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Serial and Government Publications Division

Georgia Metos Higley*

arrow graphicINTRODUCTION









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“Round the World with Nellie Bly.” New York World, January 26, 1890 (News MF 1363). Serial and Government Publications Division.

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Women are the best reporters in the world. In regard to feature writing by which I mean emotional writing women from the very start have headed for first flight. I think men have shoved them out of many a position in which, to my mind, they could prove themselves superior.
—Eleanor “Cissy” Patterson.1

The collections of the Serial and Government Publications Division trace their origins to the first acquisitions of the United States Congress. In May 1789, Congress resolved that each member of the Senate and House should be furnished one newspaper of his choice at public expense. Once the Library of Congress was established, in 1800, the Librarian was involved in the selection. By 1867 a small, separate periodicals reading room was established for members of Congress. Thirty years later, the Periodicals Division was established. A separate newspaper-periodical reading room for scholars and the public was created in 1900.

Today, the Serial and Government Publications Division has custody of one of the world's largest collections of current and retrospective newspapers, current periodicals, government publications, and several special holdings of a serial nature. Although no single collection in the division focuses on women in American history and culture, all its collections are rich sources for primary and secondary material about women.

Every aspect of American life is found in newspapers, and the Library's newspaper collection documents the activities of Americans from colonial times to the present. Perhaps no other source can provide clues as to how Americans lived in the past and how Americans viewed both momentous events and daily occurrences of their time. Newspapers serve as memory or as forums for discussion. They verify, refute, or circulate rumor. Newspapers provide a documentary history of the lives, events, and interests of famous, infamous, and ordinary people. As sources for the study of women's history, newspapers document the place of women in society and acknowledge society's recognition of women as audience and as contributors. Although underestimated by many, both the role and the influence of women as producers of the news are important aspects of American women's history. A researcher using the Library's newspaper collection in the Serial and Government Publications Division can trace the presence of women both in the newspaper industry and in the news itself.

Periodicals, too, form part of the journalistic history of America. Both the interests of contemporary American women and their current involvement in the magazine industry are well represented in the Library's immense periodical collection.

Government publications from the days of the Continental Congress have become part of the Library's collections. Many U.S. government publications can be found in the General Collections and in the Law Library. The Serial and Government Publications Division's collection contains federal publications arranged by document classification and Federal Advisory Committee documents. International publications of the United Nations and other international organizations include information about Americans and American interests. Data about women found in government publications include a broad spectrum of statistical, analytical, descriptive, historical, and popular information.

Popular, if stereotypic, views of women can be found in the division's special collections. Wish fulfillment, idealism, and extremism of all genres are represented in the comic book collection and pulp fiction covers. These collections offer unique opportunities to consider how women were and are portrayed in some of America's most popular media.

*Authored the original chapter in American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States (Library of Congress, 2001), from which this online version is derived. Others who contributed to this effort are identified in the Acknowledgments.

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