Staff from St. Louis are “unofficial rock stars” at National Genealogical Society conference

This post comes to us from Communications intern Lia Collen.

Staff from the National Archives (NARA) at St. Louis participated in the annual National Genealogical Society’s (NGS) Family History Conference in St. Charles, MO, from May 13–16. More than 2,200 professional genealogists attended the conference.

Archivists Daria Labinsky, Ashley Mattingly, and Theresa Fitzgerald at the National Genealogical Society’s Family History Conference in May.

Archivists Daria Labinsky, Ashley Mattingly, and Theresa Fitzgerald at the National Genealogical Society’s Family History Conference in May.

Access Coordinator Bryan McGraw and archivists Theresa Fitzgerald, Daria Labinsky, and Ashley Mattingly gave presentations about the large collection of personal data series records available at NARA at St. Louis.

“While, individually, a particular record may not seem as critical as a landmark document or treaty, taken as a whole, these records are among the most powerful and essential to our existence,” McGraw said. “Furthermore, these records not only give insight into genealogy, but many of them are used decades and decades later for essential benefits, entitlements, and the like.”

In addition to their lectures, the St. Louis staff managed an information table to provide more detailed information on records. Staff used this as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions and provide a better understanding of the National Archives at St. Louis.

“It is important for NARA to take part in this conference as we hold a treasure trove of records that will assist any genealogist or researcher that wants to learn more about their family’s military background,” Fitzgerald said.

Staff spoke to visitors about the scope of the records at St. Louis and explained the records request process. A lot of visitors were unaware St. Louis had so many record series aside from military personnel folders. Some visitors did not know that the National Archives even existed in St. Louis!

“Visitors seemed quite thankful and excited for the information they garnered,” Mattingly said. “I believe that it is a bit difficult to understand the scope of our holdings as well as the information available (or restricted) to the public.”

Staff also received many questions about the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.

“We constantly informed people that, no, not all the records were burned in the fire, or not all the World War II Army records were burned in the fire,” Labinsky said. “We explained how auxiliary records can be used to recreate a veteran’s military service if a record had been destroyed in the fire.”

McGraw remarked that the National Archives staff were the unofficial rock stars of the conference. “Many commented to me at the booth how much they enjoyed NARA being there and how valuable the information we provided to them was to their research,” he said. “This was from the full spectrum of perspectives, including individual family researchers, to large, corporate organizations involved in genealogy, software, tools and the like.”

National Archives staff felt they benefited from participating in the conference as well. Staff enjoyed seeing that their presence at the conference was appreciated. The best part, staff agreed, was engaging with attendees and seeing them get excited about using National Archives records in their own research.

“Seeing someone learn something they didn’t know or helping them solve a complex problem is very rewarding,” McGraw said. “Helping someone to piece together the past to show eligibility for something and seeing their sometimes emotional reaction is absolutely priceless and drives me to do more and more.”

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Building Bridges between the Worlds of the Deaf and Hearing, Archives and Knowledge

Danica Rice is an archives technician at the National Archives at Seattle. The National Archives is participating in #DisabilityStories as part of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

I have always seen myself as a bridge between two worlds, that of the Deaf and that of the Hearing. There are many purposes for bridges, but one is to connect and string two things, in this case two worlds, together.

My world is the Deaf, and has been since I was 18 months old. However, I’ve always been blessed with the ability to hear a good deal, speak reasonably clearly, and understand many nuances of the Hearing world. Make no mistake, the world of the Hearing and that of the Deaf are very different ones, but in some respects, much the same.

Danica Rice at work at the National Archives in Seattle.

Danica Rice at work at the National Archives in Seattle.

When I was growing up, I loved to read, and it became a lifeline of sorts for me, as I used it to explore new worlds, new ideas, new intellects. When I was feeling the very natural difficulties of being left out due to my hearing, reading became my escape.

When I was very young, my father took me to one of those old used bookstores, where books were squeezed in every available space, some on top of others, with rows upon rows of beautiful spines. I will never forget the day my dad pulled out a particularly aged volume and opened it to its center, explaining to me that old books have their own smell. Many a weekend and afternoons after school were spent in a wondrous bookstore  (Bartlett Street Books in Medford, Oregon), owned by a kindhearted man named Ken Corliss, who had a shock of white hair and matching bushy mustache.

