Our First Intern, 1939

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, an archivist in Textual Processing at the National Archives at College Park. 

Now that the spring semester for colleges and universities across the nation has winded down, thousands of students are preparing to begin their internships. Many of them will come to Washington, DC, to work in the many federal agencies which will host them.

The National Archives and Records Administration is no exception; a variety of important and interesting opportunities await those who have been selected.

What must it have been like for the first student who interned at the National Archives?

The National Archives had been in operation for only a few years when, in the spring of 1939, it was contacted by the National Institute of Public Affairs (NIPA) to solicit interest in hosting an intern. Since 1934, NIPA had been administering an internship program to provide students with experience working in the federal government.

NIPA Story Washington Post 1938 p 1 RG 64 A1 1 file 776 Internships box 40

NIPA article in The Washington Post, May 29, 1938. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

NIPA provided informational materials to schools, which then shared them with interested students.

NIPA Information Brochure 1937 page 1

NIPA Application Brochure. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

Students then submitted an application to NIPA, indicating their fields of interest and the agencies in which they would like to intern.

NIPA Application Brochure (National Archives Identifier 654329)

NIPA Application Brochure. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

In May 1939, NIPA’s educational director, Henry Reining, Jr. contacted the National Archives to inquire about its interest in hosting an intern for the 1939-1940 school year.

Henry Reining Jr. of NIPA, from Post Story

Henry Reining Jr. of NIPA, from Washington Post article, May 29, 1938. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

The Archives’ Director of Publications, Solon J. Buck, sent a note and draft statement of qualifications to R. D. W. Connor, the Archivist of the United States.

Buck Note and Connor Response to NIPA Intern Proposal, May 1939 - RG 64, A1 1, file 77.6 Internships, box 40

Solon Buck note and R.D.W. Connor response to NIPA intern proposal, May 1939. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

Solon Buck Statement of Qualifications for Intern, May 1939 - RG 64, A1 1, file 77.6 Internships, box 40

Solon Buck Statement of Qualifications for Intern, May 1939. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

In late August Buck replied to NIPA.

NA Response to NIPA, Aug. 1939, p. 1 - RG 64, A1 1, file 77.6 Internships, box 40

Buck’s Response to NIPA, Aug. 1939, p. 1. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

NA Response to NIPA, Aug. 1939, p. 2 - RG 64, A1 1, file 77.6 Internships, box 40

Buck’s Response to NIPA, Aug. 1939, p. 2. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

Unlike today’s process, where a hosting organization or federal agency selects from a pool of applicants, NIPA selected the best candidate for each agency.

Lucy Cowdin Senior Photo, 1938 - Mills CollegeWho would it choose for the National Archives?

It was Lucy Cowdin (now Lucy Cowdin Maisel) from Mills College in Oakland, California.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Maisel by phone earlier this year, after having reached out to Mills College’s Office of Alumnae Relations.

Her memories of her experience at the National Archives, and her doings in wartime Washington, are priceless. I am grateful for her kindness and patience in replying to my torrent of questions.

I’ve included excerpts from our interview below.

Lucy Cowdin Awarded Phi Beta Kappa - Mills College, 1937

Lucy Cowdin Awarded Phi Beta Kappa, Mills College, 1937.

Dean Rusk at Mills College, 1939

Dean Rusk at Mills College, 1939. (Mills College Yearbook)

“Dean Rusk was a professor at Mills, and he helped us apply for the internships. I was interested in government and politics, and the National Archives sounded like an interesting place to work.”

“I was accepted for a fellowship to study at the École Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris for a year. I was studying political science, but really I was studying French culture!  When I returned home in August of 1939 I received word that I had been accepted for the internship.”

Lucy Cowdin Travels to France, 1939 - passenger list

Passenger list showing Lucy Cowdin Travels to France, 1939.

“There were about 50 of us in the intern group from NIPA, 10 women and 40 men. NIPA made arrangements for our housing, too.”

Here is a photograph of the intern group which preceded Cowdin’s.

NIPA Interns 1938-1939, from Brochure - RG 64, A1 1, file 77.6 Internships, box 40

NIPA Interns 1938-1939, from Brochure. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

Cowdin started her internship in October 1939 while she took graduate courses at American University.

Annual Report 1938-1939 - cover

Fifth Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States, 1938-1939. (Records of the National Archives)

Herbert Angel of the Division of Publications coordinated her work assignments with the various offices in the Archives, to give her the widest possible experience with its functions.

Her first assignment was in the Division of Publications, working on proofs of copy for the 1938-1939 Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States.

She also helped to select images of the Archives’ holdings for inclusion in the report.

“The Archives was so new, so that made it all interesting. But I felt like I was the only young person there. I think my favorite part of the internship was working with the diplomatic records in the [Division of] State Department Archives.”

NA Building - Bland, Julia M.

ID Card for Julia Bland, February 3, 1941. (National Archives Identifier 12091016)

Here are some excerpts about Cowdin’s work in that division, compiled by archivist Julia Bland, who oversaw her rotation there in January 1940.

Julia Bland Report, Jan. 8-13, 1940 - RG 64, P 161, file Weekly Floor Reports

(National Archives Identifier 23810513)

And a report for the following week:

Julia Bland Report, Jan. 15-20, 1940 - RG 64, P 161, file Weekly Floor Reports

(National Archives Identifier 23810513)

At about the midpoint of her internship, Herbert Angel drafted this report on Cowdin’s progress. This was a much a learning experience for the National Archives as it was for her.

And a second intern was eager to experience the agency, too.

Report on First Intern at Archives, 1940, cover letter - RG 64, A1 1, file 77.6 Internships, box 40

Report on First Intern at Archives, 1940, cover letter. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

Report on First Intern at Archives, 1940, p. 1 - RG 64, A1 1, file 77.6 Internships, box 40

Report on First Intern at Archives, 1940, p. 1. (National Archives Identifier 654329)

Donald McInnis joined Cowdin during the last half of her internship.

The staff newsletter “Archiviews” made mention of Cowdin as the internship was winding down.

First Intern at Archives - Archiviews, May 2, 1940, p. 5

Archiviews, May 1940. (Records of the National Archives)

In June 1940, the internship ended. Cowdin wrote up a final report on her experience and submitted it to NIPA.

Lucy Cowdin Maisel Donation - Lucy's Final Report, page 1 - xerox

Lucy’s Final Report, page 1. (Lucy Cowdin Maisel Donation)

And the Archives wrote up a glowing report on its inaugural internship experience, with anticipation for the future of the program.

Glowing Report on Cowdin and McInnis, June 1940 - RG 64, P 43, file Training - Internes - Proposed Archival Curriculum

Report on Cowdin and McInnis, June 1940. (National Archives Identifier 7563191)

So, what did Cowdin do after her internship ended?

“I took the Civil Service exam for “Junior Professional Assistant.” This was the exam tailored for liberal arts graduates. I ended up working in personnel recruitment and placement at the Office for Emergency Management. During the war I lived in Dupont Circle and walked to my job in one of the old “tempo” buildings on Constitution Avenue.”

She kept busy with other activities, too.

Cowdin Hosts Mills College President - Wash. Post, March 3, 1941, p. 10

The Washington Post, March 3, 1941.

Cowdin Sings Verdi Requiem - Wash. Post. April 26, 1942

The Washington Post, April 26, 1942.

Cowdin and Maisel Wedding License Announcement - Wash. Post, Sept. 22, 1942

The Washington Post, September 22, 1942.

“Sherman Maisel was in my intern group, too. He was interning at the Federal Reserve.”

After getting married, the Maisels departed Washington, DC, when Sherman entered the military. His assignments took them across the United States, culminating in a posting to Brussels and the Inter-Allied Reparations Agency. They returned to California after the war, where he taught economics at UC Berkeley. His pioneering work on real estate and urban economics led to his appointment to the Federal Reserve in 1965.

Sherman Maisel Named to Fed - Oakland Tribune, April 2, 1965

Sherman Maisel named to Fed, Oakland Tribune, April 2, 1965.

The Maisels attended a reception for Presidential appointees at the White House on January 3, 1969. Here they are pictured greeting President and Mrs. Johnson.

Mr and Mrs Maisel in Receiving Line for WH Reception, Jan. 3, 1969 - roll B2942

Mr. and Mrs. Maisel in receiving line for White House reception, January 3, 1969. (Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library)

Lucy Cowdin Maisel Greets LBJ - roll B2942

Lucy Cowdin Maisel shakes hands with LBJ. (Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library)

Mrs. Maisel is holding the banner in this photograph taken at the 50th anniversary reunion of Mills College’s class of 1938.

Mills College Class of 38, 1988

Mills College Class of 1938, 1988.

At the end of our call, although appreciative of my interest, she was somewhat flummoxed: “I don’t know why people would be interested in my life; I didn’t really do much!”

Many would beg to differ, Lucy Cowdin Maisel!

Also, my thanks go to archivist Margaret Harman at the Johnson Library for helping me track down the Maisels at the White House.

 

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2 Responses to Our First Intern, 1939

  1. Carl C Fields says:

    Her Mills College classmate, Dixie Lee Ray, mentioned in the Phi Beta Kappa item, was later Chair of the US Atomic Energy Commission and governor of the state of Washington, among many other achievements.

    Like

  2. Ray Bottorff Jr says:

    Fascinating. Mrs. Maisel is probably the last remaining person alive who worked at the Archives prior to WWII. I imagine she is too old to travel, but an invitation by someone at NARA to pay us a visit again would be a wonderful gesture.

    Like

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