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Women's History at RBSC

A guide to women's archival materials at UBC's Rare Books and Special Collections



UBC’s Rare Books & Special Collections (RBSC) has long been collecting materials related to the fascinating histories of women. This guide compiles over 140 collections featuring women’s materials and intends to highlight, celebrate, and make known the rich contributions of women to the historical record. Much like the women themselves, the materials are representative of colorful and varied slices of human life. They tell the stories of women from a variety of ages, locations, time periods, and experiences—be it professional, domestic, artistic, political, etc.   

To explore the guide, click through the themes included on the menu at the left of the page. The themes were chosen as broad categories to which the fonds relate. Categorizing these multifaceted subjects proved to be a difficult task, resulting in some of the fonds being included within multiple themes because the women’s materials in them cross over multiple categories. Whether you’re searching for something specific or just browsing, we hope you enjoy learning about the intriguing women represented in our collection.

From diaries of homemakers to drafts of novels and poems, from travel documents to administrative records of feminist organizations, the materials included in this guide reflect an important group of voices that deserve to be amplified. Going forward, RBSC will do its best to continue to collect women’s materials and make their contributions known.

Acknowledgment of Systemic Bias

The library and archival materials at Rare Books and Special Collections reflect the history of British Columbia, including its history of colonization, patriarchy, and racism. The majority of materials included in this guide were created by upper and middle class white women, reflecting the dominant power structures and systemic biases in place in our history. Others were created by women of colour, Black women, and Indigenous women, as well as women of different socio-economic and racial-ethnic backgrounds working together in women-focused organizations and associations. It is also important to note that, due to the time period that most of the materials were created in, the label of “woman” as included here is gendered along dualistic distinctions that often fail to recognize the nonbinary reality of the world we live in with its many unique experiences of womanhood.

Selecting, arranging, describing, and providing access to archival records is a substantial responsibility because it helps shape public memory based on what is chosen to be preserved and highlighted. Here at RBSC, we recognize that such power must be wielded in an actively feminist, anti-racist, and decolonial way in order to cease perpetuating systemic injustices. We are currently working toward the goal of being more representative and balanced in our collections so that our holdings will reflect the richness and truth of the human experience, free from the harmful limitations of prejudice. 

This guide and the materials in our collections are growing and changing; if you have feedback or comments for us please get in touch with us via this form or by emailing Krisztina LaszloRBSC Archivist, at

Featured Collection

Lilian Bland on horseback, jumping over a fence

Lilian Blank holding her model airplane

Lilian Bland fonds

Lilian Emily Bland was born in September 1878 in Kent, England. Today, she is widely recognized as the first woman to design, construct, and fly her own aircraft. She was also an avid photographer, journalist, markswoman, equestrian, and motorist as well as an early settler of Northern Vancouver Island. As a young adult, Lilian journeyed around Europe, studying musical and visual arts along the way. In September 1909, she began modeling an idea for a biplane called the Mayfly, which she began to build in November. The plane flew successfully for approximately 10 metres and she thus became the first woman to design and fly her own aircraft. In 1912, she moved to Quatsino in Northern Vancouver Island, B.C., where she spent the next several years making a life for her daughter and husband, raising livestock, farming, making wine, and selling goods. After separating from her husband, she returned to England in 1934.

The fonds consists of 1,398 glass plate negatives, glass lantern slides, celluloid prints, and Lilian’s unpublished memoir. The photographs reflect the varied and unique life of Lilian and her family. Photographic subjects include: the Mayfly bi-plane; horseback riding and racing; family photographs; bird watching; her travels in Europe, California, and British Columbia; and her years spent as a settler living on the Quatsino Sound in Vancouver Island.

Image source (left): Lilian side-saddle clearing gate. (n.d.). [Photograph]. Lilian Bland fonds (RBSC-ARC-1792-PH-225). UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections. Vancouver, Canada.

Image source (right): Lilian holding model to side. (n.d.). [Photograph]. Lilian Bland fonds (RBSC-ARC-1792-PH-460). UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections. Vancouver, Canada.