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What’s Your Story, Mabel Deutrich?

Today’s post for Women’s History Month—in the voice of former National Archives employee Mabel Deutrich—comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

I went to the La Crosse State Teachers College in Wisconsin. It’s now the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse.

Mabel Deutrich in Sophomore Class portrait, 1934 yearbook, from Ancestry.com

Mabel Deutrich (middle) in sophomore class portrait, 1934 yearbook, from Ancestry.com

I came to the Archives in 1950, after having worked with the Army’s records since we entered World War II.

 Record Group 64, A1 106, file "Personnel," National Archives

Record Group 64, A1 106, file “Personnel,” National Archives

Here is a rundown of my first decade or so in government service. Competition for promotions in our unit was intense. Upon reading this document reviewing the candidates, I would remark that you should take care in what you commit to paper: “Deutrich’s only disadvantage in this respect lies in her being a woman.”

Look carefully at the bottom sentence! Record Group 64, A1 106, file "Personnel," National Archives.

Look carefully at the bottom sentence! Record Group 64, A1 106, file “Personnel,” National Archives.

In spite of this assessment, I persevered; my knowledge of Army records and their organization proved immensely helpful as we were being inundated with them after the war.

 Archiviews, April 1958

Archiviews, April 1958

Indeed I did pass! And I continued with my studies. It’s not often that you can get your Ph.D. examination board to convene at your workplace:

Ph.D. oral examination board for Mabel Deutrich at National Archives Building, 1960.  From left: Wayne Grover, Elizabeth Drewry, Mabel Deutrich, Sherrod East, Helen L. Chatfield, and Ernst Posner (National Archives, 64-NA-1839)

Ph.D. oral examination board for Mabel Deutrich at National Archives Building, 1960.
From left: Wayne Grover, Elizabeth Drewry, Mabel Deutrich, Sherrod East, Helen L. Chatfield, and Ernst Posner (National Archives, 64-NA-1839)

My dissertation was on “Fred C. Ainsworth: Army Surgeon and Administrator.” The Ainsworth Search Room of the Civil War Branch was named after him. Here is a view of the grand opening of that search room. Of course the photographer would catch me in mid-blink!

Opening of Civil War Branch Search Room, June 10, 1958. Division Chief Dallas Irvine cuts the ribbon. Branch Chief Victor Gondos at right. (National Archives,  64-NA-1741)

Opening of Civil War Branch Search Room, June 10, 1958. Division Chief Dallas Irvine cuts the ribbon. Branch Chief Victor Gondos at right. (National Archives, 64-NA-1741)

In 1960 I also became the Archivist in Charge for the Early Wars Branch of the War Records Division. I contributed to the production of several preliminary inventories, and in 1963 I shepherded PI-155 through from start to finish. Through the 1960s I directed archival projects for the Office of Military Archives, then I headed up the Old Military Records Division.

Mabel Deutrich receives Commendable Service Award from Archivist Wayne Grover, Sept. 19, 1963 (National Archives, 64-NA-2255)

Mabel Deutrich receives Commendable Service Award from Archivist Wayne Grover, September 19, 1963 (National Archives, 64-NA-2255)

When functions were realigned in 1971, I was put in charge of all military records. In 1975, I capped things off when I was appointed as the assistant archivist for the Office of the National Archives.

I was constantly aware of my position as I moved along in my career; the ratio of women to men in the archival jobs here was always low. So I resolved to contribute to the betterment of our opportunities. I chaired the SAA’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Archival Profession when it was established in 1972. I wrote this article “Ms. vs. Mr. Archivist” for the “Women in Archives” issue of The American Archivist in 1973:

It was an exciting time, the mid-1970s; interest in women’s history was taking off. I directed our Conference on Women’s History in April 1976.

Though I retired from the Archives in 1979, there was still so much to occupy me. Virginia Purdy and I worked on this volume, and it was great fun.

Cover of "Clio Was A Woman"

Cover of “Clio Was A Woman”

My sister and I both had satisfying and successful careers in the government.

NARS Newsletter, February 1976 (National Archives)

NARS Newsletter, February 1976 (National Archives)

And there you have it!

To sum it up, I would say I am pleased with the way my career turned out. Even with my “disadvantage.”


Ida Wilson Lewis, lighthouse keeper and fearless Federal worker

Today’s post comes from Ashley Mattingly, who is an archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis, where she manages the collection of archival civilian personnel records.

