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How Our Volunteers Shed Light on Women’s History

Autographed posed photo of Sally Ride. She wears a polo with a NASA patch and a Challenger patch. She stands in front of an American flag.

Astronaut Sally Ride. NASA.

By Caitlin Haynes, coordinator of the Smithsonian Transcription Center 


What was life like for American teenagers in the 1800s? What types of beauty products did women use in the 1910s? How much math do you really need to know to become a NASA astronaut? The answers to these questions and more are held within the Smithsonian's collections. But with millions of historical items within our museums, finding this information can be challenging. That's where you can play a part. Digital volunteers in the Smithsonian's Transcription Center help unlock the Smithsonian's historical materials. And you can join in!

Black and white composition book with two NASA stickers on it. The first sticker is a photo of Challenger with the names of 5 astronauts at the bottom. The second sticker has a large American flag with the names of 8 astronauts at the bottom.
Notebook used by astronaut Sally Ride, transcribed by Transcription Center volunteers. National Air and Space Museum.

Transcription—the process of typing out the words written on a document—makes the text on each historical page easier to read and search online. As the Coordinator of the Transcription Center, I get to work with more than 18,000 people around the world to transcribe historic diaries, letters, and magazines. Together, we're helping everyone learn more about the past.  

For Women's History Month, Transcription Center volunteers transcribed more than 4,000 pages of material from women artists, scientists, and leaders. Included were notes from astronaut Sally Ridepersonal letters and girlhood diaries from the 1880s to the 1950s, and advertisements for hair cream in the early 1900s. By transcribing and reviewing these documents, Transcription Center volunteers helped share the contributions of women and girls throughout history. Now, anyone interested can learn more about Sally Ride's experience as the first American woman in space. They can also read through the (relatable) highs and lows of teenage friendship in the 1880s diary of artist Olive Rush.  

Transcription of handwritten notebook page. Transcription says, "I went to school, had the blues all morning. Some of the girls were mad at me. Ollie Scott was awful good to me today. I believe she is the best girl that goes to school."
Transcription Center Volunteers helped decipher the handwriting of artist Olive Rush. Smithsonian Transcription Center.

Want to join the effort to share women's history? Head to the Transcription Center to explore projects from around the Smithsonian and start transcribing!


Caitlin Haynes works as the coordinator of the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Haynes collaborates with digital volunteers and Smithsonian colleagues to explore, improve, and share the Institution's historical collections.

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