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Researchers interested in the evolution of New York State's policies toward women and women's role in shaping State policy will find rich and varied resources in the New York State Archives. Because most State programs deal with the population as a whole without regard to gender, it can be difficult to locate records pertaining solely to women. However, the New York State Archives does hold some records specifically relating to women's issues as well as many records in which information about women and women's issues can be found. Most of these records are open for use by the public. A few have access or use restrictions to protect personal privacy but may be used under certain conditions. Information about the use of any of these records is available from the Archives.
Table of Contents:
- Legislative Records
- Court Records
- Executive Branch Records
Some of the State Archives most important twentieth century records relating to women come from the New York State Legislature. For instance, in the wake of the 1911 Triangle Waist Company factory fire that killed 145 employees, mostly women and girls, the Legislature established the Factory Investigation Commission, a joint legislative commission charged with investigating factory health and safety conditions. The Commission later investigated the advisability of minimum wage legislation for women and minors, studying workers' wages, cost of living, and living conditions. The Commission studied industries that employed women in large numbers, collecting information on the background, age, employment, wages, family income and expenses, and living conditions of thousands of individual workers, including pre-teen girls as well as adult women and men. Among the Commission's records are all of this raw data on individual workers as well as photographs of factory and living conditions.
The Legislature established the Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate Seditious Activities (Lusk Committee) in March 1919, at the height of the "Red Scare," to investigate individuals and organizations deemed radical or subversive. The Committee operated until May 1920, observing the activities of suspected "radicals," attending mass meetings, subpoenaing individuals and records, and raiding organizations and seizing their files. Women played important roles on both sides of the investigation. Women served as "operators" or investigators for the Committee, filing frequent reports on their observations. Individual women such as Emma Goldman, and women's organizations such as the Women's Trade Union League and Women's Peace Party, were the subjects of investigations. The Committee compiled files on birth control, a social issue that was perceived to have been "radicalized", and collected leftist pamphlets, broadsides, and other polemic literature, some of it by, for, or about women. The State Archives holds the Committee's subject files, investigation files, polemic literature, and other records created or seized by the Committee during the course of its investigations.
The New York State Archives holds public hearing testimony files of the Joint Committee on Industrial and Labor Conditions from 1939-1945 which include information on women in the labor force.
The Legislature established the Joint Legislative Committee on Matrimonial and Family Laws in 1956 to investigate the adequacy of procedures in matrimonial and family court actions and to recommend revisions in laws governing legal procedures, jurisdiction, rules, and operations. Citing an increase in divorces and annulments and "widespread" fraud, collusion, and perjury in matrimonial actions and procedures, the Legislature charged the Committee with making recommendations to "improve the administration of justice" in these areas and to "preserve the marital relationship and the family unit." SARA holds two Committee reports (1957-1958) which include studies and recommendations regarding issues such as the rate of matrimonial and family court actions; separation agreements; adoptions; and support-maintenance and alimony.
The State Archives holds Senator Karen Burstein's files relating to women's issues dating from 1973 to 1979. As a Senator from 1973 to 1978, Burstein introduced legislation relating to rights of women and minorities. After her resignation from the Senate she served for five years as President of the Center for Women in Government. Burstein's women's issues files contain unique information on the development of leadership strategies by advocates involved in the women's movement. The files include materials relating to issues such as abortion, child care, displaced homemakers, women in prisons, the International Women's Year, and the National Women's Conference (1977). There are also files relating to the campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in New York State, including materials representing both sides of the debate.
The bill files of Assemblyman Jerrold Nadler, dating from 1983 to 1992, consist of records documenting the origin, development, progress, and intent of bills sponsored by Nadler, including bills relating to women's welfare.
The New York State Archives also holds correspondence, reports, and testimony of the Sub-Committee on Affirmative Action of the Assembly Standing Committee on Governmental Operations from 1981 to 1986. These records including information and hearing testimony on local and State government affirmative action programs and plans, and statistical profiles of workforce composition.
Records from the State's courts can also be used for research on women. The Court of Chancery, New York's equity court from 1683 to 1847, heard cases involving a number of matters, some reflecting social and economic aspects of women's lives, such as women's property rights and divorces, about which little other source material exists. Although eighteenth and nineteenth century women had few legal property rights, they did have dower and inheritance rights which were often defended or exercised in the Court of Chancery. Records of these cases may contain information on women's property holdings, family relationships, and the ability of women to defend their rights. Records of divorces, annulments, and legal separations often contain details on the facts of the case, the relationship between the husband and wife, extramarital relationships, and biographical information on individual women.
