We the People

A Home Run of Records

Little Sluggers

The game that captivates Americans at the big-league level is played by kids of all ages all across the country. Little League and the American Legion offer young people from all around the globe the opportunity to play baseball and softball with good equipment and good coaching.

Founded in 1938 by Carl Stotz in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Little League Baseball and Softball sponsors ball leagues worldwide for young people aged 4 to 16. Kids can start playing tee ball at age 4 and work their way up to Senior League ball.

Starting in 1947, the league has held the Little League World Series annually, except during national emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. Presently, it sponsors three World Series competitions: the Little League Baseball World Series for kids 10 to 12; the Intermediate 50/70 Baseball World Series for kids 11 to 13; the Junior League Baseball World Series for 12- to 14-year-olds; and the Senior League Baseball World Series for participants 13 to 16. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan welcomed athletes to the Little League World Series.

In 1947, the same year that Little League hosted its first World Series, the American League distributed a short film about the American Legion Baseball program, which was organized to serve kids younger than 18. All Out for Baseball details the benefits of the program, which included the fact that young athletes could play with excellent equipment and receive excellent coaching at no cost to themselves.

Although both the Little League and American Legion Baseball initially only permitted boys to participate in their programs, times have changed. Girls are now welcome in both organizations and in both softball and baseball games. In 2005, President George W. Bush welcomed the Little League Softball World Series Champions to the White House.

Reverse the Curse

In 1919, Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold George Herman “Babe” Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees and thus purportedly brought down upon his team the “Curse of the Bambino.” Ruth, who both pitched and fielded for the Sox for six seasons, had helped them win three World Series titles, but that didn’t keep Frazee from sending him packing to the Big Apple. Affectionately called “the Bambino,” Babe Ruth got his revenge in spades—he helped the Yankees win seven American League pennants and four World Series championships during his fifteen-year tenure with New York, while the Sox languished in the losing column until 2004, when the team finally won a World Series.

The National Archives is the repository of many records pertaining to Babe Ruth, including his World War I draft card.

Fighting for the Home Team

Christopher Mathewson, also called “the Christian Gentleman,” was a right-handed baseball pitcher who played for the New York Giants from 1900 through 1916. He was a formidable player who still holds all-time high records in several pitching categories, including ERA, runs, and shut-outs.

Mathewson never played on Sundays because of his Christian beliefs. Unfortunately, his baseball career was cut short after he was accidentally exposed to chemical weapons when he was training to serve in the United States Army in World War I. He never played another game of ball. He died of tuberculosis, which he contracted because his lungs had been damaged by poisonous gas, in 1925 at the age of 45.

Tyrus Raymond Cobb, called the “Georgia Peach,” also served in the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service with Mathewson. Cobb was more fortunate—he made it through the war without injury and returned to playing the game. He spent twenty-two seasons with the Detroit Tigers and finished his career with the Philadelphia Athletics. When the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 1936, Ty Cobb received more than 98% of the votes. Three others were inducted that year: Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson.

History Snacks

Right Down the Middle

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans turned to the national pastime to try to start to feel normal again. For a week after the attacks, Major League Baseball had cancelled all its games, but playing started President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch of the third game of the 2001 World Series on October 30 at Yankee Stadium. That moment was quickly transformed into a proclamation of the enduring strength of the nation in the face of adversity. The crowd cheered President Bush on, and soon, the chant “U-S-A” rang round the stadium.

View some back-stage pictures of President Bush getting ready with his Secret Service detail and Yankees players.

Equipped with Records

Innovations to sports equipment are created all the time. The National Archives is the repository of all the records of the U.S. Patent Office, including an application by George Rawlings for a patent on improvements to baseball and cricket gloves. Rawlings founded the company now called the Rawlings Sporting Group, which has been in existence for more than 100 years.

A much kookier invention that didn’t catch on is James Edward Bennett’s 1904 “baseball catcher,” a cage-like contraption designed to protect the catcher and drop the baseball into their hand.

Considering a New Narrative

Sovereign Nations

Article two, section two of the U.S. Constitution grants the President the power to make treaties, contingent upon the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, and article six declares, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land. . . ”. From 1778 until 1871, the United States government made treaties with individual Indian tribes because it recognized them as sovereign nations. That stance changed in 1871, when the House of Representatives passed the Indian Appropriations Act, which stripped the tribes of their sovereignty.

The scope and efficacy of the treaties negotiated in that nearly 100-year span were checkered, to say the least. In many cases, the rights of Native Americans were explicitly spelled out in treaties, only to be negated by a lack of enforcement (sometimes intentional) on the part of the government or by later treaties that more severely limited Indian rights, especially to their ancestral lands.

Hundreds of treaties are available on Digitreaties, an online search tool to explore Native American treaties. The Archives also hosts a virtual exhibition titled Rights of Native Americans, part of its Record of Rights series, that describes the struggle for Native American rights from the first treaty between the nation and a Native tribe through the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. It features many of the most important primary sources that document the erosion of Native rights in the U.S.

A Grave Injustice

Probably the cruelest tool in the effort to force Native Americans to assimilate into the mainstream Euro-American society was the Indian boarding school. Under the terms of many treaties negotiated between the tribes and the U.S. government, the latter was obliged to provide education for Native children. The boarding schools of the nineteenth century, however, took this obligation to more sinister heights.

After the Indian Wars ended in the West in the late nineteenth century, many religious denominations opened residential schools for Indian children on reservations. Children were often forcibly removed from their homes and taken to the boarding schools, where their hair was cut, their clothes were taken from them and replaced with uniforms, and they were forbidden to speak their Native languages or practice their religion. Bent on “civilizing” the children, the schools taught a Euro-American style education and deliberately aimed to destroy the children’s connections to their cultures. As time passed, more boarding schools were opened off the reservations, often far from the children’s homes.

Arguably the best-known of the U.S. Indian boarding schools is the United States Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, founded in 1879 by Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt. A Civil War veteran, Pratt had previously supervised the Native prisoners of war at Fort Marion, Florida. Based on his experiences there, Pratt created the mantra, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” It became the guiding principle of the Carlisle school.

Unfortunately, those words often proved prophetic in the worst possible way. Many Indigenous children died of infectious diseases like tuberculosis while they were in the custody of the residential schools, both in the United States and Canada. To make matters worse, it was not uncommon that their families were not notified of the children’s deaths.

In early summer 2021, nearly 800 unmarked graves were discovered at Indian boarding schools in Canada. Shortly thereafter, the remains of nine Rosebud Sioux children were located on the grounds of the Carlisle school. In late summer 2021, the remains were returned to their tribe in South Dakota, where they were interred.

In response to these developments, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, herself an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo in Arizona, has opened an investigation into Indian boarding schools.

The Road to Suffrage

After World War II ended, Native American veterans led a different fight to secure their right to vote. On several occasions, Native veterans in New Mexico and Arizona attempted to register to vote and were turned away by public officials. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the holdings of the National Archives at Denver, Colorado, illuminate this story.

The question of whether Native Americans had the right to vote has been long and contentiously debated at the state and federal levels. It was not until 1919 that World War I veterans who had been honorably discharged were granted the right to vote regardless of their ethnicity. In 1924, all Native Americans were given citizenship, and consequently, the right to vote, but the reality on the ground, in state and county courthouses and polling places, often played out differently.

It was not until 1948 that Arizona finally agreed that Native Americans had the right to vote. New Mexico followed suit that same year. In 1957, the last holdout state, Utah, agreed to grant the franchise to Native Americans.

History Snacks

Native Sports: Lacrosse

Lacrosse, that darling game of athletes across North America, evolved from several different types of stickball games that Native American and First Nations tribes played for centuries. The artist George Catlin, who traveled the American West five times in the 1830s, painted several portraits of Indians dressed to the nines and holding their stickball equipment. Native stickball games often went on for days on end and sometimes became rather violent.
Over the past century, a toned-down version of the game has spread across the United States and Canada. It was an Olympic sport in 1904 and 1908, but it is no longer represented in the Olympics due to a decline in international participation.

Jim Thorpe, who was of Fox and Sauk extraction and who grew up in Oklahoma, is widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. He is probably most famous for winning the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon in the Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912. But Thorpe was no one-hit wonder—he also played football, baseball, basketball and—lacrosse.

Land Recognition

Much has been said and written about the U.S. government’s predatory treaty-making with Indigenous tribes from the founding of the nation up until 1871, but we should all recognize that every place in what is now the United States was once Native land. The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, is publishing an ongoing blog series about the Native lands that National Archives buildings stand on. For example, the Archives Building in Washington, D.C., sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. And you don’t just have to explore Archives facilities – the series features an interactive map that you can enter your address on to see what tribes originally inhabited the land you now live on.

Celebrating the Archives

Roll Tape

The National Archives is dedicated to preserving the records that tell America’s story, and that includes our films and moving pictures. “A2” at College Park is one of the largest Archival facilities in the world, and houses the Archives’ moving picture and sound branch. To learn more about their work, we talked to Ellen Mulligan, a Supervisory Archivist at Archives II. “NARA’s Moving Image and Sound Branch maintains the permanently valuable moving image and sound records of the federal executive agencies of the U.S. government,” she said. “Since the early 20th century, the government has employed moving image and sound technologies to document moments in history and advances in research, to educate citizens and inform allies, and to celebrate significant events. As a result, our holdings range from the early films of the World War One era to NASA’s exploration of space, and include Oscar winners like Nine From Little Rock and documentary classics like The Plow that Broke the Plains and Wealth of a Nation. We also hold a limited number of historically significant donated collections, such as the Universal Newsreel Library, including theatrical releases and outtakes.”

As far as the preservation of these original films, the staff at Archives II are in a race against time. Nitrate film can catch fire, so any moving pictures on nitrate film are quickly transferred to acetate or polyester safety film. Although acetate-cellulose film is not flammable, it nevertheless deteriorates as it ages. As it disintegrates, the film off-gasses acetic acid and basically turns to vinegar. This issue makes digitizing moving pictures particularly time-sensitive.

“In the Moving Image and Sound Branch, we work every day to secure these records and to provide access to researchers from around the world. We also work closely with the Motion Picture Film and Audiovisual Preservation Labs on preservation and digitization projects,” Mulligan explains.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Moving Image and Sound Branch or viewing the digitized versions of preserved films, visit the Archives online catalog, the Special Media Division blog The Unwritten Record, or the Archives YouTube Channel. If you have questions during your exploration, you can use their help guide on their web page or contact their reference staff at mopix@nara.gov with specific requests..

Executive Legacies

The Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives and Records Administration administers the Presidential libraries. Fourteen of the libraries maintain an online presence— the Herbert Hoover Library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the Harry S. Truman Library, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, the John F. Kennedy Library, the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, the Richard Nixon Library, the Gerald R. Ford Library, the Jimmy Carter Library, the Ronald Reagan Library, the George H. W. Bush Library, the William J. Clinton Library, the George W. Bush Library, the Barack Obama Library, and the Donald J. Trump Library. The latter two are not yet fully constructed, but they offer online resources to researchers and the public.

To gain more insight into how the Presidential Libraries preserve the legacies of their namesakes, we talked to staff at both the Carter and Reagan libraries.

“The Carter Presidential Library preserves and provides access to the official public records, personal papers, and artifacts of President Jimmy Carter, First Lady Mrs. Carter, and his administration,” says Meredith R. Evans, Ph.D., the Director of the library. “The library presents historic documents and artifacts to the public for viewing, research, and discourse to increase knowledge and understanding of our democracy, the importance of civic engagement, and America’s national experience and global impact.”

Mira Cohen, the Director of Education at the Reagan Library, shared perspectives from both archivists and curators about how both the proliferation of digital content and COVID-19 turned an unprecedented year into a learning opportunity.

“Today, Reagan Library researchers have more options to access our records than ever before. The traditional onsite examination of materials can be supplemented or even bypassed with the use of digital records now available on our website. The vast archival document holdings, along with the 3-Dimensional Curatorial/Presidential gifts holdings of LP-RR, make up the majority of the publicly displayed artifacts, and are the centerpieces of the 120,000-plus square-foot museum. Whether they be signed pieces of legislation, ball gowns. or projects created by school children and then mailed to the White House, these varied and amazing NARA holdings are the key to engaging the public in learning about history from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

“The education team at the Reagan Presidential Library consistently innovates by pairing new technologies with historical records to create engaging experiences for visitors ages 6 to 60-plus. During lockdowns, we developed a new virtual series of decision-making simulations based on the Situation Room Experience to encourage analysis of historical sources, media literacy skills and student interaction. The program ‘Lives in Balance’” was awarded the prestigious Gold Muse Award and the Bronze GLAMi award. AAM judges noted that it ‘turned the 2020 COVID situation into a meaningful learning opportunity in a contemporary, interactive way. By utilizing a live-action role-play-based digital platform they created a unique and empowering civic learning experience for students very relevant for the times.’”

Preserving a wealth of documents, motion pictures, and memorabilia, the libraries are particularly useful to people seeking information about the period in which a specific president was in office. Do you have a favorite President or an era of history you’re interested in? You’ll find great information about Presidential libraries and their contents in general by visiting the National Archives’ FAQ page.

History Hub

With 15 billion paper documents (PLUS our film archives, digital archives, and more), it can be hard to find exactly what you’re looking for. The Archives has extensive records, and with the recent interest in genealogy and the Census, more people are doing a deep dive into our online catalogue to find the records that relate to themselves and their families.

But if you get stuck, don’t worry! The Archives has our own version of a support chat where subject-matter-experts are available to help. It’s called History Hub, an online platform where you can ask questions about the Archives and its holdings, and get answers from archivists and curators.

Some recent searches include: “how to look up bronze star awards”, “what ship did my father serve on while in the Navy”, and “how many women voted in the 1920 Presidential election?” Get answers to all of these questions and more at our history-themed Google, History Hub!

History Snacks

Decisions, decisions…

The nation has entrusted the National Archives with the task of preserving the records of the federal government dating back to 1775 and reaching to the present day. The Archives both preserves these records and provides access to them to the general public, who are the beneficiaries of the agency’s efforts.

The Archives accepts less than 2% of all documents that the federal government generates each year for permanent preservation. Most agencies hold on to their records for thirty years before submitting them to the Archives. Presently, the agency houses more than fifteen billion paper records, including textual records, still photographs, digital images, filmstrips and graphics, aerial photographs, charts, architectural and engineering drawings, maps, video and sound recordings, motion pictures, and electronic data. The Archives is also preserving electronic federal records via its Electronic Records Archives (ERA) program.

Taste Test

Would you taste a 104-year-old piece of cake? It’s available at the Eisenhower Library, and while it’s probably not safe to eat, it has a great story behind it.

On Valentine’s Day in 1916, future First Lady Mamie (Doud) Eisenhower’s parents announced their engagement, and the couple was married on July 1 in Denver, Colorado. On their wedding day, a small sliver of cake was wrapped up and put in a box. It was sent to the museum in 1961 from the Doud family home after President Eisenhower’s mother-in-law passed. In 1971, it underwent a preservation treatment to help it last longer. As of the cake’s 97th birthday, it was still in good condition.

How about THAT for a history snack?

All Rise: Judicial Trailblazers

An Independent Woman

President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor, who was a judge in Arizona at the time, as an Associate Justice to the United States Supreme Court on August 19, 1981. Reagan had promised to nominate a woman to the court while he was campaigning for President. Despite opposition by pro-life activists and several Senators, the Senate confirmed O’Connor’s nomination on September 21 with a vote of 99 to 0.

