Learn about Women’s History in Library resource North American Women’s Letters & Diaries

March is Women’s History Month! Celebrate by learning about women’s experiences in America from colonial times to the mid-twentieth century. The Library resource North American Women’s Letters and Diaries has observations of history before it was history, when it was current events and outcomes were far from certain. North American Women’s Letters and Diaries takes lines of writing that had faded or leached through the paper, that were once viewable only as dark, grainy microform images, and brings them to life in print transcriptions.

The transcripts, and occasionally high quality scans of original manuscripts, convey the immediate experiences of 1,325 women in 150,000 pages of diaries and letters, including more than 7,000 pages of previously unpublished material. They not only give insights into events as they occurred, but let researchers into the writer’s world, telling about what people wore, what working conditions were like, what they ate, what they read, how they amused themselves.

In the drop-down menu under Browse, you can select from a list of 1,325 authors, or 605 sources of material. You can search by date ranging from 1675 through 1950, or search by historical event, or by a personal event such as “Childbirth” or “Death of a spouse.”

If you have a particular topic in mind, you can mouse over the Search option, select Letters or Diaries, and enter search parameters. For instance, to find something on the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed an estimated three to five percent of the world’s population, simply type “flu” in the search box, and “1918” for the Year Written. The search yields 12 hits from three diaries: one an incidental mention in America, and two other very different perspectives on the pandemic in October from Americans in Europe.

From Mary Louise Rochester Roderick (1889–1970), military wife and musician entertaining troops in France during WWI:

Am billeted in the nurses barracks, where many nurses are sick with flu and pneumonia. Almost every day nurses die. Ever since the offensive in the Argonne these wonderful women have been on the job and many of them have broken under the strain. Happily, however, many of them are convalescing …

Little did I think, when last here, that I would return to this mud hole stricken by the flu bug and running a temperature of 105°ree;, but here I am and weak as a kitten. Our experience last night in Verdun, where Mary and I stayed in the only house left standing, most certainly has helped to make me more susceptible to this dread flu epidemic …


From nurse Helen Dore Boylston (1895–1984), tending the wounded in France:

The hospital is overrun with flu. We’ve had it every year, of course, but nothing like this. The boys are dying like flies. Those of us who have been here so long and have had it before aren’t very sick, but the new unit which has just come over is knocked out. We hear, vaguely, that it is spreading all over the world. Incidentally, I’m running a temperature … Anyhow, I have no wish to be sick now. I’m going to that masquerade!

October 31 Still running the temperature … I’ve got a sore throat, too, which isn’t in the program. But it isn’t very sore. I’m keeping the temp down with asperin and quinine … I can work all right. I took a fat dose the day Jack and I went to Boulogne, so I felt very frisky. We had a bully day. Didn’t find much in the way of costumes. We finally got a couple of pierrot suits. They weren’t what we wanted, but they’ll do, and they’ll be comfortable to dance in … I had a fierce chill on the way home, but the lorry jounced so that Jack didn’t notice.

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