Women’s History in the Worcester State Archives

Read all about the Women's History event that took place in the WSU Library on March 14th. This interesting article was written by the Spy's very own, Nicole O’Connell.

By Nicole O’Connell


March is Women’s History Month and Worcester State is not letting it pass by unacknowledged. On Wednesday, March 14, around ten people gathered in the archives on the third floor of the Learning Resource Center for the “Early Women of Worcester State—Afternoon in the Archives” event, which was cosponsored by the History and Political Science Department, the University Archives, and the Women’s Studies Program.

Attendees from an assortment of backgrounds were present, including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, and others. They spent the afternoon carefully looking through old materials from when Worcester State was the Worcester Normal School.

Class diaries from the 1870s and 1880s, as well as scrapbooks and pictures, were perused. The diaries were authored by the female students from some of the first graduating classes and reveal a wealth of information about the school’s early days.

These women wrote about a variety of topics pertaining to their daily lives. Common themes of the entries included weather conditions, birds seen nearby, upcoming exams, an instructor’s absence for the day, and visitors to the school. One visitor of note was Amos Bronson Alcott; the philosopher/writer was mentioned in a few entries from 1876.

Many of these diarists had also chosen to include quotes; on the pages, in sprawling script, were passages from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and poems from Wordsworth, Emerson, and Longfellow. In one relatable entry from 1877, a student had written that a recently-concluded vacation had felt too short, a feeling still shared by many students today.

Soon after opening the diaries, attendees of the event noticed the frequent appearance of a certain Mr. Russell among the entries, prompting a search for photos of this popular individual.

These diaries, photos, and other materials let readers see glimpses of the lives of these early women of the Worcester Normal School. It was truly an insightful afternoon for the participants of this event.

Cynthia O’Neil, a senior at Worcester State, felt the afternoon was rewarding.

“I really loved the event,” she said. “I think it was a great opportunity to get involved in the history department and see the archives here at WSU. It also opened up many possible future opportunities for students that would be interested. It was a fun learning experience and I enjoyed being able to see and touch the diaries. It was incredible to read the experience of previous students from 1877.”

After getting acquainted with the materials, attendees of the event discussed what could be done with this goldmine of information. Ideas were brought up about transcribing the diaries. A shared sentiment among the participants was that, though the handwriting within these materials is stunning, it can oftentimes be tricky to decipher. Transcribing the diaries would make them more accessible and easy to read.

Future potential projects involving these materials were also discussed, making this event one that not only looked back at the past, but envisioned how it could be put to use in the future.

Another archive event is scheduled for March 28th. Anyone interested in becoming involved can contact Dr. Hangen at thangen@worcester.edu for more information.

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