500 Years of Women Authors
to 500 Years of Women Authors, Authorizing Themselves, an exhibit on display at the Houghton Library for Rare Books and Manuscripts at Harvard University from December 13, 2021 - March 11, 2022.
The curators are pleased to bring you this digital version of "500 Years of Women." Here, you can browse the exhibit virtually and learn about additional historic women writers not featured in the physical exhibit from our "Meet More Women Authors" section (coming soon).
Click the arrow on the right to get started.
A Code of Her Own
The writers whose works are spread before you in this case hid themselves in plain sight. Codes, ciphers, and symbols are their literary camouflage. Lady Mary Wroth’s cryptic monogram contains ten letters alluding to a real illicit love affair which she wove her literary romance. Her aunt, Mary Sidney Herbert, annotated an Italian-English dictionary with two lines from a psalm. A translation of the psalms would later become a pillar of her literary identity. Calligrapher Esther Inglis experimented with poetic meanings and aesthetics through hand-drawn images and dozens of different fonts, all of which she wrote out by hand.
Poetry, popular science, travel literature, novels, high fantasy, juvenilia, and periodicals. Handwriting, engravings, pencil sketches, watercolors, and first-edition print. Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women made themselves into best-selling authors across these genres and media. Below, you’ll find the early efforts of five authors, all famous in their own times, to sound out their literary voices and test-drive new projects. From Charlotte Brontë’s story of a girl’s escape from boarding school to the manuscript “quarry” for George Eliot’s Middlemarch, these pages preserve examples of imaginative experiments that made women writers into intellectual authorities. Some of the results have been forgotten.
Brave New Women
As the 19th century became the 20th, women’s work of self-authorization changed in England and America. In the midst of furious battles for suffrage and higher education, women gained seats at the table. They began to enter the literary scene as critical authorities in the fields of letters, politics, education, and civil rights. Seizing the opportunity presented by this disruptive moment, women of color and queer women began to write openly about their experiences in the face of violent opposition, amplifying their own voices and insisting on recognition by the mainstream.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Zora Neale Hurston
and CURATOR OF "A CODE OF HER OWN"
V.M. Braganza is a public-facing intellectual and a PhD candidate in English at Harvard. She writes for Smithsonian, Lithub, Mental Floss, and the LA Review of Books, and her academic work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals and volumes, including the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women's Writing in English. She is a 2022 Harvard Horizons Scholar and has curated previously for the Library of Congress. Her dissertation (and first book) is about the literary history of cryptography in Renaissance England. Additionally, she is a JD candidate at Columbia Law School where she specializes in constitutional law. She designed this website.
CURATOR OF "EXPERIMENTAL EVES"
Joani Etskovitz is a PhD candidate in English literature at Harvard University, researching women’s writing, children’s literature, and the novel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A Beinecke and a Marshall Scholar, she holds two masters degrees from the University of Oxford. Joani has written for Public Books and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She has also curated exhibits and developed public programming for the Library of Congress Young Readers Center, the Penn Museum, the Cotsen Children’s Library, and the Bodleian Library.
CURATOR OF "BRAVE NEW WOMEN"
Katherine Horgan is a PhD candidate in English literature at Harvard University, with a focus Classical Reception in Renaissance, Modern, and Women’s literature. She holds a Master’s degree in English, a B.A. in English and Classics, and B. Mus from McGill University, where she studied Early Modern literature with Maggie Kilgour. Katherine has written program notes for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Music Center, has published literary criticism in the Virginia Woolf Miscellany, and is the current Editor in Chief of Literary Papers: A Journal of the Harvard English Department.