Many libraries, museums, and other organizations contain large collections of handwritten historical documents, for example, the papers of early presidents like George Washington at the Library of Congress. The first step in providing recognition/retrieval tools is to automatically segment handwritten pages into words. State of the art segmentation techniques like the gap metrics algorithm have been mostly developed and tested on highly constrained documents like bank checks and postal addresses. There has been little work on full handwritten pages and this work has usually involved testing on clean artificial documents created for the purpose of research. Historical manuscript images, on the other hand, contain a great deal of noise and are much more challenging. Here, a novel scale space algorithm for automatically segmenting handwritten (historical) documents into words is described. First, the page is cleaned to remove margins. This is followed by a gray-level projection profile algorithm for finding lines in images. Each line image is then filtered with an anisotropic Laplacian at several scales. This procedure produces blobs which correspond to portions of characters at small scales and to words at larger scales. Crucial to the algorithm is scale selection that is, finding the optimum scale at which blobs correspond to words. This is done by finding the maximum over scale of the extent or area of the blobs. This scale maximum is estimated using three different approaches. The blobs recovered at the optimum scale are then bounded with a rectangular box to recover the words. A post processing filtering step is performed to eliminate boxes of unusual size which are unlikely to correspond to words. The approach is tested on a number of different data sets and it is shown that, on 100 sampled documents from the George Washington corpus of handwritten document images, a total error rate of 17 percent is observed. The technique outperforms a state-of-the-art gap metr- - ics word-segmentation algorithm on this collection.