O’Connor proved to be an independent and rigorous justice. Initially, she frequently voted with Chief Justice William Rehnquist along conservative lines. Later, when the additions of Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas shifted the makeup of the court toward a more conservative stance, O’Connor often cast the swing vote that determined the outcome of the court’s decisions. Some important cases in which her vote made the difference are McConnell v. FEC (2003), which upheld the constitutionality of most of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill regulating “soft money” contributions; Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), which affirmed the constitutionality of the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action admissions program; and, probably most famously, Bush v. Gore (2000), which determined the outcome of the 2000 presidential election.

Justices who are appointed by the President of a certain party don’t necessarily stick to that ideology forever. Lifetime appointments could be responsible for this, as well as the insistence of almost all justices that the Court is not a political body.

I Dissent

Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was widely revered for her stalwart support of women’s rights and closely reasoned legal opinions. Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court, she successfully argued six cases before the court—all of them dealing with sex discrimination. Once she was seated on the court, Ginsburg voted to protect voting rights and to eliminate differences in pay between men and women doing similar jobs. She also worked with President Barack Obama to draft and secure passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

Standing five feet tall and rocking a wide variety of lace collars over her judicial robes, Ginsburg was dubbed “the Notorious R.B.G.” after she wrote pointed dissents to Supreme Court rulings such as that in Shelby County v. Holder, a landmark voting rights case in which she wrote that gutting the Voting Rights Act would be “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” The “Notorious” nickname somewhat ironically relates her to rapper Biggie Smalls, who also hailed from her home of Brooklyn, New York. She became increasingly present in the public arena when matters such as her workout routine and her friendship with Justice Anthony Scalia, one of the most stalwart conservatives on the court, became public knowledge.

But Ginsburg became an icon because of the obstacles she overcame during her ascent to the Supreme Court, her penchant for hard work, and her unstinting advocacy for women’s rights. “You can’t have it all, all at once,” she said in 2014. “Who—man or woman—has it all, all at once? Over my life span I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough.”

She certainly knew from her own experiences. She faced unrelenting gender discrimination throughout her early career, starting when she, a graduate of Cornell University, could only get a job as a typist in Oklahoma, where she and her husband, Martin Ginsburg, were stationed while he completed his military service. When they both enrolled in Harvard Law School, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of nine women in a class of more than 500. She eventually transferred to Columbia, where she graduated at the top of her class, but she still could not find a job at a law firm. She finally got a break when a former professor, Gerald Gunther, recommended her for a clerkship with Judge Edmund Palmieri. From there, she got a teaching job at Rutgers University in 1963 and began her unceasing campaign to outlaw sexual discrimination. Notably, she was also the first Jewish woman to serve on the Court.

The First Latina Justice

The third female Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor is also the first justice of Hispanic and Latina descent to serve on the court. Sotomayor was born in the Bronx to working-class Puerto Rican parents in 1954. She graduated from Princeton with a history degree and acquired her law degree from Yale University.

Justice Sotomayor has had a long career on the bench enjoying bipartisan support. She was first appointed to the U.S. District Court by President H. W. Bush in 1992, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate for that position. At the time, she was the youngest judge on that court until she was elevated to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President Clinton on her 43rd birthday.

President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009; the Senate confirmed her on August 6 of that year. Her tenure on the bench has been marked by her passionate support of women and minorities and her defense of the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage.

History Snacks

Dressing Up

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the Supreme Court in 1993, Sandra Day O’Connor had been the lone female justice since 1981. The two of them conferred and came up with the idea of wearing lace collars with their judicial robes. The traditional robe is designed to be worn with a man’s shirt and tie, but the women on the court decided to wear lace as an expression of their femininity.

Lace may be fragile, but anyone who dismissed these two justices because of their gender was in for a rude awakening. Both of them were famously stringent and principled in their interpretations of the Constitution.

A New Judge

Born in Manhattan and educated at Princeton, Oxford University, and Harvard Law School, Elena Kagan holds the rare distinction of not having argued a case before any court prior to her appointment as Solicitor General of the United States in 2009. After graduating from law school and clerking for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, she taught at the University of Chicago Law School, where she met future U.S. President Barack Obama. President Bill Clinton hired her to be the Associate White House Counsel, in which position she served from 1995 to 1996, and then as Clinton’s Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council from 1997 to 1999. Clinton then nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1999, but the Senate took no action, and her nomination lapsed.

Kagan then became Dean of Harvard Law School, where she served until 2009, when President Barack Obama chose her to be his Solicitor General, the first woman to serve in the role. In that capacity, she argued six cases before the Supreme Court. In May 2010, Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court, and the Senate confirmed her on August 5 of that year.

Kagan’s papers are in the process of being digitized—the Archives estimates that they only have 160,000 pages to go.

The pursuit of freedom, justice and democracy has been the heartbeat of our nation since its founding. Join us as we explore our shared identity through tales of individuals and events from our past. Here you’ll find all the content you may have missed from past weeks – or the content you want to see again!

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Twice as Nice

We Shall Meet Again

When the Civil War started, there were some 3.9 million slaves in the United States. While the nation was at war, many slaves in Southern states fled to the Union Army, risking everything for their freedom. One such man, John Boston, found refuge with a New York regiment in Upton Hill, Virginia. His 1862 letter to his wife who remained in Owensville, Maryland reveals the price many paid for their freedom. In his love letter to his wife, he wrote that his highest hope and aspiration was to be reunited with his family.

There is no evidence that Elizabeth Boston ever received this letter. It was intercepted and eventually forwarded to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

The Making of a City

When it came time to design Washington, D.C., President George Washington appointed Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French engineer and architect who had fought in the U.S. Revolutionary War, to survey the swampy land that had been chosen for the capital city. The process of planning the city was complicated by disagreements about L’Enfant’s mandate and conflicts with other individuals, including Thomas Jefferson, then the Secretary of State. In the end, however, L’Enfant submitted a substantially more ambitious set of drawings that delineated the streets, canals, and bridges and many of the federal buildings. His plan was not fully realized, but portions of it are still evident in the city’s final form.

Black Wall Street: The Forgotten Tragedy

The Tulsa Race Massacre took place from May 31 to June 1, 1921, exactly one hundred years ago. Over that 24-hour period, white mobs attacked Black people and destroyed Black-owned businesses and property in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The massacre was sparked by a report that a Black man, Dick Rowland, had assaulted a white elevator operator, Sarah Page, who later denied the claim.

The Greenwood district was well known as Black Wall Street, a business district that was home to the wealthiest Black community in the U.S. at the time. When the American Red Cross arrived in Tulsa the next day, they found that the area had been completely destroyed and 10,000 people needed their help. Rebuilding the district took more than 10 years.

Although it was widely and nationally reported at the time, the Tulsa Race Massacre faded from public awareness almost immediately. It was not until decades later that investigations were launched into the riots.

The National Archives has played an ongoing role in keeping this story before the public. On Wednesday, May 26, the Archives Foundation hosted an online conversation titled “Black Wall Street: The Hidden Economy” that featured A’Lelia Bundles, a historian, author and journalist, Ron Busby, President and CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., and Tristan Wilkerson, Managing Principal of Think Rubix, LLC and General Partner of High Street Equity Partners.

The participants’ observations were profound and sobering. “Between 1870 and World War I, there were more than 100 towns in the West founded by African Americans. The Greenwood section of Tulsa was one of those towns. . . . ,” Bundles said. “[W]hen [my great-great-grandmother] Madam [C. J.] Walker arrived in Greenwood, she would’ve seen a thriving community. In the 100 block of Greenwood Avenue, there were more than 70 businesses: four hotels, two newspapers, eight doctors, a movie theater, seven barbers, a cigar store, nine restaurants, and a half-dozen professional offices. But as we all know, that neighborhood was destroyed in a horrendous massacre on June 1, 1921.”

The event ended noting that even until this day, Black Tulsans have never been repaid for the loss of life, property and trauma that they endured over those two days. Though many in the community were resilient and went on to rebuild their businesses, many others left Greenwood, with their sources of both immediate and generational wealth gone.

If you missed the conversation or if you’d like to see it again, you can find it here.

History Snacks

You Are Here

From the nation’s beginnings, the U.S. government made and then violated numerous treaties with Indian tribes, which often resulted in relocating entire native nations. Did you know which tribes once lived in what became your own backyard?

The Indigenous Digital Archive is your gateway to millions of Archives documents about Native Americans. You might want to investigate the IDA Treaties Explorer. Using the “Places” tab, you can search by city and state or zip code to learn which tribes lived in a specific place.

You can also use the “Cessations” tab to find out where tribes lived and where they were relocated to. Check out this map of Alabama and then click on the links below it to see additional maps of present-day Indian country.

Goggles…For Your Chickens?

The holdings of the U.S. Patent Office include millions of applications and approved patents for inventions of all descriptions. Some went on to be commercial successes, but others…not so much.

A case in point: Patent #730,918 for—wait for it!—eye protectors for chickens. That’s right, chicken goggles! “This invention relates to . . . eye protectors designed for fowls, so that they may be protected from other fowls that attempt to peck them,” inventor Andrew Jackson, Jr., wrote, adding, “An additional object of the invention is to provide a construction which may be adjusted so that it will fit different-sized fowl.” Maybe chicken goggles are one of those inventions that you aren’t familiar with, but once you see them, you have to have them! The U.S. Patent Office records are housed in the National Archives, and chicken goggles are only the tip of the iceberg.

…to form a more perfect union…

The Third Amendment

We haven’t heard much about the Third Amendment to the Constitution in the past 230 years, but the issue it addresses was a hot-button item in the American Revolutionary period. King George III of England had regularly installed his soldiers in private homes at the expense of those who lived there. The issue was so heated that in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson specifically admonished the king “for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.”

Consequently, the Third Amendment was incorporated into the Bill of Rights. It reads, “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Until this year, the Third Amendment had not been subjected to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, but the Third Amendment Lawyers Association has recently filed an amicus brief that supports overturning the CDC’s recent moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The brief states, “The CDC moratorium on evictions has the tendency to invade the Third Amendment rights of landlords.” It argues that some of those who would otherwise be evicted are soldiers, and thus, their landlords are being forced to “quarter” soldiers in their properties at their own expense.

On August 26, 2021, the Supreme Court overturned the CDC’s ban on evictions, but the decision did not discuss this novel interpretation of the Third Amendment.

Why else might this seldom-discussed amendment be relevant today? Many Constitutional scholars have pointed out that it’s the only amendment that talks about the relationship between civilians and the military during both war and peacetime. It also has powerful implications for a core belief of the Founding Fathers: that civilians should have control over the military. So while the Third Amendment rarely sees air-time in the news, that doesn’t mean the protections it ensures aren’t essential.

The Sixteenth Amendment

Oh, how we hate tax season in the United States! This attitude probably arises from the colonists’ conflicts with the British government over “taxation without representation,” which became a rallying cry of the American Revolution.

The struggle to mandate a federal income tax has been long and bitter. Abraham Lincoln first proposed an income tax in 1861 to raise money to pay for the impending war. The Revenue Act of 1861 included the nation’s first personal income tax, a charge of 3 percent on those making more than $800 per year. In 1872, Congress repealed the income tax, but the Sixteenth Amendment reinstated the tax in 1913.

How did this come to be? In a joint address to Congress in 1909, President William Howard Taft introduced the idea of a two percent federal income tax on corporations, and a Constitutional amendment to reinstate the previously-enacted income tax under Lincoln. Previously, the main source of revenue to the U.S. government was tariffs, but at the turn of the century, an increasingly industrialized world prompted concerns about the revenue needing to maintain a strong central government and standing military in the face of the sophisticated military forces of Russia, Japan, and Britain. Increased revenue was needed not only to defend American merchant interests, but also to further carry out their imperialist ambitions, which began in the late 1800s.

The Twenty-Seventh Amendment

When the Continental Congress originally drafted the amendments that became the Bill of Rights, they numbered twelve. The states ratified ten of those amendments and declined to ratify the other two.

Article One addressed how the number of members of the House of Representatives would be determined. In 1928, Congress finally settled the issue when it passed the Permanent Apportionment Act.

Article Two addressed the compensation for members of Congress, stating that members could not give themselves a pay raise that would take effect during that same session. The amendment languished unratified until Gregory Watson, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote a paper arguing that because the proposal was never taken “off the table”, that it was still active and should be considered. He began to campaign for its ratification, and though it took another eleven years, the Twenty-Seventh Amendment was finally ratified on May 18, 1992, 203 years after it was proposed. It reads, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

After the amendment’s passage, it was certified by Archivist Don W. Wilson – the first and only Archivist to certify a Constitutional amendment – during a small ceremony. If you’re curious about the role of the Archives in the Constitutional amendment process, you can read more about it here.

History Snacks

Spelling Bee

Here’s proof positive that even the Founding Fathers sometimes made mistakes: there’s a BIG misspelling in the U.S. Constitution. Did you guess it? It’s Pennsylvania, but they left out one “N”, spelling it instead “Pensylvania”, as you see here. Whoops!

Race to Ratify…or Not

When it came to the ratification of the Constitution, the framers were nervous that individual states might not be receptive to this new form of government.

For some states, their fears were unfounded. Vermont ratified the Constitution before it ever became a state on January 10th, 1791 (they would not become a state until later that year on March 4th).

For other states, their fears were confirmed. Rhode Island, which did not send any delegates to the Constitutional Convention, was the last holdout. The smallest state sure put up the biggest fight, having a popular vote in 1788 on whether to ratify – voting 237 in favor and over 2,000 opposed. Rhode Island did not ratify the document until 1790. George Washington had been President for over a year, and they had to write him directly to accept the Constitution.

Other states were in somewhat of a middle-ground. New York was the 11th state to ratify the document, but not without proposing changes. Their ratification document was the longest, accepting certain articles and adding amendments.

We Remember

Acts of Heroism

When United Flight 93 took off from Newark International Airport in New Jersey, bound for San Francisco on that clear September morning, most of the passengers had no idea that their actions that day would thwart a terrorist attack. The aircraft lifted off the tarmac at about a quarter to 9 o’clock. Approximately forty-five minutes into the flight, four hijackers stormed the cockpit and took control of the aircraft. They turned off the transponder that keeps an aircraft in contact with air traffic controllers. Then they turned the plane around and headed for Washington, D.C.

Besides the hijackers, there were thirty-seven passengers and seven crew members on board, and many of them immediately started phoning their loved ones. They quickly learned that two other airplanes had been flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York, and a third aircraft had hit the Pentagon. They surmised that the hijackers intended to use United Flight 93 as an airborne missile to destroy a fourth target.

Several of the passengers and crew members then charged the cockpit, armed with boiling water, service carts, and whatever makeshift weapons they could lay their hands on. The hijackers maneuvered the plane wildly from side to side and up and down to dissuade them, but the passengers and crew continued their assault on their captors. At 10:03 a.m., the hijackers crashed the airplane into a strip coal mine near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, which was about twenty minutes away from Washington, D.C., by air. When he learned that the plane had crashed, Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in the White House bunker and who had authorized the military to shoot Flight 93 down, said, “I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane.”

The National Archives is the repository of the transcripts of the conversations of the air traffic controllers who were managing the flight that day. The transcripts document the flight from take-off through the moment when the hijackers quit communicating with the air traffic controllers in Cleveland, Ohio, to the time when people on the ground in Pennsylvania started reporting seeing clouds of black smoke billowing from the crash site.

The actions of the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 have been lauded and memorialized countless times since the event took place. The 9/11 Commission Report on the attacks describes in chilling detail the events on that airplane.