The most well-known lighthouse keeper in the world was an American woman who was a Federal civil servant. Ida Wilson Lewis, lighthouse keeper of Rhode Island, saved somewhere between 13 and 25 lives, including men stationed at Fort Adams and a sheep.

Ida Wilson Lewis was born Idawally Zorada Lewis in 1842. In 1870, she married Capt. William Wilson. Although they separated two years later, Ida used “Wilson” as her middle name for the rest of her life.

Photograph of Ida Wilson Lewis, from her official personnel folder. The image is from "New Idea Woman's Magazine," vol. XXI, January 1910. The magazine captioned the image "As Miss Lewis looked in 1869."

Photograph of Ida Wilson Lewis, from her official personnel folder. The image is from New Idea Woman’s Magazine, vol. 21, January 1910. The magazine captioned the image “As Miss Lewis looked in 1869.”

In 1853, Ida’s father, Capt. Hosea Lewis, was appointed the first lighthouse keeper at Lime Rock, an island in Newport Harbor. A few months after his appointment, Captain Lewis was stricken by a paralytic stroke. As a result, his wife, Zorada, and Ida carried out the lighthouse duties in addition to their everyday household chores.

Performing numerous lighthouse and domestic duties groomed Ida for an appointment as the official lighthouse keeper of Lime Rock in 1879 and sent her down the path to becoming a renowned rescuer. Ida was an expert oarswoman and had developed exceptional boat-maneuvering skills from making countless trips back and forth between the island and the mainland to transport supplies and her four siblings.

Ida’s first rescue occurred in 1854. The 12-year-old girl came to the aid of four men who had capsized a small sailboat. But it was the 1869 rescue of Sergeant Adams and Private McLaughlin of Fort Adams that made her famous. Because Ida (a woman) saved two men from drowning in the midst of a squall, she was deemed the “Grace Darling of America,” after Grace Darling, a famed English lighthouse keeper’s daughter who helped save several people from a 1838 shipwreck.

For her bravery, Ida was awarded a silver medal from the Life-Saving Benevolent Association of New York and presented with a new boat by the citizens of Newport. She was featured on the cover of Harper’s Weekly magazine (the only lighthouse keeper ever to receive such a distinction).

Throughout her life, Ida received numerous other awards, including the Gold Lifesaving Medal (awarded to an individual who attempts rescue at the peril of his or her own life) and the congressionally awarded American Cross of Honor.

Ida Wilson Lewis’s career ended only when she died at the Lime Rock Light Station on October 24, 1911, at the age of 69. In 1924 the Rhode Island legislature renamed Lime Rock as the Ida Lewis Rock. The Lighthouse Service then officially changed the light station’s name to the Ida Lewis Lighthouse, the only time a lighthouse has been renamed for a keeper. The lighthouse was converted to a yacht club in 1928 and is still known as the Ida Lewis Yacht Club.

Many of Ida Wilson Lewis’s personal items, including her Gold Lifesaving Medal, were bequeathed to the Newport Historical Society following her death.

As for that sheep she saved? In 1877, a sheep jumped from the wharf during a gale. Three men attempted to rescue the sheep, but when their boat met with trouble, Ida rescued all four.

The official personnel folder documenting Ida Wilson Lewis’s remarkable Federal service—including the rescue of the sheep!—is open to the public.

Visit http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/archival-programs/civilian-personnel-archival/ to learn more about requesting this and other official personnel folders of former civil servants.


Your Good Friend, Victoria R

Citizen Archivists! You can transcribe this document as part of our #SunshineWeek Transcription Challenge!

The black-bordered letter sent to President Martin Van Buren relayed the official news that the king of the United Kingdom, His Majesty William IV, had died on June 20, 1837. The new monarch was the late king’s niece, 18-year-old Victoria.

Writing on June 23, the young new queen announced the passing of “Our Most Honoured and Beloved Uncle” and advised the President of her own accession to the throne. She assured him “that it will be Our most earnest desire to cultivate and maintain the Relations of Friendship and good Understanding which so happily subsist between the Two Countries.”

At the end of the letter, she signed herself, “Your Good Friend, Victoria R.” Just three days into her nearly 64–year reign, her signature is penned neatly and carefully. In later years, letters from the more mature queen show a looser, more flowing signature.

Several other letters from Victoria and other 19th-century monarchs (in the series “Ceremonial Letters from Great Britain”) are available in the online National Archives catalog. They announce births, deaths, and weddings of members of the royal family and diplomatic appointments. The foreign minister’s signature (Palmerston on this 1837 letter) appears below the monarch’s.

