Acting Archivist Trudy Huskamp Peterson

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

Trudy Huskamp Peterson was appointed Acting Archivist of the United States in March 1993, following the departure of Archivist Don W. Wilson, who left to head the new Bush Presidential Library Center.

She was the first woman to hold the position.

Originally from Iowa, Peterson holds a B.S. from Iowa State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

Her career with the National Archives began in 1968, when she took a position as a historian and archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, IA.

From there, she served in many positions in several departments at the National Archives, including as an editor with the John F. Kennedy Oral History Project and as chief of both the Legislative and Natural Resources Branch, and Machine-Readable Records Branch.

She became Acting Assistant Archivist (1985–1987), Assistant Archivist for the Office of the National Archives (1987–1993), and eventually Acting Archivist of the United States (1993–1995).

Peterson began her tenure as Acting Archivist during a difficult time at the Archives, when the agency had been accused of mismanagement and neglecting records, and was under governmental investigation. Just three months into her tenure, the agency lost a ruling for “failing to preserve and protect computer tapes made during the Reagan and Bush administrations.”

Peterson made several efforts to address these concerns. Throughout her tenure, Peterson led her office in implementing a strategic management plan that addressed various agency objectives, such as revising federal records declassification policy and planning for space needs. She helped the agency to reorganize and streamline its workforce, and to better tailor its services to all those who visit and use Archives resources, such as historians and genealogists.

Connie Potter, Ken Heger, and Trudy Peterson in the Archivist’s Reception Room, ca. 1992. (Records of the National Archives)

She also began hosting open forums and “brown bag” lunch groups, which provided a space for employees to voice concerns directly to her and discuss possible solutions. These forums and lunches were successful in helping to increase communication between the Office of the Archivist and other agency staff members.

In 1994, Peterson was on hand to dedicate the new National Archives facility at College Park, MD. The most technologically advanced archives facility in world, it houses permanently valuable textual and non-textual records (film, pictures, sound and video recording, charts, maps, and more).

The opening of the College Park facility (Archives II) marked the agency’s dedication to properly preserve and store all types of records in an effort to better serve the public and the government. Peterson described the opening as “an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to our mission of preserving the nation’s documentary heritage for current and future generations.”

Trudy Peterson Speaking at the Dedication of the National Archives at College Park (Archives II), May 12,1994. (Records of the National Archives)

Despite becoming Acting Archivist at a trying time, Trudy Huskamp Peterson was able to lead the National Archives into a better future, in which the agency was better positioned to fulfill its goals and duties.

After leaving the National Archives in 1995, Peterson founded her own archival consulting company. She has worked with clients including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, World Health Organization, and the governments of multiple countries. She has a particular interest in preserving and archiving the records of human rights and truth commissions, and has written a book on the topic, titled Final Acts: A Guide to Preserving the Records of Truth Commissions (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

To learn more about Trudy Peterson, visit her website or read her online bio on the National Archives History Office website.

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