American Resolve

At 8:30 p.m. on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush spoke to the nation from the Oval Office about the events of the day. The President had begun the day in Florida, where he was speaking to a group of elementary school students when White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered a heart-stopping message in his ear: “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.”

Despite the protests of members of his Secret Service detail, who did not want him to return to Washington, D.C., Bush insisted that he was going back to the White House that night. Once he arrived, he and his staff began composing a message that he would broadcast to the nation later that night.

George W. Bush’s handling of the 9/11 crisis won him great praise. “These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong,” he told his audience. “A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”

What Happened

On November 27th, 2002, just one year after the devastation of September 11th, Congress passed Public Law 107, The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003. Among other things, this Act established the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, or the “9/11 Commission,” as it was better known.

The 9/11 Commission, a bi-partisan group created by Congress, worked until August 24, 2004 with the mission of providing a “full and complete accounting” of the events of September 11, 2001, and to make recommendations about how to avoid future terrorist attacks.

There are more than 570 cubic feet of text-records pertaining to 9/11 and the Commission’s work. These documents, some enlightening, some heartbreaking, tell the stories of people’s final moments, acts of heroism, and first-person accounts of those who were on the scene serving on search and rescue teams. The National Archives is the steward of these documents, preserving these findings for years to come. Among the resources and records we keep are a comprehensive list of all individuals interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, audio recordings of many interviews, and Memorandums from the Record, which are the results of the Commission’s fact-finding missions.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also compiled records relating to the day, a total of 126 cubic feet of textual, audio, and electronic files. You can learn how to search these records (many of which were found in our story about the heroes of Flight 93) at this link.

The National Archives also preserves and manages the 9/11 Commission website, which was frozen on September 20, 2004, just over a month after the Commission completed its work.

History Snacks

Frozen in Time

American Airlines Flight 77 took off from Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., but it was hijacked shortly after 8 a.m. by five Al-Qaeda terrorists. At 9:37 a.m., they crashed the airplane into the western side of the Pentagon.

Immediately, military and civilian employees in the building started searching for survivors. Firefighters arrived within minutes and joined the effort. In all, at least 189 individuals, including the flight crew, the passengers on the aircraft, the hijackers, and people who were in the Pentagon died in the attack.

If there was anything “lucky” about the day, it was this: the wing of the Pentagon that was hit was being renovated, and most of the offices in that wing were unoccupied. Only 800 of the 4,500 employees who would normally have been present were there, resulting in far less casualties. The renovations were in response to the Oklahoma City bombings, and the plane struck the only side of the building equipped with sprinkler systems, a web of steel reinforcements, and blast-proof windows.

Still, the fires burned so hot that they melted building materials in the walls and ceilings of the building. Firefighters fought the flames throughout that night.

A clock that was in the Pentagon stopped at the exact second of impact.

Old Glory

Some of the most poignant photographs taken of the 9/11 tragedy are of Old Glory. From Ground Zero in New York City to the smashed western façade of the Pentagon to a strip coal mine in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to countless memorials across the country for the victims of the attacks, the American flag has represented determination and hope in times of great trouble.

Back to School

Suing for School

In the past hundred-plus years, the outcomes of several lawsuits have dramatically affected the way public education is conducted in the United States. One early lawsuit was Tape v. Hurley, which Joseph and Mary Tape filed in 1884 in San Francisco on behalf of their daughter, Mamie.

The city of San Francisco had supported a school for Chinese children from 1859 until 1870, when the district stopped mandating the education of Chinese students entirely. At that time, Chinese children born in the U.S. were not citizens. The Tapes tried to enroll their daughter in the all-white Spring Valley School, but officials would not let her attend classes there because she was Chinese.

The Tapes sued the district, and in 1885, the California Supreme Court ruled that Mamie Tape and all other children of Chinese parents had the right to a public education. The state retaliated by passing legislation that established a school for Chinese students in San Francisco and then barred them from attending any other public schools.

On the surface, Plessy v. Ferguson might not have been explicitly about school segregation, but it was the lawsuit that established segregation as the law of the land in the United States. Homer Plessy, a Black man, was arrested in 1892 for boarding a “whites-only” train car in Louisiana. He pled not guilty, arguing that the Louisiana segregation laws violated the fourteenth amendment, which protected the citizenship of everyone born or naturalized in the U.S. and guaranteed them due process of the law.

The court convicted Plessy, but he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1896, the court upheld the lower court’s decision, stating that the fourteenth amendment did not mandate elimination of all “distinctions based upon color.”

This ruling gave states license to enact laws that segregated all manner of public accommodations, including hotels, hospitals, and schools. Plessy v. Ferguson enforced segregation in public schools for more than sixty years. This post on the anniversary of Brown explores the depth of the inequity this decision created, especially in schools. In public schools as well as private spaces, Black individuals experienced not only physical separation, but also subpar accommodations.

That changed on May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the lawsuit Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Brought by Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Brown and twelve other Black families in Topeka, Kansas, the class action suit alleged that schools for Black children in Topeka did not provide the same level of education as did schools for White children. The court ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” which ended legal segregation of public schools in the country.

Opposition to the decision was immediate and widespread, particularly in the Deep South. When local and state officials persisted in dragging their feet in desegregating public schools, four years after handing down its decision in Brown, the court reaffirmed its opinion in Cooper v. Aaron (sometimes called Brown II) and ordered school districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka is also important because it bolstered the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, which became a force to be reckoned with in the coming decades.

A 1974 lawsuit addressed the matter of busing students to desegregate public schools. In Detroit, Verda Bradley, on behalf of her two sons, several other parents of children attending public school there, and the NAACP filed Milliken v. Bradley (summary), alleging that a state law had deliberately created segregated school districts. The court agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered that the city of Detroit develop a plan for desegregating all the schools that incorporated the outlying suburban school districts. Such a plan would require busing students to different schools, sometimes over long distances.

The defendants appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which overturned the original decision, stating that the suburban school districts had not conspired to keep Detroit’s public schools segregated.

The Little Rock 9: Where Are They Now?

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s rulings in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and Cooper v. Aaron, the NAACP chose nine high school students, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls, to be the first to enter Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The students were chosen for their personal determination and strength and then were extensively counseled to prepare them for the opposition they would face in their new high school.

On the first day of school, September 4, 1957, the nine students arrived at the high school and were turned away by members of the public and the Arkansas National Guard, whom Governor Orval Faubus had ordered to keep the students from entering the school building. A tense standoff ensued while federal judge Ronald Davies pursued legal action against Faubus and President Dwight D. Eisenhower tried to persuade the governor to change his stance. Finally, on September 20, the judge ordered the National Guard to disperse. The Little Rock police force escorted the nine students into the building on September 23, but they removed the students later that same day for their own safety. The next day, Eisenhower sent members of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army to Little Rock to maintain order. On September 25, the students were finally able to attend school for the first time. Throughout the school year, they endured harassment, hate speech, and physical violence.

These students have become known as the Little Rock Nine. Nearly ten years after they entered Central High School, the National Archives produced a short film titled Nine from Little Rock about them and their accomplishments after they left high school. In 1998, Congress awarded all nine with the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest award for distinguished achievement.

A Teacher Who Remembered the Ladies

Emma Willard was a lifelong proponent of education for girls and women.
Story: In the United States, the history of public education is also a history of the fight to expand opportunities for underserved populations to go to school. One notable individual who took the fight to extremes was Emma Willard.

Emma Hart Willard was born in Berlin, Connecticut, in 1787, just a few months before the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia. She was fortunate – in an era when women were rarely educated beyond the basics, her father, a farmer, recognized her aptitude for learning and encouraged her (and his other, numerous children) to study to reach their full potential.

Willard taught herself geometry when she was thirteen. She then enrolled in the Berlin Academy, and within two years, she was teaching there. Next, she got a teaching job at a girls’ school in Middlebury, Vermont. Her experiences there moved her to open the Middlebury Female Academy, a boarding school for girls, in 1814.

Throughout her career, Willard lobbied constantly and tirelessly for women’s education. She petitioned the governor and legislature of Vermont for financial support for schools for girls, but they rejected her pleas. She then moved to New York, where she also met with stubborn opposition. However, in 1821, officials in the small town of Troy, New York, agreed to levy a special tax to establish the Troy Female Seminary. The school created a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum for female students in grades nine through twelve as well as post-graduate study.
Willard served as head of the seminary until 1838. She died in 1870 in Troy. In 1892, the school was renamed “Emma Willard School” in her honor.

The Emma Willard School has been in continuous operation since its establishment and is widely regarded as one of the best girls’ schools in the country. Over the past 200 years, it has consistently turned out highly successful alumnae – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the great American suffragette, and actress Jane Fonda studied at Troy.

One of Willard’s innovations was permitting students who could not afford the school’s fees to attend on the condition that upon their graduation, they would become teachers themselves. This was a ground-breaking action that produced many female teachers at exactly the time when they were increasingly in demand in the United States.
Throughout her life, Willard corresponded with important individuals, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, about her driving conviction that women should be educated as well as men were. The National Archives preserves many such letters in its holdings.

History Snacks

Textbook History

Brothers William Holmes McGuffey and Alexander Hamilton McGuffey were the brain trust behind the McGuffey Readers, a series of books for grades 1 through 6. Between 1836 and 1960, more than 120 million copies of the readers were sold, making them among the most influential textbooks used in the United States.

The Cincinnati-based publishing house of Truman and Smith approached William McGuffey, a college professor, to create a set of readers for primary school children. He wrote the first four books in the series, and his brother Alexander wrote the fifth and sixth books.

The McGuffey Readers helped millions of students learn to read and write. They were, however, definitely products of their time, showing a strong Protestant religious bent and perpetuating many myths as historical fact, such as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. Their influence was unmistakable – when William Bennet resigned his position of Secretary of Education, President Ronald Reagan extolled him as “the best thing to happen to American education since the ‘McGuffey Reader.’”

The Lunch Bell

The Federal National School Lunch Program began in 1946. It provides nutritionally balanced meals in both public and private schools across the country. The program was started in 1946, “as a measure of national security to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food…”

Children whose families meet certain criteria are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches. In 1966, the Child Nutrition Act expanded eligibility and added school breakfast programs, while both Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon increased budgets for school lunch programs to provide kids with filling, nutritious lunches.

In the 1980s, school meal programs became subjects of controversy, and they have remained so until the present day. That’s why it’s vital to understand the once-noncontroversial history of school lunches because the program is now responsible for feeding more than 31 million children every day.

Counting All Voices

The Origins of 435

In the United States, the Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted every ten years. The census is especially important because the number of people in a state determines how many members that state is entitled to seat in the House of Representatives.

The question of equitable representation was a thorny issue when the First Congress was seated in 1789 because no reliable data existed about exactly how many people were living in the new nation. This problem motivated Congress to draft an enumeration act that established the procedures for counting the population. After prolonged and contentious wrangling, Congress passed the law and sent it to President George Washington for his signature.

It’s no surprise that many people were not happy with the results of the census. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were both certain the final count was too low, but later censuses confirmed the accuracy of the 1790 data.

Congress used the results of the successive censuses to increase the number of representatives until 1929, when the Permanent Apportionment Act reassigned that duty to the Secretary of Commerce and capped the number of representatives at 435.

Counting on You

The National Archives is the keeper of all the data from all the censuses ever conducted in the United States, beginning in 1790. The records from 1790 to 1940 are now available to the public.

It might seem like the Archives is running late in releasing census data, but such data are subject to the “seventy-two year rule,” which forbids the government from releasing an individual’s personally identifiable information to any other individual or agency until seventy-two years after it was collected for the decennial census.

Looking at the individual records from the various censuses can reveal a massive amount of very interesting information. In addition to a person’s name and residence, the records often include ages, occupations, the names of other family members, and levels of education.

The National Archives is more than the keeper of these records; its staff members have also put together helpful information and resources about how to search past census records. Whether you’re looking for family history or population data or simply seeking more information about this unique and impactful process, the Archives is the place to go.

Who Wasn’t Counted?

When census takers began enumerating the population of the U.S. for the first time in 1790, they only counted particular groups of people: White male heads of households, free White males over the age of sixteen, free White males under the age of sixteen, free White females, all other free persons, and enslaved persons. Each enslaved person was counted as 3/5s of a person, and Native Americans were not counted at all.

The 3/5s rule was written into the Constitution because representatives of the Northern states, which did not permit slavery, were concerned about guaranteeing equitable representation in the House of Representatives, which is based on a state’s population. At that time, the number of enslaved persons in the South far outnumbered the populations of the Northern states. After the Civil War ended, Congress passed and the states ratified the fourteenth amendment, which stated, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” were U.S. citizens. This amendment specifically repealed the 3/5s clause.

Unfortunately, because the census did not fully or reliably count enslaved Americans, we must often look elsewhere to get a complete picture of their daily lives, families, locations, and other information. One source of data about enslaved persons not derived from censuses is a series of records called the Confederate Slave Payrolls, which list the names of enslavers and their enslaved people whom they loaned to the Confederate Army during the Civil War. These enslaved persons mined raw materials to make explosives, dug trenches for the Confederate troops to fight from, washed their clothes, and cooked their food. The payrolls list the names of the enslavers, the names and home counties of the enslaved, and the amounts their owners were paid for their labor.

Beginning in 1860, a few Native Americans living among the “general population” were counted for the first time, but it was not until the 1900 Census those living on reservations were included in the regular count. Native Americans did not gain full citizenship until passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

Furthermore, women almost went uncounted in the census. During the debate over the 1790 Enumeration Act, Senator Samuel Livermore opposed using the word “female” in the bill. His reason? He was begging his colleagues to consider how a census taker could “be so indelicate as to ask a young lady how old she was.”

History Snacks

Not Who, but What

In addition to counting people, census takers have recorded information that can help us visualize different facets of daily life in that time period. For the census years 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1889, schedules of statistics are available for agriculture, mortality, and social data such as the value of real estate and average wages for different occupations.

For 1935, schedules for statistics are also available about radio stations, banking and financial institutions, advertising agencies, public warehousing, miscellaneous enterprises, and trucking for hire.

Make Yourself Count!

To help persuade Americans to take part in the 1950 census, the Commerce Department created a series of public service announcements to be broadcast on television. The message is the same in all of them – it urges Americans to stand up and be counted – but the varying ways it is delivered reveal a lot about the era. Check out six of the PSAs right in the Archives’ catalogue!

All Who Wander

Credit Frozen in Time

On April 6, 1909, two American men and four Inuit men completed their final push to reach the geographic North Pole. One of the Americans was Admiral Robert Peary. The other was Matthew Henson, a Black man who had accompanied Peary on his polar explorations for eighteen years.

Matthew Henson was born to sharecropper parents in Maryland in 1866. In 1867, his parents moved the family to Georgetown. Having lost his mother, his father, and the uncle who took him in after his father passed, Matthew went to sea as a cabin boy at the age of twelve. When he returned to the Washington, D.C. area, he went to work as a salesman in a department store. It was there that he met Admiral Peary, who hired him to serve as navigator on his first arctic expedition in 1891-1892.

Henson continued to accompany Peary throughout the latter’s explorations until the successful trip to the North Pole in 1909. (Some scientists have since disputed whether the Peary expedition actually reached the pole.) When he returned home, he worked several different jobs and published his memoir, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole. In 1913, he got a job as a messenger at the U.S. Custom House in New York, a position he held until he retired in 1939.