Words and images go hand in hand for me, as my language (ASL) is a very visual one, but the fact that I read so much, at such an early age, and still do, means that I have a unique perspective on what it means to be Deaf in a world full of words.  Because of this, my passion became to help people understand my life, my culture.

I’ve written two books, yet to be published, but writing novels hasn’t been enough for me when it comes to my desire to cross that cultural bridge. So I have always explored ways to help people, which fuels my passion for promoting acceptance and understanding. When I was in college in Rochester, New York, I was offered the opportunity to work in Southern Oregon University’s Lenn and Dixie Hannon Library as an unpaid intern. There, I realized that my love for books, reading, language, and knowledge were innately relevant to the library world. I had found my home.

The following summer, I knew without a doubt that I wanted another library job, and needed an internship that paid. Before long, I was speaking with the head of the Rare Book Department of Harvard University’s Houghton Library and accepting a temporary cataloger position with a focus on cataloging Emily Dickinson’s (yes, THAT Emily Dickinson) personal library. These were the books she personally owned and handled on a daily basis. I had to flip through each individual page of her books, searching for inscriptions, notations, or objects pressed between the pages. At one point I held her heavily marked Bible in my bare hands, and I could FEEL the history coursing through my veins.

In that moment, I knew. I was destined to work with rare books and archives in some manner, shape, or form.

Danica Rice outside the National Archives in Seattle.

Danica Rice outside the National Archives at Seattle.

I took quite a winding path from the completion of my bachelor’s degree before I finally settled long enough to sign up for my master’s program in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. This is a completely online program, which suits my needs perfectly, as they provide captioning and transcripts for any auditory materials, which eliminates the need for interpreters or other tools that might be more cumbersome if I had enrolled in a “live” program.

Around this time, I was working for the Bureau of Reclamation, first in Yuma, Arizona, then in Boulder City, Nevada. While this was a vital stepping stone, I knew what my true dream job was, and that was to work for the National Archives.

I also knew that I wanted to return to my roots, the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and raised (in Southern Oregon). After many interviews, many rejections, and many false hopes, I was rewarded for my patience and given the gift of the position of archives technician, in Seattle, Washington, with the National Archives at Seattle, where I sit today.

Dreams really do come true.

Now I stand at this end of a bridge between many worlds—Deaf, Hearing, Archives, and Knowledge. I am doing everything I can to learn, and to build. My hope is that you will join me in learning and building these many worlds, as we all cross our mutual bridge, toward a shared Knowledge, in our choice of this noble profession, and perhaps best of all, in life as well.

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Pirates: An Early Test for the New Country

Today’s post comes from Tom Eisinger, senior archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.

Richard O’Bryen's letter to Thomas Jefferson, first page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Richard O’Bryen’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, first page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

When Richard O’Bryen, captain of the Philadelphia ship Dauphin, penned his July 12, 1790, letter to Thomas Jefferson, he had been a captive of the Barbary pirates in Algeria for almost five years.

This letter, and others, helped bring attention to an unexpected problem the Federal Government inherited from the government under the Articles of Confederation: pirates.

The new nation was faced with the questions: What could be done about the Barbary pirates? And what could be done for the American prisoners held for ransom in Algeria?

In the late 18th century, the Barbary pirates were a well-known problem in Europe. These pirates—who came from Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunisia—captured vessels sailing in the Mediterranean Sea and held their crews for ransom.

To free a captured vessel, European nations were forced to pay the ransom. Some European nations signed treaties with the four Barbary nations and paid tribute for safe passage of their vessels.

The Barbary pirates were not an issue for the American colonies while they were under the protection of the British Empire or during the Revolutionary War while they were under the protection of France. However, those protections effectively ended in September 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War and freeing the United States from British rule.

Richard O’Bryen's letter to Thomas Jefferson, last page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Richard O’Bryen’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, last page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

In October 1784, the Boston brig Betsey was captured by Moroccan pirates. On July 25, 1785, Algerian pirates captured the Boston schooner Maria. Less than a week later, the Algerians also captured Captain O’Bryen’s ship, the Dauphin. Americans had a rude awakening to their hopes of free trade throughout the world.

