Where can I find first-hand accounts of bush nurses working during the 1956 Murray River floods? Who was the first lesbian rights organisation in the US and where can I find their newsletter? And does anyone have a good recipe for sheeps’ head pie anymore?

State Library Victoria members can access hundreds of databases from home (if your home is in Victoria). That’s millions of articles, magazines, archives, ebooks, videos, songs, audiobooks and more, available through the catalogue anytime. We’re taking a closer look at new and/or interesting databases as well as hidden gems from our collections. Read on for top picks and tips from our librarians.

Not a member yet? Sign up online first and reward your curiosity.

Today we’re looking at the Women’s Studies Archive, part of Gale Primary Sources.

Black and white photograph of women protesting in favour of abortion. Two women hold a large sign reading 'Womens Liberation'.
Pro abortion march, May 1979, 1979. Photo by Lyn McLeavy. This work is in copyright; H2012.7/6

What makes this database so great?

Female-authored primary sources

Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive acknowledges that our perception of history has been formed through a lens of male authorship, which has caused an unconscious bias in our perception. The Women’s Studies Archive attempts to correct this by highlighting women’s voices and perspectives in these collections of high-quality primary sources.

This database includes a wide range of topics and formats: female-authored literature and diaries, promotional photographs for Latina actors, industry newsletters written for the female engineers, pamphlets on family planning, even newspaper clippings from the Dear Abby and Ask Ann Landers advice columns. Important moments in feminist activism have been highlighted here alongside missionary cookbooks and even journals by eager séance participants. If it was important to women, you can read about it here!


There are many ways to move around the archive. The database has been broken up into four modules:

Screenshot of the homepage of the Women's Studies Archive database showing the tiles representing the four included modules.
The four modules included in the Women’s Studies Archive
  1. Female Forerunners Worldwide
  2. Issues and Identities
  3. Rare Titles from the American Antiquarian Society, 1820-1922
    • an incredible collection of female-authored writing and literature from America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This is an invaluable resource for scholars of women’s studies and/or gender studies, or of American history more broadly.
  4. Voice and Vision

On the homepage, click on a tile to see more information about the module and the collections held within each. When you use the search bar (below), all four modules will be searched by default, but you can select or deselect any of the modules as you choose.

Screenshot of the landing page of the Women's Studies Archive showing search bar as well as the Collections view and Publications view buttons.
Search bar on landing page of Women’s Studies Archive

You can also browse the archive using the ‘Collections’ and ‘Publications’ views (see above). Dive straight in to one of the 52 individual collections housed within the archive, such as Records of the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Malthusian 1879-1921, Suffragettes 1886-1935, or one of over 1000 individual publications that can be filtered by publication, country, language, or date range. 

Screenshot of the Collections view of the Women's Studies Archives.
Browsing some of the available collections in Collections View

To make it even easier to distinguish between first-hand perspectives, Gale has included ‘author gender’ (where known) as a search filter in the ‘advanced search’ option:

Screenshot of the Author Gender filter in Advanced Search.

Learn about women’s experiences throughout history by hearing from the women who were there.

Some highlights

Check out a large selection of journals, newsletters and newspapers relating to feminism and women’s rights all around the world – including Australia – in the Herstory Collection.

The cover for the September 1971 edition of women’s liberation newspaper MeJane (Sydney) shows the characteristically wicked sense of humour that Australian women had about the way that they were perceived by some:

Front cover of MeJane September 1971 with sillhouettes of four witches riding broomsticks.
Cover of MeJane, Sept 1971

MeJane typically started with a page of letters to the editor, or ‘Reactions’ – these were both positive letters written in solidarity, and extremely negative letters written in a mix of apparent shock and disgust at the content of the previous month’s paper. For anyone studying the attitudes and backlash towards feminism in 70s Sydney, you’ll find some perfectly preserved ‘reactions’ from both sides in MeJane.

Also in Herstory you can find editions of The Ladder – the first national publication for lesbians in the USA, and the first publication to include the faces and names of their lesbian models1. This newsletter was created by the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organisation in America.

Front cover of The Ladder 1958, showing illustration of the Queen of Hearts
Cover of The Ladder, vol 2, no 5, Feb 1958

For something a little different, head back in time one hundred or so years to a collection of diaries written by American women on the Oregon trial in the 1850s as part of the Women’s Lives Collection. Here we can feel what might be a seed of resentment growing in Mrs Lydia A Rudd towards her husband, as well as a timeless reminder of the importance of ‘women’s work’ on great historical moments:

Screenshot of section of typed journal.
Detail from Journal of an overland trip from Missouri to Oregon, May 6, 1852-October 27, 1852. Women’s lives: Rudd, Mrs Lydia A, Box 1, Folder 1-2, p 2. University of Oregon Library

Within the Voice and Vision module we’ll find the archives of the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional, an American-based organisation of Latina/Chicana women, founded to promote the interests of these women in all aspects of life. Here we can find documents as diverse as a headshot of well-known actress Rose Portillo and FBI files on Chicana feminist Francisca Flores:

