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The Hello Girls Finally Get Paid

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 United States entered World War I in April 1917. Along with the men who were recruited to fight, women were eager to assist with war efforts. Such was the case with Isabelle Villiers. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1894, she acted on her patriotic pride and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force in May 1917.

For eight months, Isabelle Villiers (Yeoman, 1st class) worked as a confidential secretary in the office of Commodore A.L. Key at the Boston Navy Yard. However, after reading an announcement in the newspaper calling for telephone operators, she decided she could better serve her country overseas.

Photograph of Isabelle Villiers

Photograph of Isabelle Villiers from her civilian file at the National Archives at St. Louis

The war, which had already raged since 1914, had taken its toll on European infrastructure. General John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, had devised a solution for the poor communication on the war front. War had destroyed the existing French telephone system and he felt that telegrams were too slow and expressionless. Furthermore, General Pershing wanted to establish direct communication between troops on the front line and the general-in-command as well as between allied units.

While servicemen … [ Read all ]

Strategically Important: West Point

Today’s post comes from Adam Berenbak, archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.

The Continental Army and Gen. Samuel Parsons first occupied the land at West Point, New York, owned by Steven Moore, in the winter of 1778. The fort was crucial in defending New York, the Hudson River, and the lines of communication to the northeastern states. The new American government continued to lease the property from Moore after the Revolutionary War.

During the First Congress, the House of Representatives received a petition, the fourth sent by Moore, to receive compensation for damages to his property. The House forwarded the claim to the Treasury Department. On June 10, 1790, the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, reported back to the House that a permanent military post should be established at West Point. Hamilton believed this purchase was “expedient and necessary,” as guarding the Hudson River was essential to the “public safety.” On June 15, a committee appointed to look into the matter reported out HR 76, which authorized the purchase of the land from Moore.

Page one of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page one of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page two of the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the petition of Stephen Moore advocating the retention by the U.S. of West Point as a military post, June 10, 1790; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page two of the Report of

[ Read all ]

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,

[ Read all ]

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. … [ Read all ]

Congress Counts: History of the U.S. Census

Today’s post comes from Samantha Payne, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC. 

The Constitution requires that Congress conduct a census every 10 years to determine the representation of each state in the  House of Representatives. When the authors of the Constitution allocated seats in the House for the First Congress, they had no census data to guide them. As a result, the sizes of the first congressional districts varied dramatically. A Massachusetts congressman represented 96,550 people, while one from Georgia represented only 16,250.

To solve this problem, Congress had to determine how to conduct a census. The new nation was the first to institute a national, periodical census. The size of the United States made the task rather daunting. The Senate census committee worked for eight months before they decided to start from scratch in January of 1790.

An Act Providing for the Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States, March 2, 1790, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

An Act Providing for the Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States, March 2, 1790, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

Regional interests dominated the debate over the census. Northern representatives pushed for a rapid enumeration, but southerners insisted on more time, so that census-takers could canvas their large, rural states. On February 4, 1790, Congressman Theodore Sedgwick implied that Georgia’s population did not merit three representatives. A South Carolinian retorted that Sedgwick “would not be content until there were 24 members” representing … [ Read all ]