Archiving Images of American Women

Through an internship funded by the Hurford Humanities Center, Madeline Kreider-Carlson ’10 spent the summer at the Library Company of Philadelphia uncovering the lives of American women in the pre-Civil War era.

Murdered prostitutes, Indian captives, escaped slaves, and famous actresses are just a few of the women that Madeline Kreider-Carlson ’10 got to know this summer.

Through a stipend from the Hurford Humanities Center, Kreider-Carlson interned at the Library Company of Philadelphia, an archival library established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. The history major contributed to the Library Company’s publicly accessible online archive of portraits of American women, a project that evolved from the exhibition “Picturing Women.”

Her job involved researching noteworthy antebellum women to discover who these women were, and how and why their images came to be immortalized in print at a time when printed images were relatively uncommon and difficult to produce. She also designed an exhibit to be displayed at the Library Company this winter, which is inspired by some of the portraits. “My exhibit explores depictions of women at the margins of moral society--the adulteresses, divorcing wives, and unwed mothers who were both fascinating and appalling to the American public,” she says.

Kreider-Carlson was drawn to this internship for the chance to work with primary source historical documents. Last summer, she worked in Esteli, Nicaragua at a grassroots community history museum called the Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs, through a CPGC summer internship grant. “This summer has given me a lot of insight into the research process and the type of study that I might pursue in graduate school,” says Kreider-Carlson. “It's incredible to have so much history at my fingertips, and I enjoy feeling like a detective as I search for clues that point me toward a portrait's identity,” she says. “I love the feeling of documenting stories that might otherwise never be remembered, and discovering remarkable women who lived exceptional lives.”

-Heather Harden ‘11