Archives News

Independent minds

As Oregon marks the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote with various events, we have been looking through our collections for examples of women who were role models and leaders in their time. A wonderful collection of letters and autographs provides several examples of such women.

Viola Price Franklin, whose husband was a Willamette University professor and university librarian from 1918 to 1936, had collected letters and autographs from well-known literary and political figures for many years. When she died, her sister donated this collection to our archives. Getting these letters ready for researchers to use, I discovered letters by Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Mary Longfellow. Each of these women was a leader during her life time. These letters reflect the strong wills and independence of thought they possessed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a time when women were not generally encouraged to think of anything but house and home.

Anthony and Stanton, of course, were major leaders in the movement to obtain the vote for women; Alcott was an author whose female characters provided positive models for young women; Longfellow, daughter of poet Henry W. Longfellow, started an educational institution that allowed women to get the equivalent of a Harvard education, complete with degree, at a time when Harvard did not admit women.

These letters, along with the others in the collection, can be read and studied at the university archives between the hours of 9 to noon and 1 to 4, Monday through Friday. Many of the letters can also be read by clicking on Viola’s name earlier in this post and looking through the Contents List. Explore the literary and feminist roots of the nineteenth century and discover the real people whose names you see in history books. We look forward to seeing you at the archives.

Rose Marie Walter, Archivist