Hidden in Plain Sight: Reading Between the Lines with the Smithsonian Transcription Center Volunteers

The Smithsonian Transcription Center volunteers have been busy unlocking the hidden stories from the Smithsonian's collections - including the women in science hiding in plain sight in these digitized pages. From amateur collectors to seasoned gardeners, women made valuable contributions to the Smithsonian's collections. Here's what we're learning and doing together with their information.

Last July, I shared some of the progress of volunteers and their growth as a community. The highlights? Over 450 volunteers transcribed 13,412 pages including 46 different Archives projects. Since then, we have grown our community to over 4,500 volunteers and the completed text of 66,598 pages can now be indexed. This remarkable growth includes 247 completed Archives projects as well.

Updated statistics: Over 450 volunteers at that point had transcribed 46 different Archives projects. That was part of the total 956 volunteers who had completed 13,412 pages by July 2014. Since then, 2,147 volunteers have helped wrap up a whopping 247 Archives projects! The community has grown to over 4,700 volunteers total; they have worked together to completely transcribe and review 67,205 pages - to make searchable text in Smithsonian's Collections Search Center.

Through mysteries, connections, and achievements, the Archives continue to recognize the women in science in their collections. The Archives also shares field notes and books in the Smithsonian Transcription Center, where we have fully transcribed field notes and photo albums from women scientists including Doris Cochran, Cléofe Caldéron, Florence Bailey, and Mary Agnes Chase. Volunteers - whom we call #volunpeers - have also been able to identify at least 25 women who contributed specimens and were recorded in field notes by Joseph Nelson Rose.

Rose was a botanist with the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Smithsonian Institution; his work was prolific and highlighted his great commitment to botanical work and cooperative discovery. How fitting that by transcribing his detailed notes, volunpeers would open a window: private citizens and researchers alike sharing specimens with the Smithsonian Institution. Many of the women in science we've uncovered in the pages were involved in science with informal work or non-institutional roles. The collectors in Rose's pages were professional botanists, and collecting sisters, wives, and amateurs.

See Mrs. D. D. Gaillard or Katherine Ross Davis Gaillard in the bottom right corner of this page.

In addition to notes on women cultivating botanical collections, we also see women in science in the entomological specimens labels and botanical specimens sheets that volunpeers transcribe. One challenge emerges: what can we do with the knowledge that emerges from the digitized pages? How can we acknowledge the effort of all of the collectors and honor the work of volunteers?

As Smithsonian staff begin to incorporate that information into official records and institutional narrative, we can discuss the challenges openly - in Google Hangouts, blogposts, and social media. By working with volunpeers and others, we might open the problem to group solutions. We can also acknowledge the scientific work in spaces like Wikipedia where challenges remain with representation of women. In this way, the knowledge generated from the Archives' and other Smithsonian collections can be shared with the public. As we approach Women's History Month, we have another opportunity to connect the women in science in these pages to the body of knowledge held at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the energy of Wikipedia editors.

You can let science talk and help the stories of these women unfold in two ways: by joining the Archives in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on March 27, 10:00-4:00 pm EST. Here is the running list of women from Joseph Nelson Rose’s field notes: 

Women Without Wikipedia Representation

  • Wilmatte Porter Cockerell
  • Helen S. Conant
  • Grace M. Cole
  • Mrs. Anna W Kidder
  • Miss Jesse P Rose
  • Ruth C. Ross
  • Miss Gertrude Sinscheimer
  • Sister Mary Regina of St. Mary’s Convent (NY)
  • Elsie McElroy Slater
  • Mrs. Florence A Standley
  • Miss Nellie Standley
  • Miss V. Tasker of Pennsylvania
  • Miss F. N. Vasey
  • Mrs. Irene Vera

Women With Articles in Wikipedia

Women Currently Identified by Names Other Than Their Own

  • Mrs. Charles Bly
  • Mrs. D. D. Gaillard
  • Lady Hanbury
  • Mrs. Dan Hansen
  • Mrs. Eugene A Harris
  • Mrs. S. L. Pattison
  • Mrs. L. L. Roller
  • Mrs. G. M. Wolfe

Or you can share your passion for Smithsonian collections by transcribing with other volunpeers in the Transcription Center

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