Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Subscribe to Email Updates

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

A WASP’s Story

Today’s post comes from Ashley Mattingly, an archivist at the National Archives in St. Louis.

The year was 1943, and Elizabeth “Betty” Maxine Chambers was a young mother and a widow. Betty’s husband, Army pilot Lt. Robert William Chambers, had died in 1942 when his P-38F Lightening aircraft crashed at Mills Field in San Mateo, California. Undaunted, Betty applied to be among the first female pilots in the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program.

Elizabeth Chambers's WASP portrait from her official personnel folders (OPF).

Elizabeth ​”Betty” Maxine Chambers, WASP Class of 44-W-3. Photograph from her official personnel folders (OPF), held at the National Archives in St. Louis.

A native of Hollywood, California, Betty worked for the Walt Disney Company inking cartoon celluloid cells and for Universal Studios inking cells for “picture process work.” After the death of her husband, Betty and her baby moved in with her parents; she also acquired a more stable job as a telephone operator at Southern California Telephone Company.

Betty wanted more. Like more than 1,000 other women, she took to the skies to find it.

Betty and her comrades applied to an innovative civilian program designed to employ women to ferry wartime aircraft, serve as flight instructors, tow targets for live antiaircraft practice, transport cargo, and fly experimental aircraft. These female pilots relieved men from domestic duties so they could fight overseas in the war.

The WASP program … [ Read all ]

Mystery lady identified!

Alan Walker, an archivist in the Textual Processing unit in the National Archives at College Park, MD, just solved a mystery that staff have wondered about for many years.

Mark down this auspicious date, for I shall reveal to you the identity of this longtime mystery woman. You’ve probably seen this photo many a time on the National Archives’s social media; it’s a great image of one of our forebears having rollicking fun with some acetate laminating foil.

Jackie Martin, a photographer with International News Photos, was at the Archives Building in 1946 to shoot photos for a planned story about the National Archives. I imagine she wanted to liven things up a bit, and the idea for draping our mystery woman in laminating foil arose from that. The original negatives for all of these photos are in her papers at Syracuse.

But until now, we have not known the name of our foil-bedecked lady.  So how did I solve the mystery?

"Acetate Foil for Lamination" photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. Nationa Archives 64-NA-464

“Acetate Foil for Lamination” photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-464

 

Well, I was looking through more of the 64-NA photos that recently uploaded into the new National Archives Catalog, and I found this image.

 

"Records in Humidifying Vault" photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-466

“Records in Humidifying Vault” photo by Jackie Martin, International News Photos, 1946. National Archives 64-NA-466

 

Then I recalled seeing her in … [ Read all ]

A Very Special “Make It Work” Christmas Story

Tim Gunn will be at the National Archives on December 11, hosting “Deck the Halls: Holidays at the White House.” Join us in person or watch live on our YouTube channel. Details at the bottom of this blog post!

It was 40 years before his famous catchphrase, but Tim Gunn knew he needed to “make it work” if he wanted to get the Christmas tree decorated in time at the White House.

First Lady Rosalynn Carter holds an ornament designed by Tim Gunn. (Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

First Lady Rosalynn Carter holds an ornament designed by Tim Gunn. (Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

The future Project Runway star had recently begun teaching three-dimensional design at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, when the call came in. The White House was asking for students to make original ornaments for the tree in the Blue Room.

But just like a challenge on Project Runway, there was a catch: they had one week.

In Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work, Gunn recalled that they were excited to have the opportunity—and intensely curious about how the White House had come to be in this situation. “We heard a rumor,” he wrote, “that the Jimmy Carter White House perceived the work of this original ornament maker to be “inappropriate,” and we had a wonderful time trying to imagine what in the world those ornaments had looked like.”

His second-year students … [ Read all ]

The Ike Jacket

Today’s post comes from Timothy Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. In honor of Veterans Day and those who have worn a uniform while serving their country, here’s the story behind the famous jacket now on display in our exhibit “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower considered the Army’s World War II military uniform to be restricting and poorly suited for combat. Instead he had a standard issue wool field jacket tailored to be “very short, very comfortable, and very natty looking.” The resulting “Eisenhower jacket” or “Ike jacket,” as it came to be known, was standard issue to American troops after November 1944. This “Ike jacket” was worn by Eisenhower.

One of General Eisenhower's jackets is currently on display in the "Making Their Mark" exhibit at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

One of General Eisenhower’s jackets is currently on display in the “Making Their Mark” exhibit at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

Ike urged theater-wide adoption of the shorter jacket in a May 5, 1943, letter to General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff:

I have no doubt that you have been impressed by the virtual impossibility of appearing neat and snappy in our field uniform. Given a uniform which tends to look a bit tough, and the natural proclivities of the American soldier quickly create a general impression of a disorderly mob. From this standpoint alone, the matter is bad enough; but

[ Read all ]

The Louisiana Purchase Treaty on display in St. Louis

Today’s post comes from James Zeender, Senior Registrar at the National Archives.

On October 25, “The Louisiana Purchase: Making St. Louis, Remaking America” opened in St. Louis. The Missouri History Museum and the National Archives partnered to organize the exhibition, which features the original Louisiana Purchase Treaty of 1803, on loan from the National Archives.

Other National Archives documents on display include Spain’s agreement with France to transfer the Territory to France, the act authorizing the President to take possession from France, the treaty between the United States and the Sauk and the Fox Indians signed at St. Louis in 1804, and six more related items.

James Zeender and Terry Boone of the NAtional Archives examine the Treaty between U.S. and Sauk and Fox Indians, signed in 1804 at St. Louis. (Photograph courtesy of the Missouri History Museum)

James Zeender and Terry Boone of the National Archives examine the Treaty between U.S. and Sauk and Fox Indians, signed in 1804 at St. Louis. (Photograph courtesy of the Missouri History Museum)

The exhibition explores treaty negotiations, the debate in Congress, the territory’s mixed culture and multilingual society, settler conflict with Native Americans, and the extension of slavery into the West.

Did you know the original Louisiana Purchase Treaty consists of three different documents? Each required a separate set of signatures and the private red wax seals of American envoys Robert Livingston and James Monroe and the French finance minister François de Barbé-Marbois.

The Treaty of Cession transferred 828,000 acres of land west of the Mississippi from France to the … [ Read all ]