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Tag: women

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 ]

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

[ Read all ]

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.… [ Read all ]

A Matter of Simple Justice

The president’s directive of April 21, 1971. Barbara Hackman Franklin Papers, Penn State University Archives.

Today’s guest post was written by Barbara Hackman Franklin, former White House staff member for the recruitment of women and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The story of how Franklin and other women cracked the glass ceiling is finally told in a new book that draws from “A Few Good Women,” an oral history project at the Penn State University Libraries. The National Archives will host a special program to launch A Matter of Simple Justice: The Untold Story of Barbara Hackman Franklin and A Few Good Women on March 8.

The Nixon administration is remembered for many things, but advancing women’s roles in the workforce is usually not one of them. Yet in August 1972, Newsweek wrote that “the person in Washington who has done the most for the women’s movement may be Richard Nixon.”

Here is what happened.

First, on April 21, 1971, President Nixon issued a Memorandum for Cabinet Secretaries and Agency Heads outlining the administration’s new women’s initiative. The President called on all departments and agencies to create action plans to hire, promote, and advance women. Specifically, the plans had to address appointing more women to top-level positions, increasing the number of women in mid-level positions as well as on advisory boards and commissions.

This Presidential … [ Read all ]