Recognition of Henson’s contributions to the North Pole expedition was slow in coming, but some accolades did come to him late in life. In 1954, he and his wife were invited to the White House by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Henson passed away in 1955, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. In 1988, Henson was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in recognition of his Arctic work.

The National Archives is the repository of the records of Matthew Henson’s federal employment and of the correspondence that laid out the case for him to be moved from New York City to Arlington. You can learn more about Henson’s life and work in NARA’s “Pieces of History” blog here.

From Astro to Aqua

Between 1964 and 1969, the U.S. Navy launched three underwater habitats, SEALAB I, II, and III, to test the abilities of humans to live and work for long periods of time on the ocean floor. SEALAB I was lowered to the bottom of the sea off the coast of Bermuda on July 20, 1964, to a depth of nearly 200 feet. The aquanauts, as they were called, were supposed to stay in the habitat for three weeks, but bad weather forced the project to end after 11 days.

Scott Carpenter, who was the second U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth, developed an interest in undersea exploration. He was scheduled to join the SEALAB I middion, but he got into a motorcycle accident in Bermuda and had to recover first.

Carpenter went on, however, to serve aboard SEALAB II, which was deployed off the coast of LaJolla, California, on August 25, 1965. Unlike the other aquanauts, who served aboard the vessel for about two weeks each, Carpenter stayed down for a record 30 days.

SEALAB III suffered from problems and setbacks from beginning to end. The project was eighteen months late and nearly $3 million over budget before the habitat was lowered off San Clemente, California, to just over 600 feet. The habitat experienced serious problems, including a leak that four divers attempted to fix in place rather than moving SEALAB III back onto a vessel. One of the aquanauts died during the operation.

Fun fact: during SEALAB II, divers attempted, with mixed success, to train a bottlenose dolphin named Tuffy to aid them in supply delivery from the surface to the underwater habitat and to help aquanauts in distress. Tuffy was from the United States Navy Marine Mammal Program, and at the conclusion of SEALAB II, there were plans for the dolphin to also take part in SEALAB III.

Whale Tales Inspiration

In the eighteenth century, people all over the world depended on whale oil to keep their lanterns lit and their machinery lubricated. Consequently, demand for whale oil was very high. In the course of plying their trade, whalers explored many parts of the world that Europeans had not yet seen. In Hawai’i, for instance, the first two whaling ships arrived in 1819, and by 1822, sixty had dropped anchor there. Two decades later, the ports of Honolulu and Lahaina received about one hundred ships per year. (Read more about the U.S.’s deep connection with Hawai’i and whaling, including the mysterious circumstance of a ship gone missing, here.)

In December 1840, Herman Melville, who wrote the seminal American novel Moby-Dick, signed on as a crew member aboard the whaling ship Acushnet, which sailed out of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, bound for the Pacific Ocean. When the Acushnet reached the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific in July of 1842, Melville and another crew member deserted. His experience on the Acushnet and on later whaling voyages provided him with the foundation for his fiction for the next decade. Between 1846 and 1851, he wrote four novels about whaling: Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas, Mardi: and a Voyage Thither, Redburn: His First Voyage, and Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

History Snacks

Logging In

The deck logs of ships often contain valuable information about daily activities that occurred on and around the vessels, the names of crew members and officers, and data about weather. This information is extremely valuable to people who are researching their ancestry and for historians who are probing the past.

The National Archives is the repository of the deck logs of commissioned U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships. In 2020, the National Archives embarked (no pun intended) on a project titled “Seas of Knowledge: Digitization and Retrospective Analysis of the Historical Logbooks of the United States Navy,” which aimed to digitize Navy and deck logs from 1861-1879 and make them available to the public.

Stick to Your Route

Can you guess how this navigational tool works? The inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, an independent nation comprised of islands and coral atolls located roughly halfway between Hawaii and Indonesia in the Pacific Ocean, had to navigate the open seas to get anywhere. To help them know where they were headed, the Marshallese invented the navigational stick chart, which they used to interpret the swells in the ocean.

The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, an affiliate of the National Archives, has a navigational stick chart in its artifact collection. The shells on the chart represent the atolls that the canoers sailed between.

🇩🇪Tear Down This Wall🇩🇪

A City Divided

By the summer of 1961, East Germans were fleeing the German Democratic Republic in droves through West Berlin. Alarmed by this development, the mayor of East Berlin, Walter Ulbricht, closed the border between the two countries and ordered construction of a wall on August 12, 1961. Between August 13 and 14, East German police and military personnel swiftly closed all access points to West Berlin and then tore up roads and train tracks and built concrete barricades that they topped with barbed wire and guard towers all around the sectors controlled by the Allies and roads that led into West Berlin.

In June of the next year, the East Germans built a second wall 100 meters away and parallel to the first wall. They razed the houses in the area between the two walls and relocated their inhabitants. Then between those walls, they constructed what became known as the “death strip,” which was entirely open and thus offered potential escapees no cover while giving the guards in the towers a clear view of the strip below them. The strip was covered with gravel or sand, so footprints would be clearly visible to the guards. Over the next several years, the Berlin Wall was reinforced with additional concrete and wire.

When the wall went up, people who had family on the other side lost contact with their loved ones. Without a doubt, the human cost of the Berlin Wall over the twenty-eight years it stood is incalculable.

In 2011, the National Archives held a symposium where the building of the Berlin Wall was a key topic. The agenda and info packet for this workshop, called “A City Torn Apart: Building of the Berlin Wall”, can be found here, and includes moving illustrations and stories not only about the city, but also about lives that were torn apart by this wall.

Do Walls Work?

The seemingly endless debate about the need for a better border wall between the United States and Mexico has raised an interesting question: Do walls between countries work?

In the case of the Berlin Wall, the answer is unequivocally yes. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy had been sparring for years about whether West Berlin should remain in Allied hands or should be handed over to the Russians. When the Allies resisted, in early August 1961, Khrushchev threatened to start a nuclear war to settle the matter.

In this frightening atmosphere, the East German authorities built the wall to stop East Germans from crossing into West Berlin in search of freedom and better economic opportunities. It worked. Before the construction of the Berlin Wall, “It is estimated that 3.7 to 4 million East Germans escaped to the West. The daily flow of refugees in the beginning of August was roughly 1,500 East Germans, but after Khrushchev’s ‘bomb-rattling’ speech, the daily number had rose to 1,926,” Neil C. Carmichael, Jr., who worked for NARA’s National Declassification Center, wrote in an essay in “A City Torn Apart: Building of the Berlin Wall,” a publication that accompanied a symposium held at the Archives in October 2011. “On August 11, unbeknownst to all, the last 2,290 refugees seeking the freedoms of the west, entered the Marienfelde reception center in West Berlin. Overnight, in a swift, unexpected manner, the door to freedom closed, and was to remain so for 28 years.”

The main reason the Berlin Wall so successfully stopped people from escaping East Germany, however, was that military personnel who were prepared to shoot anyone trying to escape stood guard over it. The number of people who died in the attempt is hotly disputed, but depending on which source one consults, estimates range from less than forty to nearly 400.

One very dramatic and successful escape occurred in April 1962, when two construction workers rammed the wall with a truck and then fled through the gap in the wall. In general, however, the risks of trying to escape persuaded many people to remain in East Germany.

Though the wall kept people in throughout the Cold War, it stood only as strong as the USSR itself during the height of its power. As you’ll learn in the next story, the Berlin Wall did not stand the test of time, as predicted.

A Wall, and Empire, Crumbles

Once it was built, the Berlin Wall seemed an established fact of life. Despite Ronald Reagan’s famous appeal to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987—”Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”—many people believed the wall would define reality for East and West Germans in perpetuity.
On January 18, 1989, Party General Secretary Erich Honecker, who ran the German Democratic Republic (GDR), underscored this view, stating, “The Berlin Wall will still be standing in 50 or 100 years.” Considering what happened later that year, his statement proved to be both erroneous and ironic.

By 1989, the Soviet Union was beset by economic difficulties brought on by massive military spending, the lingering effects of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, and the catastrophic defeat of Russian troops in Afghanistan. As the nation became increasingly unable to exercise authority over its satellite states and to provide them with economic aid, the rulers of many of those countries began to question their alliance with the Soviet Union.

In 1988, Lithuania declared its independence from the USSR. This was the first event in a chain reaction that eventually brought the Soviet Union down. In 1989, voters ousted the communist government in Poland, and the Hungarian government started taking down the electrified fence that protected the border with Austria. This triggered a massive exodus of East Germans, who fled the GDR via Hungary. Actions by the East German government to contain the immigrants sparked massive protests by people who wanted to leave the country and counter protests by those who wanted to stay there.

On October 18, 1989, Honecker resigned and Egon Krenz became the new leader of the GDR. The demonstrations and continued flight of thousands of East Germans to the West prompted the new government to revise its travel regulations. On November 9, the East German politburo drafted new regulations that allowed refugees to leave the country via points between East Germany and West Germany, including between East and West Berlin. Through a series of miscommunications, the regulations were announced prematurely, before the border guards had been advised about them. On the East German side of the wall, huge crowds started gathering at the six checkpoints between the two parts of the city and demanded to be allowed to leave. After several chaotic hours, the commander of the Bornholmer Straße border crossing, Harald Jäger, ordered the gates to be opened and people be allowed to pass through.

On the West German side, thousands bearing flowers and champagne awaited the East German refugees. A huge street party erupted—West Germans climbed up on the wall and were joined by East Germans. November 9, 1989, is the day the Berlin Wall came down.

The Berlin Wall fell because of the weakening of the Soviet Union’s power over its satellite nations in the Eastern bloc and because East Germans were fed up with the difficulties they experienced in their daily lives. Battered by the continued flight of its supporting republics and by internal political mayhem, the Soviet Union itself fell apart by the end of 1991.

History Snacks

Writing on the Wall

The West German side of the Berlin Wall was covered with bright graffiti, which is art that is usually created on a wall, frequently in public view and without permission, so in some cases, it is a renegade art form. It can incorporate writing and drawings or graphic designs.

On the East German side, however, maintenance workers labored endlessly to keep the wall blank and pristine. Some graffiti artists managed to paint parts of the wall, but authorities quickly erased their efforts. After the wall fell, the eastern side of the remaining sections were very rapidly festooned with graffiti.

Graffiti is street art and is often controversial. On one hand, it’s often associated with rebellion and defacement of public property, however, graffiti has existed throughout human history. It was prolific in ancient Greek and Roman society and is the only evidence we have of civilizations like those in ancient Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia that date back as far as the first century BC. Graffiti has evolved over time, and in modern day is even purposefully incorporated into urban art scapes.

Like graffiti throughout history, many designs on the Berlin Wall reflected the politics of the time. Thus, the presence and absence of graffiti on the wall from its construction to its demolition could suggest the difference between freedom and oppression.

Scattered Pieces

Pieces of the Berlin Wall can now be seen all around the world. On the site, three long pieces of the wall are still standing on the north, westernmost, and easternmost parts of it. Some odds and ends, like lampposts and watchtowers, are extant in the city as well. Many pieces have been given to museums and libraries, including the Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan Presidential Libraries in the U.S. Still other pieces were stolen for souvenirs, and some were sold.

Unexpected Sunshine

Two Can’t Keep a Secret

In June 1773, the Boston Gazette published a series of letters that Massachusetts province Governor Thomas Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver had written to Thomas Whatley, an assistant to George Grenville, the British prime minister. The letters concerned the Townshend Acts, which empowered the British government to tax the colonists on imported goods, and furthermore asserted its authority to tax them without colonial representation in Parliament.
In one letter, Hutchinson commented that it would be impossible to grant the colonists all the rights they would have possessed if they were living in England. Oliver recommended changing the governor’s council, which until then was comprised of individuals appointed by the governor, to one with members who would be appointed by the crown.

When the Boston Gazette published the letters, many colonists who opposed Hutchinson’s rule were incensed. In Boston, Hutchinson and Oliver were burned in effigy on Boston Common. The Massachusetts governor’s council and assembly petitioned Britain to remove Hutchinson from his post.

But in England, the big question was how the letters had fallen into the hands of the colonists in the first place. Speculation first lighted on John Temple, a colonial official who had written to Thomas Whatley in their respective professional capacities. After Thomas Whatley’s death, Temple asked his brother, William Whatley, for permission to retrieve the letters he had written to Thomas, and William agreed. After the letters were published, William Whatley accused Temple of stealing them, a charge that Temple adamantly denied. Their exchanges became so heated that William Whatley and John Temple fought a duel over them. Whatley was injured in the duel, but the two then planned to face one another again after Whatley had recovered.

At that point, Benjamin Franklin, who was in London advocating on behalf of Massachusetts, issued a statement saying he had been in receipt of a packet of letters written to Thomas Whatley. Franklin had sent them to the colonies, where they had come into the possession of Samuel Adams. Franklin had very clearly stated that nothing from the letters should be made public, but Adams nevertheless let certain officials know about the letters and their contents.

Publication of the letters certainly threw gasoline on the fire of the colonists’ grievances, but their most important effect was quite possibly on Benjamin Franklin himself. In 1774, British Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn publicly reprimanded Franklin for his role in the affair in the Privy Council, accusing him of sedition. The meeting had been called to discuss Hutchinson’s fate, but it was Franklin who lost his job—the council fired him from his position of postmaster general. Sheila Skemp, the author of The Making of a Patriot: Benjamin Franklin at the Cockpit, contends that up until that time, Franklin had been loyal to Britain, but the experience was one of his first steps toward becoming a revolutionary on behalf of the colonies.

Starting the Rumor Mill

The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ended the Mexican-American War, which was fought between 1846 and 1848 and resulted in Mexico ceding more than half of its territory to the United States. The land that the U.S. received encompasses parts of what is now Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Mexico also relinquished all its claims to Texas and agreed that the Rio Grande was the border between the two countries.

While U.S. senators were still discussing the finer points of the treaty, New York Herald reporter John Nugent published a leaked copy of the treaty. Despite virulent questioning by the furious senators, Nugent refused to say who had given it to him. Definitive proof of who that person was is still lacking, but a decade later, President James Buchanan handed Nugent a plum assignment, sending him to investigate events in New Caledonia (now British Columbia, Canada). Some historians think Buchanan, who was secretary of state under President James Polk, had leaked the treaty to Nugent and then given him that commission as a reward for his silence.

In the Papers

In 1967, when the Vietnam War was at a critical point, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara commissioned the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force,” commonly known as the Pentagon Papers. The report revealed that the Johnson Administration had been lying to the public and to Congress about the U.S. military’s true situation in Southeast Asia, as well as about the scope of the conflict.
In June 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the report, leaked it to the New York Times, which published it on the front page of the paper. Publication sparked widespread and immediate controversy and protests across the country.

President Richard Nixon at first was not inclined to do anything to suppress the publication because he thought it reflected badly on the previous two administrations, not his own. But Henry Kissinger told Nixon that Ellsberg and his friend, Anthony Russo, who had helped him photocopy the report, were guilty of espionage and that if they were not prosecuted, it would be harder to hold people who leaked government secrets accountable.

Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell tried to persuade the New York Times to stop publishing the papers. When that didn’t work, they got an injunction to force the newspaper to stop publication on June 14. Four days later, the Washington Post began publishing the report. Meanwhile, the New York Times appealed the injunction.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court, while simultaneously, more news organizations across the country began publishing the report. On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court ruled 6–3 that the injunction could not stand.
Daniel Ellsberg was charged with stealing secret documents. However, when it came to light that the government had set out to discredit Ellsberg via illegal actions, including burglarizing Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in Los Angeles and wiretapping Ellsberg’s phone, all charges against him were dropped.

