Posted on March 14 2018 by The College Women Project Team

Using the Site: The College Women "Themes"

Basketball at Radcliffe
Basketball at Radcliffe College,


While browsing the site, users may have noticed the option to search or filter by ThemeThemes is a custom metadata field developed by the College Women project team, which is intended to facilitate better curatorial connections between our materials and to enable scholars and students to easily pull together related results. The terms describe commonly occurring broad subjects that emerge across the collections. Most items in College Women have been assigned one or more themes by their contributing institutions. Browsing by theme, or doing an advanced search including a theme, will not necessarily provide an inclusive set of results. Rather, themes are designed to provide examples of the kinds of materials found in our collections grouped by this list of subjects, and an additional avenue for searching and browsing.

As you explore the site you may have questions about why an item is categorized in a certain way. Below is a full list of the themes  definitions, which lay out the exact criteria that the teams at each institution use as guidance:



Items under the Academics theme relate to aspects of students’ academic experience at college in and outside of the classroom. In images, such items might include pictures of students in class, on field trips, studying, or with academic materials prominently featured. In text, items in this category would include mention of academic activities, ambitions, and subjects. In items where references to academics are present but are not the primary focus, such as books visible in a picture without being used, or a depiction of students in a classroom in a context in which academic use of the space is not the focus of the image, the theme does not apply. In text, the theme will apply to substantive discussion of academic subjects or interests but not to off-hand mentions of academic routines such as class attendance or coursework.


Alum Activities

Items in the Alum Activities theme include depiction or mention of events specifically related to connections between graduates and their institutions. Images may depict class reunions, alumnae/i gatherings or meetings, or fundraising directly highlighting alumnae/i. In text, items in this category may include reunion pamphlets/songbooks or letters between alumnae/i and their institution or current students.


Arts, Theater and Music

Items in the Arts, Theater and Music category relate to visual art and design, dance, theater and performance, music, costume, and stagecraft. Images might depict an opening at the campus art gallery, a theatrical performance, an orchestra rehearsal, or a Maypole dance. Other examples include playbills, ticket stubs, and show posters in scrapbooks or photo albums, or diary accounts of visits to the theater or the concert hall.


Athletics and Physical Education

Items in the Athletics and Physical Education theme relate to organized team/single athletic competition and non-competitive sports, as well as physical education. Images may depict team photographs, athletic competitions, calisthenics, or sports play. Text may include essays arguing for or against competitive athletics and/or physical education in women’s education, as well as pamphlets detailing health and wellness as part of women’s education.


Buildings and Grounds

Items under the Buildings and Grounds theme relate to buildings, landscapes, and other features of the natural & built environment on campus. For images, such items might include interior or exterior pictures of dormitories, academic buildings, libraries, gardens, landmarks, land features, athletic facilities, and cafeterias. In text, items in this category might include descriptions of dorm rooms, communal areas, or other public and private spaces. In items where buildings or landmarks are present but not the primary focus, as in a photograph where a dormitory appears in the distant background or a cursory mention of a classroom building in a letter home, the theme does not apply.



Items in the Dress theme relate to clothing and dress as they connect to the social position of women, perceptions of women, or the health and fitness of women. In images, this theme is only applied to items depicting obvious examples of clothing that restricted a woman’s movement, affected her health, or represented a diminished rank. We adhere to the precedent set by the Library of Congress, which specifically removes “costumes and fancy dress” from the subject heading “clothing and dress,” and thus we do not include things such as commencement gowns, ball gowns, academic regalia, and dramatic costume. Further, we consider “fashion” to be a narrower term describing broad trends, and not useful to identify in every image. In text-based materials Dress is applied if clothing is a significant topic in a creator’s life and is described at length in her writing.  


Special Events

Items in the Special Events theme describe planned occasions outside the normal activity of an institution. This includes anniversaries, celebrations of other one-time occurrences/historical moments (humankind landing on the moon), visits from dignitaries, memorial services, etc. Traditions, or events that happened every year, are not included under Special Events. Unplanned events/acts of nature/acts of god are not included in this Theme.


Faculty, Staff and Administrators

Items in the Faculty, Staff and Administrators theme include depiction or mention of these figures, whether they are employed by one of the Seven Sisters colleges or at another institution if they appear in a student’s account. Examples of images in this category include pictures including at least one staff, faculty, or member of the administration, especially those in which their role is contextually important to significance of the image. Textual examples include mentions in a diary, or correspondence with or about, an employee of the college; such as accounts of a conversation with a dean, an anecdote about the college president, reflections on tutelage of a professor, interactions with a member of the housekeeping staff, or other.


Home and Family

Items under the Home and Family theme refer to the relationships that students maintained with their family and places of origin during their undergraduate years. “Home” here refers to the broader concept that includes people from home and the world of the student’s past as well as the physical place or places where she grew up. Examples of images in this category include pictures and keepsakes in scrapbooks or photo albums kept to remind the creator of her home and of friends and family there. Textual examples include substantial mentions of or inquiries after specific friends, neighbors, family members, or hometowns; items in which the inquiry is rote (“send my regards to Aunt Sue”) or made in passing, rather than as a topic of focus, are excluded. Correspondence is not categorized under Home and Family solely because of the identity of the sender or recipient.


Personal Relationships

The Personal Relationships theme is used to identify materials that discuss platonic friendships or romantic relationships to a great extent or in great detail.


Political and Social Activism

The Political and Social Activism theme identifies materials that are related to students’ organizing to create change, whether the causes have national and/or global relevance, are specific to the cultural climate and administrative policies on campus, or both. In text, items in this category include discussion of student clubs formed around specific issues, fundraising drives, political events, or accounts of conversations about politically or socially controversial topics. (Items with cursory political references, such as remarking that it’s an election year without subsequent commentary, are not included in this theme for political mention alone.) In images, example of items in this category include visual documentation of private or public events such as meetings of political groups, protests, or marches; or ephemera related to social or political issues.


Religion and Spirituality

Items under the Religion and Spirituality theme refer to religious and spiritual life, places of worship, activities of faith-based student organizations, and religious or spiritual services and ceremonies on campus. Images under this theme may depict places of worship, religious ceremonies, students at prayer, or religious clothing and dress. In text, items in this category may include reflections on faith, mention of religious observances and tradition, and accounts of church trips or services.


Student Life

Items in the Student Life theme document social and cultural aspects of the student experience, both on-campus and off. This theme covers organized activities, such as events sponsored by student organizations, societies, and clubs, as well as day-to-day goings on, like leisure activities, study sessions, and mealtimes. In images, examples of items under this category include group photos of student societies or depictions of students studying or enjoying a meal together. Other examples include diary accounts of dorm life, correspondence between members of a student organization, and scrapbook memorabilia from trips taken during winter break.  


Tradition and Ritual

The Tradition and Ritual theme includes depictions or descriptions of events or activities that happened seasonally or annually (tree ceremonies, commencement, May pole dances), celebrations of regular events (Washington’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day), and rituals or lore with symbolic meaning and cultural significance specific to the institution that were passed down through generations of students.

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