A small amount of "writs of dower" (1824-1829) from the Supreme Court of Judicature, predecessor to today's Supreme Court, documents the rights of widows to their one-third dower right. In addition, records and briefs on appeal from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court and from the Court of Appeals document case proceedings, including those involving women; however, no list or index exists to access cases involving women.
Records of the Governor's office are an essential source of information on the role of women in government and on public policy issues relating to women. The New York State Archives' extensive series of subject and correspondence files of Governors from Alfred E. Smith to Hugh L. Carey (1919 to 1983) address numerous topics including abortion, affirmative action, divorce laws, the Equal Right Amendment debate, sex discrimination, maternal health, and voting rights. In addition, a series of Governor Carey's press clippings includes files concerning public policy areas of direct relevance for women's history research, including women in politics and business, abortion and family planning programs, federal assistance for child care programs, equal credit opportunity, female offenders, rape, affirmative action, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Women's issues are also among the many topics addressed in Governors' audio and video tapes dating from 1951 to 1982. And Governors' appointment correspondence files and letter books, comprised mainly of correspondence concerning requests or recommendations for appointment to positions in State government, can be useful for research into the role of women in State government and into "traditional" women's occupations.
Legislative bill and veto jackets, compiled by the Counsel to the Governor, consist of memoranda and correspondence supporting or opposing each legislative bill sent by the Legislature to the Governor for approval. These records, mostly dating from 1921 to 1992, often contain analyses of the purpose and potential impact of a bill, the vote in each house of the Legislature, the sponsors' supporting memoranda, and sometimes the Governor's approval or veto memorandum. These records can be used to trace the history and intent of legislative proposals relating to women.
Subject files regarding Governor Wilson's Task Force on Equal Employment Opportunities for Women in New York State Government from 1973 to 1974 include data on the composition of the State workforce, State agency affirmative action plans, and information regarding women, the status of women in society and in general, and equal opportunity for women and minorities. The Task Force's final recommendations resulted in Executive Order Number 11 (September 24, 1974) establishing State agency guidelines to promote recruitment, training, and advancement of women in State government.
The State Archives holds records of several Executive Branch commissions relating directly to women's issues, including the Commission on Relief for Widowed Mothers, established in 1913 to study the subject of pensions or other relief for widows with dependent children; the Governor's Committee to Review New York State Laws and Procedures in the Area of Human Rights, established in 1967 to review and make recommendations regarding the State's outdated human rights laws and procedures; the Governor's Committee Appointed to Review New York State's Abortion Law, established in 1968 to determine which abortional acts, if any, should be legalized (the only legal abortions in New York State at the time were those performed to save the mother's life); and the Temporary State Commission to Recodify the Family Court Act, established in 1980 to study the effectiveness of the Family Court in its adjudicatory role in the care and protection of the young and the preservation of the family.
The State Archives also holds records of other State offices and agencies involved in policy issues relating to women. The Division for Women advises the Governor, acts as an advocate on women's issues, and works with agencies to ensure women's interests are considered in the formulation of public policy. The State Archives holds correspondence and subject files, press clippings, and newsletter files of the Women's Division from 1975 to 1982.
The Division of Human Rights promotes equal opportunity for all individuals by enforcing the State Human Rights Law prohibiting discrimination based on sex, marital status, race, and other factors. The Division receives complaints, holds hearings, and issues orders based on its review of these complaints. The State Archives holds Division complaint case files of the Division from 1946 to 1978, and appeals case files of the Human Rights Appeals Board, which heard appeals of Division decisions from 1968 until 1984, when the Board was abolished and its functions transferred to the courts.
The State Archives holds extensive records of the State Board of Charities, predecessor to today's Board of Social Welfare. The Board was established in 1867 to visit and inspect public almshouses and all charitable and custodial institutions receiving State aid. The Board's records, dating from 1867 to 1921, document women as administrators, providers, or recipients of care and include personal background information on thousands of individuals, including women, in almshouses, poorhouses, and mental institutions as well as non-institutionalized epileptics and mentally ill persons.
