I. Getting Started

A. Getting Started: Biographical Approach

There are numerous biographical reference works on historical women. Here are some of examples:

1. General:

Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia / Anne Commire, editor, Deborah Klezmer, assoc. ed. Brand new almost-completed 18 volume set. Memorial Reference HQ1115 W6 1999
Notable American Women, 1607-1950; a Biographical Dictionary / Edward T. James, ed. Janet Wilson James, assoc. ed. Paul S. Boyer,asst. ed. (3 v). College and Memorial Ref. and Hist. stacks CT3260 N57; Notable American Women : the Modern Period : a Biographical Dictionary / Barbara Sicherman et al., eds. College, Memorial Ref. and Historical Lib. Reading Room.; College and Memorial stacks CT3260 N573

2. Examples of biographical dictionaries, by ethnicity:

A to Z of Native American Women / by Liz Sonneborn. Hist. Reading Room and Memorial Ref. E98.W8 S65 1998
Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia / Darlene Clark Hine, ed. (2 v.) College Ref. Historical, Memorial Ref. E185.86 B542 1993
Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia / Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, eds. (2 v.) Memorial Ref. DS115.2 J49 1998. Online version of the Appendix, an annotated bibliography and guide to archival resources, by Phyllis Holman Weisbard: http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/WomensStudies/jewwom/jwmain.htm
Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary / Gretchen M. Bataille and Laurie Lisa, eds., 2nd ed., 2001. As of this writing in January, 2002, there's only an office copy of the second ed. in the women's studies librarian's office, 430 Memorial (M-F, 8-5). The first ed. (1993) is in College and Memorial Ref. and Hist. Reading Room E98 W8 B38 1993
Notable Black American Women / Jessie Carney Smith , ed. Historical Library, MERIT Ref., Memorial Ref. E185.96 N68 1992; and Notable Black American Women Book II, Memorial Ref. E185.96 N68 1996
Notable Hispanic American Women / Diane Telgen and Jim Kamp, eds. MERIT Ref. and Memorial Ref. E184.S75 N68 1993, and Notable Hispanic American women : Book II /Joseph M. Palmisano, ed. Memorial Ref. E184 S75 N68 1998

3. By endeavor/profession/place/other characteristics:

American Women Civil Rights Activists : Biobibliographies of 68 Leaders, 1825-1992 / by Gayle J. Hardy. Hist. Reading Room JC599 U5 H273 1993
American Women in Science : a Biographical Dictionary / by Martha J. Bailey. MERIT, College, and Steenbock Ref. Q141 B25 1994, and American women in science : 1950 to the present : a biographical dictionary / by Martha J. Bailey. Memorial and Steenbock Ref. Q141 B254 1998
American Women Managers and Administrators : a Selective Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Leaders in Business, Education, and Government / Judith A. Leavitt. Memorial Ref. HC102.5 A2 L37 1985
Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia / Bonnie Zimmerman, ed. College and Memorial Ref. HQ75.13 E53 2000, v. 1.
Wisconsin Women : a Gifted Heritage / project directors, Jeannine Goggin, Patricia Alland Manske ; editors, Andrea Bletzinger, Anne Short. 1982. College, Hist. Memorial stacks HQ1438 W6 W57; for citations to other material on Wisconsin women, see "Wisconsin Women's History" bibliography by Phyllis Holman Weisbard, 2000, at http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/WomensStudies/bibliogs/wwh/.
Women Building Chicago 1790-1990 : a Biographical Dictionary / Rima Lunin Schultz, Adele Hast, eds., assoc. ed. Carolyn De Swarte Gifford ... [et al.] Hist. stacks HQ1439.C47 W66 2001; there is also an office copy in the Women's Studies Librarian's Office, 430 Memorial (M-F, 8-5)

To find more biographical reference material, do the following

In Madcat, use the Limit to feature and select "Reference Collections," then use do keyword searches like these:

women and biograph?

women and "United States" and biograph?

Afro-American? and women and biograph?

Feminists and biograph?

women and activis? and biograph?

women and biograph? and [music, sports, politics, etc.]

Whenever you find one book exactly on topic, display the record in full format and click on a subject heading. This takes you to a list where you can browse other titles with that exact subject or similar subjects.


Go to the Reference section of the UW Libraries website: http://www.library.wisc.edu/reference/ and browse items and databases in the 'biographical sources" section.