The revelation that government operatives were illegally monitoring American citizens such as Ellsberg and the Democratic National Committee led to investigations that also uncovered the Watergate scandal, which eventually toppled the Nixon administration.

In cooperation with the John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon Presidential Libraries, the National Archives released the unredacted version of the entire Pentagon Paper on the fortieth anniversary of their being leaked to the press.

History Snacks

Cryptic Content

What could be more fun than sending someone a message that looks innocent, but that actually contains super-secret information? Cryptology, or writing in code, has been practiced by governments and individuals for centuries.

Secrets are secrets, but some secrets are more important than others. In 1942, when the United States was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific was going badly, American cryptologist and naval officer Joseph John Rochefort and his team, in collaboration with British and Dutch cryptologists, succeeded in breaking the code that the Japanese encrypted their messages and thus set into motion the U.S.’ successful victory at the Battle of Midway.

In 2011, the National Security Agency declassified more than 50,000 pages of information about cryptology and other clandestine activities. The National Archives is the repository of these documents.

U2 Could Get Caught

Leaked documents can cause governments embarrassment and sometimes even consternation, but technology can also be leaked and might sometimes be more damaging. A case in point is the U-2 spy plane incident, which occurred on May 1, 1960, when an American spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. Representatives of the U.S. and other western countries were just about to sit down at the negotiating table with the Russians, but when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev learned of the incident, he delivered a furious speech and walked out of the summit.

The Russians recovered the wreckage of the airplane and went through it thoroughly. They took full advantage of the situation, trying Powers for espionage and sentencing him to ten years in prison. They also created exhibitions, like the one shown above, of materials they had recovered from the U-2 spy plane.

After serving two years in jail, Powers was released in a prisoner swap and returned to the U.S. He was a controversial figure because many believed the persistent but false myth that U-2 pilots were instructed to take a cyanide capsule to avoid capture. Powers affirmed this, contending that his handlers at the CIA had never given him these instructions. Gary Powers continued to live and work in the United States until his death in a traffic helicopter accident in 1977. In 2000, Powers’s family was presented posthumously with the Prisoner of War Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, and National Defense Service Medal. Then-CIA Director George Tenet also authorized Powers to receive the Director’s Medal for extreme fidelity and extraordinary courage in the line of duty.

Not-So-Friendly Competition

The mission that culminated in the U.S. moon landing was fueled by both fear and competitiveness. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, into orbit. Americans were stunned and frightened by this event, fearing that it meant that the Soviet Union might also be able to launch nuclear weapons at the United States and that the U.S. was falling behind the Russians in developing technology. About a month later, the Soviet Union sent Sputnik 2 into space.

The U.S. responded by launching its own satellite, Explorer 1, on February 1, 1958. Over the next three years, both nations launched several more satellites, but then, on April 12, 1961, the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit, achieving yet another first and effectively upping the ante. President John F. Kennedy congratulated the Russians on their achievement, but he also announced that the United States intended to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Thus was born the “Space Race,” the competition between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to gain superiority in space. The United States created the Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs with the goal of putting men on the moon. The U.S.S.R. also intended to explore the moon, but as time passed, the Russian space program veered away from manned spaceflight, instead sending unmanned probes to the lunar surface. The Soviet space program was the subject of ongoing surveillance by the U.S. intelligence agencies throughout the entire decade leading up to the moon landing.

In the end, the astronauts of Apollo 11 became the first men to successfully land on the moon and then return to Earth. The people of the United States were overjoyed by this achievement.

To Boldly Go (Or Not)

The recent space flights by Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have rekindled an old argument about the usefulness of space exploration. Since the very beginnings of the Space Race, critics have questioned the value of such an expensive program. Shouldn’t this government money be spent on Earth-bound problems such as world hunger, disease, and homelessness?

Others argue that exploring space is the next step in humankind’s evolution, a necessary step that will advance knowledge and benefit us all. In his July 20, 1985, Space Exploration Day proclamation, Ronald Reagan addressed this question indirectly, stating, “Space exploration is little more than a quarter century old. In that brief period, more has been learned about the cosmos and our relation to it than in all the preceding centuries combined. The ever-increasing knowledge gained from peaceful space exploration, and the uses to which that knowledge is put, potentially benefit all those aboard Spaceship Earth. The spirit of July 20, 1969, lives on.”

President Barack Obama took a more direct approach. In a speech he delivered at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida, on April 15, 2010, he remarked, “Now, I’ll close by saying this. I know that some Americans have asked a question that’s particularly apt on Tax Day: Why spend money on NASA at all? Why spend money solving problems in space when we don’t lack for problems to solve here on the ground? And obviously our country is still reeling from the worst economic turmoil we’ve known in generations. We have massive structural deficits that have to be closed in the coming years.

“But you and I know this is a false choice. We have to fix our economy. We need to close our deficits. But for pennies on the dollar, the space program has fueled jobs and entire industries. For pennies on the dollar, the space program has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy, and inspired generations of Americans. And I have no doubt that NASA can continue to fulfill this role.”

This debate is not likely to be settled anytime soon, especially as the effects of climate change become more evident in our daily lives.

John Glenn at 100

July 18, 2021, was the centennial of the birth of John Herschel Glenn, Jr., who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio, in 1921. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor and flew in combat in the Pacific Theater and in the Korean War, completing a total of 149 missions. When the Korean conflict ended, he became a military test pilot. In 1957, he set a speed record for completing the first transcontinental supersonic flight from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and twenty-three minutes.

John Glenn was one of the original seven astronauts in Project Mercury, the United States’ first spaceflight program, which was a direct response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. The other Mercury astronauts were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. Those were heady and terrifying days, days in which the success or failure of a spaceflight meant the difference between life and death for the astronaut. Glenn was the third American to be launched into space and the first to orbit the Earth. He followed Shepard and Grissom, who completed suborbital flights.

With his clean-cut good looks, his all-American upbringing, and his stellar war record, John Glenn became the man of the hour, the face of the U.S. space program, after he splashed down in Friendship 7 in the Atlantic Ocean. But for all his accomplishments, he remained a somewhat reticent hero who was very modest about his contributions to the success of Project Mercury.

After he left NASA in 1964, Glenn entered politics. Following a couple of unsuccessful campaigns, he was elected as a U.S. Senator from Ohio. He served in the Senate from 1974 until 1999. In 1998, he went back into space as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery. He was the oldest NASA astronaut and only US Senator to travel to and work in space.

John Glenn met his future wife, Anna Margaret Castor, when they were children. He always called her “Annie.” They married in 1943. They had two children, and they were together for seventy-three years. Glenn died at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus on December 8, 2016. He was ninety-five years old. Annie Glenn passed away in May 2020, of complications due to COVID-19.

History Snacks

Let’s Talk Tech

Mechanical rovers have both greatly aided space exploration and improved life on Earth for some of our most vulnerable citizens. The Apollo 15 astronauts, David R. Scott and James B. Irwin, were the first to use a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) to get around on the surface of the moon. Looking rather like a stripped-down dune buggy, the rover was specifically designed to operate on the rocky lunar soil and in low gravity. It enabled the astronauts to travel further from the lunar module and to take more equipment with them. The Apollo 16 and 17 missions also used LRVs.

In observance of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 15 mission, the National Archives is exhibiting an “LRV payload composite view drawing” and several supporting photographs taken on the lunar surface. The Archives is also the repository of materials documenting the mission, including a film of Scott and Irwin outfitted in spacesuits and driving an LRV on a simulated lunar surface, taking samples, working with photographic equipment and hand tools, and then driving the LRV back into the Astronaut Training Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

The LRV is truly the predecessor of the Mars rovers that NASA has deployed to explore the surface of Mars: Sojourner (1997), Opportunity (2004), Spirit (2004), Curiosity (2012), and Perseverance (2021). Back on Earth, the technology developed for LRVs has also been used to create mechanized wheelchairs.

Could YOU Join the Crew?

All jobs involve some degree of training, but astronauts have to complete not only extensive physical and mental training, but also exercises to make them competent and confident about working in environments that are completely foreign to humans. For the Apollo 11 moon mission, for instance, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin practiced landing on the lunar surface in the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle, which simulated the operations the two would have to complete in lunar gravity.

The National Archives has in its holdings a documentary by Todd Douglas Miller titled Apollo 11, which meticulously records the training that the astronauts completed before they rocketed into space. You can view the documentary here.

The American Games

The Olympic games are an international endeavor, and in keeping with that spirit, they are held in different cities around the world every four years. The modern Olympic games were first held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. Since then, the games have been held in the United States eight times, more than in any other nation.

In the beginning, the Olympic games included only summer sports. It was not until 1924 that the winter Olympic games were added. The summer games that have been held in the U.S. are the third summer games in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904; the tenth summer games in Los Angeles, California, in 1932; the twenty-third summer games in Los Angeles, in 1984; and the twenty-sixth summer games in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996. The winter Olympics that have been held in the U.S. are the third winter games in Lake Placid, New York, in 1932; the eighth winter games in Squaw Valley, California, in 1960; the thirteenth winter games in Lake Placid, in 1980; and the nineteenth winter games in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002.

Two U.S. cities, Los Angeles, California, and Lake Placid, New York, have hosted the games twice. Los Angeles is scheduled to host the summer games a third time in 2028.

All in the Family

American athletes of color have long faced systemic racism that has interfered with their success. Jesse Owens, a Black track and field athlete on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team, thoroughly embarrassed Adolf Hitler when he beat the German contenders and won four gold medals in Berlin. When he returned home, however, Owens and the other Black Olympic athletes were not invited to the White House, while their white teammates were. Furthermore, Owens struggled to make a living, eventually having to file for bankruptcy.

A family of Black athletes who you may have heard less about is the Joyners, who have devoted themselves to serving their communities since they stopped competing. Born in East St. Louis in 1960, Alfrederick “Al” Joyner won the gold medal in the triple jump at the 1984 Olympic games in L.A. Al’s sister, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who also hails from East St. Louis, medaled in the long jump and the heptathlon in four different Olympic games, accumulating three gold, one silver, and one bronze award.

Al Joyner married and then coached Florence Griffith Joyner, a sprinter from California nicknamed “Flo-Jo,” who became the fastest woman of all time. Known for her colorful outfits and fun nail art, Flo-Jo won a silver medal at the 1984 games in Los Angeles, and three gold and one silver medal at the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea. Tragically, Florence Griffith Joyner died in her sleep at the age of 38.

After Flo-Jo passed, Al Joyner spearheaded the efforts of the Flo-Jo Memorial Community Empowerment Foundation, which aims to help young people around the world pursue their dreams. Al Joyner continues to coach track and field athletes.

After she retired from track and field competition, Jackie Joyner-Kersee returned to East St. Louis, where she established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation. The Foundation partners with Comcast, the Christian Activity Center, and Intel to create after-school programs and provide laptops, internet connections, and computer clubhouses for low-income families. She was a founding member of Athletes for Hope, and she has served on the President’s Council for Physical Fitness.

Playing Politics

Ideally, the Olympic games would be a politics-free zone where athletes can compete strictly on their own merits. In reality, of course, it’s not at all uncommon for politics to pervade the games.

One example of the presence of politics in the games is the “Miracle on Ice,” the 1980 U.S. men’s ice hockey team’s victory over the Soviet Union’s team in the penultimate match of the winter games in Lake Placid, New York. “That game was and is to me the greatest upset in the history of sport, any sport, any place, any time,” broadcaster Jim McKay said at the opening ceremonies of the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002. The 1980 men’s team went on to defeat Finland in the final game and claim the gold medal. The “Miracle on Ice” is one of the best-known stories in sports of all time.

What has become rather obscured, however, are the reasons the U.S. win was considered so significant at the time. The long-running Cold War contributed to the animosity between the two nations, but also, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to virtually universal and worldwide condemnation. The victory of the U.S. team, comprised almost entirely of amateur athletes, over the Soviet team, which was mostly made up of professional hockey players, was seen as a triumph of American righteousness over Russian aggression.

That summer, President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States was boycotting the Olympic games in Moscow because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. In retaliation, the Soviet Union boycotted the summer games in Los Angeles, citing security issues and anti-Soviet sentiment in the United States.

Other nations have boycotted the Olympics—for instance, many African nations did not participate in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal because New Zealand was competing there. Earlier that year, the New Zealand rugby team had toured South Africa, which at the time was subject to a sports embargo because of its apartheid social systems. Nevertheless, athletes from New Zealand were still allowed to compete in Montreal, which sparked the boycott. But many historians contend that neither the 1980 nor the 1984 boycott had any discernible effect on the political point the boycotting nations were trying to make. They did, however, derail the careers of many athletes who had been training all their lives to compete in the Olympics and disenchanted many members of the public as well.

History Snacks

…and 268 Days Old

You might think that Olympic competitors can state their ages in conventional terms—for instance, “fifteen and a half” or “going on sixteen.” But when athletes are competing in the Olympics, their ages are calculated down to the day. Marjorie Gestring was the youngest American to win a gold medal in the Olympics, beating her teammate and odds-on favorite Katherine Rawls in the three-meter springboard diving competition at the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin. Those back home in the U. S. could have read about her victory and others in the Civilian Conservation Corps Newspaper, “Happy Days.” Gestring was thirteen years and 268 days old when she won her medal—almost fourteen by most standards, but that metric is not quite fine-grained enough for the Olympic games.

The Final Light

At every Olympic games since 1936, a flame ignited in Olympia, Greece, has been carried to the site of the games via a torch relay. Once it reaches the host nation, the torch is carried through towns large and small. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan welcomed the torch bearer to the White House.

In the final leg of the relay, the flame is borne to the Olympic cauldron by a person of great significance—usually an elite athlete, but sometimes a nonathlete who has notably contributed to society. The identity of the final torch bearer is always a closely guarded secret.

At the Olympic games that have been held in the United States, the torch bearers on the final leg have included all sorts of people. At the 1960 winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, Ken Henry, a gold medalist in the 500-meter speed skating event at the 1952 winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, lit the cauldron. In 1980, at the Lake Placid, New York, winter games, the final leg was run by Charles Kerr, a psychiatrist who was chosen from among all fifty-two of the torch-relay runners. At the Los Angeles summer games in 1984, Rafer Johnson, the decathlon gold medalist in the 1960 summer games in Rome, Italy, ran the last leg of the relay. In 1996, at the summer games in Atlanta, Georgia, Muhammad Ali, who won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division of the boxing competition in 1960, ignited the cauldron.* And at the Salt Lake City winter games in 2002, the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team, the winners of the Miracle on Ice game, converged on the podium to light the flame together.

Among the holdings of the National Archives is the USIA Motion Picture Collection and African American History, which includes important films such as The Rafer Johnson Story and the Television Satellite series that documented the lives and work of many Black athletes, artists, and military figures, including Muhammad Ali and General Colin Powell.

*By the way, yesterday, July 19th, was the 25th anniversary of Muhammad Ali lighting the torch at the ‘96 games. Documentarian and Foundation Board member, Ken Burns, has a new documentary about Ali that highlights this electric moment in Olympic Games’ history. More here from the Today Show here!

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So, Who’s David?

In 1942, at the height of World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told National Park Service Director Newton Drury to find a place in the country where the president could go to relax. He needed it to be close enough to Washington, D.C., that he could return to the White House on short notice.

