Mystery lady identified!

Alan Walker, an archivist in the Textual Processing unit in the National Archives at College Park, MD, just solved a mystery that staff have wondered about for many years.

Mark down this auspicious date, for I shall reveal to you the identity of this longtime mystery woman. You’ve probably seen this photo many a time on the National Archives’s social media; it’s a great image of one of our forebears having rollicking fun with some acetate laminating foil.

Jackie Martin, a photographer with International News Photos, was at the Archives Building in 1946 to shoot photos for a planned story about the National Archives. I imagine she wanted to liven things up a bit, and the idea for draping our mystery woman in laminating foil arose from that. The original negatives for all of these photos are in her papers at Syracuse University.

But until now, we have not known the name of our foil-bedecked lady.  So how did I solve the mystery?

"Acetate Foil for Lamination" photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. Nationa Archives 64-NA-464

“Acetate Foil for Lamination” photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-464

 

Well, I was looking through more of the 64-NA photos that recently uploaded into the new National Archives Catalog, and I found this image.

 

"Records in Humidifying Vault" photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-466

“Records in Humidifying Vault” photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-466

 

Then I recalled seeing her in a newspaper clipping.

 

Clipping from "History's First Draft," Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 2, 1944. National Archives, RG 64, P 67, file "1944."

Clipping from “History’s First Draft,” Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 2, 1944. National Archives, RG 64, P 67, file “1944.”

 

Then, this morning, I found this photo.

 

National Archives 64-NA-415

National Archives 64-NA-415

 

…and here’s the caption!

 

Caption, National Archives 64-NA-415

Caption, National Archives 64-NA-415

Frances Benedict worked in the Division of Repair and Preservation (later the Cleaning and Rehabilitation Branch). She appears in the Archives telephone directories from 1944 through 1949. Thank goodness someone thought to write down her name on this caption!

My colleague Amanda Ross did some online sleuthing, and discovered more about Miss Benedict. After receiving her degree in Home Economics from the University of Maryland, she worked for the Bureau of Home Economics at USDA, then came to the National Archives in 1944. Sadly, her career was cut short by her death at age 37 in 1950.

But National Archives staff now have her name–as well as her wonderful, iconic photograph–to remember her by.

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4 Responses to Mystery lady identified!

  1. Morgan Zinsmeister says:

    What an amazing find! She’s standing in the B1 vault that is still in use in the conservation lab

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  2. Patrick says:

    She came from a scientific family. Her father was a well-known botanist. See this biographical page: http://www.herbarium.unc.edu/Collectors/Benedict_James_E.htm

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  3. judy says:

    How did she die?

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    • Alan Walker says:

      Our colleague Ashley Mattingly at the National Personnel Records Center has just found Miss Benedict’s Official Personnel File. She died from breast cancer, which she had been fighting for seven years.
      But it’s not how Frances died, but how she lived, that matters. And that’s why records matter: so that we can share our history, and its stories, with all.

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