Morocco released the crew of the Betsey and concluded a peace treaty with the United States that the Confederation Congress ratified in July 1787.

Peace with Algiers, however, was much harder to achieve. The Dey (ruler) of Algiers refused to negotiate a peace treaty and demanded $59,496 in ransom to release the crews of the Maria and Dauphin. Since that amount of money was not available, the 21 captives remained enslaved in Algiers.

The Algerian situation highlighted the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation. The Confederation Congress did not have the money to build a navy that would protect American vessels, or pay any tribute or ransom to the Barbary States because they could not levy taxes. In fact, this was one of the motivating factors in creating the Constitution, ratified in 1788, which gave the new Federal Government significantly more power.

Even after the Constitution was ratified, the Federal Government did not address the situation with Algeria right away.

Captives and their family members were hardly quiet while they awaited action from the new government.

Richard O’Bryen's letter to Thomas Jefferson, page showing ransom rates, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Richard O’Bryen’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, page showing ransom rates, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

One of the more prolific writers was Captain O’Bryen. The document featured here was one such missive, penned by O’Bryen to Thomas Jefferson on July 12, 1790. Secretary of State Jefferson sent a copy of this and other letters to the First Federal Congress in order to keep Congress up to date on the situation with the captives in Algiers.

O’Bryen’s 11-page letter outlined both the plight of the remaining 14 captives and the status of current negotiations.

It also explained the price set for the captives’ release, which was a total of 17,225 sequins (each sequin was worth 8 shillings sterling at the time).

The price for O’Bryen and Isaac Stephens, the captain of the Maria, was set at 3,000 sequins apiece. O’Bryen closed the letter by expressing his faith that the government would immediately see the necessity of paying the price for its citizens’ freedom.

In this case his faith was misplaced and Congress didn’t approved a treaty with Algiers until September 1795. The final cost of the return of all 119 captives (other ships were captured after the Maria and Dauphin), and peace with Algiers was $642,000, plus $21,000 in annual tribute.

In addition, the United States provided four naval vessels to Algiers, including a 36-gun frigate.

President George Washington was unhappy with the arrangement, but realized the United States had little choice in the matter.

The long wait for freedom did nothing to dim Captain O’Bryen’s loyalty to his country. Upon his release in 1796, he was appointed consul general to Algiers, a position he held until 1803.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Senate transmitting O'Bryen's letter, January 20, 1791. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Thomas Jefferson’s message to the Senate transmitting O’Bryen’s letter, January 20, 1791. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

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New Web Exhibit on Center Market

"Front View of 7th Street Entrance to Center Market" October, 1922. (National Archives Identifier 7851122)

“Front View of 7th Street Entrance to Center Market” October, 1922. (National Archives Identifier 7851122)

In 1797, President George Washington designated two acres in the heart of Washington City for use as a public marketplace. For the next 134 years, Center Market was a Washington D.C. landmark on Pennsylvania Avenue, until it was demolished in 1931 to make way for the National Archives Building.

The National Archives History Office has produced a new online exhibit on Center Market, which is available in the Google Cultural Institute.

Throughout its history, Center Market was loud and lively. The marketplace was filled with crowds of people and transportation of all kinds. Street vendors or “hucksters,” farmers, and market men sold fruits, vegetables, and live animals to city-dwelling Washingtonians. The market attracted middle-class ladies, community leaders, businessmen, and social reformers.

"Plan on the Center Market and the Washington Market Company", 1869. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

“Plan on the Center Market and the Washington Market Company,” 1869. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

In its earliest days, Center Market was no more than a collection of ramshackle wooden sheds. Bordered by the Washington Canal, the swampy land earned it the nickname “Marsh Market.”

Early Washingtonians recalled hunting wild ducks in the wetlands near the market and purchasing live fish right from the Canal.

As the city of Washington D.C. grew, so did complaints about the dirt and disorder of the public market.

A group of investors formed the private Washington Market Company in 1870 and hired prominent architect Adolf Cluss to design a modern and lavish new market facility fronting Pennsylvania Avenue.

The ornate Center Market building attracted thousands of customers a day. Streetcar lines from all corners of the city converged at the market.

