Clio was a woman: Trailblazers at the National Archives

This photo was taken in 1966 in the Auditorium at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

It’s the Miss Archives Contest.

64-NA-2862RG 64
Miss Archives Contest, 1966. (National Archives Identifier 3493272)

Yes, that really happened. And no, there was not a Mr. Archives Contest.

It is an appropriate commentary on the status of women in the National Archives from its founding in 1934 through the 1970s.

During those years, the National Archives and other archival institutions did not fully appreciate women’s contributions to the archival profession. No women occupied the highest positions under the Archivist of the United States, and only a handful of women led state archival institutions.

Elizabeth B. Drewry, Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, 1964. (National Archives Identifier 12171066)

The highest achieving National Archives employee in those years was Elizabeth Drewry, who was Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library from 1961 to 1969.

The first time the Archives really acknowledged women and women’s history was a conference on women’s history held April 22–23, 1976.

A subsequent book, Clio Was a Woman, contained the papers and commentaries from the conference. Two staff—Mabel E. Deutrich, assistant archivist, and Virginia C. Purdy, women’s history specialist—edited a book version.

The book highlighted the various underexplored records relating to women’s history at the National Archives and demonstrated women’s contributions to scholarship.

Since the 1970s, the Archives has made gains in promoting women—currently our Deputy Archivist is a woman, and we’ve had numerous female senior executives and heads of departments.

We’ve also had two female Acting Archivists of the United States—Trudy Peterson and Adrienne Thomas—although no President has yet appointed a woman to be Archivist of the United States.

Over the course of Women’s History Month, the National Archives History Office will be sharing the stories of Drewry, Deutrich, Purdy, Peterson, Thomas, and other female staff who pushed the boundaries at the National Archives throughout the years.

We will offer insight into their attempts to break the glass ceiling and their important contributions to the history of our agency.

Clio Was a Woman, cover, 1980.

7 thoughts on “Clio was a woman: Trailblazers at the National Archives

  1. A seat at the table, even if in the role of Deputy Archivist, is well short of the inequality promulgated in the Archivists’ Code. Maybe they should consider an edit, and remove the personal pronoun ‘HE.’ That would be an obvious start.

    1. Not a bad idea to update the personal pronoun usage (and more!). I was the original editor (Howard University Press) of the original manuscript back in about 1980 or so . We have come a long way as an informed people and readership with regard to gender identification. Perhaps it is time to revisit the publication and update! In those days we had galley and page proofs!

  2. Is it possible, if not already covered, to add Sara Jackson and Gerri Phillips to the list of women with significant careers at the National Archives who are also women of color? Other minorities covering the a range of representation should also be culled from the history of the National Archives so that the presentation can be as inclusive as possible.

    Staff, are there other names of women of color that should be included? If so, please ensure that their names are proposed as well. All trailblazers should be noted, without regard to job series and grade.

    1. Patricia (Pat) Andrews, a woman of color, was the Librarian when I started working at the National Archives in 1959.

  3. Wow. I look forward to hearing their stories! I hesitate to ask, but I am curious – what did the successful “Miss Archives” contestant win? And was this the only year the contest was held?

    1. Our records aren’t clear on how often this was held. We do know if was more of a popularity contest. The winner was Eve Walkling, who was Archivist Bahmer’s secretary.

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