B. Getting Started: Topical Approach

1. ABC-CLIO series of reference books on "Contemporary World Issues"

All are structured the same. They offer a historical background section with a chronology, biographical sketches of individuals connected to the issue, facts and statistics (often with court cases and other documents), a directory of organizations, citations with descriptions of significant print and non-print reference items, and a glossary. The most relevant women-related titles in the series and their call numbers are

Abortion College Library Reference Collection, 1st Fl. Center Area; Mem Ref HQ767.5 U5 C67 1996
Affirmative Action College Ref. and Memorial Ref. HF5549.5 A34 E39 1999
Domestic Violence College Ref. and Memorial Ref. HQ809.3 U5 M385 1995 and online: http://www.netlibrary.com/summary.asp?ID=515
Feminism College Ref. and Memorial Ref. HQ1410 H365 1998
Pornography in America College Library Main Book Collection, 3rd Fl. West, Rm 3191 HQ471 S59 2000
Rape in America Mem. Ref. HV6561 H337 1995 and online: http://www.netlibrary.com/ebook_info.asp?product_id=1281
Sexual Harassment College Ref. and Memorial Ref. KF4758 E36 1997
Single Parents Memorial Ref. HQ759.915 K56 1999
Work and Family in America College Main Book Collection, 3rd Fl. West, Rm 3191 and Memorial Ref. HD4904.25 S84 2001

2. College Library Undergraduate Research Guides:

http://college.library.wisc.edu/resources/subject_guides/ Each of the guides has sections for an overview of the subject, finding journal articles, finding books, statistics & facts, organizations, and internet sites. Examples: anorexia, eating disorders, body image, domestic violence. The print and media resources pointed to are all in College Library.

3. Browse Reference Works on American Women's History. Examples:

Encyclopedia of Women's History in America / by Kathryn Cullen-DuPont. 2nd ed. Hist. Reading Room HQ1410 .C85 2000; 1st ed. Memorial Ref. HQ1410 C85 1996
Handbook of American Women's History / Angela M. Howard & Frances M. Kavenik, eds. 2nd ed. Hist. Reading Room HQ1410 .H36 2000; 1st ed. College and Memorial Ref. and Hist. stacks HQ1410 H36 1990
The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History / Wilma Mankiller, Gwendolyn Mink, Marysa Navarro, Barbara Smith, and Gloria Steinem, eds. Hist. stacks HQ1410 R43 1998 and online at http://www.netLibrary.com/ebook_info.asp?product_id=6797
Women in U.S. History : a Resource Guide / by Lyda Mary Hardy. Hist. Reading Room Z7964 U49 H364 2000. This is an annotated guide to books and nonbook material arranged by time period, race/ethnicity, and topic (arts, literature, politics, religion, science/technology, sexuality/reproduction/identity, sports/recreation, and work).

Finding more:

Use Madcat and try keyword searches of the following format:

[topic] and history and "United States"

ex: contraception and history and "United States"

Add women when needed:

ex: women and suffrage and history and "United States"

ex: women and education and history and "United States"

ex: women and (work or employment) and history and "United States"

If the number of results is still too large to browse comfortably, try limiting to Reference Collections or to English and the last ten years, or add an element to the search with synonyms for words that occur in general works:

ex: (introduction or handbook or guide? or encyclopedia or dictionary) and suffrage and women and history and "United States"

Whenever you find one book exactly on topic, display the record in full format and click on a subject heading. This takes you to a list where you can browse other titles with that exact subject or similar subjects.

C. Getting Started Chronological Approach:

There are many reference works that provide a timeline or chronology of events. Examples:

Routledge Historical Atlas of Women in America / by Sandra Opdycke. College Ref. and Hist. stacks HQ1410 P68 2000

What American Women Did, 1789-1920 : a Year-by-year Reference / by Linda Miles Coppens. Hist. and Steenbock stacks HQ1154 .C657 2001; also an office copy in the Women's Studies Librarian's Office, 430 Memorial (M-F, 8-5)

Women's World : a Timeline of Women in History / by Irene Franck & David Brownstone. Memorial Ref. HQ1122 F69 1995

To find more chronologies

Do a subject search in Madcat: Women History Chronology

D. Getting Started Using General Historical and Biographical Reference Materials:

Encyclopedia of American Social History / Mary Kupiec Cayton, Elliott J. Gorn and Peter W. Williams, eds. (3 v.) Hist. Reading Room HN57 E58 1992

