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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 86, Number 3 (March 1985)

Hielsberg, Amy
What can a woman do?,   pp. 14-16

Page 14

WiiAr CAN AWom   Do?
he study of American
       literature has focused
       on the lives and liter-
ary imagination of male writ-
ers. Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Henry James, Mark Twain,
T. S. Eliot, John Steinbeck,
William Faulkner, Ernest
Hemingway- the familiar
canon of American belles let-
tres. To those of us who learned
literature through this "male-
stream," it comes as a surprise
that Hawthorne referred to the
literary competition of his day
as "that damned mob of scrib-
bling women." What mob?
Who are these females who
aroused such indignation, and
where are their works? One
place to look is in the vaults of
the Rare Book Department of
Memorial Library. It now
contains over 3,500 volumes of
prose and verse by 750 pre-
20th-century female American
writers. About 120 of their
works were on view from last
fall through early March in a
display called "What Can a
Woman Do?"
   The library's Cairns Collec-
tion of American Women
Writers Through the 19th
Amy Hielsberg does free-lance
writing in Madison.
Mrs. M. L. Rain, author of What Can a Women Do?, 1883.
Century is the only one of its
kind in the nation. Acquisition
began in 1979 with funds pro-
vided by the estate of the late
Prof. William B. Cairns, who
joined the English department
in 1898 and subsequently be-
came wealthy on royalties from
his textbooks and literary histo-
ries. As its title makes clear,
the collection covers much of
the writings of American
women through 1901. (Some
exceptions are items which
would more logically be found
in the files of the State Histori-
cal Society.) It has its stars,
authors for whom virtually all
material is collected. There are
nine of them: Louisa May
Alcott, Anne Bradstreet, Kate
Chopin, Emily Dickinson,
Mary Wilkins Freeman, Mar-
garet Fuller, Charlotte Perkins
Gilman, Sarah Orne Jewett
and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
And it contains such general
reference materials as autobi-
ographies, manuscripts, diaries
and letters, and literary criti-
   Within certain limitations
established by a faculty com-
mittee, purchases are left to the
discretion of Yvonne Schofer,
the library's humanities bibliog-
rapher. "Some material is
available only at a cost of per-

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