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Remembering the Geneva Convention through the words of Clara Barton

Today’s post comes from Christina James, intern in the National Archives History Office.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Geneva Convention of 1864. At a gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, 16 countries established protocol for treatment of individuals wounded in armed conflicts. Among the points agreed upon by the representatives in attendance were aid to the wounded regardless of their nationality, neutrality of medical workers and hospitals, and the presence of a uniform flag at medical facilities with a matching arm-badge to be worn by medical personnel. The flag and badge were to bear the symbol of a red cross on a white background. Over the following decades, additional conventions were held to agree on further provisions regarding the treatment of war victims. These later conventions reaffirmed the principles established at the first convention in 1864.

Miss Clara Barton, ca. 1860 - ca. 1865 by Mathew Brady (National Archives Identifier 526057)

Miss Clara Barton, ca. 1860 – ca. 1865 by Mathew Brady (National Archives Identifier

While other nations convened in Geneva, the Civil War raged in the United States. The eventual adoption of the provisions of the Geneva Convention by the United States was in part thanks to the efforts of Clara Barton, a Civil War volunteer battlefield nurse. Throughout the war, Barton went to great lengths to ensure that the soldiers she treated had sufficient food, medical supplies, and clothing, and encouraged others to join her aid efforts.

After … [ Read all ]

Carting the Charters

Procession Transferring documents to the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Procession transferring documents to the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Visitors to downtown Washington, DC, on December 13, 1952, were treated to an interesting sight—armored vehicles escorted by a barrage of military and police personnel. It wasn’t a holiday or the Presidential motorcade or a visiting dignitary.

On that chilly December morning, passersby saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States going for a ride.

“The Charters of Freedom”—the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights—all have varied histories of transport and storage through 1952.

The Declaration of Independence, after it was signed on August 2, 1776, moved with Congress from city to city throughout the Revolutionary War. After the establishment of the new nation under the Constitution, the Declaration found itself in Federal buildings, abandoned gristmills, and private homes before it ended up in the Library of Congress in 1921.

The Constitution had a similar history—after the framers signed it, the Constitution passed into the custody of the Department of State in 1789 and moved as the Federal Government moved. Unlike the Declaration, which was displayed for many years, the Constitution spent much of its history in storage.

The Bill of Rights has an even thinner history between its creation in 1789 and 1938. It, too, traveled with the government as it moved about until the … [ Read all ]

No Thanks…

With Thanksgiving just two days away, this cartoon reminded residents of the nation’s capital of one reason not to be thankful in 1921—the high cost of living in the United States. Prices had spiraled upward in the years following World War I as the country converted from war production to a peacetime economy.

No Thanks for the High Cost of Living on Thanksgiving, 11/22/1921. (National Archives Identifier 6011699)

No Thanks for the High Cost of Living on Thanksgiving, 11/22/1921. (National Archives Identifier 6011699)

In this cartoon an elongated turkey holds a price sticker in its beak as John Q. Public grumbles: “There’s one item I won’t have to be thankful for.” The recession, however, was short lived—the U.S. economy quickly rebounded ushering in the prosperous roaring twenties.

This cartoon was drawn by Clifford K. Berryman, who was a prominent Washington, DC, cartoonist in the first half of the 20th century. Berryman used John Q. Public in many of his cartoons to denote a symbolic member of society deemed a “common man” or “man on the street.”

The Center for Legislative Archives has approximately 2,400 of Berryman’s original pen-and-ink drawings. They are all available for viewing in the National Archives Online Public Access catalog.

 … [ Read all ]

Laying the cornerstone for the FDR Library

On November 19, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY—the first Presidential library within the National Archives.

FDR Library Cornerstone Ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

FDR Library cornerstone ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

In front of an estimated 1,000 onlookers, Roosevelt placed inside the cornerstone a metal box containing several items including the Articles of Incorporation of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Inc.; several congressional resolutions, reports, and hearings related to the library; copies of deeds related to the property; Archivist of the United States R.D.W. Connor’s 1939 Society of American Archivist address on the Roosevelt Library; and copies of New York daily newspapers from November 19, 1939.

During his Presidency, Roosevelt contemplated what to do with his papers. After careful consideration, he devised a plan to preserve, intact, all his correspondence, public papers, pamphlets, books, private papers, and other valuable source material into an archive to be housed on his family estate at Hyde Park. However, he did not intend for the collection to be privately owned—Roosevelt wanted the Federal Government to own the material and for it to be open to the public.

In July 1939, Congress approved the establishment and maintenance of the library, authorizing the Archivist of the United States to accept land in Hyde Park, NY, and permit a nonprofit to construct … [ Read all ]

Discovering “Origin Stories” of the National Archives

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, an archivist in the Textual Processing unit in the National Archives at College Park, MD. In celebration of American Archives Month, Alan gave a talk on interesting finds in the Records of the National Archives. You can view Alan’s talk on the National Archives YouTube Channel

National Archives Employee Identification Cards, 1941. (Records of the National Archives)

National Archives Employee Identification Cards, 1941. (Records of the National Archives)

What’s so great about a bunch of old employee ID cards? You might well wonder.

Since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to pictures. I would devour illustrated children’s encyclopedia volumes over my morning cereal. Even now, if a nonfiction work has a picture section, I always go to it first. While I read, I constantly flip back to the photos. Images help to give my imagination a framework, a point of reference.

Over the past five years, as I have worked to arrange and describe the office files of the National Archives. I’ve read reams of documents from employees of this agency. I’ve often wished I could see a photo of that person; to make that small connection with someone who helped to make the history of one of our nation’s most important institutions.

Wish granted.

As an archivist in the Textual Processing unit at the National Archives, I am constantly elbow-deep in old, filthy boxes filled with the routine, … [ Read all ]