Designed to appeal to middle-class marketers, the market building was thoroughly modern and hygienic. The facility boasted high ceilings with ventilated skylights, electric lighting, cold-storage vaults, and a spacious café.

"A Birds-Eye View of Part of the Fruits and Vegetable Section of Center Market," February 18, 1915. (National Archives Identifier 7851107)

“A Birds-Eye View of Part of the Fruits and Vegetable Section of Center Market,” February 18, 1915. (National Archives Identifier 7851107)

The interior of Center Market feature over 600 modern market stalls featuring elaborate displays and high quality goods such as cured meats, baked goods, and flower arrangements.

Center Market’s exterior was just as bustling and crowded as its interior. Farmers’ wagons, trucks, and automobiles lined the curb outside of the market selling fresh country produce.

For a nominal fee, street vendors, or “hucksters,” could sell wares outside of Center Market. Hucksters packed the streets around the market, hawking seasonal goods, greenery, and even preparing food at open-air restaurants.

Center Market returned to public ownership in 1921, managed by the Department of Agriculture. However, this arrangement was short-lived. The red brick Victorian market building was incompatible with the 1901 Senate Park (McMillan) Commission Plan’s vision of a unified city of white marble and monuments. Despite protests from the city and the community of Washington D.C., Center Market was demolished in 1931.

On May 17, 1931, the Sunday Star printed a eulogy to the market: “The great focus of interest, the one-time social center, place of endless entertainment, is gone and can never be restored…Another generation will have no concept of the significance of the site on which they stand.”

Center Market is no longer standing, but traces of its significance can be found in the photographs and documents stored in the National Archives.

To learn more about Center Market, visit the new “A Capital Market” exhibit on Google Cultural Institute.

To see more historical photos of Center Market visit our Flickr page.

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New Web Exhibit on the Freedom Train

A souvenir postcard from the Freedom Train. (National Archives Identifier 18520032)

A souvenir postcard from the Freedom Train. (National Archives Identifier 18520032)

For 18 months in the late 1940s, some of the nation’s most important historical documents toured the country in a traveling museum called the Freedom Train.

The National Archives History Office has produced a new online exhibit on the Freedom Train, which is available in the Google Cultural Institute.

Viewed by more than 3.5 million Americans, the Freedom Train stopped in cities in each of the 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states at this time).

The Freedom Train was intended to increase awareness of the need to preserve important documents as well as to allow Americans throughout the country to see these documents.

Photograph of visitors looking at the Bill of Rights in the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167308)

Photograph of visitors looking at the Bill of Rights in the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167308)

The American Heritage Foundation was created to design, protect, and operate the train and its contents.

A committee containing members from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and other government agencies planned and designed the exhibit.

A group of 27 Marines was hand selected to protect the Freedom Train on its tour, and a coalition of railroad companies ensured that the Freedom Train would travel across America as efficiently as possible.

Photograph of visitors looking at the Bill of Rights in the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167308)

Photograph of visitors looking at the Bill of Rights in the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167308)

The documents on board the Freedom Train came from many different sources. Most were already in the holdings of either the National Archives or the Library of Congress, but some documents were lent to the exhibit from private museums and personal collections across the country.

After the 133 documents on the Freedom Train were selected and their exhibits installed, the tour began. The train rolled from September 1947 until January 1949, with few breaks.

True to its name, the Freedom Train mandated that the admission lines for the exhibit were to be desegregated. Memphis, Tennessee, rejected this condition; in response, the Freedom Train did not stop there as scheduled.

Admission to the Freedom Train was free, but the American Heritage Foundation suggested donations and requested that all visitors sign the Freedom Pledge.

Photograph of the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167318)

Photograph of the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167318)

After a successful national tour, the Freedom Train arrived in Washington, DC, for President Truman’s Inauguration Week. At the end of the week, the scrolls of 3.5 million names signed under the Freedom Pledge were donated to the Library of Congress.

The American Heritage Foundation then dismantled the Freedom Train, donating the document cases to the National Archives and returning the documents on loan from other collections.

One year later, the National Archives opened an exhibit about the Freedom Train in its exhibition hall. Many of the original documents were displayed once again, allowing them to be seen by those who were unable to view the Freedom Train and those who wanted to see the documents again.

