American Women Through Time
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Go to: II. RESEARCH SOURCES (Historical Overviews, Primary Sources, and Secondary Sources)


Lowell Offering
See Magazines section of Harvard Library's Women Working, 1800-1930.

Lucretia Mott is denied a seat at the World Anti-Slavery Conference in London because of her gender.
Mott's account of her trip to Great Britain is reprinted as Slavery and the "Woman Question" on the Worcester Women's History Project site.

Catharine Beecher's A Treatise on Domestic Economy is published.
Catharine Beecher (1800-1878), part of Women Working, 1800-1930 [Harvard University Library], provides a biographical profile of Beecher and online access to many of Beecher's works, including A Treatise on Domestic Economy.

Dorothea Dix begins her crusade for the humane treatment of the mentally ill.
Dorothea Dix Begins Her Crusade, March 28, 1841 [ [Mass Moments, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities]
The Disability History Museum includes relevant documents and images of Dix.
Search the Library for Dorothea Dix.

Six women demand equal rights in a petition to New York's constitutional convention.
Lori Ginzberg on Woman's Rights in Antebellum New York [December 1, 2005; audio; 29 min., 49 sec.]

Lucy Stone graduates from Oberlin College. Stone refuses to write a commencement address because she would not be allowed to read it herself. See Women's Rights Pioneer Lucy Stone Born [Mass Moments, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities] for a profile of Stone. The site also includes the text of a letter from Stone to her parents in which she explains why she refused to write a commencement address.

Elizabeth Ellet's The Women of the American Revolution is published.
Digital Images Online [Beinecke Library, Yale] includes images of a letter from Ellet to James Fenimore Cooper. Ellet asks questions about women in the Revolutionary War.

Ellen Craft escapes slavery by posing as a white man.
Reenactor Marcia Estabrook portrays Craft in the video Ellen Craft: Self-Emancipated Woman [WGBH Forum Network; 32 min., 32 sec.].

The first women's rights convention in the United States is held in Seneca Falls, New York.
Listen to the Talking History program, The 150th Anniversary of the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls: A Talk with Ellen Dubois (13 July 1998).

See The Seneca Falls Convention, featured on the site American Treasures of the Library of Congress.

Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to receive the M.D. degree.
Elizabeth Blackwell: That Girl There Is Doctor in Medicine, an online exhibit from the National Library of Medicine, includes Blackwell's class notes, her brother's account of the graduation, and additional sources that document her career.

First American-Made Valentines Sold [Mass Moments, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities]
Making Valentines: A Tradition in America, and online exhibit from the American Antiquarian Society, includes images of valentines designed by Esther Howland.

The Female Medical College of Pennsylvania becomes the first medical school for women. The institution will be renamed Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867.
Women Physicians: 1850s-1970s [Drexel University College of Medicine] documents the history and influence of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania with correspondence, scrapbooks, clippings, college records, images, diaries, publications and ephemera.

Fugitive Slave Law The ARC database from the National Archives includes Selected Documents Relating to Fugitive Slaves, 1837 - 1860 and Fugitive Slave Case Papers, 1850 - 1860 and Petitions Filed Under the Fugitive Slave Act (Fugitive Slave Petition Book), 1850-1860. See the Search Hints before using the site.

Harriet Tubman makes her first trip to the South as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
Listen to the Talk of the Nation interview with Catherine Clinton [time: 28 min.], author of Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.

Exploring A Common Past: Researching and Interpreting the Underground Railroad [National Park Service] includes sections on historic context, using primary sources, a case study, and a review of sources.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony become active in the Women's New York State Temperance Society.
The Breaking into the Temperance Movement, 1852-1853 chapter of The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony includes documents, images, and an introductory essay.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cablin is published.

Hedrick, Joan. Uncle Tom's Cabin [Interview online]. Talking History, 25 February 2002. Available from:
Hedrick won the Pulitzer Prize for Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (Oxford University Press, 1994).

In a Letter to Horace Mann (Massachusetts Historical Society), Stowe announces that she has completed the novel. Later in 1852, she notes in a letter to Ralph Wardlaw that the facts behind the novel are "darker & sadder & more painful to write than the fiction." Search OhioLink Digital Media Center for Stowe.

Scholars in Action: Analyze Abolitionist Speeches [online]. In History Matters. Fairfax, VA: Center for History and New Media; New York : American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 1998- [cited 24 March 2005]. Available from:
Historian Carla Peterson interprets speeches by Sojourner Truth (1852) and Frances Watkins Harper (1857).

Kansas-Nebraska Act
Read Nicole Etcheson's article, "'Labouring for the Freedom of This Territory': Free-State Kansas Women in the 1850s" in Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 21 (Summer 1998).
Territorial Kansas Online includes primary source materials relating to women who are described in Etcheson's article, including Julia Lovejoy, Clarina Nichols, and Sara Robinson.

Missouri v. Celia
Slavery and the Making of America, a companion site to the PBS film, offers an overview of the case. A detailed account of the case can be found in Melton A. McLaurin's Celia, A Slave: A True Story of Violence and Retribution in Antebellum Missouri (University of Georgia Press, 1991).

Property Rights, part of the Library of Virginia's Working Out Her Destiny exhibit, reproduces the letter that Nancy Polk sent to Virginia's governor. Polk wanted clarification of her property rights.

Harriet Wilson's Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black is published.
In Beyond Mortal Vision: Harriet Wilson, P. Gabrielle Foreman and Reginald H. Pitts discuss recently discovered information about Wilson's life.
Format: Video; time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Martha J. Coston patents a night signal flare in her husband's name.
Martha J. Coston is featured in the Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business.

Abolitionist Sarah Parker Remond begins a two-year lecture tour that will include stops in Scotland, Ireland, England, and France.
Black Abolitionists Archive [University of Detroit Mercy] includes newspaper accounts of Remond's speeches.
Access note: select "People," then "Remond, Sarah Parker."


Census Data

Historical Census Browser
Researchers can examine state and county topics for individual census years and over time, as well as generate maps of selected data.


The following digital collections group images of clothing by time period.

Bissonnette, Anne. Bissonnette on Costume: A Visual Dictionary of Fashion [online]. c1999. Available from: Select "Time Search."

Wisconsin Historical Museum Children's Clothing Collection [online]. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, updated 26 June 2001 [cited 10 December 2001]. Available from:

Print sources for the history of clothing/fashion during this period include:

Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio : Kent State University Press, c1995.

Diaries & Letters

Smith, Bathsheba W. Bigler. Diary, 1847 and 1873 [Trails to Utah and the Pacific: Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869]


Ladies Repository (1841-1876) [Making of America]


Browse the Quilt Index by time period (e.g., "1800-1849," 1850-1875")

The Baltimore Album Quilt Tradition [online]. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2001. Available from:
The "Flowering of the Baltimore Album Quilt" section of this online exhibit includes six examples from 1840 to 1859.

Secondary Sources

The database America: History & Life offers a simple option for limiting a search for articles and other sources to a specific time period. If you are searching for articles that cover 1840 to 1859, enter 1840d or 1850d in the "Time Period" row of the search screen. See America: History & Life: Searching by Time Period for an example using another time period.

American Women Through Time

Maintained by Ken Middleton | Walker Library, MTSU, Murfreesboro, TN 37132