History of the Collection:
The Biblioteca Femina collection was started by T.W. Koch, Northwestern's head librarian (1919-1941), and Grace Thompson Seton, feminist and author. They met at the International Women's Writer's Conclave, a week-long convention during the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. Seton created an International Books Exhibit for female writers at the Fair, and was involved in the National Council of Women's exhibit of the “100 Best Books by American Women Authors from 1833-1933.” Koch and Seton became friends, resulting in the National Council of Women donating 1,000 of the books on display to Northwestern. The donation did not include the “100 Best Books.” After the Fair, Seton and Koch worked together to build the greatest collection of women's works ever created, encouraging authors and literary groups worldwide to donate materials. Koch named the collection Biblioteca Femina, in honor of the first known library dedicated to women in Italy in 1842. Koch and Seton received donations from the Chicago Public Library's Board of Directors (including 1,234 volumes from the Woman's Building exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893). They also eventually collected all the volumes included in the “100 Best Books” list. After this period of mass donation, World War II and Koch's death in 1941 ended the push for books to be added to the collection. In the late 1940s, when the proliferation of female authors in the literary market obviated the need to showcase their work separately, the books themselves were integrated into the Northwestern University Library's general collection. They are identified by a “B.F.” on the book's spine, and by a special bookplate designed by Koch. In the 1960s Northwestern's Special Collections department initiated a new “Women's Collection,” consisting of books, posters, periodicals and more to represent the Second Wave Feminist movement of the 1960s. This collection is still housed in the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections.
Description of the Collection:
The Biblioteca Femina Records fill one box and span the years 1932-1973, with the bulk of the records dating from 1933. The records consist mainly of correspondence, reports, and newspaper clippings dealing with what eventually became the Northwestern University Library's Biblioteca Femina book collection.
Collection Descriptions date from 1933-1973, arranged chronologically, and include a description of the collection when it was first beginning, and the types of books that were being donated and subsequently included in the collection.
A folder of General Correspondence includes letters from Koch, Seton, and others who played a large part in creating this collection. The letters also include requests for the list of books from the The One Hundred Best Books by American Women during the Past Hundred Years, published by the National Council of Women, as well as national and international inquiries asking for help locating the volumes. The documents are arranged chronologically.
Seton's correspondence with potential authors/donors includes a number of questionnaires designed to gather information for the International Women Writer's Conclave, slated for July 17-19, 1933. The writers were asked to identify themselves and then to state their affiliations, their literary genre of choice, and list any important works they authored, among other information. The documents are all dated 1933.
Newspaper clippings (arranged chronologically) include an announcement of the Women's Council's donation of books to Deering Library, as well as a slated appearance by Grace Thompson Seton. Pamphlets are arranged chronologically and include a Partial Survey of Women's Work in the Literary Field by Grace Thompson Seton, and a pamphlet from “Biblioteca Femina: By a Woman Writt,” an exhibit displayed in the Special Collections Exhibition Hall at Northwestern in 1983.
Reports document the cataloging and growth of the collection from 1933-1947. Reports include a list of authors arranged alphabetically by country, and also list board members and people involved with the gathering of the collection materials.
Publications include three items, a short story, Arbor Avium (published in 1913, donated to Northwestern in 1933) by Elsie Allen Baker, a copy of The One Hundred Best Books by American Women during the Past Hundred Years (published in 1933), signed by T.W. Koch in 1934, and The Promise (published in 1956, a gift from the author in 1970) by Helen Cady Rockey, a book of stories.