To learn more about the Freedom Train, visit the new Freedom Train exhibit on Google Cultural Institute.

To see more historical photos of the Freedom Train visit our Flickr page.

 

Posted in - Civil Rights, - Constitution, - Declaration of Independence, National Archives History, News and Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

Celebrate July 4th with the National Archives in DC, nationwide, and online!

Join the National Archives in celebrating the 239th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence with special events in Washington, DC, at Presidential Libraries nationwide, and online!

You can see the full press release online here.

Celebrate July 4th at the National Archives in Washington, DC

The National Archives in Washington, DC, will celebrate the 239th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence with its traditional Fourth of July program. C-SPAN host Steve Scully will return to serve as emcee for a fourth year, and Archivist David S. Ferriero will make remarks.

The free celebration will include patriotic music, a dramatic reading of the Declaration by historical reenactors, and exciting family activities and entertainment for all ages. See here for more information.

If you can’t make it out to the nation’s capital, the festivities will be live-streamed on the National Archives YouTube channel.

July 4th at the National Archives is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation with the generous support of Signature Sponsor John Hancock. Major support provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Dykema.

Celebrate July 4th at the National Archives Presidential Libraries

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, IA

An Eastern Iowa Brass Band Concert at the West Branch High School will feature museum docent Richard Paulus as Samuel Adams reading the Declaration of Independence. This event is at 2 p.m.

For over 25 years, the Eastern Iowa Brass Band has been entertaining audiences throughout Iowa, the Midwest and even beyond. The 35-member band performs from a repertoire which features original works for brass band, as well as arrangements of well known orchestral and wind band literature. Featured soloists are frequently used in concert programs which also include marches, medleys, hymn tune arrangements, folk songs, Broadway show tunes and novelty features. Members of the EIBB come from all over Eastern Iowa. As the only brass band of this type in Iowa, the EIBB presents a truly unique musical experience.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Austin, TX

The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum will offer free admission all day.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids, MI

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum will participate in a city-wide celebration. The museum opens its grounds and allows visitors to watch the city fireworks. Admission fees still apply when visiting the museum.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, CA

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is hosting a day full of family-fun activities. This year’s celebration will include the Los Angeles Police Concert band performing our favorite patriotic tunes. There will be family entertainment, games, crafts, and more. Mingle with our Presidential and First Lady look-alikes.

All outdoor activities are free. Admission rates apply to view the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum, Air Force One Pavilion, and the library’s special exhibit, “Football! The Exhibition.”

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, TX

The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum will once again host the annual “I Love America! 4th of July Celebration” in partnership with the College Station Noon Lions Club and the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra.

The museum will open at 9:30 a.m. with free admission all day and will extend its hours to 8:15 p.m. The outside activities will begin with a flag-raising ceremony at 5 p.m. The Kids Zone will be open from 6 to 8:30 p.m. A musical program begins at 6 p.m. After a dusk hot air balloon glow, enjoy fireworks accompanied by the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra.

Celebrate the Fourth of July with the National Archives by sharing these patriotic graphics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more! This image is specially sized for Instagram.

Celebrate the Fourth of July with the National Archives by sharing these patriotic graphics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more! This image is specially sized for Instagram.

Celebrate the Fourth of July on Social Media

Join the conversation using the hashtag #ArchivesJuly4 on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more!

Take a #ColonialSelfie

Snap a picture with a Founding Father at our July 4 celebration. If you aren’t in Washington, DC, be creative; your #ColonialSelfie can be with anything that was in fashion in 1776

Tell the World #ISignedTheDeclaration

Sign your name to the Declaration of Independence! Take a picture, tag it with#ISignedTheDeclaration, and share it with us on social media. If you attend our celebration in DC, look for the booth at the corner of Constitution Avenue and Seventh Street, and add your John Hancock to the list. The booth will be moved inside to the Boeing Learning Lab at 11 a.m.

Share Your Patriotic Spirit

We’ve sized these images to make social sharing easy!

