Women’s History in the Archives

March is Women’s History Month! Today’s post comes from Elle Benak in the National Archives History Office.

In spring 1976 the National Archives held a ground-breaking conference on women’s history. It highlighted National Archives records that focused on the subject and discussed how women’s history could be studied as part of general history; not just as a facet of historical narratives.

Women’s history was not a serious field of study before the 1960s. As its popularity grew, many scholars looked to the National Archives for guidance on finding records related to the subject.


Women working as chippers in a shipyard, 1942. An example of the many records at the National Archives related to women. (National Archives Identifier 522892)

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The drawings of Charles Alston

February is Black History Month! Visit the National Archives website to learn more about our many events and activities celebrating African American History.


Sgt. Romare Bearden (right) in front of his painting, “Cotton Workers,” with first his first art teacher, Pvt. Charles H. Alston, ca. 2/1944.” (National Archives Identifier: 535841)

Charles Henry Alston (November 28, 1907–April 27, 1977) was a noted African American artist and teacher. He is best known for sculpting the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., on display in the White House, but his association with the federal government started much earlier.

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alston moved with his family to New York City in 1915. He spent his life living and working in Harlem and was active in the Harlem Renaissance.

During the 1930s, the WPA’s Federal Art Project commissioned Alston to paint murals for a hospital in Harlem.

Later, during World War II, the Office of War Information hired Alston for a series of drawings to be featured in black newspapers. The Records of the Office of War Information at the National Archives contain many of these drawings.

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Japanese Internment: Righting a Wrong

February 19 is the Day of Remembrance commemorating the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the forced evacuation and relocation of all people in “military areas” who might pose a threat to national security. Since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor had occurred just months earlier, many believed that people of Japanese ancestry posed that threat, and the entire West Coast was deemed a military area.

Over the next six months, 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent were taken from their homes and put into internment camps—nearly 70,000 were American citizens.

Rediscovery number:26606

“Evacuees of Japanese ancestry entraining for Manzanar, Calif., 250 miles away, where they now are housed in a War Relocation Authority center,” April 1, 1942. (Records of the War Relocation Authority, National Archives)

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Family Traditions and George Washington’s Birthday

Today’s post comes from Tom Putnam, Acting Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries.


Presidents Day Family Festival at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, 2011.

In a recent conversation with a younger colleague about Presidents Day, I mentioned that while I appreciated the three-day weekend, I missed celebrating George Washington’s actual birthday and eating cherry pie.

“Cherry pie?” she asked. “Why cherry pie?”

The tradition stems, of course, from the famous (and likely apocryphal) story told by Mason “Parson” Weems in The Life and Memorable Actions of Washingtona biography published in 1800 shortly after Washington’s death. A moralistic tale depicting his many virtues, the book included the story of how as a young boy George Washington could not tell a lie and admitted to his father that he had chopped down a young cherry tree.

Weems’s source, he claimed, was a distant relative who spent time with the Washington family as a young girl. While the tale cannot be proved or disproved, it is true that Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains family recipes for preserving and cooking with cherries.

And through the centuries, public lore continues to associate George Washington with the cherry fruit. At the elementary school I attended, cherry pie was served at lunch the day before the holiday. And on Washington’s Birthday itself, it was my family’s evening dessert.

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Ceremony for the 75th Anniversary of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Anne Roosevelt is pictured in the background, 6/30/16. Photo courtesy of Candeo Photo.

Before 1971, Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on February 22 no matter what day of the week it fell. The tradition began in 1879, when Congress decreed that all government offices in the District of Columbia would close to mark Washington’s birth.

But in the late 1960s, Congress determined it would be better to celebrate the holiday on a Monday, creating a three-day weekend, on a date in February that fell between Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays. (You can read the full story in this Prologue article by C. L. Arbelbide.)

Though the name of the holiday was never officially changed, over time it morphed in our popular culture from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents Day, which then became fodder for advertisers to market blowout sales at mattress and car dealerships.

While eating cherry pie and recounting a story from Washington’s youth that was likely untrue are odd traditions on which to hang one’s hat—I hold on to these childhood memories of a moment when the country paused to extol the character of our first President.

In school we were told of his bravery, integrity, and honor. And we were encouraged to follow his model as “the father of our country.”

Barbara Bush International

Reading Discovery Program at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum with Barbara Bush and two young readers, 1/29/15. Photo credit: Dave McDermand, The Eagle.

I do not recall how old I was—though it was likely past my grade school years—when I understood the significance of Washington’s decision to voluntarily relinquish power and his many efforts to ensure that our fragile new republic long endured.

We were reminded as children that unlike the kings and queens of England, from which we had declared our independence, we lived in a democracy where any citizen could be elected President of the United States.

Washington was our secular role model—and celebrating his birth was part of the glue that united us as Americans.

Today our system of modern Presidential libraries engage their communities over Presidents Day weekend with special programming, speakers, and family festivals.

For years I attended those events at the Kennedy Library, where I once worked, and was always heartened by multiple generations coming to the library to share stories and lessons from our common history.


Cub Scout visit to the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

Despite their political differences, what unites all of our Presidents is their service and dedication to our country. And we hope by creating “Presidential” memories in those who visit our libraries and museums and participate in our programson Presidents Day or any day through the yearsthat we are helping to pass along the values we hold dear to generations who follow.

While we may not all eat cherry pie this Presidents Daywe can pause to reflect on the fundamental truths on which our country was founded. They remain the essential glue that connect us a people.

Please share your memories of President’s Day and your family’s tradition (past and present) to mark Washington’s birthday.

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Happy George Washington’s Birthday!


George Washington, copy of painting by Gilbert Stuart, 1931-1932. (National Archives Identifier: 532888)

George Washington led the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, presided over the Constitutional Convention, and served as the first President of the United States. He is known, quite rightfully, as the Father of our Country.

