Archival Resources

Note: Archival items that have been digitized are generally listed and linked elsewhere in this bibliography.

Archival Resources in Wisconsin: Descriptive Finding Aids
This is a combined collection of Finding Aids, which describe unpublished primary resources held in one of these institutions: the Wisconsin Historical Society, University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives and Record Management, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and UW-Madison Memorial Library’s Department of Special Collections. The collection of finding aids may be searched (ex: for “women” or for a particular name), or one can browse through a list of the names of the individuals and organizations included.

Wisconsin Historical Society Library and Archives
Many collections of personal papers and records of women’s organizations in Wisconsin are held in the Archives Division.

Women’s History Resources at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, by Mary Fiorenza and Michael Edmonds (5th ed., Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1997) describes the secondary literature that provides entree to archival sources and describes in detail by subject (homes/households, work, wartime, reform movements, religion, and media) and by example the different types of material available (first-person accounts, periodicals, images, material culture, etc.)

Diaries, correspondence, reminiscences, interviews, and other types of material are found in the collections.

The Archives also holds the papers of Clara B. Colby, (1846-1916) who grew up in Wisconsin and taught at the University of Wisconsin before moving to Nebraska where she organized suffrage efforts and founded the Woman’s Tribune, the organ of the National Woman Suffrage Association. For discussion of Colby’s papers, see “State Historical Society of Wisconsin Welcomes Suffragist’s Papers,” by Cindy Knight in Feminist Collections 12, 1 (Fall 1990): 18-20.

In addition, many finding aids are available online via “Archival Resources in Wisconsin” (see above).

“Sources for Women’s History,” by Debra Anderson, University Archives, Special Collections Department, Cofrin Library, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, lists relevant collections held in the Historical Society and its Area Research Centers throughout the state. Note: Link no longer working.

The Society’s Digital Library and Archives has a Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles (WLHBA) collection that contains thousands of newspaper articles preserved in scrapbooks at the Society in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It is searchable in the advanced search screen by name, word-in-headline, newspaper, county, year, and main heading (agriculture, church history, social and political movements, etc.) There is no category for women, but searching for the words “woman,” “women,” “girl,” “mother,” and other women words in the headline box is productive, as are searches of individuals by name. Note: LInk no longer working.)

Also see Andrea Hinding’s Women’s History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States, 2 v. (New York: Bowker, 1979), vol. 1, pp. 1061-1088, for descriptions of manuscript collections from individual women found in the State Historical Society and other repositories in Wisconsin.

Two Wisconsin Historical Society collections are major resources on the history of women suffrage and have been microfilmed for use elsewhere. They are:

  • James, Ada Lois. Papers, 1816-1952. This is a 30,000-page manuscript collection of a women’s suffrage leader in Wisconsin and other James family members. The finding aid has been digitized, as have several selected folders.
  • Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association Records, 1892-1925.

Together, these two collections form a 42-reel microfilm set Grassroots Women’s Organizations. Women’s Suffrage in Wisconsin, editorial director, Anne Firor Scott (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1989). A guide to the microfilm edition was compiled by Nanette Dobrosky. For a discussion about the significance of both collections, see “Historical Society Women’s Collections to be Published,” by Harry Miller in Feminist Collections 11, 2 (Winter 1990): 13-14, and a review by Genevieve G. McBride in Journal of American History 79 (March 1993): 1704-1706.

Another important resource in the Historical Society is the set of Records 1963-1979 of the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. See its Finding Aid. The Archives also has many taped interviews and transcripts with Wisconsin women. Examples of such collections are below (descriptions are chiefly from the cataloging records for these collections):

Documenting the Midwestern Origins of the 20th Century Women’s Movement. Oral History Project, project director Gerda Lerner, interviewer, Joyce Follet.
Oral history interviews were conducted during 1990-1991 with 22 Midwestern women who were leaders of movements for women in labor, education, politics, religion, and business at local, state, national, and international levels. Interview tapes (and in some cases written transcriptions) are held. The Wisconsin women interviewed were Gene Boyer, Kathryn Clarenbach, Ruth Clusen, Sister Austin Doherty, Mary Eastwood, Judith Goldsmith, Sarah Harder, Virginia Hart, Helen Hensler, Midge Miller, Mary Lou Munts, Sister Joel Read, Doris Thom, and Nellie Wilson. An interview with Milwaukee labor organizer Catherine Conroy was conducted prior to her death by the University of Michigan-Wayne State University Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations Program on Women and Work. For a discussion of the project, see “Midwestern Women’s Role in the Contemporary Women’s Movement: an Oral History Project,” by Linda Shult in Feminist Collections 14, 1 (Fall 1992): 17-18; and “Midwestern Leaders of the Modern Women’s Movement: An Oral History Project,” by Gerda Lerner in : 11-15. [See also Step By Step: Building a Feminist Movement, 1941-1977 (video), which also resulted from this project.]

Maternity Nurses Oral History Project, 1986. Interviewer: Sara Monkres.
Twenty-four audiotaped interviews with nineteen nurses caring for women during birth. Resumes and transcripts for most of the interviews are also in the collection.

