Our First Archivist, Robert D.W. Connor

The National Archives was created on June 19, 1934. During the month of June, the National Archives History Office is sharing stories about the former Archivists of the United States. Today’s post is from Sarah Basilion. 

Archivist Portraits

Portrait of Archivist Robert D.W. Conner which hangs in the National Archives Building, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Robert D.W. Connor the first Archivist of the United States in 1934, Connor faced the challenge of laying a foundation for a new Federal agency.

A native of North Carolina, Connor attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a degree in 1899. Throughout his career, Connor dedicated himself to preserving and teaching history.

He served as a secretary for an educational campaign committee, was a member of the North Carolina Historical Commission (which later became the North Carolina State Department of Archives and History), and held positions at the North Carolina Teachers’ Assembly and the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

During his work at the North Carolina Historical Commission, Connor helped the commission to become one of the most respected state historical agencies in the country. Continue reading

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The act that gave us a National Archives

Today’s post comes from Kaitlin Errickson of the National Archives History Office. 

H.R. 6559, To provide for the construction of certain public bui

Public Buildings Act, engrossed version, May 18, 1926. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

May 25, 2016, marks the 90th anniversary of the Public Buildings Act of 1926, without which the National Archives Building would not exist as it does today.

The road to 1926 was a rough one—many papers and archives were destroyed throughout the 19th and early 20th century due to neglect, theft, and fire.

It was an uphill battle to convince Congress the important and vital role a National Archives would serve.

The Treasury Building, which long held historical records of the Treasury Department, had endured multiple fires.

The first Treasury fire occurred on January 20, 1801. It started in a room on the first floor and scorched the second floor, leaving the structural skeleton intact but the documents in ashes. After the fire, officials added a fireproof extension, known as the Latrobe Wing, to store the surviving documents. Continue reading

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Featured Document: Harvey Milk

Today’s post comes from Sarah Basilion in the National Archives History Office.


Harvey Milk at Mayor George Moscone’s desk, March 7, 1978. (Photo by Daniel Nicoletta)

A letter from San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk to President Jimmy Carter is on display in the National Archives’ East Rotunda Gallery until June 29, 2016.

In the June 1978 letter, Milk asks President Carter for his support in defeating ballot Proposition 6, which would have banned gay and lesbian individuals from working in the California public school systems.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He used his platform as supervisor to promote LGBTQ rights, and other public initiatives such as free public transportation, increased access to affordable child care, and a police oversight committee.

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Public Service Recognition Week

This week the National Archives is celebrating Public Service Recognition Week. Today’s post comes from Hailey Philbin in the National Archives History Office. 

President Obama's Proclamation regarding Public Service Recognition Week, May 1, 2015.

President Obama’s Proclamation regarding Public Service Recognition Week, May 1, 2015.

Since 1985, the first full week in May has been set aside to celebrate and thank the men and women who work in local, state, or Federal governments.

Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) honors the individuals who work to better serve public organizations and the communities in which they live.

This year the week is celebrated between May 1 and May 7.

In May 2015 President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation thanking 2 million civilian workers and 1 million active duty service members for their loyal service to the nation.

He added that he hoped celebrations and events during Public Service Recognition Week would continue to allow employees to feel valued, engaged, and included in their work environment.

During this special week in May, government agencies celebrate their employees across the nation with many initiatives, awards, and social gatherings. Continue reading

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Regrets, he had a few . . .

This post comes to us from Miriam Kleiman, Program Director for Public Affairs. 

After 20 years at the National Archives (first as a researcher, then employee), I’m still delighted to discover new (to me) archival treasures. Not so long ago, a reporter asked me if the Archives had any Frank Sinatra–related records to mark the centennial of his birth in December 2015.

I began a search and discovered the fascinating story of his ill-fated 1974 Australian concert tour.

To put it mildly, things did not go his way—according to diplomatic cables titled “Frank Sinatra Brouhaha” and “the Frank Sinatra affair,” which were declassified in 2005. This was a different kind of affair for Sinatra—he excited not another bombshell, but the powerful leader of the Australian trade unions.


President Nixon, Pat Nixon, President and Mrs. Giulio Andreotti of Italy pose after Frank Sinatra’s East Room performance at the State Dinner honoring President Andreotti. April 17, 1973. (Richard Nixon Library)

He got under their skin . . .

The 58-year-old crooner arrived in Melbourne via private jet on July 9, 1974.  Following a decade of weak record sales, even weaker movies and a short-lived retirement, Sinatra’s “Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back” comeback tour included five concerts in Australia—two in Melbourne and three in Sydney.

