Bum pads, cockade feather fans, petticoats, talcum powder tins, postcards depicting the “10 Commandments for Wives,” and garters made by prisoners. The breadth of the Dovie Horvitz Collection reflects the lives and progress of women over the last two centuries – exactly what the collection’s namesake intended.
“Everything from the artwork, to the post cards, to the clothes, even the makeup all tells a story,” Horvitz said. “I look back now and think of how extraordinary the transformation has been. This isn’t about showcasing celebrities. It’s about the day-to-day lives of ordinary women.”
Now, more than 1,300 images and scanned texts of items in Horvitz’s are available through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections site. While the collection is new to the site, it actually is decades in the making.
Horvitz grew up experiencing the world as a young woman in the 1960s. Years later as a mother, she says she was searching for a way to impart on her own daughter the transformation of women in society. The item that started that mission? A vintage compact Horvitz stumbled across at a house sale. From that point on, she’s sought out items, whether popular or bizarre, that have shaped women’s lives.
“As I gathered pieces throughout the years, I didn’t really learn anything new about women,” Horvitz said. “But when I put it all together, viewing a 100 year period, oh my, gosh. How women were viewed by men, how they viewed themselves, their clothing, abilities to vote, or serve in the military. It’s pretty remarkable to see how much women have changed.”
The years of collection gave way to an impressive stash of clothing, accessories, health products and information, cosmetic and grooming kits, curling irons, magazines, sheet music, and suffrage materials, to name a few. Each item reflected on the themes from the time period in which it was used. When Horvitz began looking to share her collection for others to enjoy, she reached out to the University of Wisconsin’s Women’s Studies Librarian, Phyllis Holman Weisbard.
“I’m so glad that Dovie happened upon my name and our office website when she was trying to figure out what to do with her collection,” Holman Weisbard said. “I know it helped that her daughter is a UW—Madison alumna. Her initial email led to a warm friendship between us and a wonderful collaboration with UWDC.”
After several discussions with Holman Weisbard, Melissa McLimans, who is a Digital Services Librarian, and Curator of Special Collections Robin Rider, the legwork of scanning, and digitizing Dovie’s collection began. Horvitz photographed most of the collection pieces herself.
“The depictions of clothing, accessories, advertisements, postcards, and more reveal many stories — some blatant, some more subtle — of women’s lives and attitudes towards women in the 19th century and first half of the 20th,” Holman Weisbard said. “The collection is a material culture storehouse of ‘data,’ ready to be explored and analyzed by students in Gender and Women’s Studies, American history, Design, Literature, and numerous other fields. The sheer beauty of many of the objects makes them a delight for anyone to browse.”
Holman Weisbard says she sees the collection not only as an interesting documentation of women’s lives, but also as a unique opportunity for students to research the images, and the history behind each item.
For Horvitz, sharing the collection is a way to share her passion – showcasing the ever changing lives of the women. It’s a passion she hopes other women, and men, will take up.
“Women should take tremendous pride in who they are. We should look at the women before us and what they made possible,” Horvitz says. “It should excite young women, and men, to see what has been accomplished. Just think of what is possible in the future.”
To learn more about and access the Dovie Horvitz collection, visit the Digital Collections website.