PUL identifies women in the Latin America manuscripts collections, securing a place in history

Dominga Ortiz

Dominga Ortiz Orzúa (1792-1875), wife of Venezuelan President José Antonio Páez

In fall 2020, Princeton University Library (PUL)’s Inclusive Description Working Group (IDWG) sought to identify 82 unnamed women in the Latin America manuscripts collections.

Processing Archivist Chloe Pfendler and Manuscripts Division Archival Resident Carolina Meneses led the research on these women who had been referred to by only their husband’s name or some other familial association. Meneses scoured the archive itself, genealogical sites, and various sources, such as the NYT obituary, to ultimately identify and secure a place in history for 14 women.

“Even though these unnamed women were erased from history, I found it really interesting that we could find them later through various associations,” says Meneses. “I enjoyed the opportunity to do that work.”

One woman Meneses identified is María del Rosario Páez de Llamosas, the daughter of José Antonio Páez, former Venezuelan president and military leader who fought for Venezuela's independence from Spain. Meneses discovered her name through a blog post about her mother, Dominga Ortiz Orzúa. 

Another recently named woman is Josefina Lozano, the mother of Octavio Paz (1914-1988), a renowned Mexican poet. “The mother figure in Paz's poetry is complex and autobiographical in nature,” says Meneses, “and I think we could learn more about Josefina through studying his poetry more closely.”

According to Pfendler: “These women are no longer obscured by outdated naming conventions. Ultimately, this work facilitates better use of our collections.”

What might we learn about these identified women? What was their significance and influence in history? Researchers now have more opportunity to seek answers to these questions. 

“Within the entire archive profession, there is a push to be more inclusive, to address past wrongs in descriptions that obscured and limited knowledge pertaining to historically marginalized individuals and groups,” says Pfendler. “Princeton is making headway in conjunction with our peers.”

Related articles: PUL’s inclusive description working group shares progress on effort to describe collections accurately, respectfully; Mudd Library symposium focuses on revealing underrepresented demographics in Special Collections

Published on March 5, 2021

Written by Emily Judd, Publicity Manager

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications