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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 699

Records of Notable American women: a biographical dictionary completing the twentieth century, 1994-2005


Correspondence, printed databases, and biographical writings documenting the research and publication of the fifth volume of the biographical resource series, Notable American Women.


  • Creation: 1994-2005

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Series I is closed for 50 years from the date of creation except with the permission of the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Other material is unrestricted except #4.10, which is closed until January 1, 2055.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by the Notable American Women project is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


23.35 linear feet (55 file boxes, 2 half file boxes)

These records include material documenting all stages of the preparation of Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century, from initial discussions in 1994 through the volume's publication in 2005 by the Harvard University Press.

The organization of the material roughly follows the office filing system that was used during the years the project's offices were at the Schlesinger Library. The project also created several Filemaker Pro databases to keep track of candidates, authors, and the status of various essays; these databases were printed out when the project officially ended on March 31, 2004, and not maintained electronically after that point. The records amply document the research and outreach undertaken to choose the subjects; collaboration with consultants across the country; dealings with Radcliffe College, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and various foundations that funded the project; and extensive correspondence with the authors of individual essays, including printed e-mail. For the most part they do not contain the routine messages among the editor, assistant editor, and various staff members detailing the daily operation of the project. Contracts with authors were given to the Harvard University Press. An example of a blank contract is in Series II, #4.11.

Materials were kept in original folders, and when folders were too bulky they were split into two or more separate folders. During processing, the archivist constructed topic headers to organize folders. The original individual file names maintained by Susan Ware and her staff are in quotation marks.

Series I, ADMINISTRATIVE, 1994-2004 (#1.1-3.13), includes grant applications, notes, correspondence with foundations, correspondence regarding fundraising, staff, and budgets. This series is closed for 50 years from the date of creation except with the permission of the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. An appointment may be required. Folders are in original order by general topic and chronological within.

Series II, PRODUCTION AND PUBLICATION, 1998-2005 (#4.1-6.4), includes correspondence with consultants regarding candidate suggestions and possible authors. It also includes correspondence with the Harvard University Press regarding the publications process. Folders are arranged alphabetically by topic, then in original order.

Series III, RESEARCH AND CANDIDATES, 1998-2004 (#6.5-57.8), contains correspondence with consultants and authors, database printouts, and photocopies of biographical references documenting research conducted by Susan Ware and her staff to determine which candidates would be included in the volume. The series is arranged in two subseries.

Subseries A, Research, 1998-2004 (#6.5-15.10), includes database printouts, biographical research on possible candidates, and correspondence among authors, consultants, and staff. Between 2000 and 2001, when the editors were contacting and getting feedback from experts in their fields of study, they maintained two separate folder systems (both organized by field of study name): one for completed survey lists with experts' comments and one for correspondence and tabulated responses. To improve access and organization, during processing the archivist merged the two systems into one called "fields of study research: consultants' ranking." These folders are listed together in the finding aid by field of study; folders with experts' recommendations are followed by folders with tabulated responses. Folders are arranged alphabetically.

Subseries B, Candidates, 2000-2004 (#16.1-57.8), contains files for each woman chosen for inclusion in the fifth volume of the Notable American Women series, documenting the process from "matchmaking" (finding an author) through the final version of the essay before being copyedited. Files contain the original essay submitted by the author; a biographical checklist (some files contain birth and death certificates); a report by a fact-checker with some supporting published biographical material; an edited version of the essay (by either Susan Ware or Stacy Braukman); a cover letter to the author; and a final revised essay. The files also contain general correspondence between the editors and authors.

At the end of the alphabetical files, there is a section called "Forget Me's" which includes candidates with essays assigned, but which for various reasons (insufficient information; not notable enough; author unable to finish; unable to find appropriate author) were not included in the final volume.

Not all individual candidate names are listed in the finding aid, but folders for all individuals in the volume are in the collection. Consult Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century for an index of women's names listed alphabetically and by field of study (also available online through the Harvard University Press web site). Folders are arranged alphabetically by candidate's surname.


In 1955, Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., suggested the need for a biographical dictionary of American women patterned after the Dictionary of American Biography. A few years later, research and preparation for the Notable American Women series began under the editorship of Edward T. James, Janet W. James, and Paul S. Boyer. In 1971, Belknap Press (a division of Harvard University Press) published 1,359 biographical articles in three volumes as Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary; the work received many accolades from reviewers who noted the great need for this type of scholarly resource during a time of a growing interest in women's history.

In response to public and scholarly demand, Radcliffe College and the Harvard University Press decided in 1976 to undertake a supplementary volume to include those notable women who had died between January 1, 1951 and December 31, 1975. With 442 additional entries, the fourth volume in the series, Notable American Women: The Modern Period, edited by Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green, was published by Belknap Press in 1986.

The project to create a fifth installment to the series began in 1994 when Susan Ware was appointed editor. Ware, a feminist biographer and historian, spent the early years of the project looking for financial support. In 1999, after funding was secured through the National Endowment for the Humanities, Stacy Braukman was hired as assistant editor and the project began in earnest.

In early 2005, Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century, was published, bringing the series up to date with 442 new entries of women whose death dates fall between January 1, 1976, and December 31, 1999. Like the previous four volumes, the fifth highlights influential women who were celebrities in radio, film, dance, and television; scientists and scholars; politicians and entrepreneurs; authors and aviators; civil rights activists, religious leaders, and world-renowned artists. Special consideration was made to make sure women from a broad spectrum of ethnic, class, political, religious, and sexual identities were represented. Through extensive research, consultations with experts, and organized rankings, the editors were able to achieve a volume of substantial interpretive biographical essays by distinguished authorities. The essays integrate each woman's personal life with her professional achievements and set them within the context of larger historical developments.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I. Administrative, 1994-2004 (#1.1-3.13)
  2. Series II. Production and publication, 1998-2005 (#4.1-6.4)
  3. Series III. Research and candidates, 1998-2004 (#6.5-57.8)
  4. ___Subseries A. Research, 1998-2004 (#6.5-15.10)
  5. ___Subseries B. Candidates, 2000-2004 (#16.1-57.8)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2005-M129

These records of the Notable American Women project were generated under the auspices of Radcliffe College and, later, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see previous Notable American Women records MC 230 (volumes 1-3) and MC 307; RG XXXIV, Series 1 (volume 4).

Processing Information

Processed: October 2011

By: Jessica Tanny, with assistance from Camille Torres.

Records of Notable American women: a biographical dictionary completing the twentieth century, 1994-2005: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Mary Mitchell Wood Manuscript Processing Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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