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Your Good Friend, Victoria R

Citizen Archivists! You can transcribe this document as part of our #SunshineWeek Transcription Challenge!

The black-bordered letter sent to President Martin Van Buren relayed the official news that the king of the United Kingdom, His Majesty William IV, had died on June 20, 1837. The new monarch was the late king’s niece, 18-year-old Victoria.

Writing on June 23, the young new queen announced the passing of “Our Most Honoured and Beloved Uncle” and advised the President of her own accession to the throne. She assured him “that it will be Our most earnest desire to cultivate and maintain the Relations of Friendship and good Understanding which so happily subsist between the Two Countries.”

At the end of the letter, she signed herself, “Your Good Friend, Victoria R.” Just three days into her nearly 64–year reign, her signature is penned neatly and carefully. In later years, letters from the more mature queen show a looser, more flowing signature.

Several other letters from Victoria and other 19th-century monarchs (in the series “Ceremonial Letters from Great Britain”) are available in the online National Archives catalog. They announce births, deaths, and weddings of members of the royal family and diplomatic appointments. The foreign minister’s signature (Palmerston on this 1837 letter) appears below the monarch’s.

Letter from Victoria R to Martin Van Buren

Page 1 of a letter from Queen Victoria to President Martin Van Buren, June 23, 1837. (National Archives Identifier 5756761)

Letter from Victoria R to Martin Van Buren, p 2

Page 2 of a letter from Queen Victoria to President Martin Van Buren, June 23, 1837. (National Archives Identifier 5756761)


Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to celebrate one of our most cherished former employees—Sara Dunlap Jackson. After I was appointed Historian last year, numerous local historians approached me to say that I just had to research Sara Dunlap Jackson because she was so important to the history of the agency.

Sara Dunlap Jackson was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1919. After earning her B.A. in sociology, and a brief stint as a high school teacher, Jackson moved to Washington, DC. She began her 46-year-long career at the National Archives in 1944 as an archives assistant in the Military Archives Division. According to Jackson, the Archives offered her the job because she had been working in the War Department, and the Archives thought this meant she knew something about military history.

In reality, Jackson knew little about military history at that time, but by spending countless hours in the stacks and answering numerous reference requests she became the go-to person for anyone researching military records in the National Archives. Researchers reported how she went the “extra mile,” how her kindness and advice “mothered” many historians, and how she dedicated her entire career to helping others. To many, Jackson was the National Archives.

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in the middle. (64-JR-2, Records of the National Archives)

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in the middle. (64-JR-2, Records of the National Archives)

Throughout her career Jackson earned numerous accolades, awards, and an honorary PhD from the University of Toledo. The Summer 1997 issue of Prologue, the official magazine of the National Archives, is a tribute to Jackson for her excellent reference service. She was acknowledged in numerous publications—noted historian Ira Berlin dedicated one of his Freedom series volumes: “To Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire.”

Jackson retired from the National Archives in 1990 while on staff at the NHPRC. She died of cancer on April 19, 1991. at her home on Kalorama Road in Washington, DC.

Joseph E. Wood presents a pamphlet to Sara D. Jackson, April 20, 1965 64-NA-2659, Records of the National Archives

Joseph E. Wood presents a pamphlet to Sara D. Jackson, April 20, 1965 64-NA-2659, Records of the National Archives

 

 


Margaret M.H. Finch, War Records Keeper

Today’s post for Women’s History Month comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

I was intrigued when Alan Walker discovered those wonderful ID cards of former Archives employees in Record Group 64. I noticed many were women, which makes sense given the time period, and thought it would be nice to highlight a former female employee for Women’s History Month. I randomly picked Mrs. Margaret M. H. Finch, who worked for the National Archives between 1940 and 1949.

ID card of former Archives employee, Margaret M. H. Finch

As it turns out, Finch’s name appears quite frequently in many of our records. Interestingly, it’s not because she was employed by the National Archives, but because of her previous position.

Finch began her federal career in 1919, at age 42, shortly after her first husband died in the 1918 influenza outbreak. She started as a clerk in the War Department but soon moved to the Bureau of Pensions in the Department of Interior. While there, she worked primarily with pension and bounty-land files from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

When she became chief of the Revolutionary and War of 1812 pension branch, she became the main contact person for historians, genealogists, and other researchers seeking copies of pension records. The paperwork these requests generated were subsequently filed with the records themselves.

This War of 1812 pension is just one example of hundreds and hundreds of documents Finch has signed that are now filed in the National Archives pension records:

War of 1812 pension application signed by Mrs. Finch

War of 1812 pension application signed by Mrs. Finch

In 1940, as the pension records were transferred to the National Archives, Finch transferred with them. She continued to help researchers locate pension files but also gave numerous talks about researching in the records. At that time, she knew the pension files from the nation’s first two wars better than anyone else, lovingly referring to them as her “heart throbs.” In an interview conducted upon her retirement, she explained the files made the men who served “almost become living people, and their descriptions of battles in which they fought are so real you feel like you’ve been an actual participator.”

Finch reluctantly retired from the National Archives in June 1949 after 30 years of federal service. She passed away in 1958.

