Ms. Archivist

The National Archives History Office is celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring past employees. Today’s post comes from Hailey Philbin.

“Deutrich’s only disadvantage in this respect lies in her being a woman.”

Imagine hearing this and inevitably realizing that your career ambitions would be restricted because of your gender. Mabel Deutrich was given this discriminatory explanation as a reason why it might be difficult for her to receive a promotion before an equally, or even less qualified male.

After graduating in 1942 from LaCrosse State Teachers College in Wisconsin (now the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse), Deutrich moved to Washington, DC, and was a wartime clerk in the Mail and Record Division in the Office of the Chief Engineers. From 1947 to 1950 she was a historian in the Department of the Army.

In 1950, Deutrich began her career in the National Archives and quickly discovered the many glass ceilings above women employed by the federal government at this time. She was by far a minority among her male co-workers, but that only encouraged her ambitious work ethic.

Due to her previous work with the Army records, Deutrich was deservedly promoted to be archivist in charge of the Early Wars Branch of the War Records Division, where she was the author of several finding aids.

Mabel Deutrich’s Ph.D. Examining Board, 1960. (National Archives Identifier 12169811)

To further prove she was as qualified and equally as competent as her male co-workers, Deutrich earned a Ph.D. in public administration from American University in 1960. Now the men that hadn’t believed in her had to call her Dr. Deutrich.

During the 1960s she led several projects for the Office of Military Records and eventually headed up the Old Military Records Division.

She also wrote the book Struggle for Supremacy: The Career of General Fred C. Ainsworth, which was published in 1962.

From 1975 to 1979, Deutrich served as Assistant Archivist for the Office of the National Archives. Her achievements were an inspiration for those clever girls who dreamed of being archivists instead of princesses.

Deutrich committed much of her professional career to carving a progressive pathway for future women archivists. She held a chair on the Society of American Archivist’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Archival Profession upon its founding in 1972.

In 1973 she published “Ms. vs. Mr. Archivist” in the “Women in Archives” issue of The American Archivist. She explained that women employed at the Archives tended to have higher education levels, much like herself, but were still the minority when compared to male employees.

Mabel E. Deutrich presents an award to Petronilla Hawes, July 3, 1964. (National Archives Identifier 17616986)

Deutrich directed a conference on women’s history in April of 1976 to celebrate the revolutionary triumphs of the women and to promote the advancement of professional women.

That same year, she was awarded the NARS Meritorious Service Award for “advancing the status of women in the archival profession.”

Deutrich retired from the National Archives in 1979, but her influential work didn’t stop there. She subsequently co-authored Clio was a Woman: Studies in the History of American Women.

Dr. Mabel Deutrich continually broke the glass ceiling for women in archival professions. She changed what it meant to be a professional woman and encouraged other women to celebrate their history.

And, as it turns out, Deutrich’s alleged “disadvantage” became her greatest advantage.

Page from Deutrich’s file noting her disadvantage as being a woman. (Records of the National Archives)

For more information on Deutrich read Alan Walker’s post, “What’s Your Story, Mabel Deutrich?

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