Historic Staff Spotlight: Bess Glenn

This year we are taking a look at past staff and their many contributions to the National Archives throughout history. Today’s staff spotlight is on Bess Glenn, who worked for the National Archives from 1936 to her retirement in 1962 and was one of the first female archivists at the agency.

Bess Glenn, 1951. (National Archives Identifier 12167552)

Bess Glenn was born in Gibson, Louisiana, on July 22, 1904, to Raphelia Lewis Glenn and Edgar Glenn. She graduated summa cum laude from Converse College in South Carolina in 1926, received a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1928, and earned a library science degree from the University of Illinois in 1932. 

Before coming to the National Archives in 1936, Glenn taught English at St. Mary’s school in Raleigh, North Carolina, and was a librarian at University of South Carolina. 

Bess Glenn’s National Archives ID, 1941. (National Archives Identifier 12091199)

Like many women in the early years of the National Archives, Glenn’s National Archives career began in the Cataloging Division. When the division was abolished, she moved to the Navy Department Archives and quickly became the archivist in charge of accessions, disposal, and reference for the records of the Navy. 

In 1943 she wrote the definitive article on Navy Department records at the National Archives at that time.

Bess Glenn with Division of Navy Department Archives staff, 1942. (National Archives Identifier 12168972)

In 1944 Glenn moved to the General Records Division, which included State, Justice, Treasury, and Federal Court records, and soon became assistant chief of that division. She became acting chief of Justice and Executive Branch records in 1951, eventually becoming chief, a role she held until her retirement.

General Records Division, R-L: Carl L. Lokke (Foreign Affairs), Lyle J. Holverstott (Fiscal), Bess Glenn (Justice and Executive), Harold E. Hufford (Legislative), and seated Thad Page (Chief), ca. 1956. (National Archives Identifier 12169555)

In addition to publishing numerous books, articles, and finding aids, Glenn served as president of the National Archives Association, an employee group, from 1946 to 1947. As its president, she dedicated the War Memorial Plaque honoring four National Archives employees who died serving the United States during World War II. Glenn was also actively involved in preparations for the Freedom Train exhibit, which toured the United States from 1947 to 1949. 

Toward the end of her career, she wrote articles on the government’s record practices regarding the Taft Commission, private records the U.S. seized during wartime, and records of the Supreme Court at the National Archives. 

Glenn retired from the National Archives on June 22, 1962, after which her paper trail goes cold. Except for a brief mention in her obituary that her alma mater, Converse College, awarded her a Doctor of Letters Degree in 1968, I haven’t been able to find much about her post-Archives life. On November 20, 1992, at age 88, Bess Glenn passed away. She was interred in Elmwood Cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina, where a number of her family members are also buried.

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