Historic Staff Spotlight: Dorothy Hill Gersack

We are taking a look at past staff and their many contributions to the National Archives throughout history. Today’s staff spotlight is Dorothy Hill Gersack, who worked for the National Archives from 1936 until her retirement in 1975.

Born in Livingston, Illinois, on October 24, 1910, Dorothy Jeanne Hill earned a BS and MS in Library Science from the University of Illinois. While working in the library at the University of Illinois, she saw a job notice for a cataloger at the National Archives. She moved to Washington, DC, and started at the National Archives on November 2, 1936. In 1944 she married Joseph Robert Gersack, Jr., and changed her name to Dorothy Hill Gersack. 

When she started at the National Archives, the Cataloging Division was composed exclusively of women except for its chief. Her coworkers were some of the earliest staff at the National Archives and included Esther S. Chapin, Dorothy Arbaugh, Josephine Cobb, Helen Beach, Bess Glenn, Evangeline Thurber, and Clarissa Goold. 

When the Cataloging Division was broken up, Gersack briefly moved to the Division of the Commerce Records before heading to the Division of Veterans’ Records, which oversaw the records most commonly used to verify veterans benefits. While in that division, she was promoted to a P-4 grade, which was the highest professional rating in the National Archives—and a rare achievement for a woman at that time.

During her time in working with veterans records, Gersack worked on a major project to meet the growing demand for information related to World War I. The result was the Handbook of Federal World War Agencies and Their Records, 1917–21, which the National Archives published in 1943. She also compiled the 1945 Preliminary Checklist of photographs showing the progress of construction projects on hospitals and homes acquired by the Veterans Administration from 1922 to 1929, which were part of the records of the Public Buildings Service. 

In 1947 she became an archivist with Department of Justice and Court records in the General Reference Division. After the National Archives was moved under the General Services Administration, Gersack moved to the Records Appraisal Division, where she became an expert on description, appraisal, and retention of federal records. 

During her long and distinguished career, Gersack published several articles and finding aids and made numerous presentations to professional organizations about the agency and its records. A longtime member of the Society of American Archivists, she served as an SAA fellow and for eight years edited the “News Notes” for its journal, The American Archivist.

She also loved to volunteer in both her personal and professional life. As chair of the National Archives employee association’s Library Committee, she came up with the “Lending Library,” whereby the association raised funds to purchase books that staff members could borrow for their personal enjoyment. She was also a founding member of the National Archives chapter of the American Federation of Labor.

Gersack retired from the National Archives on July 31, 1975, after nearly 40 years of service. At that time, she was working in the Records Disposition Division in the Office of Federal Records Centers. On November 23, 1982, she sat down with another early staff member, Kathryn Murphy, for an oral history interview in which she reflected on the early days of the National Archives, especially the agency’s treatment of women. Dorothy Hill Gersack passed away on January 5, 1983, at her daughter’s home in Ellicott City, Maryland. She was 72. 

Read Dorothy Hill Gersack’s obituary, written by Kathryn Murphy, which was published in The American Archivist. 

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