Skip to Main Content

Smith College Archives biographical research resources

Sources in the College Archives for biographical research

Finding Material

Finding Aids are collection guides for each record group. They list material in boxes, usually organized in series of like materials. Materials are most often described at the folder level, not the item level. If you would like to know more about the contents of a folder, you can email

In each individual collection page, you can search the collection using the navigation bar on the right of the screen (or at the bottom depending on your screen size). You can search within that collection using the search bar or you can browse by expanding the different headings in the navigation bar.

One last option is to search associated names, events, organizations, locations, etc. in the main finding aid page for all Smith College Special Collections ( navigation bar and see what comes up.

Search Tips:

  • To search an exact phrase, use double quotes. (e.g. "Mountain Day" or “Smith College Class of 1922”)
  • Searches are not case sensitive.
  • To exclude a term from your search, put a minus sign in front of it. (For example, the search “social work” -school will find materials with the phrase “social work” but without the word school.)
  • A search for w*m*n will give you results with "woman" "women" "womyn" "wimmin", etc.
  • Create advanced searches by clicking the + button to add a new line to your search.
  • Use the sections in the top bar to browse repositories, collections, digital objects, etc.

Types of primary sources

Primary sources may be in their original format or may have been reproduced, for example as a book, microfilm collection, video, or on the Internet. All of these formats except Internet sources can be found by searching library catalogs (see search strategies below).

Before you start searching it may be useful to find some background information on your topic.

Type of Primary Source   Search Strategy
page of convention pamphlet, 1848
1848 pamphlet
[click image to enlarge]
Books from the time period you're writing about
  • Search the Five College Library Catalog by subject or keyword
  • You may also search by author if you have a specific person or organization in mind
  • Limit by publication date (on the advanced search screen) for a more precise search
  • But, use publication dates with caution! You’ll lose primary source material published as a reprint or at a later date
page from desk diary of Margaret Sanger, 1937Page from desk diary of Margaret Sanger, 1937
[click image to enlarge]
Published memoirs, letters, interviews, autobiographies, diaries – and manuscript collections
  • If you have a specific person in mind, search the Five College Library Catalog by author
  • If you do not have a specific person in mind, search the Five College Library Catalog using subject keyword and add one of the subheadings below:
    • correspondence
    • diaries
    • interviews
    • personal narrative
    • sources
    • Example: subject keywords: japanese americans interview
  • You may also string these subheadings together in a keyword search: freedmen and (correspondence or diaries or interviews or personal narratives or sources)
cover of Ms. Magazine, July 1972
Cover of Ms Magazine, July 1972
[click image to enlarge]
Magazine, journal, or newspaper article from the time period you're writing about
  • Use one of the library’s many article databases (which one you use will depend on the time period and geographic area of interest)
  • In particular, try some of the databases on the Magazines, Journals, Newspapers tab or Books and more tab of this guide.
  • Note that Smith also has many 18th, 19th, and 20th century magazines in print
  • Ask a librarian for suggestions on these and additional sources
House Report 60-783 to establish a Women's Bureau
House Report on Women's Bureau
[click image to enlarge]
Records of government agencies


Thank you, UC Berkeley! We would like to thank the UC Berkeley libraries for allowing us to use and adapt their excellent guide, Library Research: Finding Primary Sources, on which this page is based.

More search advice

Five College Library Catalog

Search the Five College Library Catalog


Advanced Search