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Searching for Women in the National Register

Clara Endicott Sears Early preservationist Clara Endicott Sears, c. 1940
Photographs courtesy of Fruitlands Museum
Documentation on properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places is a rich source of information about the contributions of women in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. The National Register includes properties associated with women--some famous and some lesser-known--who made outstanding achievements in fields as diverse as education, literature, science, business, industrial design, civil rights, sculpture, painting, philanthropy, medicine, religion, architecture, and many other endeavors. With nearly 70,000 listings by 1998, the National Register is the only source of information on historic places of national, state and local significance nationwide. It is the singular inventory that recognizes historic and cultural units of the National Park System, National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) designated by the Secretary of the Interior, and places nominated by States, federal agencies and American Indian tribes. A computerized index to listings, the National Register Information System (NRIS), contains about 45 data elements which can be queried individually or in a variety of combinations to find listings associated with women. Instructions for using the NRIS are available from the National Register's web site (www.cr.nps.gov/nr/nrhome), and information from both the NRIS and the National Register files can be obtained on request.

A search of the significant persons field is among the most useful. When the queries for this analysis were made, the NRIS showed 9,820 listings associated with significant persons, 15% of the total listings. About 360 (under 4%) of these were women. Researchers can query the names of women of interest and then use the NRIS record on each listing and the National Register or NHL file to obtain more detailed information.

The significant person field can be searched by the name of any individual. For example, researchers on Clara Barton will find four listings, each illustrating the life and impact of this impressive woman in a different way: Clara Barton Homestead; St. Mary's Church; Clara Barton National Historic Site (a National Historic Landmark and one of the five units of the National Park System primarily about women); and the Clara Barton Parkway.

Searching the significant persons field, researchers will have no trouble finding registered historic places for famous women whose contributions are well known like Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Mary McLeod Bethune, Helen Keller, Annie Oakley, or Eleanor Roosevelt. The places that were important in their lives and illuminate their contributions in unique and revealing ways are represented in the National Register.

A sampling gives some indication of the breadth of the National Register's recognition of women's achievements.

  • The Hulda Klager Lilac Garden in Washington state was the private laboratory and showplace of the nationally recognized horticulturist, a leading authority on the hybridizing of lilacs, who developed over 250 varieties.

  • Sarah Clark Case of the Daniel Case/Sarah Case Farmstead was the first licensed woman physician in Hunterdon County and one of the first in New Jersey when she was granted her medical license in 1816.

  • Susan Blow helped create the Des Peres School in St. Louis, the first successful public kindergarten in the United States.

  • The most famous resident of Casa de los Ponce de Leon in Puerto Rico was the 19th century poetess and educator, Lola Rodriquez Ponce de Leon.

  • Arden served as the California residence of well known Polish Shakespearean actress, Helena Modjeska.

  • The Montanez Adobe chapel became the village sanctuary and its owner, Polina Montanez, the spiritual leader of the community in San Juan Capistrano, also in California.

    A search of the National Registers records will identify numerous other women worthy of further study whose achievements are not yet well documented in women's history publications.

    Carol D. Shull
    Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places

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Last Modified: Monday, 30-Mar-98 15:42:58EST