Washington was born in Virginia on February 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar. In 1752 Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, which moved Washington’s birthday a year and 11 days.

That puts Washington’s birthday on February 22, 1732.

Americans have long celebrated Washington’s Birthday. The centennial of his birth in 1832 was marked by nationwide celebrations, festivals, and parades. Congress even established a committee to arrange for the occasion and adjourned from February 21 to 23 to participate in the festivities.

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The 25th Amendment: Succession of the Presidency


Joint Resolution Proposing the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 7/6/1965. (National Archives Identifier 1415077)

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, archives specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. She is also co-curator of the exhibit Amending America,” which runs in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery in the National Archives Building through September 4, 2017.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment established procedures for the succession of the Presidency in the event of a vacancy in the office of President or Vice President.

There have been 16 times, totaling 38 years, that the Vice Presidency has been vacant. This has been due to the death or resignation of the Vice President, or when the Vice President has assumed the Presidency after the death or resignation of the President.

Before passage of the 25th Amendment, succession was determined by legislation. Congress passed laws at various times establishing the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, or the Secretary of State as third in line for the Presidency. Continue reading

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The Wise Owl Club


Wise Owl Club display table with photos of three workers wearing safety glasses—and a stuffed owl also wearing safety glasses. (Record Group 434, National Archives Identifier 22118410)

While searching for images of owls in our digital catalog for #SuperbOwl (check Twitter the night of #SuperBowl!), I came across this curious photo of an owl wearing safety goggles. In the same search I found photographs of men shaking hands and showing off tiny owl lapel pins.

Turns out, these are photographs of inductees to the Wise Owl Club. Membership was gained by surviving a terrifying industrial workplace accident where eye protection saved your vision.


Leo Kalis shows the broken tool that could have blinded him and the protective eyewear that saved his vision and earned him membership into the Wise Owl Club. (Record Group 255, National Archives Identifier 17474611.

The Wise Owl Club of America was founded in the 1950s as an industrial and school eye safety incentive program. The Rocketeer, the newsletter of an ordnance test station in California, featured six new Wise Owl members in 1961. The five men and one woman had worn safety glasses that saved their vision during explosions caused by fires, rocket fuel explosions, and chemical mixes.

Unfortunately, the photographs in the digital catalog don’t give us written details, but they do show some recreations of the scene of the accident with the new Owl wearing his damaged glasses.


A recreation of the incident that earned Leo Kalis his Wise Owl membership.

So whether you are doing some woodworking or throwing a potato chip at your mouth on Sunday while cheering on your team, be a Wise Owl and wear the right safety equipment!


Look closely for the little owl pin! (Record Group 255, National Archives Identifier 17450994)

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African American History at the National Archives

February is African American History Month! Visit the National Archives website to learn more about our many events and activities celebrating African American History.


National Archives Conference on Federal Archives as Sources for Research on Afro-Americans program, July 4-5, 1973. (Records of the National Archives)

In the late 1960s the National Archives began hosting conferences for researchers and scholars. These were held on a variety of subjects, but all related to records held by the institution. The purpose was not only to publicize National Archives holdings but also for the National Archives to learn how it could better serve the needs of researchers and scholars.

In 1973 the National Archives decided to hold a conference on African American sources to highlight its vast amount of material related to black history. Attention to African American history had been increasing dramatically in the years leading up to the conference, and with that came an increased interest in the primary sources that document that history.

In 1971 the National Archives hired Robert L. (Bob) Clarke from the Virginia State College as a specialist in African American records. Clarke served as the conference director.

The conference was held June 4-5, 1973, and featured staff from the National Archives, representatives from several colleges and universities, and authors and editors—all with extensive experience with African American history.

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Jeannette Rankin: The woman who voted to give women the right to vote

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, an archives specialist with the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

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Jeannette Rankin, oil on canvas, Sharon Sprung, 2004. (Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives)

2017 marks the centennial of the swearing-in of the first woman to become a member of the U.S. Congress, Jeannette Rankin (R-Montana).

A pacifist and suffragist, Rankin was elected to Congress four years before the 19th Amendment gave women nationwide the right to vote. In 1914, her home state of Montana passed a law granting suffrage to women in that state. In fact, 15 states allowed women to vote before the 19th Amendment’s ratification in 1920.

Before running for Congress, Rankin promoted suffrage in many states with the New York Women’s Suffrage Party and the National American Woman Suffrage Association in the 1910s. She was also heavily involved in the campaign for suffrage in Montana.

In 1916 she decided to try to continue that work in Congress. Running as a Republican, Rankin campaigned for one of two at-large seats from Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives. She came in second place, thus securing one of the seats.

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Special Exhibit: Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures


Hamilton, Alexander. Painting by John Trumbull (copy). (Records of Commissions of the Legislative Branch, National Archives)

As the first Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton had a vision for the economic foundation of the country. Its three major components were the federal assumption of state debts, the creation of a Bank of the United States, and support for the nation’s emerging industries.

His first and second reports to Congress dealt with the first two issues; his third, the Report on the Subject of Manufactures, presented to Congress on December 5, 1791, tackled the issues the nation’s industries.

The report outlined Hamilton’s plan to make the United States independent from foreign countries. To do this, he called for the U.S. Government to institute tariffs to protect American industry from foreign competition, give subsidies for industry, and support internal improvements.

December 5 marked the 225th anniversary of Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures, the final of Hamilton’s seminal reports on the economy, national debt, and financial condition of the early republic that laid the economic foundation of the nation.

This original document, submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives, is on display in the West Rotunda Gallery through January 31, 2017.

Read the introductory note on Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures on Founders Online.


Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the Subject of Manufactures, December 5, 1791. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

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