We’re celebrating American Archives Month by looking back on the history of the National Archives. Today’s staff spotlight is on Linda J. Henry, who sought to expand the archives profession and to explore new technological methods in archival theory during her 25 years at the National Archives.
Linda J. Henry (1944–2008) was a dedicated archivist who was committed to learning and exploring the boundaries of archival theory. She welcomed new ideas, even as she sometimes challenged them, and served as a mentor for countless new archivists.
Intellectually curious and eager to advocate for diversity within the profession, Henry was a firm believer that archivists should encourage each other to seek out and learn new skills as the field of archives evolved. While committed to the traditions of archival theory, Henry welcomed changes that would render archives more understandable and accessible both within the profession and to the wider public.
Henry’s dedicated career as an archivist spanned across several institutions. She contributed her expertise to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, the National Council of Negro Women, the American Psychiatric Association, and, finally, the National Archives, where she spent nearly a quarter century of her career. She worked first with the Education Programs and later in the Electronic and Special Media Records Division, in addition to directing the Modern Archives Institute at the National Archives.
Beyond her daily work, Henry was a prolific author and an advocate for diversity within the archives profession. In 1981, she published an article, “Promoting Historical Consciousness: The Early Archives Committee of the National Council of Negro Women,” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. In this piece, Henry highlighted the National Archives for Black Women’s History. She advocated that more research be done about the history of Black women and believed that archives should collect more documents related specifically to the history of Black women in order to promote a greater “historical awareness about Black women” in America.
One of her more notable works was a 1998 article published in the American Archivist. Titled “Schellenberg in Cyberspace,” Henry encouraged archivists to embrace electronic records, highlighting the ways in which electronic records would change, or even overturn, traditional archival theory and practice. She also wrote “An Archival Retread in Electronic Records: Acquiring Computer Literacy,” a 1993 article seeking to reassure archivists who found it difficult to develop computer literacy, urging them to become involved with new media.
Her 1994 article “Women Archivists in the Federal Government: A Glass Ceiling?” for Archival Issues, the journal of the Midwest Archives Conference, discussed how female archivists in the federal government were not promoted to leadership positions as often as their male colleagues.
From 1977 until her retirement in 2007, Henry was an active member of the Society of American Archivists (SAA). She chaired the Program Committee in 1977, served on the council from 1983 through 1986, and was treasurer from 1988 until 1991. Bringing her sharp intellect and good-natured humor to everything that she did, Henry was also involved with numerous committees and task forces, including the Status of Women Committee and the Task Force to Revise the SAA Constitution. She taught workshops for SAA and was awarded the distinction of becoming an SAA Fellow in 1987.
Henry retired in 2007 before passing away in 2008. Unbeknownst to her colleagues until after her death, Henry bequeathed $342,405 to SAA in her will. With this generous donation, she gave the largest unrestricted gift in SAA history. In light of Henry’s generosity, her long-time colleagues at SAA honored her lasting impact on the archives profession and on SAA by using the gift to establish the Linda J. Henry Fund, an unrestricted fund that is used to further the activities of the organization.