In the 1970s and 1980s, members of the Smithsonian Institution Women’s Council (SIWC) created a library of books and periodicals to assist their work advising Smithsonian management on issues concerning women employees. To learn more about the texts that inspired the SIWC and how they collected their materials, researchers can look to Smithsonian Institution Archives records documenting the group’s history.
The earliest list of books held by the library that I was able to find described the SIWC’s holdings in 1979. The titles collected demonstrate the group’s interest in increasing opportunities for women in leadership roles and raising awareness about the unique barriers women faced at work. For example, the library included Bringing Women into Management, an edited volume resulting from a 1974 Stanford Graduate School of Business conference on women and management. SIWC archival records also include a demonstrate an emphasis on increasing opportunities for women in leadership roles and raising awareness about the unique barriers women faced at work. An accompanying list of titles for purchase in 1979 reveals the group’s growing interest in work by sociologists, economists, and activists studying women and the workplace. Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s 1975 Getting Yours: How to Make the System Work for the Working Woman tops this second list.
By the early 1980s, SIWC members kept bibliographies of texts they could add to their library on topics ranging from “Improving Communications between Men and Women” to information about the women’s rights movement. Amongst the materials in the collection are bibliographies created by other libraries and women’s organizations. For example, the SIWC collection contains the Fairfax County Public Library’s list of “Books About Women and The Women’s Movement,” as well as a 1972 pamphlet of “Publications of the Women’s Bureau.”
As the library grew, new classics such as, Gerda Lerner’s Black Women in White America, Catherine MacKinnon’s Sexual Harassment of Working Women, and Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex were added to the collection.
In fact, by 1982, members of the SIWC wished for wider use of their growing library. They discussed publicizing information about their collection to encourage Smithsonian staff to reference the books and magazines they had so carefully selected. More research is needed to learn about the later life of the collection, but I love how the SIWC’s library and bibliographies reflect the group’s connection to the greater women’s rights movement and the emerging field of women’s history.
- Smithsonian Institution Women’s Council Records, 1972–1983, Record Unit 310, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
- “Women Carrying out the Work of Change in the 1970s” by Elizabeth Harmon, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
- “How Gloria Steinem Inspired Change at the Smithsonian” by Elizabeth Harmon, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives.