Sarah Westphal, who received her PhD from Yale in 1983, was a member of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literature and an affiliate of the Program in Women's Studies at Duke from 1983-1986. In addition to her long academic career as a scholar of medieval German literature, Westphal has spent thirty-five years amassing a collection of over six hundred books written, printed, illustrated, or published by women from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Westphal's particular interest is women in Britain and continental Europe in the eighteenth-century. The collection includes both monumental works such as a beautifully bound first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) to previously unrecorded works and unique manuscript collections.
In Sarah Westphal's own words the collection is "anything and all things that women published or were interested in, especially in the eighteenth century." The collection ranges from literature for children and adults to science, cookery, travel writing, prescriptive literature, political and philosophical treatises, biographies of women by women, and works by women printers and artists. This exhibition includes eighteen items selected by Westphal, each with its own complex story.