Biographical Dictionaries

By no means all biographical dictionaries are covered by the resources listed in Resources of First Resort. More are listed on this page.

Biographical Dictionaries by Occupation

Authors including Literary Authors

Contemporary Authors includes over 116,000 living (or dying since early 1960s) literary and non-literary writers worldwide. Articles typically include short critical essay;  brief personal information; list of author’s writings; critical writings about the author.  New entries appear in Contemporary Authors (CA); revisions of CA entries appear in Contemporary Authors New Revision Series and the Permanent Series.
HOLLIS Records
In Gale In Context: Biography (Available to Massachusetts residents via the State Library of Massachusetts)

Dictionary of Literary Biography is a huge series of volumes offering biographical-critical essays on authors, including references for interviews, critical writings. Coverage is international, with emphasis on English and American.
Lamont REF.ROOM PN451.D5 1978x (Lamont holds selected volumes.)
Widener RR 3129 (Widener holds the complete set.)
The DLB is indexed by name in the Literary Index
Includes numerous volumes on essayists, travel writers, literary biographers, book collectors and bibliographers, major publishing forms, etc. as well as on literary authors.


American men of science; a biographical directory, 1906- . [title varies: American men & women of science, 1971- ]. 
HOLLIS Records
Internet Archive Full Text (1905-1970)
Internet Archive Full Text  (1971-2009)  Open Year on left to select your year)

Index to editions 1/14:
Cabot Science Q141 .A471 1983 CUM. Index 1-14
Widener WID-LC Q141 .A474 (At beginning)
Widener | S 120.15.5 (shelved before 14th ed.)
Internet Archive Full Text

Indexed by Biography and Genealogy Master Index (BGMI) from 12th ed. (1971/73) to present.

Complete Dictionary of scientific biography is the online version of the Dictionary of scientific biography and New Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Offers biographical articles on deceased scientists, including lists of primary and secondary literature. Volume 16 includes a general index and a list of scientists by field. Volumes 17 & 18 are supplements containing scientists left out of the main series and those dying between 1970 and 1981. New Dictionary of Scientific Biography contains new articles about scientists dying after 1950 and earlier figures omitted from the original Dictionary together with articles updating entries in the original. Unlike the original, psychology and anthropology are covered, with some sociology and economics.
--For more recent sources use History of Science, Technology and Medicine. For new primary works (new editions, etc.) put your person in the author field. For new secondary works, put your person in the Subject field.
--Scribner, C. 1980. Publishing the Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, v. 124, no. 5, pp. 320-322.

Biographical Dictionaries by Gender

The following biographical dictionaries either are not included in BGMI or WBIS, or have features (occupational or other indexes) not accessible through these sources.


FemBio. Institute for Women's Biography Research Hannover/Boston, Luise F. Pusch Hannover, Germany
--Some entries give substantial information; others are skeletal. Emphasis on European, especially German women. Full entries have source lists, web links, and often portraits and other photographs.

International who's who of women. London: Europa Publications Ltd., 1992-
LOCATION: Widener: RR1505.30

Lesser-known women: a biographical dictionary, 1992.
LOCATION: Widener: RR4761.21.5
--Includes over 800 living and deceased women arranged chronologically (1600-1991) by year of most significant achievement. Entries are keyed to about 600 numbered sources in a terminal bibliography. Indexes list biographees by name, country, and profession.

Notable American women. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971-2004. 5 v.
LOCATION: Widener: RR 1711. 34
--Covers women deceased before 1999. Articles include extensive source lists giving particular attention to unpublished sources. Classified index (by field) in each vol. Vols. 1-4 indexed in Biography and genealogy master index. Full text in Women and Social Movements in the United States: 1600-2000

Oxford encyclopedia of women in world history, ed. by Bonnie G. Smith. Oxford; NY: Oxford University Press, 2008 4 v.
LOCATION: Widener | RR 1701.60
--Both topical and biographical articles.

Palgrave Macmillan dictionary of women's biography. 4th ed. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
LOCATION: WID-LC CT3202 .P26 2005
--Includes over 2100 women, living and deceased, from Antiquity to the present. Introductory nine-page survey of other biographical sources. A few entries are dropped with each new edition. Subject index by occupation or reason for prominence. 1st ed.: The International dictionary of women's biography, 1982.

Women in world history: a biographical encyclopedia, ed. by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer. Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications, 1999-2002. 17 v.
LOCATION: Widener | RR 1701.50
--Covers living and deceased women, from Antiquity to the present. Most articles have source lists, which include the location of personal papers. The last volume (v. 17) contains indexes by name with variant spellings, by occupation/experience, etc. Indexed in Biography and genealogy master index.


European immigrant women in the United States: a biographical dictionary, ed. by Judy Barrett Litoff, Judith McDonnell. New York : Garland Pub., 1994, 357 p.
LOCATION: Widener | WID-LC | E184.E95 L58 1994
--Includes 239 biographies of deceased women who immigrated since the American Revolution. Each biography has a substantial source list, often giving archival sources. Biographee list by area of activity and a short name/topic index.

Jewish women in America: an historical encyclopedia, ed. by Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore. NY: Routledge, 1997. 2 v.
LOCATION: Widener | WID-LC | DS115.2 .J49 1997x
--Long name/topic index and list of biographees by area of activity. Full text in World Biographical Information System.