Reporters swarmed him upon arrival, but he refused to grant interviews. Lacking new material, the press instead wrote of his alleged mafia ties and ran photos of his many female companions captioned “Sinatra’s molls.”

Following his opening number at the Melbourne concert that evening, Sinatra (on stage) expressed frustration with the Australian press:

They keep chasing after us. We have to run all day long. They’re parasites who take everything and give nothing. And as for the broads who work for the press, they’re the hookers of the press. I might offer them a buck and a half. I’m not sure.

Objecting to such characterizations, the Australian Journalists’ Union demanded an apology the next morning, July 10. Sinatra refused.

Robert Hawke, head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (and a future Prime Minister of Australia) seized the opportunity and intensified the brouhaha by mobilizing other unions. Theatrical unions cancelled Sinatra’s second Melbourne concert.  Transport Workers Union members refused to refuel Sinatra’s private jet.  Hotel union members would not serve the Sinatra party or handle their luggage.

Reporters circled the unhappy singer as he left his Melbourne hotel for the airport, and “some roughhouse between security men protecting Sinatra and press” resulted in injuries, further heightening tensions and anti-Sinatra backlash.  The group then flew via commercial plane to Sydney, allegedly under assumed names.

Can’t refuel, can’t fly away . . .

Sinatra arrived in Sydney to learn that the theatrical unions had canceled his three Sydney concerts. And he was trapped—he could fly neither private nor commercial: the Transport Workers Union “refused fuel to any commercial aircraft which might carry Sinatra.”

Union head Hawke raised the stakes further, threatening: “If you don’t apologize your stay in this country could be indefinite. You won’t be allowed to leave Australia unless you can walk on water.”

U.S. diplomats were on standby.  “Anticipating the possibility” that Sinatra might need assistance, the U.S. Consul General in Sydney, Norman Hannah, called Australian Labor Party leader John Ducker July 12 and “distinguished between and ordinary labor action and a threat to impede Mr. Sinatra’s freedom of movement, including holding him hostage in Australia” [emphasis added].

Hannah cited the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees “the right of everyone to leave any country.” He cabled DC: “Ducker took the point. . . . We both agreed the matter should be resolved amicably through negotiations.”

Hours later, Sinatra’s attorney Milton Rudin asked to meet with Hannah at Sinatra’s hotel at 4 p.m. “to discuss the situation.” Rudin claimed the press had “grievously distorted and exaggerated” Sinatra’s remarks (despite the fact that the concert was recorded). Rudin was “particularly worried about the threat to prevent Sinatra from departing and I assured him that were this threat carried out, this would be a matter of great concern to us.”

After the Rudin-Hannah meeting, Ducker, Rudin, and Hawke met for nearly four hours, “during part of which they were joined by 15 repeat 15 independent Union representatives (and consumed considerable quantities of Rudin’s cigars and Chivas Regal)” Hannah reported [emphasis added]. It was almost midnight before a compromise was reached. Sinatra refused to apologize but agreed to sign a statement that he “did not intend any general reflection upon the moral character of working members of the Australian media”and  regretted both “any physical injury resulting from attempts to ensure his safety” and the inconvenience to patrons.

Let me try again . . .

His last Sydney concert was rescheduled. He was more reserved on stage this time, noting only: “What a bunch of coconuts we’ve had this week!”

Hannah relayed “all’s well that ends well” update July 16—stating that he had seen Rudin at that concert, and “he expressed gratification with the resolution of last week’s confrontation.” Another U.S. diplomat in Australia cabled the State Department praising Hannah’s “effective discreet initiative . . . to help promote satisfactory resolution of the Frank Sinatra affair.”

Sinatra and his entourage then did fly away.

“A funny thing happened in Australia,” he later told an audience in New York. “I made a mistake and got off the plane.”

Surprisingly, Old Blue Eyes returned to Australia to perform in 1988, 1989, and 1991.

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A Record-Setting Amendment

Bill of Rights, 1791post treatment 00306_2003_001

The Bill of Rights as proposed to the states, September 25, 1789. (National Archives Identifier 1408042)

The 27th amendment, ratified on May 7, 1992, was originally proposed on September 25, 1789.

Yes, that date is correct.

The amendment was part of the original 12 proposed amendments sent to the states for ratification in 1789. Amendments 3 through 12 were ratified on December 15, 1791, becoming what we now call the Bill of Rights.

But what happened to the other two?

