Unveiling the Forgotten Records: The 1917 Registration of Women and its Significance forFamily Historians


In 1917, the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense undertook a remarkable initiative that forever altered the historical landscape of women’s contributions in the United States. The registration of women conducted during that year was a groundbreaking effort, representing the largest census of women in American history. Nearly 4 million women were registered, providing invaluable insight into their lives during a transformative period. Today, the registration cards from this event serve as essential resources for family historians, enabling them to unlock a more enriched narrative of their female ancestors.

A Glimpse into History

The registration of women in 1917 captured a crucial moment in time when women’s roles were rapidly evolving due to World War I. These registration cards are like time capsules, offering an intimate window into the lives, aspirations, and challenges faced by women from various walks of life. They reveal information such as names, addresses, marital status, occupations, skills, and insight into their health, painting a vivid picture of women’s circumstances in 1917.

Unveiling Hidden Stories

For family historians, these registration cards provide a unique opportunity to rediscover the narratives of their female ancestors. By examining the cards, researchers can piece together a more comprehensive understanding of their family’s history. The occupation recorded on the card might shed light on their ancestor’s professional endeavors, while their address can reveal aspects of their community and social standing.

Beyond the Basics

The registration cards go beyond surface-level information, often containing fascinating details that paint a nuanced portrait of these women. Some cards include personal remarks, like whether they had dependents, occupations they have experience or training in, and the amount of education they had received. These fragments humanize our female ancestors, allowing us to empathize with their hopes, dreams, and concerns during a time of national and global upheaval.

Preserving Legacies

By incorporating the information found on these cards into their family histories, researchers can breathe life into the often overlooked stories of their female ancestors. Whether a great-grandmother who worked as a nurse, a suffragette advocating for women’s rights, or a factory worker contributing to the war effort, these women played vital roles that shaped their families and communities.


The 1917 registration of women conducted by the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense represents a pivotal moment in history. Through nearly 4 million registration cards, we gain access to an untold wealth of information about the lives of women during this transformative era. For family historians, these cards provide a means to tell a more enriched and accurate story of their female ancestors, celebrating their contributions, resilience, and the strides they made towards a more inclusive society. Let us embrace the legacy left by these women and ensure their voices resonate through the generations to come.

If you represent a history or genealogy society with an interest in delving deeper into these cards, please feel free to email me, and we can arrange a suitable time for me to share my presentation titled “Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense Registration Cards: The Unbeknownst Comprehensive Census of American Women.”