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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 ]

150th Anniversary of the Freedman’s Bank

Today’s post was written by Damani Davis, reference archivist at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

On March 3, 2015, the National Archives will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Freedman’s Savings & Trust Company, better known as the “Freedman’s Bank.”

The founding of the Freedman’s Bank was spearheaded by John W. Alvord, a Congregationalist minister and abolitionist originally from New England, who served as a chaplain accompanying Gen.William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops during their march through Georgia. During his time in Georgia, Alvord observed the destitute conditions of the former slaves and also noted a pressing need for greater financial literacy and some type of savings bank to serve the black soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops.

The Twenty-ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, shown here, were stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina. The Military Savings Bank at Beaufort, opened in 1864 by Gen. Rufus Sexton, eventually became one of the Freedman's Savings Bank's branches. (National Archives, 111-BA-1324)

The Twenty-ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, shown here, were stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina. The Military Savings Bank at Beaufort, opened in 1864 by Gen. Rufus Sexton, eventually became one of the Freedman’s Savings Bank’s branches. (National Archives, 111-BA-1324)

To address this need, Alvord later went to New York, where he met with philanthropists and leading businessmen to plan a “benevolent banking institution that would provide black soldiers with a secure place to save their money and at the same time encourage the values of thrift and industry in the newly freed African-American community.”[1] John W. Alvord and the founding trustees succeeded in getting a charter for incorporation … [ Read all ]

A look back at 2014

What a year! Here’s some of the highlights of the last 12 months of the National Archives that we shared on our blog. Thanks for reading in 2014–we’ll see you in 2015 with more pieces of history!

The National Archives turned 80

And this is why we needed a National Archives! Photograph of storage conditions of the Office of Indian Affairs records, 1935. (Records of the National Archives, RG 64)

And this is why we needed a National Archives! Photograph of storage conditions of the Office of Indian Affairs records, 1935.
(Records of the National Archives, RG 64)

 

We The Poets

[ Read all ]

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 University.

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 … [ Read all ]