The original first (proposed) amendment outlined how many representatives each state could have in the House of Representatives. It allowed for one representative for every 50,000 people. Had that passed, we could have more than 6,000 representatives today. Not enough states ratified that proposal for it to become part of the Constitution.

The original second (proposed) amendment dealt with congressional pay. It said, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

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Virginia C. Purdy: Fighting for Women’s History

The National Archives History Office is wrapping up its month-long celebration of Women’s History. Today’s post comes from Sarah Basilion.


In 1971 the National Archives loaned the Treaty of Paris to the State of Maryland. Pictured in the Office of the Archivist of the United States are: Joan L. Baldwin, Maryland Division of Tourism; Morris L. Radoff, Archivist and Records Administrator, State of Maryland; Virginia Purdy, Archivist in Educational Programs at the National Archives; James B. Rhoads, Archivist of the United States; and Mr. Wyhle, Maryland State Police, 1/13/1971. (National Archives Identifier 23856371)

Commemoration of Women’s History Month at the National Archives would be incomplete without remembering Virginia C. Purdy, the agency’s one-time specialist in women’s history.

Virginia Cardwell was born in Columbia, SC, in 1922. She received her B.A. from the University of South Carolina in 1942 and her M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the George Washington University in 1960 and 1970, respectively.

After college, she taught in South Carolina public schools  before beginning a long career in the Federal Government.

She and her husband, Donald Purdy, moved to Washington, DC, in 1957 for his job as a Federal meteorologist. Purdy earned her M.A., then joined the Library of Congress as a reference librarian in American State and Local History, a position she held from 1964 to 1966.

She then worked as an Assistant Historian (1966–69) and Keeper of the Catalog of American Portraits (1969–70) at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

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The Men and Women Who Guard the Constitution

Since 1952, the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights have been on display in the Rotunda of the National Archives. In addition to the bulletproof and moisture-controlled sealed cases, the Charters of Freedom are protected by the National Archives security guards.

Hundreds of people filter in and out of the Rotunda every day to see the Charters of Freedom, but the guards never leave their posts. The men and women who make up the National Archives security force guard our nation’s most important documents.

We wanted to put names to  the faces of these important people for #MuseumWeek! Hailey Philbin, an intern in the National Archives History Office, spoke to two of our officers.


Two security guards are always standing watch over our founding documents. (Photo by Jeff Reed for the National Archives.)

Lt. Bryant Bethes has worked as a National Archives security guard for 17 years. In addition to daily protecting the Charters of Freedom, he enjoys the crowds and diverse individuals who visit his work space. The most exciting part about his job is when celebrities, like Joe Montana, take a tour of the Rotunda. After almost two decades at his post, Lieutenant Bethes finds time to enjoy his job and interact with new crowds every day.

Officer Laurence E. Robinson has held his post in the Rotunda for seven years. He enjoys communicating with the many different people that visit the National Archives. Although it is not a requirement of his job, Officer Robinson shares his knowledge of the Charters of Freedom with inquiring guests. He answers questions about the documents when he can and helps visitors to better understand the history that he is protecting.

Thank you to all of our officers for their hard work and dedication!

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An Independent National Archives

April 1, 2016, marks the 31st anniversary of the National Archives independence. Today’s post come from Kaitlin Errickson of the National Archives History Office.


Original Seal of the National Archives, 1934. (National Archives Identifier 23856513)

The National Archives has a turbulent history.

First, the historical community had to fight for years and years to establish a National Archives.

Then Congress passed legislation authorizing an independent National Archives only to take that independence away 15 years later.

And finally, the National Archives became officially independent again on April 1, 1985.

After years of pressure from the historical community, Congress passed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation to create the National Archives as an independent agency on June 19, 1934.

However, in 1949, with goal of making the government more efficient, Congress transferred the National Archives to the newly created General Services Administration (GSA).

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Claudine Weiher: The Fight for Independence

The National Archives History Office continues to celebrate women’s history month. Today’s post comes from Kirsten Dillon. 


Claudine Weiher, ca. 1978. (National Archives History Office Collection)

Claudine Weiher, former Deputy Archivist, was born Claudine Jackson on November 24, 1941, in Kansas City, MO.

Weiher came to the National Archives in 1966, where she certainly left her mark.

Weiher was trained as a historian and archivist, but at the National Archives she spent most of her career as part of the senior staff, working on managing and budgeting for what was then the National Archives and Records Service (NARS).

Sixth Archivist of the United States Robert “Bob” M. Warner recalled Weiher fondly in his book Diary of a Dream. He stated that she “was destined to have great impact of NARS during my tenure and even greater under my successors.”

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