Elizabeth Hamer Kegan: Educator and Innovator

The National Archives History Office continues to celebrate Women’s History Month with stories of former employees. Today’s post comes from Kaitlin Errickson.

Elizabeth Hamer, 7/31/1951. (National Archives Identifier 12167572)

Elizabeth “Betty” Hamer Kegan was an archival pioneer. As a founding member of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and lead supporter of the Freedom Train, she sought to make history and archives more accessible to the public.

Hamer was born as Elizabeth Edwards in Copperhill, TN, in 1912. She attended the University of Tennessee and earned her BA in 1933.

She joined the National Archives in 1936 as a member of the Survey of Federal Archives in the States, a project that surveyed and indexed historically significant records in state, county, and local archives to determine what would come to the new National Archives.

As a compiler, her work and dedication to the survey was so impressive that she was quickly promoted to editor in chief of the project, whose end product was the Inventory of Federal Archives in the States.

In 1940 she married Philip M. Hamer, who was the director of the survey and Chief of Reference at that time at the National Archives.

Hamer’s notable editorial skills put her National Archives career on the fast track as she became the Exhibits and Information Officer in 1947 and then Chief of the Exhibits and Publications Section in 1950.

Elizabeth Hamer, Margaret (Peggy) Mangum, and Elizabeth Bukowsky encase bound volumes in Lucite containers aboard the Freedom Train, October 5, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167218)

Unfortunately, she does not have many publications of her own because she spent most of her time editing and overseeing staff.

As Chief of the Exhibits and Publications Section, she and her staff created exhibits and publications to explain the field of archiving.

Perhaps Hamer’s largest and most unique contribution to the National Archives was her leadership on the Freedom Train exhibit. She was responsible for acquiring documents on loan from the National Archives, Library of Congress, independent museums, and private collections.

The Ambassador of the Netherlands, His Excellency E. N. van Kleffens, Dr. Wayne C. Grover, Archivist of the United States, and Mrs. Elizabeth E. Hamer, Exhibits and Information Officer of the National Archives, examine the National Archives exhibit of Netherlands documents, 9/1/1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167284)

She also helped design the document displays and install the exhibits onto the train.

In 1951, Hamer left the National Archives to work as the Information and Publications Officer at the Library of Congress where she remained for 27 years.

Hamer also had great success outside of her career. She was a founding member of SAA. Out of 226 original members, about only one third were women.

She was later elected a SAA fellow in 1960, a council member from 1969 to 1973, Vice President in 1974, and President of SAA in 1975.

After the death of her husband in 1971, she remarried to Lawrence R. Kegan in 1973.

Elizabeth Hamer Kegan died on March 9, 1979.

SAA established the Philip M. Hamer and Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award in 1973 to be awarded to an individual, group, or institution that increased public awareness of documents and archives through an educational display.

For more information on Elizabeth Hamer Kegan’s involvement in the Freedom Train, please visit the Freedom Train exhibit.

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