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Tag: Women’s History Month

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

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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 ]

The Remarkable Story of Ann Lowe: From Alabama to Madison Avenue

Today’s guest post comes from Margaret Powell, MA, a decorative arts historian from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her areas of concentration are textile and costume history. She is a graduate of the Smithsonian Associates–Corcoran College of Art and Design History of Decorative Arts Masters Program.

Photo of Jacqueline Kennedy in her wedding gown in the December 1966 issue of Ebony Magazine

On September 13, 1953, the New York Times featured the wedding of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier on the front page. The article contained a photograph of the bride’s intricate gown and a detailed description of its “ivory silk taffeta, embellished with interwoven bands of tucking, finished with a portrait neckline and a bouffant skirt.” The only thing missing from the coverage was the name of Ann Lowe, the dress designer.

Even today, as the Kennedy wedding gown resides in the permanent collection of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, very few people realize that this dress is the work of an African American designer. It is no novelty or a fluke—it is just one example of the countless designs created by Lowe for the Auchincloss family between 1947 and 1957. In fact, when Jacqueline’s stepsister Nina appeared in a 1955 fashion editorial in Vogue, she was wearing an Ann Lowe debut dress.

Nina Auchincloss in an Ann Lowe dress

[ Read all ]

Thursday Photo Caption Contest: March 22

" “Smilin’ Sam” (far right) poses with his new, enthusiastic customer satisfaction team."

One man in last week’s picture wasn’t happy, but all your comments made us smile!

Our guest judge is Jackie Budell, an archives specialist who supervises groups of devoted volunteers who are currently processing the Civil War Widows files, an enormous project with thousands of documents that need to be carefully handled–you never know what may be inside the envelopes! The volunteers have found all kinds of documents and objects, including a mole and a tintype.

Congratulations to Roxanne! Jackie approached her judging duties with the care she uses to open an envelope sealed for decades, and chose your caption as the winner. Check your email for a code for 15% off in the eStore.

So what’s really happening here? These are National Archives employees from around 1960, and the original captions reads “War Records Division Gondos, Irvine, Huber, Krauskopf.” It looks like we’ll never know what happened to make Mr. Irvine so very sad….

Today’s photograph features two ladies in honor of Women’s History Month! Put your wittiest caption in the comments below!

Your caption here! 
[ Read all ]