“What a moment in time!”

Sharon Farmer was the first woman and the first African American to be named Chief White House Photographer.


Sharon Farmer in front of Air Force One. (William J. Clinton Presidential Library)

Farmer joined the team of four photographers at the Clinton White House in 1993, and worked as director from 1999 to 2001.The four photographers took nearly 12,000 rolls of film each year as they documented pubic and private moments. You might recognize Farmer’s shot of the famous handshake between the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, or the image of Presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, their arms around each other during a visit to South Africa.

But for Farmer, one of her most memorable assignments took place thousands of miles from the White House:

“In 1998, I accompanied the President and Mrs. Clinton to Ghana. There was a huge rally in the stadium in Accra. There must have been over 250,000 people cheering the President and First Lady. They were given the kente cloth of the Africans and, wearing them, proudly stood next to President and Mrs. Rawlings of Ghana. What a moment in time!”


Address to the People of Ghana at Independence Square in Accra on March 23, 1998. Photograph by Sharon Farmer. (William J. Clinton Presidential Library)

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that an American President would visit an African country and be received so wonderfully. That moment, to me, is only second to watching and photographing Nelson Mandela being sworn in as President of South Africa. I attended the event with Mrs. Clinton and the delegation that Vice President Gore led. Every day I pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming that I have this job here, in this time, in this world.” (Fall 1999: Meet White House Photographer Sharon Farmer)

Farmer continues her work as photographer. She was the campaign photographer for Sen. John Kerry’s Presidential run, and she teaches and lectures on photojournalism. Her work is part of the permanent collections of various museums.

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SNAC: Connecting Archival Collections

Today’s post comes from Dina Herbert, the National Archives Liaison to Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC). 

History buffs love trivia and making connections between historical figures. Like, how many degrees of separation are there between George Washington and Albert Einstein? Answer is two! (They both have materials at the Columbia University Libraries.) Or did Eleanor Roosevelt and Shirley Chisholm ever connect? 

There is now a way to easily find these connections, and it’s through a cooperative called Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC). While part of its name is Social Network, SNAC is not a social networking or social media tool like Facebook or Twitter, although we sometimes joke that SNAC is the Facebook for dead people. Rather, it is a way to connect the scattered archival collections of important people, places, and events.


The National Archives is a key partner in SNAC, which is wrapping up a two-year pilot phase funded through an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. The cooperative partners are National Archives, IATH at the University of Virginia, and California Digital Library, plus 16 other institutions (libraries, archives, and museums). During this pilot phase, SNAC is developing its prototype research tool as a usable and successful platform.
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LBJ: From Teacher to President

Today’s post comes from Alexis Percle, archives technician at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, in honor of our upcoming National Conservation on Educational Access and Equity on March 7. Register to attend in person or watch the livestream.

“As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.


LBJ and his teacher Ms. Kate Deadrich Loney (LBJ Library)

As a former teacher–and, I hope, a future one–I have great expectations of what this law will mean for all of our young people.

As President of the United States, I believe deeply no law I have signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America.”

With these words, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on April 11, 1965.  Sitting beside him was his first teacher, Ms. Kate Deadrich Loney, who taught Johnson in a one-room schoolhouse just outside Stonewall, Texas.

As a young high school graduate, Johnson did not immediately pursue education, opting instead to travel with friends to California and work odd jobs, including as an elevator operator. After this experience, and a short career as a manual laborer for a road crew, Johnson became frustrated with the lack of opportunity available to him.

So, in 1927, Lyndon Baines Johnson enrolled at Southwest Texas State College. Prior to beginning his courses as a college student, Johnson had to complete pre-college courses. As a graduate of a rural school, Johnson and similar students had to complete these pre-college courses to ensure they met minimum qualifications and standards. Then, in the summer of 1928, Johnson once again had to put his college career on hold so he could earn enough money to continue paying for his college courses.

It was this financial need that motivated Johnson to accept a position as a teacher at Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas, a small town on the border of Texas and Mexico. Johnson’s classes were made up of the children of Mexican-American farmers. Johnson didn’t speak Spanish and many of his students didn’t speak English. Despite this limitation, Johnson quickly and enthusiastically began teaching and encouraging the children to speak English by holding speech and debate tournaments.


LBJ (center) with his students at Welhausen School in Texas (LBJ Presidential Library)

In addition, Johnson organized a literary society, an athletic club, and organized field trips to neighboring towns so his students could compete in sporting events, speech, and spelling contests. With his first paycheck, Johnson bought playground equipment. In a letter home to his mother, Johnson wrote about his work with the students and asked her for help in sending toothpaste for the children and borrowing materials for his debate team.

Despite his strict nature as a teacher, Johnson’s concern for the students left a lasting impression on both his co-workers and his students. In 1929, the Superintendent wrote a colleague calling Johnson a “school man of the highest type” and a “tireless worker,” saying, “He is one of the very best men I have ever had with me…”

His experiences at Cotulla and the hardships faced by his students inspired many of the educational policies sought by Johnson during his presidency. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the nation’s efforts to improve education focused on the upper grades. But many young African-American and Mexican-American students did not remain in school long enough to benefit from these programs.


LBJ as a young man (LBJ Library)

Johnson recognized the need for assistance in the early grades. He saw the need for programs which would help disadvantaged students compete with their counterparts in middle class neighborhoods. Aside from legislation like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, President Johnson launched programs like Project Head Start, which offered health, social services, and early learning experiences to children about to enter kindergarten or first grade. President Johnson also encouraged programs to support bilingual education, child nutrition (which included access to free breakfast and lunches for impoverished children), and Federal aid to elementary schools.

Throughout his presidency and, indeed, his life, President Johnson maintained a firm conviction that the American promise of opportunity could best be pursued through education. In 1972, the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas hosted a symposium highlighting Johnson’s accomplishments in the field of education. Sidney P. Marland, the U.S. Commissioner of Education under President Nixon said, “President Johnson, I believe, takes satisfaction in being called ‘the Education President.’ He richly and fully deserves it.”

Part of education is studying the past and applying those lessons to the present. Archivist of the United States David Ferriero said, “The role of the National Archives is to ensure that people have access to the records that demonstrate how those rights were achieved, so that we can learn from those records.”

In establishing the LBJ Library, President Johnson epitomized that role by donating his papers to the American people. At the opening ceremony of the library, President Johnson reiterated his intent to provide access to the records of his administration for future students and historians. In addition, Johnson further emphasized his strong belief in the power of education by establishing the Library and Museum in connection with the LBJ School of Public Affairs, where he spent part of his post-presidential life by, once again, becoming a teacher and instructing University of Texas students in public policy and affairs.

Register to attend in person or watch the livestream of our upcoming National Conservation on Educational Access and Equity on March 7.


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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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