A final note…

I became curious about the M.H. initials. Here’s what I have found:

Born: Margaret G. Maddox (1878)
Married Rosser Mead Hammond –> Margaret M. Hammond (1902)
Married Erastus M. Finch –> Margaret M.H. Finch (early 1920s)
Died: Margaret M. H. Finch (1958)


On Exhibit: Americans with Disabilities Act

Today’s post comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. 

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, forbids employers from discriminating against mentally or physically disabled employees. It also instituted accessibility requirements for buildings and public transportation, such as ramps for wheelchairs and posting signs in Braille.

The disability rights movement grew following the successes of the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the 1960s.

The movement’s first big success came with the Rehabilitation Act, signed in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. The Rehabilitation Act prohibits the discrimination of the disabled by any Federal agencies, Federal programs, or Federally contracted employers.

The private sector did not fall under the Rehabilitation Act and was still able to fire (or not hire) employees based solely on their disability. Additionally, many buildings were inaccessible to the disabled, especially those aided by wheelchairs. It soon became clear that a broader law encompassing all employers needed to be passed.

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines “disability” as, having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities.” The law not only prohibits discrimination; it also mandates that “reasonable accommodations” be made for those with disabilities. This means that the employer must be able to afford the accommodation and also that the disabled employee must be able to maintain the acceptable quality of work as done by non-handicapped peers.

The law also requires that all newly constructed public buildings follow regulations that allow disabled persons to maneuver on their own. These regulations include the construction of ramps, elevators, and accessible bathrooms.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act, which broadened the definition of a disability and more clearly defined the term “major life activities” in an attempt to reduce confusion and more clearly determine eligibility.

The Americans with Disabilities Act will be on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC, from March 16, 2015, to July 30, 2015, in the Landmark Document display of the Rubenstein Gallery.

President George H. W. Bush Signs the Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (National Archives Identifier 6037489)

President George H. W. Bush Signs the Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (National Archives Identifier 6037489)


Inventing in Congress: Patent Law since 1790

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

In August 1791, two men received identical patents from the Federal Government. John Fitch and James Rumsey claimed to have invented the same technology: a steamboat.

After a two-year battle for exclusive rights to their discovery, with Fitch calling Rumsey his “most cruel hidden and ungenerous Enemy,” each was devastated by the result. Rumsey complained that in the United States, “no invention can be secured . . . for no better reason than because it can be varied into a different Shape,” and he moved to London, where he died trying to perfect his steamboat. Fitch ultimately committed suicide after his investors abandoned him.

Both inventors blamed the Patents Act of 1790 for their woes.

Patents Act, March 11, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate,  National Archives)

Patents Act, March 11, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

 

On January 22, 1790, Congress began preparing the Patents Act. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to grant writers and inventors exclusive rights to their work, in order “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

The framers of the Constitution believed that patent law encouraged innovation by protecting private property. In Federalist #43, James Madison argued that creating patent law was a matter of “reason” and “public good.”

In February of 1790, a draft of the bill designed to encompass “every subject of invention and discovery” was ready. The bill proposed a board of patent commissioners to evaluate inventions for merit and originality. Additionally, it mandated a 14-year expiration date on patents and established patent filing procedures.The final version of the bill vested the power to grant patents in a three-person commission composed of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, and the Attorney General.

On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed the bill into law.

The Patents Act of 1790 revolutionized patent law in three ways. For the first time in history, patents constituted an inventor’s right, not a privilege bestowed from a monarch. The 1790 act also launched an unprecedented examination system that introduced standards for patentable inventions. The law further specified that a patent could not be granted if the invention were “used by . . . others than the Petitioners or those who derived their knowledge thereof from or under them.” In this way, Congress hoped to diminish the need for inventors to work secretly to protect their discoveries.

Congress passed a new Patents Act in 1793. By this point, a substantial backlog of patent applications had accumulated because the cabinet officials lacked time to devote to patent examination. Inventors also complained that the board’s decisions seemed arbitrary.

Inefficiency and inconsistency compelled Congress to dismantle the patent examination system and replace it with a clerical registration system. This system remained in place until 1836, when Congress created the United States Patent Office. The new office relied on a panel of experts in the arts and sciences to evaluate patent applications.

Testimony arguing that Dr. Morton deserves credit for the ether discovery, “more than any and all other persons in the world.” Report 114, House Committee on Ether Discovery, July 30, 1849. (Records of the U.S. House, National Archives)

Testimony arguing that Dr. Morton deserves credit for the ether discovery, “more than any and all other persons in the world.” Report 114, House Committee on Ether Discovery, July 30, 1849. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

Congress continued to intervene in patent disputes even after it created the Patent Office. For example, in November 1846, Dr. William Morton won a patent for ether, an inhalant that became the first form of surgical anesthetic. Almost immediately, Morton sent a representative to petition Congress for a monetary award. Two other doctors—including Morton’s former teacher and his former roommate—protested, claiming that they had contributed significantly to the discovery.

In 1849, Morton traveled to Washington, DC, to make his case before Congress. He claimed full credit for the discovery and even demonstrated the use of ether on a patient in front of a select committee. Congress issued a report concluding that Morton deserved the credit, but declined to offer him a financial reward.

Patent law still stirs controversy in Congress. The Senate and House of Representatives debated a patent reform bill as recently as May 2014.

Last year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued nearly 300,000 patents—a fairly substantial increase from the three issued by the Federal Government in 1790!

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.