What were the conditions like on the Trans-Siberian railway for women in the 1930s? Which American city was most like Melbourne in the 50s? And does anyone know what to wear to dinner when traveling first-class by ship?

Whole-length, full face, one woman wearing three-quarter length fur coat and hat, the other a calf length coat and brimmed hat, ship's rails and ocean behind them.
Two women standing on the deck of a ship, between 1920 and 1930?; H2014.1137/13

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 Librarians.

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Today we’re looking at the Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History database by Adam Matthew.

Banner image and landing page for Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History database.

What makes this database so great?

Travel writing, but from a uniquely female perspective. This database brings together over 150 years of women’s experiences traveling the globe. A range of locations, transportation, travel motivations, ages and backgrounds are covered in both written and visual material. Expect to see photos, sketchbooks, guidebooks, diaries, postcards, and lots more. Learn about the history of the world and travel from a woman’s point of view. This database is fantastic for anyone interested in the history of travel writing, tourism, ethnography, and women’s narratives.

Some highlights

Travel diaries

The database features a large collection of travel diaries from women across many backgrounds, describing a wide range of experiences.

This beautiful travel diary of American, Catherine Shouse, has been water damaged to the point where it is almost unreadable, however the collaged images, maps and ephemeral items that she has glued inside means that it is still a wonderful visual portrait of her time in the West Indies in the 1960s. The below page recalls the time spent in Willemstad, Curaçao using both text and beautiful imagery.

Scanned pages from a travel scrapbook, including a photo of Willemstad and the Queen Emma Bridge in Curaçao, and a drawing of colourful buildings. The text is handwritten in green ink and is badly water-damaged.
Diary of a trip to the West Indies, 1964-1965, Catherine (Filene) Shouse, MC 448, Box 4, 45, Image 5
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Here we have a page from the 1951-1952 travel scrapbook of Ida Maude Cannon, a pioneering social worker and nurse from Wisconsin, and an avid traveler. The scrapbook includes photographs, postcards, and maps from the world trip taken by Ida and her family, taking in locations such as Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Indonesia, India and the Middle East. This page contains postcards of stunning landscape paintings of northern Australia by Australian artists Hans Heysen, Howard Ashton, and Arthur Streeton.

Page from scrapbook with three postcards stuck into it. All are colour watercolours of Australian landscapes. Page is headed 'Paintings by Australian artists" in handwriting.
Travel scrapbook : “Round the World”, 1951-1952, Cannon Family, p 13
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Personal accounts

Ida Maude’s sister-in-law, Cornelia Cannon, was also a passionate traveler who would accompany her husband, Dr Walter B. Cannon, on speaking trips around the world. Typescripts describing two trips to Russia, one in 1936 and again in 1959, provide an insight into a country that many Americans could only dream of at the time. The first essay, ‘I was arrested in Russia’, is her account of being arrested in Leningrad, for illegally taking photographs of a former tsar’s house during her first journey to the country in 1936. Not only is this a fascinating account of her experience with the Russian secret police, but it also provides a fabulous description of a Trans-Siberian Railway trip. Here she discusses the the comparisons between Russia and her homeland of Massachusetts, and describes the conditions on the train: ‘…we were to travel “soft”, on the trans-Siberian train. It was only later that we learned how privileged we were, for traveling “hard” meant sleeping on wooden shelves in a car crowded with dozens of fellow passengers.’

Typescript page of text titled "I was arrensted in Russia".
I was arrested in Russia, 1936, Cornelia James Cannon, MC 553, 12.11, p 1
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Her second essay, ‘Russia Revisited’, contrasts her earlier experiences with her observations of the post-WWII country over 20 years later, and begins with the poignant reminder: ‘A tourist is one who travels to see things that are different, and then complains when they are not the same.’

