Archives for Research on Women and Gender Project
Created and maintained by the University of Texas at San Antonio Library
Reviewed September 2005

Review of "Archives for Research on Women and Gender" Project (ARWG) at the University of Texas at San Antonio

Reviewed by Molly M. Wood

       According to its website, the Archives for Research on Women and Gender Project (ARWG) project "specializes in acquiring, preserving, arranging, describing and providing access to primary source materials that document the lives of women, constructions of gender and expressions of sexual identity in South Texas." The ARWG project was initiated in 1993 by the Center for the Study of Women and Gender at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) to collect materials from "activists, politicians, educators, authors, business people, and other individuals, as well as, organizations, businesses, and foundations."

       The website serves as an online guide to resources that are only available at the University of Texas at San Antonio Archives and does not provide digitized resources for use on the web. Therefore, access to the primary sources is limited to scholars who live in or travel to San Antonio and the ARWG Project has little potential for classroom use. But it will be helpful to researchers in any number of areas of women's history who are willing to make a trip to the archives. Like most archives and research libraries now, the online guide provides information and descriptions of collections that help a scholar to plan a trip (and may also help to determine if a research trip is necessary).

       The ARWG Project webpage itself is maintained by the University of Texas at San Antonio Library. Contact information is provided in the form of a link to "email the archives," though no current staff or contact names are listed on the site. (A list of Library and Archives staff can be found by following links from the UTSA Library's main page). The ARWG webpage gives a brief overview and history of the project. Links in the left and right-hand margins provide information about the UTSA Library, including the Library on-line catalog and links to other Library Special Collections. There is a search engine for the site in the upper right-hand corner of the home page. At the bottom of the page are links to "Women's Collections at the UTSA Archives," "Gender Collections at the UTSA Archives" and "Additional Women's Collections." The first two links, "Women's Collections at the UTSA" and "Gender Collections at the UTSA" take researchers to subheadings within the comprehensive "Archival and Manuscript Collections" list at UTSA Library. The "Women's Collections at the UTSA Archives" consist of "Women" (eighteen collections of individuals) and "Women's Groups" (twenty-five collections of women's organizations). Each collection is named, with a Manuscript catalog number that serves as the link to the detailed on-line guide to each individual collection.

       Each Manuscript Collection Guide provides information about the size of the collection, citation information for the collection, a biographical note (for individuals) or a historical note (for organizations), a scope and content note (summarizing contents of the collections), information on provenance, and information on publication permissions. Only four of the collections have full inventories or series lists available, but the scope and content section of each guide are usually complete and detailed enough to give a good sense of what the collection includes. Entries are cross-referenced and presumably, more complete finding aids are located at the archives for each collection.

       Under the "Women" subheading, subjects range from Helen Austin, who was the first professional African-American social worker hired by the San Antonio State Hospital, to the records of the Carter Family, documenting five generations of life in San Antonio (from 1823 to 1970), to the sixty-year career of Tejano performer Rosita Fernandez, to the records of Texas State Representative (1977-93) Ernestine Glossbrenner. Women activists, politicians, professionals, and civic volunteers are heavily represented. The collections include papers of several prominent African-American women. Some of the collections appear to give insight into the local history of San Antonio and South Texas, including several collections of letters between wives and husbands on daily life in the area, but there appears to be little that would help researchers of the "the borderlands" or of Hispanic women.
A large number of organization records are available, representing a diverse group of organizations, including the Bexar County (San Antonio) Woman's Bar Association, Damas de Galvez Records (a women's patriotic organization to honor the memory of Spaniards who aided American Colonies during the War for Independence), Girl Scouts Council of San Antonio Records, National Coalition of 100 Black Women Records (San Antonio Chapter), National Organization for Women Records (San Antonio Chapter), San Antonio Chapter of Hadassah Records, San Antonio Mother's Service Organization Records, Women's Overseas Service League Records, Zonta Club of San Antonio Records (a service organization for professional women), and many others.

       Researchers in a number of subject areas -- women's religious, civic, professional and/or political organizations -- would find useful records here. Scholars focusing on the local history of South Texas or San Antonio will find obvious uses as well, but even scholars interested in a larger regional history, or even of a national history (with a comparative focus) will find an impressive array of organizational documents in a variety of areas. However, the archival collections are limited mostly to twentieth-century topics. Of the individual collections of papers, only four provide any records that reach back to the nineteenth century. All the organization records except one, the Woman's Club of San Antonio, are twentieth century, with many reflecting exclusively post-World War II organizations.

       In addition to the "Women" and "Women's Organizations" section of the Archives, the ARWG Project also focuses on "issues of sexual identity or gender equality." To that end, the website includes a link to "Gender Collections at the UTSA," which takes readers to the "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resources" subheading, but there is only one collection listed. In 2001, the University closed the Center for the Study of Women and Gender, and although the UTSA Libraries Special Collections and Archives Department maintains that it "continues to seek a broad range of materials that document the lives and activities of not only prominent women, but also women and men who have labored in the background on women's issues and gender issues," the Project appears to have lost some momentum. Not only is there just the one manuscript collection listed under "Gender Collections," (as if this part of the Project stopped quite suddenly) but no collections in the entire ARWG Project appear to have been processed since 2002.

       The final link, to "Additional Women's Collections," provides a useful guide to selected websites around the country, arranged by state, that feature collections of primary documents focusing on women. The list is maintained by an Assistant Archivist at UTSA, who "welcomes feedback and additions" to the list. In addition to the link itself, the guide provides a brief description of each collection. Many states have only one or two entries, but Texas has eleven and New York has ten. There's also an "International" category, at the end of the otherwise alphabetical list, with thirteen entries. With so many collections of women's history archives, this list, while not comprehensive, serves as a convenient and well-organized starting point for comparing collections around the country.

       Judging from the descriptions of the collections available at the University of Texas at San Antonio Archives, the ARWG Project succeeds in its stated purpose of providing "primary source materials that document the lives of women." It is less clear how "the construction of gender" is documented without reading and interpreting the sources themselves, and I am not convinced that the documents reveal much about "expressions of sexual identity." But the ARWG Project is a useful on-line guide to the approximately forty women's history collections housed at the University of Texas at San Antonio Archives. The Project clearly succeeded in soliciting new collections -- all acquired since 1993 -- that make contributions to women's history.

Molly Wood is Associate Professor of History at Wittenberg University where she teaches modern U.S. history, women's history and U.S. Foreign Relations. Most recently, she published "Diplomatic Wives: The Politics of Domesticity and the 'Social Game' in the U.S. Foreign Service, 1905-1941" in the Journal of Women's History (Summer 2005). She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Women and Informal Diplomacy.

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