Historic Staff Spotlight: Kathryn M. Murphy

March is Women’s History Month, and we are marking the occasion with a series on our social media channels that focuses on the achievements of women who have worked at the National Archives over the years. Throughout March these stories will be shared via social media using the hashtag #WomenOfRecord, and you can follow along on FacebookInstagramLinkedInTwitter, and YouTube. Today we are spotlighting Kathryn M. Murphy, who came to the National Archives in 1937 and whose career spanned more than half a century. 

Kathryn M. Murphy was born in Brockton, MA, on April 22, 1914. She moved to Washington, DC, at a young age and spent the rest of her life living in the nation’s capital. She graduated from Central High School (now Cardozo) and received a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University in 1935. Murphy came to the National Archives in January 1937, as a typist. She worked in the Division of Reference, where she quickly became Junior Reference Assistant, then a supervisor in the Central Research Room. 

In order to advance at the National Archives in those days, especially for women, one needed a graduate degree. She started graduate work at George Washington University and ended up earning a master’s degree in library science from Catholic University. In 1951 she finished her thesis, “The File Microcopy Program of the National Archives,” which looked at the agency’s early microfilming efforts.

Murphy spent most of her career at the National Archives as an archivist. In addition to working in the Central Reference Division, she worked with records in a division whose name changed and evolved over time—the Diplomatic, Legal, and Fiscal Records Division; the Legislative and Diplomatic Branch; and then the Diplomatic Branch, where she was working at the end of her career.

Her contributions to finding aids included writing the introduction to the microfilm publication for the Records of the Southern Claims Commission, the Reference Information Paper on Economic and Social Data Among Pre-Federal Records, and several Preliminary Inventories on series within the Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards,

She was the founding president of the National Archives chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees union as well as a longtime member of the Society of American Archivists (SAA). She was also an active member of the National Archives Employee Association and wrote numerous articles for the employee newsletter. 

Murphy was known to her colleagues as the agency’s world traveler. During her time at the National Archives, she visited nearly every country in Europe, traveled throughout the Middle East, and went to Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Brazil, Egypt, and many other destinations both inside and outside the United States.

A year after coming to the National Archives, Murphy visited Paris, Berlin, and London just as World War II was brewing. In 1939 she took an extended trip to France, England, and Scotland—and her grandparents’ home country, Ireland. The same year, she cruised through the Caribbean and visited Caracas, Venezuela. In 1957 she spent an entire month in South Africa to study the Great Trek—she had previously done a research paper on the Voortrekkers. Murphy attended the International Council on Archives meeting in Brussels in 1964 then traveled to Egypt and the Italian and French Riviera. Later in life, she went on SAA-sponsored international archival tours, including a trip to Moscow in 1972 and one to China in 1982. 

In 1978, toward the end of her career, Murphy worked on the NARS Federal Women Program Committee, which was part of the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity program. The committee was tasked with assisting management with implementing parts of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act that affected the agency’s female employees, and developing programs to help women improve their careers.

Murphy retired in 1989 as one of the few staff members whose service spanned the entire time the National Archives was under the General Services Administration. Kathryn Murphy died of respiratory failure on April 8, 2002. She was 87.

March is also Irish American Heritage Month. Visit the National Archives website for more resources on how to celebrate. 

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