Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Discover Local HerStory at BPL!

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, the Birmingham Public Library invites you to utilize its Special Collections to learn more about the lives, roles, and status of women in Alabama’s past. What you will find is a vast array of personalities, mostly named but many unnamed, who played a vital part in the development of the state’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.
Speaking of unnamed - once upon a time, in the U.S. Census, womens’ names were listed only if they were the head of the household. That’s right, prior to 1850, a woman’s presence in a male-headed household was noted only by a hash mark. Beginning in 1850, women’s names were included, but not those of slaves. The 1870 U.S. Census is particularly significant for anyone researching women because, from that point forward, all women’s names were included, regardless of race. Census records can be found on several of the library’s subscription computer databases or on microfilm in the Microforms Room.
Women are also well represented in military pension application files. The Microforms Room has pension application files from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Although most applications were submitted by the veterans themselves, many were tendered by veterans’ widows. In addition to providing useful genealogical information like names, birthdates, and birthplaces, these applications may also include fascinating details about the applicant’s lives, such as the kind and extent of their real and personal property holdings.
Newspaper Clipping Files, which are kept both in the Southern History Department and the Microforms Room, are great resources for information about the famous and the not so famous women who have lived in Birmingham or elsewhere in Alabama. Women’s contributions in aviation, law, ministry, medicine, and government service, are just a few topics covered in these files...
The Surname Vertical Files are another terrific source for press coverage of Alabama women. These consist of 662 reels of microfilm that contain copies of news clippings that document the lives and activities of people who lived in Alabama during the 20th century. Created by the staff of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the files get their name from the fact that they are organized alphabetically by the person’s or family’s last name.
Last, but certainly not least, the library’s Department of Archives and Manuscripts has worked diligently over the years to collect material that serves to shed light on the history of women in the Magic City and beyond. Take a look at the some these collections regarding individual women and organizations. There is even a digital collection available on women artists.

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