What’s Your Story, Mabel Deutrich?

Today’s post for Women’s History Month—in the voice of former National Archives employee Mabel Deutrich—comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

I went to the La Crosse State Teachers College in Wisconsin. It’s now the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse.

Mabel Deutrich in Sophomore Class portrait, 1934 yearbook, from Ancestry.com

Mabel Deutrich (middle) in sophomore class portrait, 1934 yearbook, from Ancestry.com

I came to the Archives in 1950, after having worked with the Army’s records since we entered World War II.

 Record Group 64, A1 106, file "Personnel," National Archives

Record Group 64, A1 106, file “Personnel,” National Archives

Here is a rundown of my first decade or so in government service. Competition for promotions in our unit was intense. Upon reading this document reviewing the candidates, I would remark that you should take care in what you commit to paper: “Deutrich’s only disadvantage in this respect lies in her being a woman.”

Look carefully at the bottom sentence! Record Group 64, A1 106, file "Personnel," National Archives.

Look carefully at the bottom sentence! Record Group 64, A1 106, file “Personnel,” National Archives.

In spite of this assessment, I persevered; my knowledge of Army records and their organization proved immensely helpful as we were being inundated with them after the war.

 Archiviews, April 1958

Archiviews, April 1958

Indeed I did pass! And I continued with my studies. It’s not often that you can get your Ph.D. examination board to convene at your workplace:

Ph.D. oral examination board for Mabel Deutrich at National Archives Building, 1960.  From left: Wayne Grover, Elizabeth Drewry, Mabel Deutrich, Sherrod East, Helen L. Chatfield, and Ernst Posner (National Archives, 64-NA-1839)

Ph.D. oral examination board for Mabel Deutrich at National Archives Building, 1960.
From left: Wayne Grover, Elizabeth Drewry, Mabel Deutrich, Sherrod East, Helen L. Chatfield, and Ernst Posner (National Archives, 64-NA-1839)

My dissertation was on “Fred C. Ainsworth: Army Surgeon and Administrator.” The Ainsworth Search Room of the Civil War Branch was named after him. Here is a view of the grand opening of that search room. Of course the photographer would catch me in mid-blink!

Opening of Civil War Branch Search Room, June 10, 1958. Division Chief Dallas Irvine cuts the ribbon. Branch Chief Victor Gondos at right. (National Archives,  64-NA-1741)

Opening of Civil War Branch Search Room, June 10, 1958. Division Chief Dallas Irvine cuts the ribbon. Branch Chief Victor Gondos at right. (National Archives, 64-NA-1741)

In 1960 I also became the Archivist in Charge for the Early Wars Branch of the War Records Division. I contributed to the production of several preliminary inventories, and in 1963 I shepherded PI-155 through from start to finish. Through the 1960s I directed archival projects for the Office of Military Archives, then I headed up the Old Military Records Division.

Mabel Deutrich receives Commendable Service Award from Archivist Wayne Grover, Sept. 19, 1963 (National Archives, 64-NA-2255)

Mabel Deutrich receives Commendable Service Award from Archivist Wayne Grover, September 19, 1963 (National Archives, 64-NA-2255)

When functions were realigned in 1971, I was put in charge of all military records. In 1975, I capped things off when I was appointed as the assistant archivist for the Office of the National Archives.

I was constantly aware of my position as I moved along in my career; the ratio of women to men in the archival jobs here was always low. So I resolved to contribute to the betterment of our opportunities. I chaired the SAA’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Archival Profession when it was established in 1972. I wrote this article “Ms. vs. Mr. Archivist” for the “Women in Archives” issue of The American Archivist in 1973:

It was an exciting time, the mid-1970s; interest in women’s history was taking off. I directed our Conference on Women’s History in April 1976.

Though I retired from the Archives in 1979, there was still so much to occupy me. Virginia Purdy and I worked on this volume, and it was great fun.

Cover of "Clio Was A Woman"

Cover of “Clio Was A Woman”

My sister and I both had satisfying and successful careers in the government.

NARS Newsletter, February 1976 (National Archives)

NARS Newsletter, February 1976 (National Archives)

And there you have it!

To sum it up, I would say I am pleased with the way my career turned out. Even with my “disadvantage.”

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