12 Portraits: Studies of Women at Yale

Women's Literary & Artistic Creativity in Yale Library Collections

George Miles, Curator, Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Library


When Edith Wharton bequeathed her papers to Yale University Library in 1937, the acquisition of a woman’s personal archive by an academic library was unusual if not unprecedented. It was also a harbinger of a new direction at Yale, a commitment to document women’s literary and artistic creativity.

Building upon relationships they formed before and during World War II, Professor of English and American Studies Norman Holmes Pearson (B.A. 1932, Ph.D. 1941) and Curator of the Yale Collection of American Literature Donald Gallup (B.A. 1934, Ph.D. 1939) would eventually bring to Yale extensive collections documenting the lives and work of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; Georgia O'Keeffe; H.D. and Bryher; Mabel Dodge Luhan; Kathryn Hulme; and others. In the decades since, the University Library and its Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library have built upon these foundations to document the variety and complexity of women’s experiences at Yale and beyond. In the context of the celebration of 50 Women at Yale 150 it seems especially fitting that Beinecke has supported the creation of a suite of photographic portraits that we hope may help reshape campus iconography.

The photographs exhibited here are drawn from a series of twenty large-scale formal portraits of Yale women created by Tanya Marcuse for the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. One set of prints will be available for installation in public and classroom spaces across campus. The second set, along with the artist’s studies and contact sheets, will be preserved and made accessible for study by the Beinecke Library. Beinecke’s support of the project exemplifies Yale University Library’s aspiration to build collections that represent the full range of human experience and creativity.

The Beinecke and the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library at Yale hold an extensive collection of work by Tanya Marcuse (M.F.A. 1990), including Fallen, a portfolio inspired by the biblical story of Eden that explores growth and decay through the lens of a 4 x 5 view camera, and Entries on Eden, a collaboration with her daughter Eve Romm (B.A. 2018). Marcuse’s work is part of one of America’s largest collections of work by women photographers, built upon the pioneering collections of Peter Palmquist and Julia Driver as well as hundreds of discrete accessions made over more than a quarter-century. From Julia Margaret Cameron to Inge Morath and Laura McPhee, the history of women and photography has become one of the great strengths of the Yale University Library collections.