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Note: This text is reproduced from the print version of American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States.

For two hundred years, the Library of Congress, the oldest national cultural institution in the United States, has been gathering materials necessary to tell the stories of women in America. The last third of the twentieth century witnessed a great surge of popular and scholarly interest in women's studies and women's history that has led to an outpouring of works in many formats. This publication is designed to provide a guide to both old and new materials for the benefit of interested researchers whether or not they are able to visit the Library.

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Dr. James H. Billington. Librarian of Congress.

From its beginnings in 1800 as a legislative library, the Library of Congress has grown into a national library that houses both a universal collection of knowledge and the mint record of American creativity. Congress's decision to purchase Thomas Jefferson's personal library to replace the books and maps burned during the British occupation in 1814 set the Congressional Library on the path of collecting with the breadth of Jefferson's interests. Not just American imprints were to be acquired, but foreign-language materials as well, and Jefferson's library already included works by American and European women.

Since 1870, the single most important factor in building up the unparalleled Americana collections of the Library of Congress has been deposits under U.S. copyright laws. The constant flow of a wide variety of copyrighted materials has always included works related to women, well known and unknown, from all sorts of backgrounds and regions. Other important sources for the continual augmentation of the Library's ranging collections include purchase, gift, and exchange.

The Library of Congress has some 121 million items, largely housed in closed stacks in three buildings on Capitol Hill that contain twenty public reading rooms. The incredible, wide-ranging collections include books, maps, prints, newspapers, broadsides, diaries, letters, posters, musical scores, photographs, audio and video recordings, and documents available only in digital formats. The Library serves first-time users and the most experienced researchers alike.

To aid researchers at every level, both those who visit the Library and those who use the Library's digitized materials in their own localities, the Library has published a series of resource guides. The first—Keys to the Encounter: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of the Age of Discovery—was issued in 1992 to commemorate Columbus's first encounter with the American continent. The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture was published in 1993, and Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the United States appeared in 1996.

Today, the Library is taking the lead in delivering high-quality electronic materials free of charge to the nation. One-of-a-kind primary documents from our collections are now available for examination on computer screens in schools, libraries, and homes across the country and around prominently in these selections.

We hope that you, the user of this volume, will seek and find, either in a library near you, in person at the Library of Congress, or in a digital document that reaches you through the World Wide Web, resources that will take you further in your understanding of women's history and culture. We wish you profitable use of American Women and of the Library of Congress.

James H. Billington

*Authored the original essay 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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