The Impact of Her Spirit Oral History Project, 1983-1989.
Undertaken by members of the Wisconsin Extension Homemakers Council as a celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary, focusing on the life stories of Wisconsin homemakers and on the influence of the WEHC in their lives. Tape-recorded interviews, transcripts, photographs, slide/tape show, script for a play based on the oral histories, and TAaste Wisconsin History, a cookbook derived from the project. Focused on the lives of Wisconsin homemakers and the influence of the Council in their lives. A duplicate set of transcripts was divided according to counties of residence of the interviewees and may be found at the appropriate State Historical Society of Wisconsin Area Research Centers throughout the state. The Impact of Her Spirit, by Georgia Hoberg, et al. (River Falls: Wisconsin Extension Homemakers Council, 1989) is a published guide to the project.

Rural women’s oral history project, 1984-1985. Jean Saul Rannells, interviewer.
Interviews with 27 elderly rural Wisconsin women concerning the everyday experiences of their lives. The interviews span the period 1915-1985 and focus on daily activities, attitudes toward work and leisure time, religion, community involvement, informal education, and the relationships the women had with others. Transcripts of the interviews are also present.

Wisconsin Jewish Oral History Interview Project (Guide). Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1974.
Tapes and transcripts of Jewish men and women who immigrated to Wisconsin from Europe.

Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust: a Documentation Project of the Wisconsin Jewish Archives. Guide edited by Sara Leuchter. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1983.
Of the 24 persons interviewed for this oral history project, 11 were women.

Wisconsin Women During World War II Oral History Project, 1992-1994.
115 interviews undertaken by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin to capture the experiences of Wisconsin women on the homefront and, to a limited extent, in military service, during World War II. Interviewees were selected to include a broad cross-section of women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, rural and urban experience, and workers in and outside the home. Topics discussed include changes in lifestyle prompted by the war, community ties and support systems, and attitudes about the war. Interviews were conducted by Kathryn Borkowski, Stephen Kolman, Tracey Deutsch, and Kristina Ackley between January 1992 and April 1994. Publication: Women Remember the War, 1941-1945, by Michael C. Stevens, ed., and Ellen D. Goldlust, assistant ed. Madison: Center for Documentary History, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1993.

Women of Wisconsin Labor Oral History Project, 1988-1992.
Interviews with seventeen women active in the labor movement in Wisconsin, selected to form a representative sample of unions, geographic areas, and type of work (service, industrial, building trades, public employees, etc.). The women discuss work experiences, their role in their respective union organizations, issues important to them as women workers, and prominent leaders with whom they worked. The project was directed by JoAnne Rica with funding support from the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, the International Association of Machinists District 10, the United Steel Workers of America District 32, the Wisconsin Labor History Society, and the Milwaukee Chapter of Coalition of Labor Union Women. All interviews were conducted by Jamakaya (formerly J. M. Dombeck). In addition to the tape-recorded interviews, there is background information on the project, short biographies of each interviewee with a brief description of the interview, and indexes to each interview. There are also photographs of some of the interviewees.

Women’s Oral History Project of Madison WEAC Insurance Trust Interviews, 1977-1982. Interviewers: Cynthia Costello, Catherine Loeb, and others.
Fifteen participants were interviewed about the 1979 strike by women clerical workers in the United Staff Union at the Wisconsin Education Association Council Insurance Trust, Madison. (See also “‘We’re Worth It! Work, Culture and Conflict at the Wisconsin Education Association Insurance Trust,” by Cynthia Costello in Feminist Studies 11, 3 (1985): 497-518.)

Milwaukee Urban Archives: Note: Link no longer working.
The Milwaukee Urban Archives in the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Golda Meir Library, is made up of administrative records for the Milwaukee campus, the State Historical Society Area Research Center (papers of individuals and organizations in Milwaukee and adjacent counties), and the Fromkin Memorial Collection of materials dealing with the history of social justice in the United States from the end of the Civil War to World War II. There is much material on women in the papers of families and individuals, which document the immigrant woman experience, schooling, religious and communal life. Of interest among the organizational records are those of the Ladies’ Art and Science Class of Milwaukee College (1874-1899), the National Association of Women in Construction Milwaukee Chapter (1955-1980), and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Milwaukee Chapter (1926-1950). Use the “Women” Research Guide for further information.

The State of Wisconsin digital collection has numerous archival items within it. Search the whole collection or browse through the titles. The sub-collection “Wisconsin Traditions of Social Care” includes many photographs of women.

University of Wisconsin- Madison Archives. 
The University Archives is the repository for the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the University of Wisconsin System, and the University Extension. Of particular interest for women’s history are the records of the Dean of Women, 1920-1968 (unpublished guide available in the Archives), and the private papers of several faculty women associated with the University. In addition, since the early 1970s, an ongoing oral history project has interviewed many women faculty, staff, students, and administrators. There is also a series of interviews with faculty wives. Written transcripts have been prepared for some of the interviews. A 1991 Guide to the Collectionlists the interviewees, briefly describes the subjects discussed in their interviews, and notes whether a transcript exists. Examples of some of the interviewees: Ruth Glassow (Physical Education 1912-16 and 1930-62), Ruth Henderson (Home Economics 1923-1958) Madeline Doran (English 1935-1975), Ruth Doyle (assistant to the Dean of the Law School), and Frances Hurst (faculty wives series). All the oral histories are catalogued in the Library Catalog, with the heading “University of Wisconsin-Archives. Oral History Project”. A quick way to find those who talked about women’s issues, is to do a keyword search “Wisconsin” and “University” and “oral history” and “women”.

Other Archival Resources
League of Women Voters of La Crosse County Women’s History Project.
Conducted oral history interviews in the mid-1990s with La Crosse area women from many walks of life.