General, Source, Women's History

19th Century Women – Possessions, Photographs, Posters & Postcards …



The University of Wisconsin-Madison, has launched an important collection of 19th and early 20th century women’s everyday possessions. Situated online through the University Library, the Dovie Horvitz Collection of objects and printed works came  into being through the dedicated work of Illinois-based collector Dovie Horvitz. Women’s Studies Librarian Emerita Phyllis Holman Weisbard writes that the collection ‘comprises photographs of women’s everyday possessions, as well as numerous digitized texts (magazines, books, postcards, posters and more)’. Dovie Horvitz ‘hopes to find an institutional home for the entire collection some day’ and, adds Phyllis Holman, ‘perhaps the presence of the photographs and digitized works will spark that interest’.

As Phyllis Holman Weisbard reports:

Objects in the collection include clothing (dresses, hosiery, bustles, garters, swimwear, undergarments, aprons, and more), accessories such as shoes and boots, hats, gloves, purses, fans, handkerchiefs, furs, and parasols; menstrual and other health products; cosmetic and grooming its, powders, and related make-up items; dresser sets (combs and brushes); curling irons and other hair care devices; perfumes; boudoir pillow covers; eye glasses; and exercise equipment. The printed matter includes numerous women’s magazines, Sunday supplement illustrations, sheet music about women, suffrage postcards, World War I and II posters, photographs of teen parties, and pamphlets about sex, health, and menstruation. Page after page of ad-filled women’s magazines, as well as pckaging elements such as hairnet envelopes, hosiery, handkerchief and hat boxes, constitute an important part of the collection …


The majority of items are American in origin. However, some come from elsewhere, with a set of suffrage postcards from the United Kingdom and several other items from France, Germany or the United Kingdom.  This should not be surprising, because the 19th century saw women travelling all over the world in pursuit of sisterhood and Women’s Movements ideals. US journalist Jessie Ackerman visited Australia so often that she has been labelled a major force in the Australian women’s struggle for the vote. As WCTU world representative, she spent three months in South Australia having travelled via Aotearoa/New Zealand. The following year she returned to Australia, building on her earlier work in supporting the antipodean arms of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and in 1891 becoming inaugural president of the federated Australasian WCTU – at the time ‘Austalia’s largest women’s reform group’. In 1893 she was back in Australia, then was off to Europe, living in London and returning to Australia in May 1907 as world president of an Anglican organisation, the Girl’s Realm Guild of Service. In 1910 she returned to work in Western Australia for the Australian Women’s National League as a political organiser. In 1913 her book ‘Australia From a Woman’s Point of View’ was published. As Ian Tyrell in the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on Jessie Ackerman says:

… record[ing] her forthright impressions of her Australian W.C.T.U. work and travels, and … a significant commentary on the position of women in Australia in the early twentieth century. By the time she moved to Johnson City, Tennessee, in the 1920s she claimed she had circumnavigated the globe eight times.

Returning to the Dovie Horvitz Collection, for information and ease of reference, each object comes with a description and metadata. Phyllis Holman notes that as far as possible, LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) and AAT (Art & Archicture Thesaurus Online) have been used for descriptors, however:

… some of the objects had no obvious heading in either system. That says something about women’s things …

Phyllis Holman concludes that the Collection:

… seems of most immediate interest to women’s history classes, but American literature, communication arts (especially marketing), medical history, design, and other fields should also find it useful …

And, as she says: ‘It is also simply a pleasure to browse!’

DOVIEHORPhyllis Holman Weisbard TZdh0087l-300x190


Compiled by Jocelynne A. Scutt from material provided

by Phyllis Holman and Dovie Horvitz (c) October 2014

Note: The fully searchable and browsable online collection homepage is at

An article about the collection is at

Phyllis Holman Weisbard, Women’s Studies Librarian Emerita,<>




Blair’s Snow White bleaching cream 2010.29.3b

From the Dovie Horvitz Collection / UW Digital Collections


Bum pad, ca. 1877
2010.1.2 From the Dovie Horvitz Collection / UW Digital Collections


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