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Archive for 'Letters in the National Archives'

The Real Widows of the Pension Office

Today’s post was written by Pamela Loos-Noji, a former volunteer with the Civil War Widows Pension Project. The National Archives holds 1.28 million case files of pension applications from family members of deceased Civil War Union soldiers. A team of more than 60 volunteers, led by National Archives staff, is digitizing the files and placing them online. Pamela will be giving a talk on “The Real Widows of the Pension Office” on October 16 and 18.

The reason I decided to volunteer was an article written by a friend of mine about her experience working with the Civil War Widows Pension Project. She wove a compelling story of the person at the center of her file and brought the relationship between a mother and her soldier son to life in a way that surprised me. I was hooked. I, too, wanted to find stories, have people from the past speak to me of their lives, and to share what I learned.

The years after the Civil War were right in the middle of the Victorian era. In my mind, Victorians were uptight, straight-laced people who did not express strong feelings and who acted in a very proper manner. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

In fact, I learned a lesson I thought I’d already learned about history. People are the same as they’ve always been. … [ Read all ]

A warning from the Surgeon General about air conditioning

Letter from the Surgeon General regarding air conditioning at the National Archives, page 1 (holdings of the National Archives)

Rick Blondo, management and program analyst at the National Archives, reflects on the logistics of maintaining records in the sweltering humidity that is summer in Washington, DC.

Summer in Washington can be a wilting experience for tourists and locals alike, but not so for the holdings maintained in the National Archives.

The National Archives was one of the first buildings in Washington with air conditioning. The building was designed in the 1930s to safeguard the records of the United States in an environment suited to that purpose.

The vault-like structure included an air conditioning system that could maintain 70 degrees in winter and 80 degrees in summer throughout the entire building. Relative humidity was kept at 55 percent in stacks and 45 percent in workrooms.

The holdings collected in the stacks would be cool, but officials wondered if the relatively cool air elsewhere in the building would pose a health problem to staff.

Louis A. Simon, the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the National Archives, asked the Surgeon General to provide an opinion about whether exposure to conditioned air (and also a high amount of artificial lighting) posed a health risk to those who would work in the building.

The Surgeon General, H.S. Cumming, determined that … [ Read all ]

In their own words: Franklin, Adams, and Vergennes make peace (IId)

Mitchell Map of the British Colonies in North America, 1755 (ARC 2450020)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

Shortly after the diplomatic break between John Adams and Count de Vergennes, Adams left for Amsterdam. Once there, he worked diligently to obtain loans from Dutch bankers in the hope of making the United States less dependent on France, a task that took almost two years. Meanwhile, the Adams-Vergennes controversy was playing out in Congress.

Upon instruction from Vergennes, the French ambassador Luzerne appealed to Congress for Adams’s recall. Different factions in Congress also demanded the recall of Adams and Franklin. Fortunately for them, they also had their supporters and they retained their positions. Congress named Adams, Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson as co-commissioners and issued the following instructions on June 15, 1781:

. . .you are to make the most candid & confidential communications to the ministers of our generous Ally the King of France to undertake nothing in the Negotiations for Peace or truce without their knowledge & concurrence & ultimately to govern yourselves by their advice & opinion endeavouring in your whole Conduct to make them sensible how much we rely upon

[ Read all ]

A letter to the President—in Braille

Letter in Braille from John Beaulieu to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 10/1958 (ARC 594353)

This week marks the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The National Archives holds many records that relate to American citizens with disabilities. From personal letters to historic legislation, these records from the Presidential Libraries provide insight into disability history.

For the opening of the Public Vaults exhibition at the National Archives Building in 2004, public affairs specialist Miriam Kleiman was assigned to track down and bring to Washington some of the people mentioned in the exhibition. This is her account of her search for John Beaulieu.

I was intrigued by the letters from children in the “Dear Uncle Sam” section of the “Form a More Perfect Union” vault. One unusual letter in the stack interested me a great deal—a letter written in Braille to President Dwight D. Eisenhower by a young boy in the fall of 1956.

Thirteen-year-old John Beaulieu offered the President the following campaign stump speech: “Vote for me. I will help you out. I will lower the prices and also your tax bill. I also will help the negroes, so that they may go to school.”

The return address listed Perkins School for the Blind (Helen Keller’s alma mater) in Watertown, Massachusetts. After my Internet searches led nowhere, I called the Perkins School but was … [ Read all ]

In their own words: Franklin, Adams, and Vergennes (part IIb)

John Adams arrived in Paris arrived to find Benjamin Franklin being showered with attention (Ben Franklin at the Court of Versailles, ARC 518217)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

In the last post, we introduced the story of Adams and Franklin coming into conflict over the handling of U.S. relations with France. More specifically, Adams’s unsubtle and sometimes contentious conversations and correspondence with the French Foreign Minister, the Count de Vergennes, who was dealing with problems with his own government and a troublesome Spain.

Vergennes had little time for advice and questions, but Adams’s commission authorized him to enter upon peace and trade talks with Great Britain, and he felt it was within his authority to do so on his own. Vergennes argued the time would not be right until the military position of the U.S. and France was stronger. The Adams-Vergennes correspondence from February to July of 1780 came to an abrupt halt with this crushing letter from Vergennes:

I have received, sir, the letter which you did me the honor to write on the 27th of this month. When I took upon myself to give you a mark of my confidence by informing you

[ Read all ]