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Rare Book and Special Collections Division



The Domestic Sphere
Religion and Spirituality
Reform Efforts
Women in Popular Culture
arrow graphicCollections Formed by Women
Literary Works



Collections Formed by Women

The Katherine Golden Bitting Collection on Gastronomy and the Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of cookbooks are significant for the study of women's history in two important ways. Gastronomy and cookery have traditionally and historically been part of a woman's world, and women were logically the intended audience for many of these books. The collections and the related bibliographies also shed light on the two individual women who assembled these collections.

Bitting's interest in book collecting was sparked by her career as a food chemist. She wrote extensively on food preservation and began collecting books on gastronomy in the process of her research. More than four thousand volumes that she collected were donated to the Library between 1939 and 1944, among them eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books on food preparation from England and the United States, as well as European works. Bitting included American regional cooking in her collection. Cookbooks produced by churches and community organizations throughout the United States contain recipes for very local and specific tastes. These often hard-to- find cookbooks offer insight into the development of regional cuisines.

Elizabeth Robins Pennell's cookbook collection is primarily European and is strongest in French and Italian works from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. She was a journalist, and often worked together with her husband, artist Joseph Pennell.

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“Lady Freedom.” Claire Van Vliet. Cover design for Rita Dove, Lady Freedom among Us, (West Burke, Vt.: Janus Press, 1993; PS3554.O884L33 1994 Janus Pr). Rare Book and Special Collections Division. With permission of the artist, Claire Van Vliet.

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Both women published extensive bibliographies. Bitting's work, Gastronomic Bibliography (San Francisco, 1939; Z5776.G2 B6 Rare Bk Ref) , is a classic in the field. Pennell's My Cookery Books (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903; Z5777.P41 Rare Bk Ref) is a particularly beautiful book, designed by Bruce Rogers.

Both bibliographies are important tools for approaching the collections and are available in the Rare Book Reading Room. For a fuller description of these collections, see Leonard Beck, Two “Loaf-givers,” or a Tour through the Gastronomic Libraries of Katherine Golden Bitting and Elizabeth Robins Pennell (Washington: Library of Congress, 1984; Z663.4.T95 1984 Rare Bk Ref) .

Another of the division's major women collectors, Marian Carson, amassed an amazing array of books, pamphlets, broadsides, and printed ephemera on a variety of subjects, including early American printing, nineteenth-century social history, culinary arts, and children's literature. In addition to the cookbooks, conduct books, books on education, and children's books and games discussed above, she brought to the Library an impressive body of printed material that celebrates the social diversity of American life while documenting the political, cultural, and economic growth of the American Republic during its first century. Gathering History: the Marian S. Carson Collection of Americana (Washington: Library of Congress, 1999; Z1201.G38 1999) showcases this collection.

The Janus Press Collection and Archive (1955-) includes fine press and handmade books and printed ephemera created and published since 1955 by Claire Van Vliet, contemporary printer, printmaker, and publisher. In addition to Van Vliet's contributions, a significant number of works are collaborations with other women authors and illustrators, including Ruth Fine, Susan Johanknecht, Margaret Kaufman, Barbara Luck, and Helen Siegl. Subjects include quilts, recipes, abused women, and a housewife's diary.

The archive also contains material relating to the production of books and ephemera bearing the Janus Press imprint, as well as other projects carried out with the assistance of its founder. An open collection, it currently numbers nearly five thousand items and includes correspondence, proofs, paste-ups and layouts, book designers' mockups, drawings, woodblocks, etched and engraved plates, notes, and receipts. Material is arranged chronologically by publication date of the work to which it relates. A finding guide is available in the reading room and on the Internet.

Another realm of collecting is the scrapbook, and the division holds examples on a variety of subjects compiled by women, besides the suffrage scrapbooks mentioned earlier. Not only are scrapbooks significant for what they contain—excerpts from contemporary newspapers, photographs, and keepsakes—but they give us insight into what was important to the compilers. Jessica Randolph Smith compiled “Stars and Bars” (CR113.5 S5) in 1916, covering the design and history of the first Confederate flag. “Scrapbook of the Confederate Veteran, Her Dead Son,” compiled by Cassie Moncure as a memorial to her son, describes the Civil War, life in the South, and Southern families. Mary M. North compiled two scrapbooks, the first about the American flag, Flag Day, and other patriotic issues, the second a Civil War army nurses' scrapbook, now available on microfilm (Microfilm 19739 E MicRR). Thomas Shuler Shaw filled two scrapbooks with correspondence and clippings about Mary E. Wilkins (1852-1930), novelist and short story writer, in preparation for a biography, which he apparently never completed.

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