PHILADELPHIA, PA   The discovery and settlement of the Americas is a history not often considered from a woman’s perspective.  This fall, the Penn Libraries is proud to have acquired a unique collection of fiction from Penn alumna, Caroline Schimmel (CW’67), which captures, in women’s words, their story of the settling of the American wilderness in North and South America and the Poles.

Ms. Schimmel developed the Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness over a forty-five year period.  The donation to the Penn Libraries comprises over 6,000 works of fiction – novels, short stories, poetry and song – written for adults, works by Native Americans, and works for children.  The Penn gift features several authors of significance and many now neglected or forgotten. Notably, authors included in Ms. Schimmel’s collection include, in most cases, all published editions of an author’s works. For example, she has acquired over 180 editions of Willa Cather’s published novels.  Her gift will includes other interesting gems such as spurious Indian captivities of women; board games (with Annie Oakley and Nelly Bly); film posters; folklore of Native Americans and of post-plantation African Americans recorded by female anthropologists; and modern murder mysteries set in such present day wildernesses as the National Parks and Alaska.

When asked to reflect on the impetus for her gift, Ms. Schimmel stated, “Penn has shown itself to be a forward-thinking institution that truly understands the value of sharing these voices – the voices of women – that have been mostly silent in the story of the Americas.”  She added, “Many historians denigrate the role of fiction, but I think this collection shows how this genre has been a unique teaching tool for how children and adults understand the settling of the American wilderness.  The perception derived by Americans from these works of fiction is a valid historical point of view and one that I hope will be explored more broadly at Penn. I hope that I am only a small brick in the wall of women in the Americas, and hope that this gift will inspire other Penn women to collect women’s histories of all kinds and donate those treasures to Penn.”

“Acquiring the fiction portion of the Women in the American Wilderness collection is truly a transformational gift for the Penn community,” shared Carton Rogers, Director and Vice Provost of the Penn Libraries. “There is no other collection of its kind in American institutions that documents, to this level, women’s perspectives on the settling of the Americas.  It is also a wonderful complement to our other collections.  We are truly honored and hope that this will be a valuable resource for those studying women’s studies, American history, pioneer life, popular culture and more.”

Ms. Schimmel is one of the last graduates of the former Columbia University Library School.  She is an elected member of the Grolier Club, the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorers Club.  She is a full-time book collector and bibliographer.  Her passion for her subject, inspired in the late 1960s by the women’s movement, and her training as a rare book librarian, have contributed to the development of her remarkable collection.  In addition to the fiction Ms. Schimmel has just given to Penn, she has collected roughly fifteen thousand non-fiction works that document female accounts of settling the west, exploration and science in the wilderness, local histories, cookery, and Native American women.  Ms. Schimmel remains an active collector and intends to continue adding to the Penn collection.

Members of the Penn community can access the Women in The American Wilderness collection at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.


About the Penn Libraries
The Penn Libraries serve the world-class faculty and students of Penn’s 12 schools. The Libraries’ collections comprise more than 7 million volumes, over 100,000 journals, some 2 million digitized images, and extraordinary rare and unique materials that document the intellectual and cultural experience of ancient and modern civilizations. Through our collaborative relationships, we supplement Penn’s great local collections with physical access to the Center for Research Libraries (approximately 5 million items), the combined holdings of the Ivies (more than 70 million volumes), and exclusive electronic access to some 2 million public domain titles in the HathiTrust. Today, the Libraries play an instrumental role in developing new technologies for information discovery and dissemination and are noted for groundbreaking work in digital library design.  To learn more about the Penn Libraries, visit

About the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
The Kislak Center is a vibrant space that brings together people, technology and unique content.  Located on the top floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, it was redesigned in 2013 to allow several different groups to interact with objects of study simultaneously, increasing the use of primary resources in the University’s curriculum and access to the Libraries’ resources for the larger scholarly community.  Today the Kislak Center encompasses the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Furness Memorial Shakespeare Library, the Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. To learn more about the Kislak Center, visit