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British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries

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Extending back to the 1500s, the collection will show researchers the various shapes and formats of the diary as it evolved, including the travel diary, offering detailed accounts of journeys and descriptions of places; the daily personal diary, in which women reflected more broadly on aspects of their lives; letter diaries, wherein a daily dated letter to a recipient served simultaneously as a diary entry; and other forms.

British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries includes approximately 100,000 pages of material assembled from numerous bibliographies and from newly conducted research. Alongside the published material are 4,000 facsimile pages of previously unpublished manuscripts. Because the project captures materials that are written contemporaneously, readers see the honest, often stark perspective of the moment, as opposed to the self-censored attitudes that can appear in a memoir.

All forms of diaries - religious, travel, and journalistic - enrich the content of the collection. The mix of topics includes Australia, actresses, China, convent life, courtesans, court life, criminals, families, festivals and fairs, hospital work, literary society and life, missionaries, Palestine, political life, educators, railroads, scientists, social reformers, voyages, world tours, women soldiers and sailors  to list just a few of the many subjects that are indexed.

Both the famous and the unknown populate the collection. The lives and thoughts of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Queen Victoria, Frances Kemble, Queen Elizabeth, Mary Wollstonecraft, Christina Rossetti, Florence Nightingale, and Maude Gonne can be compared with the experiences and ideas of ordinary women from all walks of life. The result is a collection that brings to life the thoughts, observations, habits, pastimes, and daily habits reflecting the collective consciousness of women from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

Among the newest additions to the collections are materials licensed from The Imperial War Museum in London, including the unpublished letters and diaries of women who served during both world wars, and the letters and diaries of famous literary women such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Bront´┐Ż, and Dorothy Wordsworth, licensed from Oxford University Press.

Many of the letters and diaries appear in a wide range of print publications, including books, journals, magazines, and newspapers. Only in this database from Alexander Street Press do they exist together, in electronic form and deeply indexed, allowing scholars to access, compare, and question as never before.


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History; Women's and Gender Studies

Date Coverage

16th Century-20th Century


Primary Sources