By Sarah Palmer, ProQuest Customer Experience Team Lead
Famous and well-known women are represented throughout the various collections in ProQuest History Vault. In these digital archives, you can encounter Jane Addams, Clara Barton, and Mary McLeod Bethune. These women, in the course of their everyday lives, also helped to advance the role of women in today’s society. They spark conversation and questions, and perhaps make you want a time machine to go back in history and take them out for a cup of coffee.
A researcher browsing in ProQuest’s primary sources and digital archives will also meet more everyday women like "Miss Tang," Mrs. Anne Poss, Mrs. Letitia Baldrige, and Mary (Ware) Dennett.
Tang Wen-Sheng, also known as Miss Tang, served as an interpreter for Prime Minister Chou En-lai and was present during President Nixon’s only meeting with Mao during his trip to China in 1972. Miss Tang must have been American-born (additional research in History Vault shows her visiting New York with the Prime Minister, and indicating she attended primary school in the United States), because during the conversation with Mao, Kissinger and Nixon joked that Miss Tang could run for President of the United States. Mao replied that “It would be very dangerous if you have such a candidate.” What did Mao mean by this? This raises many other questions, too: How did she get the interpreter job in the first place? Did she enjoy it? Also, if she was American-born, but worked for the Prime Minister, was she a member of the Communist party?
Mrs. Anne Poss is another woman who came in contact with Nixon. She wrote to Nixon in 1971 to tell him about the opportunities available to people in the United States. In her words, she said, “If a poor southern housewife who has never had an income of over $3,000 a year, and whose husband is disabled, can go back and get a degree, then it seems ridiculous for anyone to say that they have never had a chance.” She noted in her letter that at the age of 53, she earned a college degree, that she would begin teaching soon, and requested that Nixon attend her graduation. While the President couldn’t make the ceremony, he did call her to offer congratulations. What made her go to college? Her husband, a WWII veteran, had gone blind, yet she pushed herself to earn a B.A. in English (with a minor in French!).
Letitia Baldrige is better known because of her employer, Jacqueline Kennedy. Letitia Baldrige served as Social Secretary for Kennedy, and went on to author both etiquette books as well as a book about Mrs. Kennedy. Ms. Baldridge was tasked with guest lists, travel planning, and general administration, to handle the social requests made of the President and the First Lady. Her files in History Vault provide a fascinating insight into the social side of the White House. In one memo to the First Lady, from 1962, Letitia informs her that “We have to push 10,000 buttons and bells on your trip to India and Pak. Everyone awaiting breathlessly—cable traffic stopped, etc.” In another memo, she made a guest list and notes: “Below is a list of names I have compiled in honor of the Vice President for the February 20th dinner Chief Justice, and Speaker. I made up the list on the basis of fresh faces. All are people who have never been in the White House before…”
Mary (Ware) Dennett helped women by fighting for the right for family planning. One letter to her in 1928 (with name redacted from the record, due to the nature of the request for birth control), asked for information because she and her husband already had a child, but no income at the time, and wanted to wait a few years before they had another child. The woman stressed that she believed in “less babies and better babies.”
There are many more examples in History Vault of everyday women going about their lives and, by their actions, showing what women can accomplish. While they may not all make headlines, or perform grand gestures, their stories are often the ones we may find most interesting… because we can identify with them.
Discover more with first-hand accounts in ProQuest History Vault modules, including the Struggle for Women’s Rights - Organizational Records, 1880–1990; and Women’s Studies Manuscript; and the Collections from the Schlesinger Library - Voting Rights, National Politics, and Reproductive Rights.
Librarians: Learn more and sign up for free trials of ProQuest History Vault and complementary resources during Women’s History Month.
-- ProQuest History Vault: Vietnam War and American Foreign Policy, 1960–1975, Richard M. Nixon National Security Files, 1969-1974, Asia: Office Files of Henry A. Kissinger, “President Nixon talks with Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai in China,” February 1972.
-- ProQuest History Vault: American Politics and Society from Kennedy to Watergate, Papers of the Nixon White House, Part 6: The President's Office Files, Series A: Documents Annotated by the President, 1969-1974, “Documents annotated by President Nixon,” May 22, 1971 - May 31, 1971.
-- ProQuest History Vault: American Politics and Society from Kennedy to Watergate, President John F. Kennedy's Office Files, 1961-1963, Part 2: Staff Memoranda File, “Letitia Baldrige staff memoranda file,” January 1, 1962 - December 31, 1962.
-- ProQuest History Vault: Women's Studies Manuscript Collections from the Schlesinger Library: Voting Rights, National Politics, and Reproductive Rights, Mary (Ware) Dennett, 1872-1947: Papers, 1874-1945, Series IV. Birth Control and Sex Education, “Requests for information on birth control,” January 1, 1928 - June 30, 1928.