Where to Find Primary Sources for Women’s History

Hey there, friend! Today we’re talking about where to find primary sources for researching and teaching women’s history! 

Sometimes it can be hard to find primary sources that blatantly talk about women and women’s history. As historians and researchers, we are taught to look for certain voices in unique places and sources. This article will give you several ideas of places to look to find women’s voices. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it can be used as a starting point for your next project! 

Remember, representation matters in your research and curriculum so make sure to include multiple points of view and experiences! 

Here are several places to look for women’s voices in the primary sources: 

Letters

Letters are a great place to look for women in the historical record. Many women corresponded with their family which can give an insight in to family histories. 

Diaries

Diaries are personal and intimate records of the writer and should be treated with respect. Women often kept detailed records of their day, family, and towns. Diaries are such a good source! 

Newspapers

Newspapers often tell stories of the prominent women in a city or town. It also important to remember newspaper stories can be sensationalized and should be read in the context of the time. 

Church Records

Churches and preachers often kept detailed records of their congregations and members. Some women also acted as missionaries and kept their own detailed concerning their daily activities and the people they were working with. 

Court Records

Court records sometimes contain records for women. It really depends on the time period you’re studying for this source, but I definitely recommend checking them out if possible!

School Records 

School records are so valuable for researching women! Women were often teachers and they kept the school records. You can also look for records at the district or county levels to find more information. 

Books 

The inside cover of books or old family Bibles sometimes have names or important dates written inside the covers! So always make sure to look inside the old books you find in the archive or when going through old things!

Photos 

Old photo albums and records are a treasure trove for researching women. Sometimes women are the focal point of the photo, but other times they are in the background and that can help give the researcher a clue as to what women were doing at the time. 

Bonus Tip: Some photos even have words written along the bottom or on the back of the image. These hints are invaluable when researching a person or family. 

Physical Objects & Artifacts  

Physical objects and artifacts allow you to tell a person’s story visually. These objects are great for presentations, museum exhibits, and classroom demonstrations. 

Magazines & Advice Literature 

Magazines and advice literature for women help you see what was considered “proper” for a woman in the time period that you are studying. This kind of literature was extremely popular in the nineteenth century. 

Autobiographies 

Autobiographies are awesome because they were often written by the person you are studying or by someone close to them. This source allows you to understand how this person wanted to be remembered and what parts of their life that they considered important. 

Interviews 

Interviews are a great primary source because you have words spoken by the person you are studying. How cool is that! You have to be careful with this type of source though. Make sure that you do adequate background research on the events the person is talking about. 

Speeches 

Again, speeches are great because they are words that were actually spoken by the person you are researching. Women’s speeches are much more rare, especially depending on the time period that you are looking at. 

Bonus Tip: Modern speeches have often been photographed or recorded as well so make sure to look for a visual to match the audio or text that you found! 

The primary sources above are just a few of the places you can look to find women’s voices. Many of these sources can be scaled to the appropriate age for your classroom or project. I hope this list is helpful and that you add more women to the dialogue. 

I’ll talk to ya soon! 🙂 

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