Latinas in the United States: a historical encyclopedia, ed. by Vicki L. Ruiz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. 3 v.
LOCATION: Widener | WID-LC | E184.S75 L35 2006

Notable Black American women. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992-1996.
LOCATION: Widener: RR4781.41.69 Library has: 2 v.
--Includes around 1100 women (about half living) with birth dates 1686-1970. Each entry has a source list (which includes archival sources) and many have portraits. There is an "Area of endeavor" list and a detailed subject index in each volume. Indexed in Biography and genealogy master index and full text in Biography in Context

Biographical Indexes

Women in particular: an index to American women, by Kali Herman. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1984.
LOCATION: Widener: RR 1501. 26
--Index to biographical articles on women in some 54 works of collective biography. Comprises five indexes: (1) Field and career index; (2) Religious affiliation index; (3) Ethnic and racial index; (4) Geographical index; and (5) Alphabetical index. Biographees are entered in as many of the first four sections (and subsections) as are applicable, with full information (name, dates, occupation or field of activity, places of residence, religion, ethnicity, and references to biographical sources) repeated at each entry. The alphabetical (biographee) index lists all the entries in the other four indexes.

Subject guide to women of the world, by Katharine Joan Phenix. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996, 516 p.
Location : Widener RR 1501.24.5
--Provides topical and geographical indexes to Index to women of the world from ancient to modern times; biographies and portraits (Widener: RR 1501) which provides references to biographical sketches which appear in 945 collective biographies and which is itself indexed by name in Biography and Genealogy Master Index.

Biographical Dictionaries by Ethnicity

African American national biography, ed. by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Evelyn Brooks-Higginbotham. NY: Oxford University Press, 2013, 12 v.
Andover-Harv. Theol | Ref. | E185.96 .A4466 2008 (1st ed.)
Lamont | REFERENCE | E185.96 .A4466 2008 (1st ed.)
Widener RR 4781.60 (2nd ed.; 2013)
Online version (Continuously updated)

Contemporary Black biography. Vol. 1- Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992-
LOCATION: Widener: RR 4781.41.59
Substantial articles (two to six pages), with source references. Each volume has about 70 articles. Many entries have photographs or interviews. Covers primarily (but not exclusively) living persons; about 80% are Americans. Indexed by nationality, occupation, subject, and name. Indexed in Biography and genealogy master index

African-American Biographical Database is an online collection of about 300 full-text biographical dictionaries. Also available as a microfiche set, with printed index, in Widener's Reference Room (as Black Biographical Dictionaries 1790-1950).

Notable Asian Americans, ed by Helen Zia and Susan B. Gall. New York : Gale Research, 1995, 468 p.

Distinguished Asian Americans: a biographical dictionary, ed. by Hyung-chan Kim. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, 430 p.

Who's who among Asian Americans. Detroit : Gale Research Inc., 1994. 1 v. 

Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, ed. by Gary Y. Okihiro. Ispwich, Mass.: Salem Press, 2013. 3 v.

Native American biographies (North American Indian Thought and Culture) 

Finding More Biographical Dictionaries

Find unindexed works of collective biography in your subject area by searching the HOLLIS Catalog and WorldCat, a collective catalog of thousands of libraries. Very specialized and very recent collective biographies are least likely to be indexed.

To find biographical dictionaries and who's whos, attach the words Biography AND (Dictionaries OR Encyclopedias OR "bio-bibliographies") to your search term, thus:

Physicians AND Biography AND (Dictionaries OR Encyclopedias OR "Bio-bibliography")

Some collective biographical works, especially those including a small number of persons,  carry the term Biography only.  These can only be found by browsing through the whole (and large)  Physicians Biography set

Records for who's whos sometimes, but by no means consistently, bear the subdivisions Directories or Periodicals.

When you have found a likely collective biography, check the lists of indexed sources in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (Sources Indexed) and do a Bibliographical search in the World Biographical Information System (WBIS). Although many biographical dictionaries are available full text in WBIS, the print versions often contain vocational/geographical indexes and other features not available through WBIS.

Subject dictionaries and encyclopedias, although not purely biographical, often include biographical articles

History of physical anthropology : an encyclopedia / edited by Frank Spencer.
Subject: Physical anthropology Encyclopedias.

Search for them in HOLLIS+: anthropology AND (encyclopedias OR dictionaries)

Bibliographies of Collective Biography

The following sources list biographical dictionaries by subject:

Biographical dictionaries and related works: an international bibliography of more than 16,000 collective biographies ..., by Robert B. Slocum, 2nd ed. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Co., 1986.
LOCATION: Law School: Special Coll Ref CT 104.S55x 1986
LOCATION: Widener: RR 1501. 13.2 Library has: 2 v.
--Thorough and conveniently arranged, by geography and profession, bibliography of pre-1986 biographical dictionaries.

Guide to reference in genealogy and biography, ed. by Mary K. Mannix, Fred Burchsted, and Jo Bell Whitlatch. Chicago: ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association, 2015, 372 pages.
Biographical section arranged by continent and country.

ARBA guide to biographical dictionaries. Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1986.
LOCATION: Widener: WID-LC CT103.Z99 A73 x, 1986
--Continued by
ARBA guide to biographical resources, 1986-1997. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1998.
LOCATION: Widener: RR 1501.13.6

Bibliographie analytique des biographies collectives imprimées de la France contemporaine, 1789-1985, by Alfred Fierro. Geneve: Slatkine, 1986.
LOCATION: Andover-Harv. Theol: Ref. Z2170.F45 1986
LOCATION: Widener: RR 1771.30
--Sources arranged by profession.