstreet family as they navigated 19th-century life in Antigua, Canada, and the United States. Of particular interest are the records relating to Martha Bradstreet’s legal efforts to regain title to land she inherited from John Bradstreet and Mary Aldrige.
While these small additions to the collection provide insight into the lives of white women in the 19th century, it’s much harder to document the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) women. Acquiring and documenting the history of BIPOC women is more difficult because of the legacy of colonial control of recordkeeping combined with colonial collecting practices and systemic erasure of BIPOC histories within special collections.
However, we recently acquired one document in which a court in Frederick County, Maryland convicted Sally Roberts, a free Black woman, of selling liquor without a license and running a “disorderly house.”
Princeton University Library Acquires Collections Documenting Women’s Experiences in Early America
Filed by March 18, 2021on