Mrs. Holden was born Miriam Young in Boston in 1893. She graduated from Miss Mary's School and attended Simmons College. After marrying Arthur Holden, she moved to New York City, where she and her husband had three children. She was active in such diverse organizations as the Junior League, the New York Urban League, family-planning groups, and settlement-house work. She was also on the advisory boards of the Women's Archives at Radcliffe College and the friends of the Columbia University Libraries, and co-authored The American Woman in Colonial and Revolutionary Times, 1565-1800.
A generation ago, long before women's studies became a burning issue, Miriam Holden had already amassed one of the country's great private libraries on the history of women. In 1960, she noted in a speech to fellow bibliophiles that "throughout the ages men have recorded with care the achievements of men, and yet kept all too few records of the story of women." She found this to be true, she said, when her son brought home his American history text. “The whole book contained only one mention of a woman. There was a picture of Dolly Madison with the caption; she was the charming wife of a president.”
And so, "to reveal women's part in the making of long history," she assembled a remarkable collection of books periodicals, manuscripts, clippings, photographs, cartoons, letters, and other materials about women and their achievements. After her death in 1977, her husband, Arthur C. Holden '12, presented this trove of 6,000 volumes to
The collection is particularly strong in biographies of notable women of the past: Jenny Lind, Amelia Earhart, Joan of Arc, Mrs. Gladstone, Fanny Burney, Margaret Bourke-White, Kate Greenaway, Clara Barton, Simone Weil, Harriet Martineau, Hannah More, the Song sisters and many others. A casual browser will find here the diary of Tolstoy's wife, the journal of Beatrix Potter, a book on Whaling Wives.
The most valuable and fragile items have been placed in the Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts in Firestone Library. The materials include the original women's rights pamphlets by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone; the records of Neshoba, a New Harmony-like community established by Francis Wright at Neshoba, Tennessee, for Black people in 1837; copies of the Lowell Offering, a magazine of compositions written by girls who worked in the Lowell mills in the 1840's; a 1788 edition of the Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollenstonecraft; and works by Hroswitha, canoness of the Benedictine Monastery of Gandersheim, Saxony, in the 10th century. Users are encouraged to consult the finding aid, The Miriam Y. Holden Collection, 1789-1978 (bulk 1930-1969).