Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire

In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to celebrate one of our most cherished former employees—Sara Dunlap Jackson. After I was appointed Historian, numerous local historians approached me to say that I just had to research Sara Dunlap Jackson because she was so important to the history of the agency.

Sara Dunlap Jackson was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1919. After earning her B.A. in sociology, and a brief stint as a high school teacher, Jackson moved to Washington, DC. She began her 46-year-long career at the National Archives in 1944 as an archives assistant in the Military Archives Division. According to Jackson, the Archives offered her the job because she had been working in the War Department, and the Archives thought this meant she knew something about military history.

In reality, Jackson knew little about military history at that time, but by spending countless hours in the stacks and answering numerous reference requests she became the go-to person for anyone researching military records in the National Archives. Researchers reported how she went the “extra mile,” how her kindness and advice “mothered” many historians, and how she dedicated her entire career to helping others. To many, Jackson was the National Archives.

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in the middle. (64-JR-2, Records of the National Archives)
Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson is in the middle. (Records of the National Archives)

Throughout her career Jackson earned numerous accolades, awards, and an honorary PhD from the University of Toledo. The Summer 1997 issue of Prologue, the official magazine of the National Archives, is a tribute to Jackson for her excellent reference service. She was acknowledged in numerous publications—noted historian Ira Berlin dedicated the first volume of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, an NHPRC-funded publication, “To Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire.”

Jackson retired from the National Archives in 1990 while on staff at the NHPRC. She died of cancer on April 19, 1991, at her home on Kalorama Road in Washington, DC.

Joseph E. Wood presents a pamphlet to Sara D. Jackson, April 20, 1965 64-NA-2659, Records of the National Archives
Joseph E. Wood presents a pamphlet to Sara D. Jackson, April 20, 1965. (Records of the National Archives)

Read a summary abstract of Sara Jackson’s 1982 oral history interview.

2 thoughts on “Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire

  1. Sara was a dear friend and a great archivist, In fact, she was an archivist’s archivist, training a score of outstanding people. I still miss her.

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