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Annual Birthday Party for the Declaration of Independence

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the History Office at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The Fife and Drum Corps perform at the National Archives on July 4, 12013. (Photo by Jules Clifford)

The Fife and Drum Corps perform at the National Archives on July 4, 12013. (Photo by Jules Clifford)

For almost a half-century, the National Archives has held an annual birthday party on July 4, at the document’s home at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

This timeline marks the significant milestones in Archives Fourth of July celebrations:

  • 1776: Representatives to the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was printed on July 4, and John Carlisle, a friend of George Washington’s and successful merchant, read it aloud on the streets of Philadelphia.
  • 1952: The Library of Congress, which  held the Declaration from 1924 through 1952, transferred the document to the National Archives. The first Independence Day it was on display at the Archives was July 4, 1953.
  • 1969: The National Archives Fourth of July became more extensive. A special exhibit opened to the public. In the early afternoon, the U.S. Army Band played a concert on the Constitution Avenue side of the Archives.
  • 1970: Visitors listened to the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence in the Rotunda.
  • 1976: Celebrations reached new levels when the Declaration turned 200 years old and the Archives established its annual July 4th event. On July 2, 1976, President Gerald Ford spoke in the Rotunda to honor the Bicentennial, saying, “The Declaration is the Polaris of our political order—the fixed star of freedom. It is impervious to change because it states moral truths that are eternal.” That July 4 the National Archives had a four-foot cake on the steps overlooking the National Mall. Also for the Bicentennial, the Charters of Freedom (the collective name  for the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights) went on round-the-clock public view for the first time, ending on July 6.
  • 1977: The National Archives created the National Bicentennial Time Capsule, which will be opened on July 4, 2075.
  • 1990: The Declaration’s 15th annual birthday party included a reading of the document, Revolutionary-era music, a simulation of musket fire on Constitution Avenue, and a parade.
  • 2001: The 225th birthday of the Declaration marked the last day until July 4, 2004, that the Declaration would be on display for the holiday.
  • 2002–2003: The National Archives’ Fourth of July festivities took place at Union Station in Washington, DC, while the National Archives Rotunda underwent renovations.
  • 2009: The National Archives exhibited a rare print on parchment of the Declaration of Independence—made from the original copperplate engraved by William J. Stone in 1823—which was on loan from David M. Rubenstein.

Small details change each year, but annual traditions remain the same and grow even stronger. The reading of the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary-era music, and various children’s activities will likely continue past the opening of the National Bicentennial Capsule in 2075.

The National Archives will be commemorating the Declaration’s 239th birthday this year. Celebrations will include a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a performance by the Fife and Drum Corps, and visits from costumed interpreters of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, among other activities.

For more information see our calendar of events.

Visitors at the July 4,1970, Ceremony in the Rotunda. (National Archives Identifier 4477182)

Visitors at the July 4, 1970, ceremony in the Rotunda. (National Archives Identifier 4477182)

Posted in - Constitution, - Declaration of Independence, - Revolutionary War, National Archives History, News and Events, Pennsylvania Avenue | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Hello Girls Finally Get Paid

Today’s post comes from Ashley Mattingly, who is an archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis, where she manages the collection of archival civilian personnel records.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917. Along with the men who were recruited to fight, women were eager to assist with war efforts. Such was the case with Isabelle Villiers. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1894, she acted on her patriotic pride and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force in May 1917.

For eight months, Isabelle Villiers (Yeoman, 1st class) worked as a confidential secretary in the office of Commodore A.L. Key at the Boston Navy Yard. However, after reading an announcement in the newspaper calling for telephone operators, she decided she could better serve her country overseas.

Photograph of Isabelle Villiers

Photograph of Isabelle Villiers from her civilian file at the National Archives at St. Louis

The war, which had already raged since 1914, had taken its toll on European infrastructure. General John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, had devised a solution for the poor communication on the war front. War had destroyed the existing French telephone system and he felt that telegrams were too slow and expressionless. Furthermore, General Pershing wanted to establish direct communication between troops on the front line and the general-in-command as well as between allied units.

While servicemen were tasked with laying lines in the field, General Pershing felt that women would best serve as telephone operators. In order to recruit quality telephone operators, General Pershing issued an appeal for 150 women who had past telephone operating experience and who were fluent in both English and French. This appeal was published in newspapers throughout the United States in late 1917.