Drury tapped one of his assistants, Conrad Wirth, to help him. They reviewed several prospective sites and then chose Camp Hi-Catoctin in Frederick County, Maryland, a camp that was built by the Works Progress Administration as a retreat for federal employees. When he saw the camp, Roosevelt was very pleased and told Drury to proceed with plans and estimates. After work on the camp was completed, Roosevelt christened it “Shangri-La,” after the idyllic Himalayan land in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon.

When he became president, Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to close Shangri-La, but after he saw it, he changed his mind. He also changed the name of the camp to “Camp David,” after his grandson David Eisenhower.

Some of Ike’s political opponents were not amused by the change. Representative Michael J. Kirwan of Ohio stated that renaming the camp was the only thing the “Eisenhower Administration accomplished without Democratic help” during the new president’s first year in office. But although some advocated changing the name back to “Shangri-La” after Eisenhower left office, President Kennedy insisted that it continue to be called “Camp David.” It is a quiet country setting that offers presidents a chance to relax, host private dinners and family get-togethers, and negotiate with foreign dignitaries.

Codename: Trident

In addition to their professional relationship as leaders of the United States and Great Britain, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were great friends. During World War II, they collaborated frequently on the war effort, usually in conjunction with Joseph Stalin, the premier of the Soviet Union. In May of 1943, however, Churchill came to Washington to consult alone with Roosevelt about several big issues. He stayed for nearly two weeks, meeting with the president regularly and discussing how to defeat Italy, organize the Normandy invasions, and coordinate the war in the Pacific.

The Third Washington Conference (code name: Trident Conference) was intense and grueling. But of course, nobody can work nonstop for days on end. Despite the seriousness of the international situation, Roosevelt managed to get Churchill out to Shangri-La for some relaxation, where the two friends spent some time fishing.

A transcript of the Trident Conference is in the holdings of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home, an affiliate of the National Archives, in Abilene, Kansas.

Peace (and Quiet)

Like Eisenhower before him, Jimmy Carter planned to close Camp David to save money, but like Ike, he was entranced when he saw the presidential retreat. Isolated in the Maryland countryside, Camp David turned out to be the perfect place for the negotiations that resulted in the Camp David Accords, a historic set of agreements between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that stabilized relations between their two countries. President Jimmy Carter brokered the deal, mediating the conversations and helping the two leaders work out the accords over thirteen days of secret talks. Sadat and Begin signed the Camp David Accords on September 17, 1978. At a time when many people believed peace in the Middle East was an impossible dream, the accords were an unexpected ray of hope.

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, an affiliate of the National Archives, is the repository of extensive documentation of the Camp David Accords, including an examination of the accords after twenty-five years.

History Snacks

Presidential Summer Camp

Presidents go to Camp David to recharge. From the relaxing to the strenuous, dozens of activities are available to them there. Dwight D. Eisenhower played golf with his son, John Eisenhower, and his grandson, David, and Scrabble with his wife, Mamie, at Camp David. John F. Kennedy and his family used the retreat often, frequently taking walks beside daughter Caroline as she rode her pony Macaroni on the trails. Ronald Reagan also went horseback riding at Camp David, albeit on a much larger steed.

George H. W. Bush played tennis there. Dog walking has also been a popular pastime. Here are Gerald and Betty Ford and Susan with their dog Liberty, and Richard and Pat Nixon with their dogs Pasha, Vicky, and King Timahoe. And President Barack Obama played basketball with his senior staff there.

✨Glamp✨ David

Camp David is fit for a president, and several have added their own improvements and touches.

Camp David started out as a WPA camp for federal employees, but after FDR chose it as the presidential country get-away, the presidents kept making changes to the grounds and the accommodations. Harry S. Truman added heat to the cabins. Dwight David Eisenhower built a helipad so he could fly in from the White House. Richard M. Nixon built a heated swimming pool. And Ronald Reagan planned to build a non-denominational chapel, which was completed during George H. W. Bush’s presidency.

Eisenhower: In Case of Failure

On the eve of D-Day, before General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered a massive military invasion of Nazi-occupied France from the British side of the English Channel, he composed a short speech that he planned to deliver in the event that Operation Overlord failed.

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops,” he wrote. “My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Fortunately for the world at large, the D-Day invasion succeeded. Just under a year later, Germany surrendered to the Allies.

Eisenhower’s handwritten message is held in the Eisenhower Presidential Library, an affiliate of the National Archives, in Abilene, Kansas.

Kennedy: Remarks at the Trade Mart

When President and Mrs. Kennedy went to Dallas on November 22, 1963, he was planning to deliver a speech to the Dallas Citizens Council at the Trade Mart. The typescript of that speech, written on notecards and now held in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, tells us what he had on his mind that day.

The President planned to speak about the link between leadership and learning. “In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem,” he observed.

Kennedy planned to state that, “But today other voices are heard in the land – voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness.”

Nixon: Will I? Won’t I?

On July 24, 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that President Richard M. Nixon must turn over the tapes of phone conversations he had made with several of his associates about the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Nixon knew he was in serious danger of being impeached and removed from office, so he began contemplating resigning.

Over the two days of August 4 and 5, speechwriter Raymond K. Price, Jr., drafted two speeches, one in which Nixon resigned from the highest office in the land, and a second in which he refused to resign. In the latter, which of course was never delivered, Nixon stated, ”I firmly believe that I have not committed any act of commission or omission that justifies removing a duly elected President from office. . . . If I did believe that I had committed such an act, I would have resigned long ago.”

As luck would have it, on August 5, the tape that became known as the “Smoking Gun” was released. The conversation clearly showed that Nixon had conspired with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, to cover up the burglary at the Watergate. Nixon resigned from the presidency that evening.

Price’s files of “Option B,” as the non-resignation speech was called, are in the holdings of the National Archives.

History Snacks

Wamsutta James’ Thanksgiving Speech

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a grand opportunity for family and friends to gather and celebrate. For Native Americans, however, the occasion is a reminder of great loss.

Wamsutta James, a member of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, which lived in what became Massachusetts, was invited to speak at the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Instead of making a celebratory speech, James planned to declare Thanksgiving Day a national day of mourning for Native Americans.

“It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts,” James wrote. “This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.”

James then detailed the long history of wrongs perpetuated by white settlers on the Wampanoag tribe. He spoke of the ravages that the diseases that whites had brought to North America had wrought among his people, but he concentrated on the theft of Indian lands. “And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain. This the Indian could not understand; for him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident, where the white man sought to tame the ‘savage’ and convert him to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and unleash the great epidemic again.”

James submitted his speech to the organizers for their approval, but they rejected it. He declined to deliver a different speech.

Wamsutta James died in 2001. He was active in the movement to promote Native American sovereignty throughout his life. He did not live to see the setting aside of lands for the Wampanoag tribe in 2015.

If Lincoln Had Lost

President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address is one of the most famous in American history. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations,” he wrote, indicating his intention to win the Civil War for the Union and bring the Confederate states back into the fold.

However, when the Presidential election of 1864 was only three months away, Abraham Lincoln believed he would lose, and badly, to George B. McClellan. He also anticipated that a McClellan victory would spell disaster.

Therefore, Lincoln prepared a document for his cabinet that he sealed and put away. It was only to be opened if he lost the election. “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected,” he wrote. “Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”

Lincoln was determined to win the war for the Union. If he had lost the election, he most likely would have launched an all-out assault on the South because he did not believe McClellan could lead Union troops to victory. Fortunately for Lincoln, Atlanta fell to General William T. Sherman on September 2, which turned the tide of public opinion in Lincoln’s favor and secured his election to a second term.

The Enslaved Man Who Freed America

The year that James Armistead, an enslaved Black man owned by William Armistead of Virginia, was born is not precisely known, but he certainly was not much older than 30 when, with his owner’s permission, he volunteered to join the Continental Army. He served under the command of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who was an early supporter of the colonists’ independence. On June 9, 1778 in the presence of George Washington, Lafayette swore allegiance to the United States, affirming that the new nation was not subject to the rule of King George III of England. Lafayette persuaded James Armistead to pose as a runaway slave and join the camp of infamous traitor Benedict Arnold and later that of Lord Charles Cornwallis to spy on both commanders. Armistead was very successful at gathering intelligence for the Americans and giving the British incorrect information. His work was key to facilitating the Continental Army’s victory at Yorktown in 1781, which ended the Revolutionary War.

Despite his seminal contributions to the war effort, it was not until 1787 that James Armistead was finally freed. Both William Armistead and Lafayette petitioned the Virginia Assembly for his manumission. Once his freedom was secured, James Armistead added “Lafayette” to his name in honor of the Marquis.

James Armistead Lafayette then petitioned the state of Virginia for a pension for his service, which was finally granted to him in 1818. If you want to learn more about James Armistead Lafayette’s incredible story, you’ll have a chance to hear from him this Sunday during our virtual July 4th celebration. At 2pm EST, we’ll be having a conversation with James Armistead Lafayette, as portrayed by Stephen Seals from Colonial Williamsburg. Sign up here!

The Social Network of the Revolution

The internet has very rapidly and permanently altered the way information is spread worldwide, but in 1776, it was a completely different story. People could always gossip, of course, but the information they gleaned from such conversations was of dubious worth. Definitive news came to them via printed materials.

The earliest newspaper in the colonies was the Boston News-Leader, established in 1704. By 1775, more than three dozen newspapers were in business. They helped keep the colonists apprised of events as the Revolution moved forward. Other printed materials, including pamphlets (Thomas Paine’s Common Sense being the most famous example), proclamations, and almanacs, kept the news of the day before the eyes of the reading public.

One of the most important and widely used types of publications was the broadside, a large, single sheet of paper printed on only one side and designed to be pasted to walls, lampposts, and other structures. When the delegates to the Continental Congress had signed the Declaration of Independence, it was distributed to the public in the form of the Dunlap broadside, named for printer John Dunlap, who produced hundreds of copies.

Broadsides served other purposes as well. When the Revolutionary Army needed more volunteers, the commanders sent out this broadsheet describing the rations each recruit would receive as members of the Flying Camp, a mobile reserve of militiamen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. The prospect of decent and adequate food was a powerful incentive for some reluctant volunteers.

With all of the ways we have to communicate today, it’s impressive to look back in history and realize that a war was declared, fought and won, and a new country was formed on paper. Even with the prevalence of broadsides and newspapers, news could take days or even weeks to travel. Modern day social media lets us learn and spread information in seconds, and has played an important role in our political landscape. What will you do with the power of communication? We’ve got some ideas in our next story…

What’s Your Resolution?

When the Founding Fathers declared independence and the Continental Army answered the call to arms, no one was sure of the outcome, or the kind of country we would become on our own. It’s easy to look back on history and think that declaring independence was a foregone conclusion, but the Founders were often in deep disagreement on whether independence was worth the risk.

On June 7, 1776 delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution where he formally proposed independence to Congress. However, it was clear that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina weren’t quite ready to vote for independence just yet. Congress spent the next month debating the pros and cons, laying out their vision for a new country. In the end, Congress voted on July 2nd to adopt Lee’s resolution and move forward with independence. The rest, as they say, is history.

This Civic Season, we’ve been encouraging young people to develop their own visions and resolutions for what they want our democracy to look like, and the celebration of America’s birthday is a great time for this reflection. In 1776, Richard Henry Lee stood alone on the floor of Congress and proposed a bold new resolution. But you don’t have to; this Civic Season there’s been 179 organizations in over 33 states encouraging Gen Z and other young voices to share their vision – their resolution – for our Democracy. So what’s yours?

History Snacks

Fight Like a Girl

Deborah Sampson was born in 1760 in Massachusetts, so she was a very young woman when the Revolutionary War began in 1775. But Deborah disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Continental Army under the name of Robert Shurtleff. She fought alongside her fellow soldiers until she was injured and her identity was discovered. In 1783, she was honorably discharged from the army.

Deborah Sampson married Benjamin Gannett and the couple raised a family on a small farm in Massachusetts. For more than 20 years, Deborah petitioned for back pay and a pension for her service, first from the state of Massachusetts and then from the federal government. In 1809, her petition was finally granted, and she received a disability pension of $4 a month, the equivalent of about $85 in present-day currency.

The paper trail of Deborah Sampson Gannett’s fight for her pension is in the holdings of the National Archives, which is the repository of federal military records, starting with the Revolutionary War and extending through World War II.

The Written Word

Lately, it seems that cursive writing is a lost art. When the United States was newly born, however, it was the most common vehicle for written communications. When the members of the Constitutional Convention had settled on the final wording for the United States Constitution, they employed one man, Jacob Shallus, to “engross,” or to write out by hand, the document on parchment for the delegates’ signatures.

A veteran of the Revolutionary War, Shallus was working as an assistant clerk for the Pennsylvania General Assembly in Philadelphia while, in the same building, the delegates to the convention were laboring over the document that would be the supreme law of the land. When they had agreed on its phrasing, they called upon Shallus, who was nearby and who wrote in a fine, clear hand, to engross the document on parchment. In less than 40 hours, including time for eating and sleeping, Shallus engrossed the more than 4,000 words of the Constitution plus a transmittal page on parchment and returned the five pages to the delegates. For his labor, he was paid $30.

For many years, the identity of the engrosser of the Constitution was not known, but in 1937, historian John Clement Fitzpatrick identified Jacob Shallus as the man behind the document’s elegant and dignified script. Do you want handwriting this pretty? This Sunday, we’re talking with Thomas Jefferson himself about the Declaration of Independence, and one of our historians will be leading a learn-from-home calligraphy activity! Register here.

A Revolution on Paper

The Magna Carta was written more than 500 years before the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, but the rights set out in the English document profoundly affected the ideas that gave birth to the American Revolution.

Many of the Founding Fathers had studied law, specifically the work of Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634), whose four-volume Institutes of the Laws of England was often the backbone of legal education in the British colonies in North America. Coke, who served as attorney general for Queen Elizabeth I and Chief Justice under James I, was largely responsible for championing the importance of the Magna Carta in English law. His ideas about rights and protections profoundly influenced the framers of the Declaration and the Constitution.

Reading Your Rights

After King John and his barons finally agreed upon the wording of the Magna Carta, the document was written in Latin on parchment as a permanent record. At the time, Latin was the dominant language throughout the Western world because it was the language of the church, but it has long since fallen into disuse. Consequently, you may not have had occasion to read the Magna Carta for yourself.

This translation of the Magna Carta may surprise you—the document includes not only the concepts of trial by jury and no taxation without representation (sound familiar?). The document itself is based on four key principles that have stood the test of time:

1. Nobody, not even the monarch, is above the law
2. No one can be detained without cause or evidence
3. Everyone has the right to trial by jury
4. Widows cannot be forced to remarry and give up their property (this was a major first step for women’s rights!)

The Magna Carta: The First Influencer

It is commonly stated that the rights delineated in the Magna Carta informed the language in the Bill of Rights. But how closely do they really align?

DocsTeach, an online teaching resource developed by the Education Division of the National Archives, is designed to help teachers educate students about how to read and analyze historic documents. One extensive activity is a comparison of the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Bill of Rights. Take a look at some of the activities to gain greater insights into the differences and similarities between these three seminal documents.

History Snacks

Test Your Knowledge!

The history of the National Archives Building itself is as interesting as the record it holds. Are you a budding researcher, archives historian, or expert archivist? Find out by taking our quiz!

Forever Young 🎶

Because they were often written on fragile materials, like paper or parchment, important documents must be displayed under precisely regulated conditions, including temperature and humidity controls and limited exposure to light. Sometimes, painstaking repairs are required as well.

