Information Studies Student Heather Willever-Farr Uncovers Women's Political History

Information studies doctoral student Heather Willever-Farr is working to uncover the stories of the many women who helped to pave the way for the first-ever woman presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, nearly a century ago. 

Willever-Farr, a manager of digital services at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, is contributing her archival expertise to Her Hat Was in the Ring, an ongoing project collecting information concerning women who campaigned for elected public office before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in August of 1920.

According to the project’s website, it is estimated that about 4,000 women either campaigned and/or were elected to more than 60 different political offices between the late 1860s and 1920. As of summer 2016, the project has collected and listed the names of over 3,300 women who participated in over 4,600 campaigns before the fall of 1920.

The project’s data was gathered from print and digital format books (including histories, biographies, biographical dictionaries, county histories, and scholarly interpretations); statistical abstracts, state and federal governmental reports; and primary resources. 

Willever-Farr and her fellow researchers at Her Hat Was in the Ring are also discovering how these women contributed to the rise of the suffrage movement. 

“Suffrage didn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said in a July 24 Philadelphia Inquirer story. “Our hope is to unearth those intersections between political rights for women and social and cultural movements where they are trying to support women.”

As the Inquirer article notes, Willever-Farr uncovered Drexel University’s deep connections to the U.S.  women’s suffrage movement, including participation from the University’s alumni association (which endorsed the movement), faculty members and students (one of whom, Ann Preston, was connected to Susan B. Anthony). 

The project, consisting of researchers within Philadelphia-area academic institutions (including Bryn Mawr College and Swarthmore College), recently secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to educate the public about women in politics and other notable women in throughout American history.

Willever-Farr’s research
focuses on peer history production communities and how they collaboratively build online archives. Her research has implications for archival participatory practice and provides a foundation for the design of systems that support archives users as consumers and producers of historical materials. 

In addition to completing a graduate study in the history of science and medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,  she earned a master of arts degree in American history from The American University and a bachelor of arts in history (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from McDaniel College.

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