Masthead: The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project

Documentary Editing

What Is It and Why Is It Needed?

Articles from the Project Newsletter

Without the editors, there were no papers.

Started in 1982, this project published a microfilm edition of 14,000 documents in 1991, after nine years of searching for documents across the U.S. and Europe as well as in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. That search continues, even now, while the project is publishing volumes of documents selected from the comprehensive collection.

Our first objective as an editorial project was to compile—for the first time ever—the documents created by the two foremost advocates of woman suffrage in the United States. Historians and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission recognized that history of national significance could not be understood because the primary sources were unidentified and uncollected. A description of where the editors found the papers they published in 1991 will make clear why the task was beyond the capabilities of individual historians and biographers.

The collection of 14,000 documents is made up in equal parts of manuscripts and printed materials. To amass the manuscripts, the editors culled the holdings of 202 libraries and government offices. Three dozen private collectors allowed the editors to include items they owned in the edition. In addition, documents were located in 671 different periodicals and newspapers. Some of these titles were searched issue by issue; others were checked for a specific date that the editors identified in the course of their work.

The need to compile from disparate collections carried over, too, into the task of assembling a complete run of the newspaper that Stanton and Anthony published from 1868 to 1871. Not one library or private collector owned all the issues published, and only by combining the holdings of two libraries and one collector could we make available a complete set.

New finds, located since publication of the microfilm edition in 1991, not only increase the total number of documents, they also add to the number of different places where Stanton's and Anthony's papers came to rest. To date, seven new manuscript collectors have made available copies of their acquisitions, in addition to new copies arriving from collectors who contributed previously. Printed documents from twenty new newspaper titles are also on hand, and four libraries unrepresented in the 1991 collection have acquired or located manuscripts.

Collection is not the sum total of the editor's contribution. Manuscripts fragmented into more than one library were reassembled; mislabeled clippings and manuscripts were identified; and the editors managed to date nearly every document they found, despite the absence of dates on every single Stanton manuscript and on many clippings retained in Anthony's scrapbooks.

The service this kind of search and compilation provides for researchers is summed up well in the acknowledgements written by ABC-News correspondent Lynn Sherr in her book, Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words (New York, 1995), 332.

The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, with accompanying Guide and Index, is an extraordinary work: forty-five reels of microfilm detailing the lives, careers, and relationships of these outspoken and well-traveled women. To the editors, Patricia G. Holland and Ann D. Gordon, should go the thanks and support of every woman in America. The compilation is so complete, only rarely did I have to go to another source for information.”