The Archives for Women in Medicine (AWM) actively acquires, preserves, promotes, and provides access to the professional and personal records of outstanding women leaders, starting with the Harvard-affiliated community. We are eager to broaden our scope, to reach a larger audience, and to continue collecting, preserving, sharing, and celebrating the work of these pioneers.
While publications tell of their scientific accomplishments, the story behind those accomplishments - the story of the relationships, experiences, and struggles that pushed and inspired these pioneers - can only be illuminated through their personal and professional records. These women's collections not only provide a rich resource for current and future scholarship in medicine and the history of medicine, but will also inspire future generations of women who are eager to contribute to our knowledge in basic and clinical science.
AWM Program Background
This century has witnessed enormous changes in medicine: wonder drugs, new technologies and techniques that have revolutionized health care delivery, and the social phenomena that brought large numbers of women to the forefront of medicine. In 1960, 5% of U.S. medical students were women; in 2016, at Harvard Medical School, women comprised half of all medical students and 18% of professors in the Faculty of Medicine. This change, and its effects, will be felt for decades to come. Despite this remarkable shift, women have been woefully underrepresented in the documentary record, including the manuscript holdings of the Countway Library's Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The Center for the History of Medicine holds one of the largest collections of medical rare books, objects, archives, and manuscripts in the nation. In 1999, at the outset of the Archives for Women in Medicine project, Center staff and the Joint Committee on the Status of Women (JCSW) surveyed the Center's faculty collections of personal and professional papers, revealing that of the 900 or so faculty collections, fewer than 20 were created by women, and only one of these was processed and accessible for research. Contemporary historian Jill Lepore has observed that, "those who hold the evidence make the history." Where was the evidence of women's contributions to medicine and the biosciences?
To bridge this documentation gap, the Countway and the JCSW raised funds to hire a full-time archivist for The Archives for Women in Medicine in the Center for the History of Medicine. The project officially began in 2005 and is still supported by its original donors - the faculty and staff of the Longwood graduate schools and the affiliated hospitals. Current fundraising efforts aim to make the Archives for Women in Medicine a permanent program of the Center for the History of Medicine.
As of 2016, the Archives for Women in Medicine comprises over 50 collections of women leaders in medicine and the medical sciences. Over half of these collections are open and accessible to researchers, while the remainder are in the queue to be processed. The Archives for Women in Medicine program actively collects the professional records of women leaders in medicine and promotes and celebrates women’s achievements in science and medicine through educational programs and outreach activities, such as lectures, class visits and tours, and the Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine Fellowship.
For more information on the Archives for Women in Medicine, please visit:
Do you have questions about the Archives for Women in Medicine? Are you interested in visiting the Center for the History of Medicine with your class? Would you like to support our efforts? Please contact:
Joan Ilacqua, Project Archivist for the Archives for Women in Medicine