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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 ]

An airing of grievances: A pension clerk’s appeal

Caption:  An appeal by Pension Office clerk C.L.H. accompanies the complex Whitehead pension file (File number WC #80024, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

An appeal by Pension Office clerk C.L.H. accompanies the complex Whitehead pension file (File number WC #80024, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

In honor of Festivus, this seems like the perfect document for the airing of grievances. This feature was originally published in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives (Summer 2013).

At the National Archives, and almost any other archival institution, one of the principal rules for using original records is to keep the records in the same order in which they are given to you.

We benefit in our research from the care taken by unknown prior custodians of the records. Their work is usually invisible, but in the case of our featured document, a clerk’s voice breaks through from the 19th century.

At the back of the Civil War widow’s pension file based on the service of Pvt. Stephen Whitehead, a Pension Office clerk wrote:

These papers having been sorted with considerable care and for convenience arranged in something like their logical order, are now fastened together in the hope that the next man may escape the annoyance and drudgery that would be entailed were they chucked back in the promiscuous condition in which they were found.

Jany. 16, 1894.                              C.L.H.

 

The clerk’s frustration is understandable in light of the complexity of the Whitehead pension case. In 1860, … [ 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 ]

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 ]