Female Imprimatur: Women in the Lawbook Trade Rare Book Room Exhibit Cover

This exhibit was inspired by the 100th anniversary in August 2020 of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted suffrage to some—though certainly not all—American women. In the summer before the anniversary, Rare Books Curator Laurel Davis, Professor Mary Bilder, and Associate Law Librarian Helen Lacouture went digging into our special collections to find lawbooks with imprints featuring women printers and booksellers.

Historian Maureen Bell writes that “the existence of the man effectively blots out any record of activity by the woman” regardless of her involvement. Therefore, it typically was only after the death or incapacity of a printer or bookseller husband (or other male relative) that women’s names appeared on title pages. Additionally, book imprints often just use initials, making it difficult to identify traditionally female names. Despite these challenges, we were overwhelmed by our findings!

The exhibit covers around 20 female printers and booksellers and reaches back 500 years. Through dozens of books in our collection, we explore this fascinating industry where some women were able to gain a foothold and thrive professionally, even as far back as the early 16th century. You’ll learn about entrepreneurial widows, women in printing families, the law patent, the Stationers’ Company, the great law printer Elizabeth Nutt, and more.

The exhibit was curated by Laurel Davis and Professor Mary Bilder and will remain on view through Spring 2021. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Rare Book Room is generally open only to members of the law school community and visitors who go through the university’s clearance protocols. Current hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m, though they are subject to change. Contact Laurel Davis with any inquiries. Please enjoy the images below, along with the exhibit catalog. Keep an eye out for the videos on the Law Library’s Instagram, @bclawlibrary.

Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room


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Past Exhibits