The 1297 Magna Carta on display in the National Archives is written on parchment. In 2011, it underwent significant conservation treatments that included removing old repairs and examining an area on which the writing had been washed away by some kind of spill. To get a feel for this important work, check out this video of the conservation process.

Like Father, Like Son

Many sons enter the same profession as their fathers, but only two sets of fathers and sons have gained membership of a most exclusive club: the presidency of the United States.

John Adams served as the second U.S. president from 1797 to 1801, immediately after George Washington. John Adams was a member of the Continental Congress and an early proponent of American independence. During the 1780s, he was a diplomat to European nations on behalf of the fledgling nation, and he took his son, John Quincy Adams, then 11 years old, with him. The two of them traveled widely, and John Quincy showed an early aptitude for foreign languages, eventually learning at least eight. At the tender age of 14, John Quincy left his father and went to serve as secretary to Francis Dana, an American diplomat, in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

When John Adams returned to America in 1789, he took part in the Constitutional Convention and became the first vice president of the United States, serving under George Washington. In 1797, he was elected president, serving a single term. Adams and his wife, Abigail, were the first presidential couple to live in the White House. Just shy of a quarter century later, John Quincy Adams began his term as president in 1825. He also served as an ambassador and a member of the House of Representatives in his long political career.

The National Archives holds many letters that passed between John Adams and John Quincy Adams. They reveal an intense connection between father and son, due largely in part to the shared privileges and burdens that the presidency brings.

The second familial pair who served as president were George Herbert Walker Bush, who was the 41st president from 1989 to 1993, and his son, George Walker Bush, who was president from 2001 to 2009. The elder Bush was a Navy pilot, a member of the House of Representatives for the state of Texas, an ambassador to the United Nations, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and vice president under Ronald Reagan before being elected president.

After graduating from college, George W. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard and worked in the oil industry in Texas before entering politics. In 1994, he was elected governor of Texas, then elected president in 2000. Both Bush presidencies are most famous for their foreign policies, and, as their presidencies were separated by almost exactly a decade, they shared many common issues that threaded throughout both administrations. It’s no wonder that both Bushes were often together in the Oval Office – you can imagine what kind of advice was passed not only between father and son, but between two leaders of our nation.

The George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum are both affiliates of the National Archives. They house comprehensive collections of materials about the presidencies of both Bushes.

The Mother of Father’s Day

Sonora Smart Dodd was devoted to her father, William Jackson Smart, for good reason. Sonora was born in Jenny Lind, Arkansas, in 1882. In 1889, her parents moved the family to Spokane, Washington. When Sonora was 16, her mother died in childbirth, and her father became the single parent to his brood of six, the youngest of whom was three.

Sonora Smart helped her father look after her siblings. She eventually married Spokane businessman John Bruce Dodd and became a well-regarded member of the Spokane community. On Mother’s Day in May 1909, she was attending a worship service at the Central Methodist Church, and the sermon made her think about her father, who, due to his circumstances, had effectively become both mother and father to his children. Sonora was moved to launch a movement to establish an official day honoring fathers. In June 1910, she talked to her minister and then met with leaders of the Ministerial Alliance of Spokane and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). She wanted to establish a national day of recognition for fathers on June 5, her father’s birthday. The officials she spoke with all liked the idea, but they felt that date was coming up too fast for them to organize anything meaningful, so they scheduled the first observance of Father’s Day in Spokane for the third Sunday in June.

Smart succeeded in getting Father’s Day officially observed in Spokane that year, and the governor of Washington state proclaimed it an official day. The movement to enshrine Father’s Day spread across the land, but it wasn’t until 1970 that a congressional resolution was passed that designated the third Sunday in June as the official observance of Father’s Day nationwide.

The John and Sonora Dodd house in Spokane is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The paperwork, which describes the house and the significance of its inhabitants, is in the holdings of the National Archives. It includes a detailed description of Sonora’s efforts to honor the man who had devoted his life to raising her and her siblings.

Father’s Day Genealogy

The National Archives is the place to start your investigation of your family tree, especially that of your father. In addition to a broad range of census, immigration and naturalization records, the NARA facility in Washington, D.C., holds federal military records from the Revolutionary War to 1912. Records from World War I to the present are held in the NARA facility in St. Louis, Missouri. Regimental and unit records from post-World War I are held in the NARA repository at College Park, Maryland.

Many budding family researchers have found information about their family’s history by using military records to follow their family back through history. What will you find?

History Snacks

On Par with Presidents

Since William Howard Taft became the first president to play the game, 15 of the following 18 presidents have taken a swing at a golf ball. Only Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter were not golf players. Although presidents have played the game with varying degrees of proficiency, perhaps the point is not so much the final score as the chance to spend a few hours outdoors and out of the White House.

Yes We Cran!

On November 23, 2016, President Barack Obama presided over a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden for the express purpose of pardoning two turkeys, Tater and Tot. He noted, however, that he had always observed another tradition during the Turkey Pardon: “embarrassing my daughters with a corny-copia of dad jokes about turkeys.”

Daughters Sasha and Malia were not at the ceremony that year. “This year, they had a scheduling conflict,” their father said. “Actually, they just couldn’t take my jokes any more. They were fed up. Malia and Sasha, by the way, are thankful that this is my final Presidential Turkey Pardon. What I haven’t told them yet is that we are going to do this every year from now on. No cameras, just us, every year. No way I’m cutting this habit cold turkey.”

The President wasn’t done punning yet. “Thanksgiving is a chance to gather with loved ones, reflect on our many blessings, and after a long campaign season, finally turn our attention from polls to poultry. This year, we’re honored to be joined by two of the lucky ones who were raised by the Domino family in Iowa: Tater and Tot. Now, Tater is here in a backup role just in case Tot can’t fulfill his duties. So, he’s sort of like the Vice Turkey. We’re working on getting him a pair of aviator glasses.

“And it is my great privilege—well, it’s my privilege—actually, let’s just say it’s my job to grant them clemency this afternoon. As I do, I want to take a moment to recognize the brave turkeys who weren’t so lucky who didn’t get to ride the gravy train to freedom, who met their fates with courage and sacrifice and proved that they weren’t chicken.”

After noting that his family would be taking part in their annual Thanksgiving service project that afternoon, the president ended his speech by saying, “And when somebody at your table tells you that you’ve been hogging all the side dishes, you can’t have any more, I hope that you respond with the creed that sums up the spirit of the hungry people, ‘Yes, we cran.’”

When the audience groaned, Obama said, “Look, I know there are some bad ones in here, but this is the last time I’m doing this, so we’re not leaving any room for leftovers.”

Why Civic Season?

As a result of the current social and political climate, as well as their lived experience, Young Millennials and Gen Z are already an impressively engaged demographic. As the keeper of our nation’s founding documents and historical records, the National Archives Foundation is invested in fostering that civic participation by relating the stories of our nation’s past to its present. Throughout Civic Season, we’ll be participating in interactive activities, engaging events, and big-picture conversations on social media to use our country’s past to foster an investment in its future.

Young people have always had a leading voice in our country. Many of the Founding Fathers were under 35 – even twentysomethings when they signed the Declaration of Independence and broke away from hundreds of years of monarchy to chart their own course toward democracy. Thomas Jefferson penned his famous words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” at 33; Alexander Hamilton served as Washington’s right-hand man at 21; James Monroe, who became our fifth President, was 18!

Civic Season is a celebration of young people’s participation in our democracy, but it is also a call to do more. Our Founding Fathers dreamed of a “more perfect union,” and 200-plus years later, it still needs some work. Thankfully, their legacy of young people stepping up and speaking out lives on.

Interested in joining us this Civic Season? Sign up here!

The Big Ideas

The “big ideas” of independence, sovereignty, and patriotism will help guide us through Civic Season, not as a condemnation of America’s imperfections, but as a recognition of the opportunity to widen our lens. Just as our Founding Fathers sought independence, so too did enslaved people, who now celebrate their Independence Day on June 19th (Juneteenth), the anniversary of General Order 3, which was the Federal Government’s fulfillment of the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The issue of sovereignty – or that citizens must consent to being ruled – was a radical notion in 1776. Less radical was “who” counted as a citizen. In the Revolutionary Era, it was white, land-owning males, but the citizenry has grown as we’ve granted suffrage to women and welcomed new immigrants as citizens. But just as we’ve expanded citizenship, we’ve also fallen short. The upcoming anniversary of the Indian Reorganization Act on June 18 serves as a reminder that as our sovereignty as a nation grew, that of indigenous peoples and tribal nations was reduced and almost eliminated.

Which brings us to patriotism: is it defined as praise of our nation despite its imperfections or as criticism with an eye toward achieving a more perfect union? This Civic Season, we’re defining patriotism by the actions we take – whether that’s taking time to hear stories from the Civil Rights era, attending a naturalization ceremony, getting involved in local government, or celebrating our country’s independence.

The Foundation has long valued our mission of preserving our nation’s history, and digitization has helped us reduce the barriers to access for anyone who wants to study that history for themselves. This Civic Season, we’re meeting young people where they are to empower them to use our nation’s past to create its future.

The Power of Civics

“Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” That had been the mantra of 18-to-21-year-olds across the nation who were being drafted to serve in the U.S. military overseas without having any say in electing the leaders who sent them there. In response to World War II, FDR lowered the draft age to 18, but the minimum voting age set by most states was 21.

As the Vietnam War raged on, discontent grew within younger Americans. Youth were already engaged politically, whether within the Civil Rights movement, women’s liberation, or the growing protests against the Vietnam War. Their cause transcended the political spectrum, racial identity, and gender, and in late April of 1970, over 2,000 youth activists lobbied Congress for their right to vote. In March 1971, the 26th amendment was officially introduced and passed on the House and Senate floors, and states began to ratify the amendment within hours, achieving a two-thirds majority on July 1.

The legacy of the 26th lives on. Youth voter turnout has had consequential effects, as it did in the 2008 Presidential election, and Millennials are poised to soon become the largest voting block. On June 22nd, we’re exploring the impact of the 26th amendment and its impact on civic engagement, especially for young women, today. And if you’re really wondering where to start on your civic engagement journey, look no further than our Summer Civics Series, where we’ll show you how to use our vast Archives catalogue to reconstruct the past and reshape the future.

History Snacks

Civic Superpower Quiz

Everyone has their own ways to engage in civic action. Maybe it’s volunteering at a voter registration event, running for a position in student government, or writing an email to your Senator about a bill you support. Whatever your Civic Superpower is, it’s valuable and needed. Find out more here.

BINGO! You’re Civically Engaged!

There’s so many ways to use your talents to get involved in Civic Season, and our bingo card will help you keep track. Here’s something fun: play before AND after Civic Season ends. How many squares did you add between Juneteenth and Independence Day? Challenge yourself and others.

Emancipation for All

June 19 is Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 that slaves in Galveston, Texas, were told that Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed them. They received the news two and a half years after the fact, but that didn’t dampen their joy at learning they were free.

Starting on that day in Texas in 1865, Juneteenth was celebrated sporadically for nearly a century before the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement embraced it in the 1960s. Since then, an ever-growing number of states have recognized it as an official holiday.

On June 2 at 7 p.m., the National Archives will host an online program titled “On Juneteenth” with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed, Roy Young, CEO of James Madison’s Montpelier, and the Reverend Dr. Halliard Brown, Jr., a board member of The Orange County African-American Historical Society. The program is presented in partnership with James Madison’s Montpelier and made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of The Boeing Company. Join us for what will be an engaging and educational discussion!

Black Wall Street: The Forgotten Tragedy

The Tulsa Race Massacre took place from May 31 to June 1, 1921, exactly one hundred years ago. Over that 24-hour period, white mobs attacked Black people and destroyed Black-owned businesses and property in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The massacre was sparked by a report that a Black man, Dick Rowland, had assaulted a white elevator operator, Sarah Page, who later denied the claim.

The Greenwood district was well known as Black Wall Street, a business district that was home to the wealthiest Black community in the U.S. at the time. When the American Red Cross arrived in Tulsa the next day, they found that the area had been completely destroyed and 10,000 people needed their help. Rebuilding the district took more than 10 years.

Although it was widely and nationally reported at the time, the Tulsa Race Massacre faded from public awareness almost immediately. It was not until decades later that investigations were launched into the riots.

The National Archives has played an ongoing role in keeping this story before the public. On Wednesday, May 26, the Archives Foundation hosted an online conversation titled “Black Wall Street: The Hidden Economy” that featured A’Lelia Bundles, a historian, author and journalist, Ron Busby, President and CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., and Tristan Wilkerson, Managing Principal of Think Rubix, LLC and General Partner of High Street Equity Partners.

The participants’ observations were profound and sobering. “Between 1870 and World War I, there were more than 100 towns in the West founded by African Americans. The Greenwood section of Tulsa was one of those towns. . . . ,” Bundles said. “[W]hen [my great-great-grandmother] Madam [C. J.] Walker arrived in Greenwood, she would’ve seen a thriving community. In the 100 block of Greenwood Avenue, there were more than 70 businesses: four hotels, two newspapers, eight doctors, a movie theater, seven barbers, a cigar store, nine restaurants, and a half-dozen professional offices. But as we all know, that neighborhood was destroyed in a horrendous massacre on June 1, 1921.”

The event ended noting that even until this day, Black Tulsans have never been repaid for the loss of life, property and trauma that they endured over those two days. Though many in the community were resilient and went on to rebuild their businesses, many others left Greenwood, with their sources of both immediate and generational wealth gone.

If you missed the conversation or if you’d like to see it again, you can find it here.

Freedom on Display

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved people in the states that had seceded from the union. The proclamation also announced that Black men would be accepted into the Union army. Eventually, nearly 200,000 Black men fought on the Union’s side in the Civil War.

The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents committed to the care of the National Archives. It was featured in an exhibition commemorating the centennial of its issuance in 1963, when U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy presided at the exhibition opening. Other prominent civic leaders were also present and spoke, such as Charles H. Wesley (pictured), the President of Central State College. Because of the document’s fragility, it is not on display at all times, but it will be displayed at the Archives again November 19-21, 2021.

Revising the Record

ou may have heard that First Lady Dolley Madison saved Gilbert Stuart’s famous Lansdowne portrait of George Washington when the British invaded Washington, D.C., during the war of 1812. As British troops approached the White House on August 24, 1814, Dolley cut the canvas out of its frame and carried it to safety—or so the story goes.

Just how the portrait was saved is actually somewhat unclear. In his memoir “A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison,” Paul Jennings, who was James Madison’s valet and who was working at the White House that day, reported that John Susé, the doorkeeper, and Thomas Magraw, the President’s gardener, put the portrait in a wagon along with other valuables and carried them away.

In any event, after the war ended, the portrait was returned to the White House, where it is now on display.
Stuart’s painting is called the “Lansdowne portrait” because William Bingham, a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, and his wife Anne commissioned it as a gift for British Prime Minister William Petty (1737–1805), the First Marquis of Lansdowne. A long-time supporter of American independence, the Marquis negotiated the Peace of Paris, the treaty between the United States and Great Britain that ended the Revolutionary War in 1793.

Despite the doubtfulness of the story about Dolley Madison and the portrait, there is no doubt that she was one of the most vivacious and beloved First Ladies ever to hold that position.

Did You Know…?

When the land had been cleared in Washington, D.C., for construction of the White House and the U.S. Capitol in 1795, the Board of Commissioners in charge of the project used enslaved African Americans to move supplies, do carpentry and lay stones and bricks. The National Archives holds many records, including vouchers, promissory notes and wage rolls, that document the work enslaved persons did on these two buildings.

