The University of Rochester’s Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation is well known for our in-depth holdings relating to women’s suffrage. And it is through our national and international reputation in this collecting area that our collections continue to grow. The acquisition of the Isabella Beecher Hooker archive exemplifies the beauty of knowing and sharing our strengths, and becoming, in the hearts and minds of others, the place where certain collections belong.
The story of the cache of letters and other materials found in a barn in Connecticut is something that archivists and special collections librarians dream about. Because we have built our collections documenting women’s suffrage over many decades, and have that reputation in the community, it was natural that those materials come to our collections as well. The Isabella Beecher Hooker materials that we added to our collections, which already included other Isabella and John Hooker materials, was announced and publicized beginning in March of 2017. These materials represent new insights, new information, and new stories relating to the day-to-day struggles of women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and many others who worked tirelessly on this issue. The collection captures aspects of the movement at a particularly complex and turbulent time, from around 1869-1880. Isabella Beecher Hooker was a fascinating and important activist both in Connecticut and on the national front. Her story is less known than others like Stanton and Anthony, but her role as a central mediator, coordinator, and leader has always been clear, and now is open to further exploration through this new acquisition.
The items included here are a selection of this new trove of suffrage materials – letters and documents that help to further tell the story of the tireless, complex, fraught, and sometimes fruitless efforts to gain voting rights for women in the United States. The discovery of these manuscripts reminds us, too, that there are still important historical materials out there – whether it be in a barn, or an attic, or right under our noses – and that it takes an aware and engaged community to recognize and share these materials with archival repositories. Preserving, documenting, and making accessible the “stuff” of history is a beautiful partnership. We should all consider ourselves deputies in preserving our shared cultural heritage.