With an understanding of both languages, former experience as a telephone operator, and a college education, Isabelle Villiers felt compelled to apply. After receiving a discharge from the U.S. Naval Reserve Force on January 7, 1918, and two months of training in Lowell, Massachusetts, Isabelle set sail for France in March 1918 as a part of the initial group of U.S. Army Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators.

“Hello Girls Here in Real Army Duds” was published on March 19, 1918, in Stars and Stripes cheerfully announcing this first group of 33 arrivals.

Of approximately 1,750 applicants, 450 women were trained and 233 ultimately sent overseas to serve as telephone operators. Colloquially dubbed “Hello Girls,” these women were primarily stationed in England and France (and in Germany after the Armistice was signed); some were stationed to work on the front lines in locations such as Saint Mihiel and Souilly, France. Not only did telephone operators work close to the front lines, they wore blue U.S. Army uniforms and were subject to military rules, including the possible penalty of courts-martial for wrongdoing.

Original caption reads: American telephone girls on arrival for "hello" duty in France. They all can speak both English and French., 3/1918. (National Archives Identifier 530718)

Is Isabelle Villiers in this photo? We don’t know–let us know if you can find her! Original caption reads: American telephone girls on arrival for “hello” duty in France. They all can speak both English and French., 3/1918. (National Archives Identifier 530718)

Isabelle was assigned as a supervisor to posts in Paris and Tours, France. She completed her duty on April 21, 1919, and returned to Reading, Massachusetts. She immediately submitted her claim for the $60.00 bonus granted to members of the American Expeditionary Forces only to be denied because the work of telephone operators was not considered to be within the provisions of the Revenue Bill of 1918.

Although women served in a military capacity for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, after the war was over it was decided that technically only men could be members of the U.S. Army.

Following their service, Isabelle Villiers and many other telephone operators received a certificate for ‘Exceptional Meritorious and Conspicuous Services’ signed by General Pershing along with a letter stating that the “Signal Corps deeply appreciates and is justly proud of the manner in which its civilian employees have performed their duties.”

In 1930, a fellow telephone operator named Merle Egan Anderson started the fight for U.S. Army Signal Corps telephone operators’ military benefits. Finally, more than 60 years after the operators served, benefits were approved in 1977 and awarded in 1979 to approximately 50 survivors, including Isabelle Villiers. These brave women were designated the first female veterans of the United States Army.

The official personnel folder of Isabelle Villers and other World War I telephone operators is open to the public.  Please visit http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/archival-programs/civilian-personnel-archival/ to learn more about requesting these and other official personnel folders of former civil servants.

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On Exhibit: The American Debate about Alcohol Consumption During World War II

Today’s post comes from Emily Niekrasz, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

In March 2015 the National Archives opened “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History,” a new exhibit that explores the complex love-hate relationship between America and alcohol.

The exhibit’s curator, Bruce Bustard, has written, “These two different views of alcoholic beverages run throughout American history. Sometimes they have existed in relative peace; at other times they have been at war.”

Some of the documents not only represent the war of opposing views regarding Prohibition, but they also highlight the debate over alcohol consumption within an even larger conflict—World War II.

On December 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the repeal of the 18th Amendment, ending the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States. Although the American government concluded its legal war on alcohol, the American people remained divided.  This friction—documented in the exhibit—continued throughout World War II.

"Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy." Petition to Congress, 1943. (National Archives Identifier 16764619)

“Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy.” Petition to Congress, 1943. (National Archives Identifier 16764619)

One such document is a 1943 petition to Congress for the return to Prohibition, titled “Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy.” By associating alcohol with Hitler—at the height of World War II—it is evident that the 19 petitioners, both men and women, considered alcohol an evil.

Within the opening of their appeal, the authors claimed that alcohol and women were to blame for the downfall of France. They also argued that Japanese saloonkeepers provided free liquor for servicemen at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The signers went on to quote Gen. John J. Pershing, who believed that the United States Government should ban liquor from the nation, close saloons, punish drinkers, and “if necessary, death to the seller.”

On the other hand, in another document, “Morale is a lot of little things,” the wartime context aided those in favor of consumption, particularly the brewing industry.

In the 1944 advertisement, the Brewing Industry Foundation took the voice of a fictional World War II soldier, away at war, who wrote a letter home.

“Morale is a lot of Little Things,” 1944. Courtesy of the J. Walter Thompson Archives at the Duke University Library.