Encyclopedia of Social History / by Peter N. Stearns, ed. Memorial Ref. HN28 E53 1994

E. Getting Started Using Electronic Resources (free and paid for by the libraries):

1. Use a history megasite with links to content-rich sites on historical topics, etc.:

The World Wide Web Virtual Library: History Central Catalogue: http://www.ukans.edu/history/VL/

2.Use megasites with links to content-rich sites on women:

UW Women's Studies Librarian's Women's History links: http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/WomensStudies/hist.htm

Women's Studies Section of the Am. Library Association's Women's History links: http://www.library.arizona.edu/users/dickstei/wss/acrlwsshistory.htm

The World Wide Web Virtual Library: Women's History: http://www.iisg.nl/~womhist/vivalink.html

Core List in U.S. Women's History (a bibliography of recommended books currently in print): http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/WomensStudies/core/crushist.htm

H-Women, the Women's History Discussion List's website: http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~women/

3. Use the Reference section of the UW Libraries website: http://www.library.wisc.edu/reference/ and browse biographical and other categories. Examples:

a. Under biographical sources:

Biography and Genealogy Master Index (database): http://ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/login?url=http://galenet.gale.com/a/acp/db/bgmi/

b. Under encyclopedias:

Encyclopedia Britannica: http://ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/login?url=http://www.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/eb.cgi

II. After You've Chosen a Topic:

A. Finding more secondary sources about the person and time period:

1.Use the bibliographies/references at the end of articles/entries about your person, event, organization, time period, etc.

2. Use Madcat with the name of your person, event, organization, time period, etc.

3. Use the megasites above.

4. Use these databases, accessible from the UW Libraries' website http://www.library.wisc.edu/ , or as linked below:

a. For citations to scholarly articles (with links to fulltext using :

America: History and Life
Women's Studies International

b. For fulltext scholarly articles from history (and other) journals:


c. For general databases (mixture of general/popular and scholarly articles mostly in fulltext):

Academic Search Fulltext
Proquest Research Libraries

B. Finding Primary Sources:

1. Check Madcat for

a. the person's own writings (do an author browse)

b. subjects with the term "sources" or "personal narratives" in the subject headings. Examples:

Modern American women : a documentary history / Susan Ware, ed. has among its subject headings Feminism--United States--History--20th century--Sources

Black women in the nursing profession : a documentary history / Darlene Clark Hine, ed. has Afro-American nurses--United States --History--Sources

Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and its principal leaders / [project director, Edward T. James] has Trade-unions--United States --History--Sources and Women--Employment--United States--History--Sources, as well as headings for several individuals whose papers are within this large microfilm collection that reprints original archival material held at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe, New York University, and elsewhere.

(However, this isn't full-proof. Not all anthologies of contemporaneous writings that become sources for history get "sources" in their subject headings. For example, Dear Sisters : Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement / Rosalyn Baxandall and Linda Gordon, eds. reprints articles, cartoons, and other documents, but the subject headings given are Feminism--United States--History--20th century and Women's rights--United States--History --20th century.)

2. Newspapers and periodicals published at the time are also primary sources for understanding the era.

Between the Historical Society and campus libraries, we have an excellent collection including traditional women's magazines - some in Memorial Library on microfilm or in Special Collections (9th floor), some in Steenbock Library (those that seem more home economics-esque), and many in the Historical Library. To browse the holdings, try a Madcat search, "setting more limits" using the date range 1875-1960 (or some other date range). Click on the right most radial button to set the range. Also limit to English language. Click on set more limits.

Return to the search screen and enter a keyword search for women and periodicals.

Undo limits before you do another search.

3. Consult catalogs of archival resources

Arcat (catalog of the Historical Society of Wisconsin's archival holdings that have thus far been catalogued):
http://www.shsw.wisc.edu/archives/arcat.htmlIncludes descriptions of the personal papers and organizational records held in the Archives in Madison and in the Area Research Centers around the state. Some mention more detailed finding aids, some of those are online and linked within the Arcat records.

ArchivesUSAdatabase (directory of over 5,400 repositories and over 124,400 collections of primary source material across the United States) http://ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/login?url=http://archives.chadwyck.com/ (Definitely useful for Master's and Doctoral work)

Return to Course Hand-outs

Return to Women's Studies Librarian's Office Homepage

Email wiswsl at (replace with "@") library.wisc.edu

Created January 19, 2002. Mounted December 13, 2002. Updated lightly July 29, 2005.