University of South Carolina

Exhibit examines many facets of women's writing


Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915 is on display in the Hollings Library through April 30. A 35-minute audio tour is available. Visitors can either sign out one of five pre-loaded iPods at the Hollings registration desk, or download the audio file directly to their phone or iPod at


‘Beyond Domesticity' examines many facets of women's writing
By University Libraries Office of Communications

As 19th-century U.S. literature scholars, faculty members Katherine Adams and Cynthia Davis knew there were plenty of works written by women from 1770 to 1915 that were not about domestic topics. So they set out to dispel some conventional notions in Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915, their first curated exhibit.
As it turns out, they often surprised themselves.
"It was quite exciting to see how many items the University has," said Adams, an associate professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies. "We both do scholarship in this area, so just discovering so many original sources in our very own library was amazing. It was great to look at these first editions, to go into the rare book stacks and see a text signed by Pauline Hopkins or Susan B. Anthony. I don't normally do archival work - my research doesn't require these kinds of sources. But, as I told my students, there's a big, geeky thrill in working with these original sources and books."
Adams' students in ENGL 437 Women Writers course are experiencing the "big, geeky thrill" for themselves. They are contributing to an online version of the exhibit, to go live later this spring.
Books in Beyond Domesticity include Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself (1861), by former slave Harriet Jacobs, who reveals how slavery perverted conventional notions of girlhood and motherhood. Charlotte Perkins Gilman argues in Human Work (1911) that the home was anything but a haven. And in The Awakening (1899), Kate Chopin aligns childbirth with the death of female artistry.
Other exhibit items include a spinning wheel, women's suffrage buttons, clothing, and advertising from the era.
"The idea behind Beyond Domesticity was to challenge how domesticity is only one side of women's experience in the 19th century, and I helped identify materials in the collections that would illustrate that," said Jeffrey Makala, Librarian for Instruction and Outreach in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
"For example, women didn't get the right to vote until 1920, but they were deeply engaged in national politics before that time and they wrote about it," he said. "The History of Woman Suffrage, written in 1887 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, is part of the exhibit. The University has a beautiful copy with a local connection: it was inscribed by Anthony as a gift to the Political Study Club of Columbia in 1895."
| There were surprises even in the works that were about domestic issues.
"You'd think that a domestic manual would present housekeeping in a positive light," said Davis, a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature. "Yet to take one example, Catharine Beecher begins her famous Treatise on Domestic Economy (1843) with a discussion of all the women who were made sick and unhappy by housework. Many of the works in the exhibit contain similar surprises."
The 140 books and other items in the exhibit come from the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in the Hollings Library, South Caroliniana Library, and McKissick Museum. Each area, along with the faculty members and their departments, worked together to bring the exhibit to life.
"It was a nice collaboration," Makala said. "It's the way things should happen."


Posted: 02/17/11 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 02/17/11 @ 9:20 AM | Permalink



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