“Morale is a lot of little things,” 1944. Courtesy of the J. Walter Thompson Archives at the Duke University Library.

In this letter, the soldier missed a lot of “little things,” including: his hammock, his orchard, his pet sleeping beneath him, the sounds of the brook where his children are playing, and his beer.

The soldier wrote, “It happens that to many of us these important little things include the right to enjoy a refreshing glass of beer. Cool, sparkling, friendly.”

This advertisement connected beer to a wholesome image, in which beer was consumed in moderation, and suggested that the very least the nation could do for the loyal soldier returning home was to have the “little things” waiting—including a refreshing, “friendly” beer. Instead of equating alcohol with foreign saloonkeepers, this advertisement linked beer consumption with patriotism.

Want to learn more about the relationship between the American people and alcohol consumption during wartime? Visit “Spirited Republic” on display through January 10, 2016, in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

 

 

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The Great Seal: Celebrating 233 Years of a National Emblem

Today’s post comes from Meagan T. Frenzer, graduate research intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On June 20, 1782, the Confederation Congress approved and finalized the first Great Seal of the United States.

The First Continental Congress in 1776 originally commissioned Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to create a national seal. As members of the First Great Seal Committee, these Founding Fathers intended to design a national emblem that reflected the independence and aspirations of the new nation.

This was no easy task. It took more than three committees and six years of congressional debate to complete the Great Seal.

It was Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson, who submitted the final design for the Great Seal 233 years ago. Thomson’s design combined elements of submissions presented to the prior committees. His uncluttered, symbolic design fulfilled Congress’s expectations.

The face side of Thomson’s seal, also known as the “observe” side, displays a bald eagle with wings spread. The eagle clutches a bundle of 13 arrows (representing the 13 colonies) in its left talon and an olive branch in its right talon. Together, the items in the eagle’s talons stand for war and peace.

Charles Thompson's First Design, 1782. (National Archives Identifier 595257)

Charles Thompson’s first design for the Great Seal (obverse side), 1782. (National Archives Identifier 595257)

The eagle’s beak holds a banner that reads E pluribus unum. The Latin phrase roughly translates as “Out of many, one,” describing the formation of a single nation from 13 colonies.

On the eagle’s breast is a shield with 13 red and white stripes below a blue chief, or the upper region of the shield. The red and white chevrons stand for valor and purity, while the blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

A cloud floats above the eagle’s head and surrounds 13 stars forming a constellation. The formation of this constellation alludes again to the formation of the new nation.

The “reserve,” or back side, of the Great Seal contains a 13-step pyramid representing strength, while the Eye of Providence sits above the pyramid within a triangle. The year 1776 in Roman numerals rests at the base of the pyramid.

Inscribed above the Eye is the Latin motto, Annuit Coeptis, meaning “He [God] has favored our undertakings.” The inscription characterizes the favorable circumstances that bolstered the American cause for independence.

The scroll below the pyramid reads, Novus Ordo Seclorum, which is Latin for “A New Order of the Ages.” This phrase represents the beginnings of a new era for the United States.

The National Archives holds the first design of Thomson’s “observe” side, which features red and white chevrons as opposed to the vertical stripes used in the final design.

Additionally, the National Archives holds seal designs by Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration of Independence and designer of the American flag.

Francis Hopkinson’s First Observe Design, 1780. (National Archives Identifier 595254)

Francis Hopkinson’s first obverse design for the Great Seal, 1780. (National Archives Identifier 595254)

As a participant of the Second Great Seal Committee, Hopkinson’s work inspired the addition of the 13 stripes on the shield, 13 stars, and an olive branch in Thomson’s final designs.

The first engraved metal die of the Great Seal, based on Thomson’s design, was used from September 1782 to 1841. The National Archives holds the first die, along with other seal dies used from 1841 to 1909. Thomson had designed the reverse in case Congress wanted to impress the back surfaces of wax pendant seals but a die for the reserve was never cut.

Two hundred and thirty-three years later, the Great Seal of the United States still reflects the traits and principles that the government aims to uphold.

First Die of the Great Seal of the United States, 1782. (National Archives Identifier 596742)

First die of the Great Seal of the United States, 1782. (National Archives Identifier 596742)

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