Women incarcerated in State prisons, reformatories, and juvenile facilities are documented in great detail in The State Archives' holdings. Thousands of inmate case files from women's correctional facilities, including those at Albion, Auburn, and Bedford Hills, detail the background, criminal history, arrest record, physical and mental health, and institutional history of each inmate. Computer files of statistical data on inmate characteristics from 1956 to 1975 include such information as crime, minimum and maximum sentence, county and court from which committed, religion, sex, education, occupation, drug use, marital status, and other statistical data. A user's guide is available for use of these computer files.
The Western House of Refuge, founded near Rochester in 1846 as New York's (and the nation's) first State-operated juvenile facility, opened its "Female Department" in 1875 and continued to admit females until 1904. Young female offenders were also incarcerated in the New York House of Refuge at Randall's Island, New York City. Among the records of these facilities are case histories providing information about the background, family, and progress in the facility of each inmate; supplementary case files providing details about paroled inmates; and daily journals providing general remarks regarding inmates' health and behavior, facility conditions, special events, and contact with discharged inmates.
The New York State Archives holds a variety of records revealing women's varying wartime roles. Abstracts of World War I military service from the Division of Military and Naval Affairs include information on about three thousand women who served as nurses, providing for each their name, race, address, date and place of birth, date called into active service, dates and place of each assignment, dates served overseas, and discharge date. In a few cases, the records indicate military engagements in which the nurse was involved, usually in France, such as Champagne-Marne or Meuse-Argonne. Unfortunately, there is no explanation of the nature of the nurses' involvement in these engagements.
The State Archives' records of the Council of Defense, established in 1917 to coordinate the State's military, industrial, agricultural, and commercial resources during World War I, include correspondence of its Division of Women and of the National Defense Council's Women's Committee, and records relating to training and enrollment of public health nurses. Records of New York State War Council, established during World War II to coordinate home front activities in support of the war effort, often concern women and their participation in home front efforts. They include files relating to the establishment and maintenance of child care centers to allow mothers to enter the work force during the wartime labor shortage; efforts to prevent employment discrimination against women and members of ethnic groups and minorities; issues and problems faced by women in war industries and physical fitness and exercise programs for women defense workers; women working in food production during the wartime farm labor shortage; and recruitment and placement of student nurses. Among the records are publicity films, including one regarding the need for women, including mother, to join the workforce and the establishment of child care programs to facilitate their employment.
The State Archives' Health Department records include commissioners' and deputy commissioners' correspondence files concerning issues such as abortion, State health facilities, medical costs, and public health education. Records of the department's Bureau of Communicable Disease Control document the State's response to the outbreak of communicable diseases and include questionnaires and reports describing when, where, and how individuals became infected as well as statistical data concerning disease outbreaks and locations. Also maintained by the New York State Archives are records of "Sheppard- Towner" funds spent under a federal-State program to upgrade maternal and child care in local communities in 1923-1924. Among the activities funded under this program were pre-natal consultations, lectures, exhibits, and demonstration nurses.
Records from the Department of Civil Service and the Civil Service Commission document the evolution of civil service classification and personnel policy for State government. These records include Civil Service Commission meeting minutes and calendars; statistical and special reports on State employment; civil service examination announcements and tests; case files of appeals of classification and compensation decisions; subject, correspondence, and monitoring files relating to affirmative action plans and programs in State agencies.
Records of the State Education Department from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century include lists of names of graduates of State normal schools, pupils in other State schools, and teacher certification examination and training records. Also in The New York State Archives holdings are correspondence files, lectures, photographs, professional meeting programs, and reports relating to the work of State Paleontologist Winifred Goldring from 1937 to 1958 and her previous work as assistant paleontologist (1915-1920), associate paleontologist (1920-1925, 1928-1932), paleobotanist (1925-1928), and assistant State paleontologist (1932-1937).
The 1915 and 1925 New York State censuses provide demographic data on most State residents for those years, including name, age, sex, color, place of birth, marital status, nationality, and occupation.
Records from the Department of State also include a very small number of marriage bonds issued by the provincial secretary between 1753 and 1784. These represent one of the few records containing information on individual women in colonial New York. They provide date of the marriage license, name of bride and groom, name, residence, and status of each of the two bondsmen, residence of bride, indication of her previous marital status, and residence and status of the groom.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Records in the State Archives may be used at the Archives' research room. Certain record series have been microfilmed by the State Archives, and the film may be borrowed on inter-library loan or purchased. For further information please contact Research Assistance.