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Detail from scrapbook cover

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Nineteenth-Century Women's Scrapbooks from Special Collections

June, 2019

In 19th-century England, scrapbooking was a popular pastime for women of means. The craft has most often been associated with women and domestic matters from this era when the role of women was centered on care of family and home. This perspective persisted at least through the mid-20th century.

The Victorian propensity for memory saving (from alba amicorum to memento mori), and fondness for classifying and preserving information and experiences in albums, Wardian cases, and such, significantly contributed to the legacy of collecting. After all, this was the era of the Great Exhibition in London (in 1851) which was a showcase on the grandest scale for not only innovations but trophies and memorabilia of all kinds.

Scrapbooks were often keepsake albums for a woman’s own sketches and verses; as well as for those drawn and written by friends and others. As examples of material culture, scrapbooks remind us that history is made and lived by actual individuals. They invite sensory experience and unfiltered interpretation. With each century, there has been an increasing loss of the ability to use the full range of our perceptive senses, especially with the ubiquity of mass media telling us what to see, think, and feel. Items collected and preserved in such keepsake albums provide a 3-D insight into the habits and times of the individuals who crafted them.

There is a scene in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre that is a wonderful illustration of the connection between fiction and reality, when Jane’s stepsisters Eliza and Georgiana ask her to contribute sketches to their keepsake albums:

They both seemed surprised at my skill. I offered to sketch their portraits; and each, in turn, sat for a pencil outline. Then Georgiana produced her album. I promised to contribute a water-colour drawing: this put her at once in good humor. ..."  (Chapter 21)

Here are two gems from the women’s collections at the Booth Family Center:

 

19th-century Cherished Memories Album

Woman’s 19th-century scrapbook: “Cherished Memories” (GTM170130). An example of a pre-printed scrapbook belonging to Miss Teresa Doherty. Includes associations to Irish author Mary Sadlier.

 19th-century woman's scrapbook cover

poem from woman's 19th century scrapbook

Sketch from woman's 19th century scrapbook

Woman’s 19th-century scrapbook (GTM150615). A scrapbook belonging to a British woman, containing cut silhouettes, paste-in watercolors and pencil sketches regarding a European tour and her trip to South America.

Lisette Matano, Manuscripts Archivist