March is Women’s History Month! Visit our website for more resources on women’s history and to see how the National Archives is celebrating the month.
Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, an archivist in Textual Processing at Archives II.
I am flabbergasted at how popular this photograph has become.
These instruments had just been installed in the National Archives Building, so I was asked to pose for what you’d call a “photo op.”
I do remember when it appeared in the newspaper; that was rather thrilling!
Oh, my; what is that thing you have me holding?
So, would you like to know my story?
Well, I was born in 1909. Our family lived in Pennsylvania up to my teen years.
Here is a young me with my family. My brother, Warren, is taking a break from his customary hell-raising.
My father was a chemist, and he worked for the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in its Pittsburgh office.
He was very knowledgeable about mortar, lime, and other such substances. And he wrote about them a great deal.
We moved to Washington, DC, when he accepted a position as chief of NBS’s Organic and Fibrous Materials Division. I think that was around 1926.
It’s fair to say that Dad’s interests rubbed off on me. When I went to Swarthmore, I studied chemistry.
After I graduated, I found work as a research associate under a Carnegie Institution grant through the National Research Council (NRC), which was funding research at the Bureau of Standards on the preservation of books and documents.
I worked in the bureau’s Paper Section with Mr. Arthur Kimberly, with whom I would cross paths again. You can read a paper for a study we worked on here.
Things were going so well, and then the bottom fell out. The funds from the NRC dried up, and I was out of a job.
So I went back to school and took courses toward an economics degree. And I wound up as a clerk at the Census Bureau for a while.
In 1935 Mr. Kimberly had left the Bureau of Standards and was setting up a division at the National Archives which would be responsible for the preservation of records.
Finally, a chance to use my training and experience again. I applied for a job and was hired —that’s me at the table!
Here’s a roster of our staff from about that time:
Along about this time Everett Ansley came into my life. He was well-traveled, and had quite the interesting career. I was smitten.
News of our marriage made it into the employee newsletter “Archiviews.”
But fate would not be kind to us—I lost Everett after barely a year together.
This was a very low time in my life.
But I tried to keep busy. We had a wonderful employee association that sponsored all sorts of activities for the staff. I volunteered to chair the table tennis committee.
And I met a colleague who would soon change my life.
Of course, the workload for the division was unrelenting. There was always so much to do.
The year 1942 was tremendously busy, I can say. With the war, more people were using the records, and there was even more for us to do. But the summer started off on a happy note.
James and I began our life together on June 7, 1942.
And after an all-too-brief honeymoon, I came back to work. The Archives mobilized its staff for all sorts of emergency duties in the event of an enemy attack. I was one of the coordinators of a training program for them that summer.
Finally, the staff who completed these courses were presented with certificates at a graduation ceremony in August.
I was involved with many projects that informed the public about our agency’s work. The Archives had been publishing a series of informational bulletins since it opened, and during the war, I contributed to one about the lessons learned from our division’s work with preserving the records.
That summer of 1943 was challenging—I was getting the manuscript ready, attending to my regular workload, and doing it all in the last months of pregnancy. But it was finally off to the printers. I’ve often joked with Mary Anna that she is my “Bulletin Baby.”
I was gratified the the bulletin was well received. This reflected the state of the art at the time.
This and other work in our division helped the National Archives become a national leader in records preservation. And I am proud to have been a part of that.
We had so much turnover in our ranks during the war, what with people being called into the service and others arriving.
When Mr. Kimberly was called up, I was made acting chief of the division. We were able to manage things fairly well during that time, although we had to deal with staff fluctuations and uncooperative budgets, like everyone else.
But when he returned, Mr. Kimberly was somewhat dissatisfied with how things had been managed during his absence. In the face of this uncomfortable situation, I had to weigh my options: take a leave of absence or simply resign?
I decided on a clean break.
It was very difficult to say goodbye to an agency for which I had contributed to so many important efforts. But I kept in touch with my colleagues, and dropped by on occasion.
And I certainly kept up with developments in the preservation field.
Mine has been a busy, fulfilling life. And I am glad the National Archives played such an important part in it.