This photo was taken in 1966 in the Auditorium at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
It’s the Miss Archives Contest.
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.
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.