Partly redacted and highlighted excerpt of FBI file on Miss Frances Flores.
FBI Files On Francisca Lynn Flores Circa 1940s-1960s – 1 of 45. 1940-1960. MS Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional Archives: Series XII: Pablo Landeros Research on Francisca Flores Box 80, Folder 1, p 10. University of California, Santa Barbara
Promotional headshot of actress Rose Portillo from 1984.
Rose Portillo, 7 Photographs, 1984. Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional Archives: Series V: Chicana Service Action Center, Box 47, Folder 7. University of California, Santa Barbara

This module also includes the Papers of Mary E Gawthorpe, a British suffragette who worked in England and America in the late 19th and into the 20th century. Her papers include selections of photographs and postcards on a range of topics, but of particular interest are those on the women’s movement and suffrage:

Postcard showing the arrest of Mrs Pankhurst in Victoria Street in 1906
Mrs Pankhurst arrested in Victoria Street, Feb 13 1906, detail from Photographs: Pankhurst, Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and Richard. 1931. MS Papers of Mary E Gawthorpe: Series VI: Addendum: photographs, graphic material, oversize items and books, 1900-1962 Box ADD 1, Folder 4. Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University
Easter postcard showing a woman and a duck with the text 'Votes for Women' in bottom right corner
A happy Easter greeting to you, Postcards: suffrage and general 1903-1972, MS Papers of Mary E. Gawthorpe: Series V: Postcards, 1903-1972, Box 7. Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University
Christmas postcard showing Santa Claus holding a pamphlet reading 'Votes for Women'
Graphic material: suffrage Christmas cards, hand-drawn Christmas card, 2 suffrage drawings by Frederic G Dutton, 1909; ?Meilleurs Amities? Portfolio gift of Franchot Tone. 1909. MS Papers of Mary E Gawthorpe: Series VI: Addendum: photographs, graphic material, oversize items and books, 1900-1962, Box ADD 1, Folder 10. Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University

The Female Forerunners Worldwide module includes an excellent collection of nursing journals from around the world, including the Zambia Nurse and Australian Bush Nursing Journal.

Front cover of the publication 'The Zambia Nurse'
Cover of The Zambia Nurse, vol 11, no 3, December-January (1979-1980)

The September 1956 edition of the Australian Bush Nursing Journal includes several pages of letters from nurses working in flood-ravaged areas caused by the overflow of the Murray:

Image from the Australian Bush Nursing Journal of flooding in St Albans
St Albans, Australian Bush Nursing Journal, Sept 1956, vol 1, issue 2, p 4
part of a letter written by a nurse working in St Albans during flooding.
Extracts from letters received from bush nursing sisters in flooded areas, Australian Bush Nursing Journal, Sept 1956, vol 1, issue 2, p 4

Also within this module is a collection of documents from Australian and New Zealand Women’s Organisations, 1835-2002, digitised from the holdings of the State Library of New South Wales. Here we can find a report written by noted Australian suffragette Vida Goldstein on an informal conference between herself and Mrs May Wright Sewall, president of the International Council of Women, held in Washington DC in 1902:

Cover of report.
Goldstein, Vida, and National Council of Women of New South Wales. Cover of Report to the National Council of Women of New South Wales of an informal conference with Mrs May Wright Sewall, President of the International Council of Women: by Vida Goldstein. Norman Bros, (1902)

and a book of Home Cookery for Australia, prepared by the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union of Victoria back in 1904:

Front cover of a book titled Home Cookery for Australia. Book is red with faded black printing.
Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union of Victoria (1904), Home cookery for Australia: all tested recipes: compiled and issued under the auspices of the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union of Victoria, Gordon & Gotch, front cover

Sheeps’ head pie, anyone?

Screenshot of a recipe for Sheeps' Head Pie from a cookery book.
Women’s Missionary Association of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales (1909), Cookery book of good and tried receipts [ie recipes]: compiled for the Women’s Missionary Association Sale and Exhibition, Sydney, September, 1895, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 11th ed, p 202

All of these texts are equally important in showing the lives and opinions of real women in Australia and around the world at the times that they were created.

We hope you enjoy exploring the Gale Women’s Studies Archive.

More to explore

Check out our latest databases on trial by visiting our A-Z databases page.

More SLV blogs:

  1. New York Public Library, 2022, Polonsky exhibition of the New York Public Library’s treasuresThe ladder: a lesbian review, vol. 9 no. 2, accessed 17 Nov 2022,<https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/galleries/fortitude/item/5508>

This article has 3 comments

  1. What a fantastic newsletter! I am going to open all the links & spend hours having a long, enjoyable read.

  2. Lorraine Hinschen

    Congratulations on celebration of Women’s Week. Whilst this will (understandably) be focussed on domestic celebration of womenfolk. I need to ask whether (for me and other genealogists) a particular tome can be made available?
    Entitled Medieval London Widows, this is available via several online sources, Google books being one, beautifully presented with very accurate historical gleanings. Annoyingly one can view only tantalising snippets.
    I would love to have this available thru SLV!!!

    • Hi Lorraine, I’m glad that you enjoyed the blog. I believe that the book you’re referring to is
      Medieval London widows, 1300-1500 / edited by Caroline M. Barron and Anne F. Sutton. If so, we hold a copy of this book in the Library. It is held in storage, but can be made available for you within a few hours of being ordered. Unfortunately we do not have an electronic copy, but if this is a title that you are particularly interested in you could make a request for purchase via our Ask a Librarian service: https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/interact-us/ask-librarian

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