Typescript page of text titled "Russia Revisited".
Russia Revisited – 1st version, 1956, Cornelia James Cannon, MC 553, 12.11, p 10
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

There is also a marvelous collection of photographs of some of the featured travellers, including Cornelia Cannon, Alice Northrop and Ida Pruitt amongs others:

Black and white photographic portrait of a woman wearing a graduation gown and cap.
Cannon, Cornelia James
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Sepia-toned photographic portrait of a woman siting in an armchair reading a book, in a room full of bookcases with artworks on the walls.
Northrop, Alice (Rich)
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Sepia-toned head-and shoulders photograph which appears to be a passport or identity photo, of a young woman wearing a linen shirt with her hair tied back.
Photograph of a young Ida Pruitt
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Letters and postcards

Letters and cards sent home while on holiday can provide a candid insight into the thoughts of the traveller. During her time in Australia from 1957-1962, 65-year-old former business executive Lillian Schoedler speaks openly to friend Lura Beam back home in New York about her views of Melbourne and Sydney, and her dislike of ‘a dreadful write-up’ written about her in the Sydney Morning Herald. Melbourne, she says, is ‘quite like Boston in its feel’, and she enjoyed a ‘stunningly good lunch in the Dandenong Hills’; while Sydney is ‘much more like New York, in its hurried and sophisticated life’.

A typed letter included many corrections and underlines in red pen.
Letters to Lura Beam: travel letters, original letters from Australia, 1957, MC 273, Box 6, Item 79, p 28
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Below we find a potentially odd choice of postcard subject: the Monarch Life Insurance Building, Massachusetts, sent by Lucille Rust to her daughter Louise from the Westover Air Base whilst en route to Germany in 1949.

Front and verso of postcard. Front shows colour image of the Monarch Life Insurance Building, Springfield, Massachusetts, while verso shows handwriting.
Letter 1: Letters to Louise (Rust) Driggs from her mother, Lucile (Osborn) Rust in Germany, 19 May 1949, MC 344, Box 1, 8
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

It’s unclear who retired business woman and self-described ‘vagabond’, Lilian Schoedler, was sending this postcard to, but her love of the unspoiled scenery in Chile certainly comes across in her brief message.

Front and verso of postcard. Front shows black and white photograph of scenery from Ultima Esperanza, Cerro Payne, while verso shows handwritten text.
Chile – Postcard of Ultima Esperanza, Cerro Payne from Correspondence, 1950-1951, Lillian Schoedler, MC 273, Box 6, Item 77
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Travel document and guides

Documents relating to travel have changed greatly over time. Below we have the 1927 United States of America passport of Richard Kitchelt, which includes passage for his wife Florence Ledyard Kitchelt (nee Cross) to accompany him to Europe.

Page from United States passport, showing photograph of a woman and man, titled 'Richard Kitchelt' in ink.
Kitchelt, Florence Ledyard (Cross) and her husband Richard Kitchelt (passport) from Papers regarding a trip to Europe in 1927 to carry out a study of political and economic conditions, 1927, A61, 261v, p 4
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Reporter Catherine Coyne travelled extensively and kept journals, many of which included of-the-time travel advice in the front pages, aimed at first-time American travellers to Europe. Her 1967 diary provides information on the best time of day to shop, the customary tipping amounts and the expected dress code when travelling by first class ship.

Detail of a travel guide showing travel advice and an illustration of a European town.
Detail of a travel guide showing travel advice.
Details from Travel journal, 1967, 1970, 1972, Catherine Coyne, MC 8509, 1.15v, p 11 (top) and p 12 (bottom)
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Ephemeral items and tourist itineraries have made their way into many scrapbooks kept by the travellers in this database. Here we have a bright itinerary for approved tourist travel in the USSR in 1959.

Stylised map of the former USSR in yellow and blue, with red lines showing travel itineraries and methods.
Map showing itineraries allowed by Intourist in Russia, from Travel scrapbook for a trip to Russia and Europe, July 9-August 17, 1959, Cannon family, MC 553, 9.1-9.2, p 3
© The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

We hope you enjoy exploring Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History!

We always welcome your recommendations for database trials  – let us know what you’d like to see.  Have a research query or questions on how to use our online collections? Ask a Librarian.

More to Explore

Check out our latest databases on trial, and see a full list of all new and trial databases, by visiting our A-Z Databases page, including a range of other databases focused on travel or women’s experiences.

Or, check out some more great stories from our Blog:

This article has 3 comments

  1. Very informative

  2. I love seeing these travel stories from years ago. It was a different world then. Thank you.

    • Hi Rose – it really is a fabulous collection with a lot of incredible women’s stories! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog.

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