Letter from Victoria R to Martin Van Buren

Page 1 of a letter from Queen Victoria to President Martin Van Buren, June 23, 1837. (National Archives Identifier 5756761)

Letter from Victoria R to Martin Van Buren, p 2

Page 2 of a letter from Queen Victoria to President Martin Van Buren, June 23, 1837. (National Archives Identifier 5756761)


Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to celebrate one of our most cherished former employees—Sara Dunlap Jackson. After I was appointed Historian last year, numerous local historians approached me to say that I just had to research Sara Dunlap Jackson because she was so important to the history of the agency.

Sara Dunlap Jackson was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1919. After earning her B.A. in sociology, and a brief stint as a high school teacher, Jackson moved to Washington, DC. She began her 46-year-long career at the National Archives in 1944 as an archives assistant in the Military Archives Division. According to Jackson, the Archives offered her the job because she had been working in the War Department, and the Archives thought this meant she knew something about military history.

In reality, Jackson knew little about military history at that time, but by spending countless hours in the stacks and answering numerous reference requests she became the go-to person for anyone researching military records in the National Archives. Researchers reported how she went the “extra mile,” how her kindness and advice “mothered” many historians, and how she dedicated her entire career to helping others. To many, Jackson was the National Archives.

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in the middle. (64-JR-2, Records of the National Archives)

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in the middle. (64-JR-2, Records of the National Archives)

Throughout her career Jackson earned numerous accolades, awards, and an honorary PhD from the University of Toledo. The Summer 1997 issue of Prologue, the official magazine of the National Archives, is a tribute to Jackson for her excellent reference service. She was acknowledged in numerous publications—noted historian Ira Berlin dedicated one of his Freedom series volumes: “To Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire.”

Jackson retired from the National Archives in 1990 while on staff at the NHPRC. She died of cancer on April 19, 1991. at her home on Kalorama Road in Washington, DC.

Joseph E. Wood presents a pamphlet to Sara D. Jackson, April 20, 1965 64-NA-2659, Records of the National Archives

Joseph E. Wood presents a pamphlet to Sara D. Jackson, April 20, 1965 64-NA-2659, Records of the National Archives

 

 


Margaret M.H. Finch, War Records Keeper

Today’s post for Women’s History Month comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

I was intrigued when Alan Walker discovered those wonderful ID cards of former Archives employees in Record Group 64. I noticed many were women, which makes sense given the time period, and thought it would be nice to highlight a former female employee for Women’s History Month. I randomly picked Mrs. Margaret M. H. Finch, who worked for the National Archives between 1940 and 1949.

ID card of former Archives employee, Margaret M. H. Finch

As it turns out, Finch’s name appears quite frequently in many of our records. Interestingly, it’s not because she was employed by the National Archives, but because of her previous position.

Finch began her federal career in 1919, at age 42, shortly after her first husband died in the 1918 influenza outbreak. She started as a clerk in the War Department but soon moved to the Bureau of Pensions in the Department of Interior. While there, she worked primarily with pension and bounty-land files from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

When she became chief of the Revolutionary and War of 1812 pension branch, she became the main contact person for historians, genealogists, and other researchers seeking copies of pension records. The paperwork these requests generated were subsequently filed with the records themselves.

This War of 1812 pension is just one example of hundreds and hundreds of documents Finch has signed that are now filed in the National Archives pension records:

War of 1812 pension application signed by Mrs. Finch

War of 1812 pension application signed by Mrs. Finch

In 1940, as the pension records were transferred to the National Archives, Finch transferred with them. She continued to help researchers locate pension files but also gave numerous talks about researching in the records. At that time, she knew the pension files from the nation’s first two wars better than anyone else, lovingly referring to them as her “heart throbs.” In an interview conducted upon her retirement, she explained the files made the men who served “almost become living people, and their descriptions of battles in which they fought are so real you feel like you’ve been an actual participator.”

Finch reluctantly retired from the National Archives in June 1949 after 30 years of federal service. She passed away in 1958.

A final note…

I became curious about the M.H. initials. Here’s what I have found:

Born: Margaret G. Maddox (1878)
Married Rosser Mead Hammond –> Margaret M. Hammond (1902)
Married Erastus M. Finch –> Margaret M.H. Finch (early 1920s)
Died: Margaret M. H. Finch (1958)