By Siân Evans
As a feminist, I often wonder how to approach events like Women’s History Month. Is it a celebration? A time for reflection? This year, I thought I’d meditate on an issue that has been popping up everywhere, from The Atlantic to the Academy Awards. 2012 saw a series of publications on women’s shifting role in the workplace, including Anne Marie Slaughter’s much-discussed essay, “Why Women Can’t Have It All.” Not to mention that, according to a recent article in The Huffington Post, the American workplace continues to be “really, really sexist.” In more specific terms, women still only earn $.77 to every dollar a man makes, and we make up only 4% of the S&P 500’s CEOs. 2013 also marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s monumental book, The Feminine Mystique, which challenged notions of women’s work in the 1960s. What better time to think about how we define a woman’s work, across generations and cultures?
During women’s history month last year, we featured a number of important collections, including the Schlesinger History of Women in America Collection and Magnum Photos, both of which are excellent sources of photo documentation of women’s involvement in politics, contemporary culture and, of course, labor. While these two collections offer an excellent jumping-off point for your research, there are a number of other collections in both the ARTstor Digital Library and Shared Shelf Commons that can also provide a wealth of relevant primary source material.
Milton Rogovin: Social Documentary Photographs is a collection of activist and photographer Milton Rogovin’s body of work. His photographs of the working class in Buffalo, Appalachia, Scotland, France, Spain, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, Mexico, China, and Zimbabwe include wonderful portraits of women in the home, the field, and the factory, including the 1983 photograph of a Spanish woman harvesting tobacco at the beginning of this post.
Another excellent source of documentary photography is the Museum of the City of New York’s collection. ARTstor has collaborated with the Museum of the City of New York to share a vast collection of professional and amateur photographs that documents everyday life and the built environment in New York City in the 19th and 20th centuries. If you limit your search by the term “woman,” you will find portraits of wealthy women, photographs of women marching through the bustle of New York, as well as images of women in the workplace.
Perform a similar search in The George Eastman House collection and you’ll get equally relevant social documentary content from the world’s oldest museum of photography. The collection includes 22,225 photographs, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary prints by both famous and amateur photographers. You’ll find images of women on stage, women in factories, and even women in the military.
ARTstor also partners with a number of photographers and researchers committed to making non-Western social documentary content available to the academic community. If you search through the Thomas K. Seligman Archive, you will find photographs of women working in rice fields in Liberia, tending their children in New Guinea, and more. Christopher Roy: African Art and Field Photography focuses on cultural production and ceremonial objects, as well as the social context of their use, so you’ll be able to browse through images of Mossi women making pottery, for example.
Finally, you might want to take a look at some open access collections available through Shared Shelf Commons. Cornell University has uploaded a collection of images from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. These images not only highlight women in the workplace, but also workers involved in labor and women’s rights movements. Pratt Institute has also added a collection from its archives that highlights women in vocational training in the early 20th century.