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Hidden Lives: Exploring Women's History


Hands-on History

A Week at Smith College

Smith College is home to unparalleled collections in women’s history. From writers Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf to early feminists Susan B. Anthony and Margaret Sanger and contemporary visionary Gloria Steinem, Smith’s special collections offer an immersive experience in women’s history and feminist archives.

During the week at Smith, you will be introduced to women who have changed the course of American history through reform, mobilization, cultural interventions and outright rebellion. We'll look at letters, diaries, photographs and manifestos that chronicle personal and political revolutions over the past 150 years.

Our explorations might include looking at the original drafts and revisions of writers such as Plath and Woolf, or the contemporary graphic artist Alison Bechdel; using our historic dress collection to explore women’s fashion over time for clues about the social expectations of women; comparing early editions of women’s magazines like Vogue and Cosmo to later feminist publications like Ms. or girl zines; getting to know leaders like Margaret Sanger and Gloria Steinem, and how they inspired so many to take to the streets for changes in women’s lives; and listening to the oral histories from 20th-century organizers in the struggle for reproductive freedoms, racial justice and sexual rights, so that we can hear, in their own words, about their lives as change makers.

Through field trips, walking tours and primary research in Smith’s women’s history collections, we’ll gather insights about women who’ve made a difference—what inspired their passion and dedication to women’s equality, and how their words and actions changed the possibilities for American women. You’ll get a chance to play historian, discover a new role model or two, and find out more about what matters to you and what you might be able to do about it.

A Week at Mount Holyoke College

During your week at Mount Holyoke, we will examine poet Emily Dickinson and the year she spent at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. By diving into the world of archives, we will explore the many mysteries surrounding Dickinson's life. We'll pore over diaries, take magnifying glasses to photographs, turn letters upside down and hold in our hands bright scraps of colored cloth: each of us working like a detective in search of clues.

Here are some of the questions we hope to address: Did Dickinson enjoy Mount Holyoke? How did other students view her? What did the poet think of the school's formidable founder, Mary Lyon? Why did Dickinson stay at the seminary only a single year? And, what happened on that momentous winter night in 1848 when Emily Dickinson knocked on her teacher's door?