Retrace Your (Family’s) Steps

American history is more than the Charters of Freedom documents like the Declaration and Constitution – it’s also the lives and stories of everyday people that have contributed to our country. The Archives doesn’t just hold the records of Presidents or photos of the famous, it also has documents that could lead to new discoveries or an untold family history.

Whether you’re a seasoned researcher or curious about your roots, the Archives has resources for you. In our vast catalogue you’ll find records that can help you make connections to the past, like: naturalization records, land records, military personnel records and more. Because there isn’t always a specific field for names in the Catalogue, you might have to get creative with your searches. But don’t worry – we’ve put together some tips and tricks to help you find what (or who!) you’re looking for.

If you’re more of an audio/visual learner, you can follow along with our “Know Your Roots” Program Coordinator, Andrea Matney, in this video. Launched just last week, part 2 of this video series walks users through not just the NARA catalogue but also the Archival Database System and Microfilm Catalogue – perfect for a budding genealogist!

Planting Roots for a Family Tree

While the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect, men from the Bengali and Punjab regions of South Asia came to the U.S. as ship laborers, farmers and merchants. South Asian immigrants found a unique place in American society: they could access white spaces in the Jim Crow South and de facto segregated North, but they were still required to live in segregated neighborhoods. As a result, they often married into the Black communities of cities such as New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, San Francisco and Detroit, which all had significant South Asian populations beginning in the 1870s.

The children of Black women and South Asian men often became successful and prominent members of society. They carved their own paths as entrepreneurs after coming from a first generation of traveling salesmen.

Even in death, the line between Black and white was blurred for South Asian immigrants. Because they were designated as “white” on government forms, South Asian men (and as a result of their marriage, their Black wives) were permitted to be buried in segregated, white cemeteries. For the 3.4 million individuals that can trace their roots to South Asian immigrants, this has led to fascinating discoveries. Are you looking to do some genealogy research? Start at the Archives!

Angel Island: The Gateway for AAPI Immigrants

Located in San Francisco Bay, the immigration station on Angel Island was the point of entry for approximately 90% of all Asian-Pacific immigrants to the U.S. in the 30 years it was operational (1910-1940). Most of the immigrants were Chinese who were subject to the Chinese Exclusion laws enacted between 1882 and 1942, but Japanese, Koreans, South Asians, Filipinos, Russians, Latin Americans and an occasional European also sought to enter the U.S. through Angel Island.

The National Archives—Pacific Region in San Francisco houses approximately 250,000 investigative case files from the Angel Island facility. Some files are quite slim, but others are massive. In 2003, it became possible to search portions of these records via the Early Arrivals Records Search (EARS), a website developed by NARA—San Francisco and the Institute of Business and Economic Research and the Haas School of Business, both at the University of California, Berkeley. EARS has greatly facilitated the work of genealogists and historians seeking to access information in the Angel Island files.

Keeping the Faith

In war or peace, on the battlefield or aboard ships, Jewish servicemen and women have observed the rituals of their faith. U.S. military personnel have always found ways to practice their faiths, no matter where they are on the globe. In April 1919, the Jewish Welfare Board hosted a Passover Seder in Paris, France, for Jewish men in the American Expeditionary Forces. In 1985, men on board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, took part in a Passover dinner.

First Ladies, First Responders

Every year that he was in office, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated the end of a Ramadan fast by hosting an Iftar dinner at the White House. In 2015, the President released several letters that young Muslim Americans had written to him. While each of the letters spoke of the difficulties they faced as Muslim Americans, they also each spoke of the hope and inspiration they took from President Obama and the example he set in making sure that Americans of all backgrounds were represented and celebrated.

WHO Helps Promote World Health?

For more than 150 years, national and international organizations have made it their mission to promote good health on a global scale. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has its roots in the experiences of Swiss businessman Henry Dunant, who witnessed the terrible suffering of soldiers after the Battle of Solferino between the Franco-Sardinian Alliance and the Austrian Army in 1859. Horrified by what he saw, Dunant mobilized a massive volunteer effort to care for the wounded regardless of which side they had fought on. He went on to establish the ICRC with co-founder Gustave Moynier in 1863. Their efforts resulted in the signing of the First Geneva Convention by 12 nations in August 1864. The International Red Cross is affiliated with national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies worldwide.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began as the Communicable Disease Center in a small office in Atlanta in 1946. Its mission was to prevent the spread of malaria. Since then, the CDC has become an important division of the Department of Health and Human Services. The organization is dedicated to health promotion, prevention and preparedness. It has played an active role in managing outbreaks of disease across the country.

The World Health Organization is an arm of the United Nations that was established in 1948. Creating a world health organization was a primary priority among the countries that joined to create the United Nations after World War II. The WHO’s goals are to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. The WHO works worldwide with national health organizations like the CDC in the U.S. to achieve these goals.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also work to promote world health. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which translates in English as “Doctors Without Borders,” is an international NGO dedicated to caring for people in conflict regions and in countries troubled by endemic diseases. It was established in 1971 in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967-1970. MSF limits the amount of money it accepts from governments to maintain its independence and its ability to speak out on international health issues.

(Un)Masking the 1918 Flu Pandemic

Until COVID-19 began to spread worldwide, the 1918 flu pandemic had largely faded from public memory and was rarely discussed in U.S. schools. The strain of flu that swept the globe in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people, which is more than twice the number who died during World War I. It infected people both in big cities and in remote regions, and some 675,000 people died in the U.S. alone. The spread of the virus was aided and abetted by World War I, which brought millions of people from all over the world into contact. The flu mainly killed healthy young people, a development that was markedly different from previous flu strains—and, indeed, from the behavior of COVID-19.

Service and Sacrifice

Nurses have served the United States in time of war since the Revolutionary War. They have worked in buildings pressed into service as hospitals, and in mobile hospitals located practically on the frontlines. They have been Red Cross volunteers and held commissions in the United States military. They have been injured on the job, shot at and even killed outright while they worked to help the wounded.

Tragically, Lt. Sharon A. Lane was the first woman killed in the Vietnam War on November 11, 1969 while serving as a nurse. The National Archives has the paperwork recommending her for posthumous medals to honor her service and sacrifice.

The National Archives is the repository for U.S. military records, including those of military nurses. In addition, the U.S. Army Center of Military History has compiled a very detailed timeline of the service of nurses in all U.S. conflicts.

Honor YOUR Healthcare Hero!

COVID-19 has been described as a once in a century pandemic, and 100 years from now, students of history will be looking at our photos of masks and vaccination cards to learn about this dark and difficult chapter. But this year has also shown our strength and resiliency, and the Archives Foundation wants to mark this moment as well.

To honor the health-care heroes who have been literal lifelines throughout this pandemic, the Foundation will feature them as a part of history on both our social media platforms and newsletter. There are two ways to spotlight your favorite health-care hero (doctors, nurses, researchers, dentists/hygienists, EMTs, etc. All are welcome!):

1. Email us their picture to info@archivesfoundation.org and/or

2. Post them to your social media platform of choice and tag us:

  • –Facebook: @National Archives Foundation
  • –Twitter: @archivesfdn
  • –Instagram: @archivesfdn

We’ll feature your health-care heroes on our social media and a few will even be featured in a future newsletter! To kick it off, here’s our favorite health-care hero, Mrs. Annie Laurie Ewald, the Archives Nurse in 1951.’

People over Patents

In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he and his team of researchers had developed a vaccine against polio, which had killed thousands of Americans and crippled tens of thousands more. Salk took the extraordinary step of not patenting his vaccine, which effectively made it available worldwide. Had he patented the vaccine, he could have pocketed enormous personal profits, but instead he chose to benefit humanity at large rather than himself.

First Ladies, First Responders

Eleanor Roosevelt was not afraid to get her hands dirty in service to her county. She was active in the American Red Cross for most of her life. During World War I, she worked at a Red Cross canteen in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, and when World War II started, she became the national honorary vice chair of the organization.

In August and September of 1943, Roosevelt undertook an ambitious tour of the war zone in the South Pacific as an official representative of the American Red Cross. Throughout the tour, she wore her Red Cross uniforms.

Pat Nixon, wife of President Richard M. Nixon, was also a devoted supporter of the Red Cross and volunteered for the organization for many years. She started as a secretary in 1940 and continued to donate her time to the Red Cross thereafter.

No Survivors

In January 1943, Mrs. Alleta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, wrote a letter to the Bureau of Naval Personnel inquiring about the fate of her five sons. Mrs. Sullivan had heard a rumor that the USS Juneau, on which her sons Albert, Francis, George, Joseph, and Madison Sullivan were serving, had been sunk. Although it was against naval policy to allow siblings to serve in the same unit, the brothers had received special permission from the Secretary of the Navy to all be assigned to the Juneau. On November 13, 1942, the Japanese sank the Juneau near the Solomon Islands. Nearly 700 sailors, including the five Sullivan brothers, were lost in the battle.

President Roosevelt replied to Mrs. Sullivan’s letter, expressing his sympathy for her loss and assuring her that the nation shared her sorrow. The deaths of the Sullivan brothers were an unspeakable tragedy for their family, but they also changed the way that the U.S. military manages siblings who are serving. In 1948, the military adopted the Sole Survivor Policy, which protects soldiers who have lost members of their families in military service.

Enter Rosie the Riveter

When the U.S. declared war on Axis forces in 1941, men streamed into recruiting offices to sign up for duty. Back home, their wives, sisters, and mothers joined the war effort by going to work in factories and on farms to support the armed forces.

The migration of women into the workforce created unprecedented social changes. Among the most pressing issues was childcare. The federal government, which had a vested interest in keeping women working in war industries, responded by creating programs aimed at helping women care for their children while they were working outside the home

Becoming Political Players

The women’s suffrage movement helped women gain more than just access to the ballot box – it also empowered them with the ability to become a political interest group, and pushed their representatives to vote favorably on issues that mattered to them.

One of the most salient examples of this was the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act just one year after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Noticing the high rate of both maternal and infant mortality, women’s groups pushed for legislation that provided federal funds for health education and nutrition services to mothers and babies, especially in rural areas. The map from Indiana suggests the impact of the act on lowering infant mortality from 1920 to 1927.

Though women became a political force to be reckoned with, they were not united in these undertakings. Race, class, and political beliefs often divided women just as they had before the 19th Amendment. Although not always successful, women’s political campaigns in the 1920s laid the foundation for future struggles toward greater equality and political representation.

Read more here >

Drawn to Mothers

Clifford Berryman was a political cartoonist who worked for the Washington Post and then for the Washington Star from the late 1880s until his death in 1949. He devoted most of his efforts to skewering politicians on both sides of the political aisle and commenting on significant current events, but he also made time to honor mothers on Mother’s Day. Some 2,400 of Clifford Berryman’s drawings are housed in the National Archives.

Nancy Reagan’s Brownie Recipe

Want to make your mom feel extra special this year? How about baking a batch of Nancy Reagan’s brownies? Mrs. Reagan’s recipe yields enough brownies for your mom and 95 of her family and friends.

The Disinherited

From the beginning of European settlement in what became the United States, the new settlers were in conflict with the American Indian tribes and nations who occupied the land. Starting just before the end of the Civil War, several dramatic events in the western United States climaxed in the removal of western American Indian tribes and nations to reservations and the dividing up and sale of their lands to settlers. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota, General George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at the battle of the Little Bighorn, the creation of the reservation system, and the Dawes Act of 1887 all contributed to the disenfranchisement and degradation of western American Indian tribes and nations.

Many historians consider the Dawes Act of 1887 one of the most catastrophic blows to Native American sovereignty. The act allowed the federal government to sell off any “excess lands” to anyone who was interested in buying it, regardless of whether or not it was the home to existing American Indian nations.

In 1894, the Hopi Tribe who lived in the Moqui villages in Arizona, petitioned Washington to give them title to their land instead of dividing it up into individual parcels. The petition was signed by all the Chiefs and headmen of the Tribe and inscribed with symbols of every family living in the villages. The petition was an attempt to protect the Hopi Tribe way of life from outside settlers. As was not uncommon, the federal government did not formally respond to the petition.

The Hayden Survey

In the late 19th century, the U.S. government sponsored four major surveys of western land. On one of the first such surveys, Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, a geologist, led a group of naturalists, scientists and artists to explore the areas around what became Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana in 1870.

The artist Thomas Moran and the photographer William Henry Jackson were along to document the group’s experiences. Published in 1871 in the survey’s official report, the images they created went a long way toward persuading Congress to designate Yellowstone the U.S. first national park.

The Search for Gold

James W. Marshall’s discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California in 1849 set off a tsunami of people racing to California. Seekers of riches came from all over the world to dig for their fortunes there. One result of the Gold Rush was that California became a state in 1850, the farthest-flung state in the union.

Other rushes for gold and other metals have also helped shape the American West. Discoveries in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, and Alaska fired the public’s imagination and sent thousands west to seek their fortunes. The Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899) in Yukon Territory was one of the last great rushes for mineral riches.

All over the country, tiny towns and settlements sprang up. Miners lived in tents and worked their own claims, which were often subject to being hijacked by other miners. Living conditions were harsh, and provisions were startlingly expensive.

It’s the Journey

A famous Chinese proverb advises us that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In the early days of westward expansion, from the mid-19th century on, many people literally walked from where they lived to where they wanted to be, sometimes behind ox- and horse-drawn wagons in wagon trains, sometimes pushing all their belongings in a handcart. They also travelled on horseback, and eventually by stage coach and transcontinental railroad. Some even took passage on boats that sailed up rivers to western towns or from southern states around Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America to reach the West Coast.

Did any of your ancestors head west by any of these methods? Do you know any of their stories?

Game Night

The first building erected in a new western town was often a land office (if the town was a mining town), followed by a general store. Thereafter followed churches, breweries, and saloons.

Saloons were the centers of the communities, offering food, drink, and camaraderie. Many patrons of saloons played games there—poker, of course, but also other card games, dice games, and faro, a card game that was wildly popular. After his stint as a lawman in Dodge City, Kansas, Wyatt Earp joined his brothers in opening a saloon in Tombstone, Arizona, where he took up the job of faro dealer. Interestingly, the game did not offer the house a huge advantage, and cheating was widespread among both the players and the dealers.


In 1971, the EPA created the DOCUMERICA Project, hiring freelance photographers to document environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life across the United States. Not all the photographers chose to take pictures of environmental issues, but many of them did. Bruce McAllister took this shot of rusting cars in a polluted pond. Leroy Woodson documented the smog in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1972. The publication of photographs depicting the seriousness of pollution in the United States most certainly helped the cause of environmentalism.

The National Archives is the repository for the results of the DOCUMERICA Project, including more than 22,000 color slides, black and white negatives, color transparencies, photographic prints, and 25 boxes of textual materials that support the photographic records. In 2015, the Archives also organized an exhibition titled Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project that featured the work of some of the 115 photographers who took part in the project.

Catalyst for Change

Some say that the first Earth Day, observed on April 22, 1970, was the impetus for the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December of that year. Other factors probably contributed, including a massive oil spill off Santa Barbara, California, in 1969. But the most frequently cited catalyst of the environmental protection movement is the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962.

Born in 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania, Rachel Carson was an aquatic biologist who worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries before becoming a full-time writer. She published The Sea Around Us, the first book of a highly praised trilogy about the ocean, in 1951. Then in 1962, she published Silent Spring, a dissection of the dangerous effects of chemical pesticides, particularly DDT, on many species, especially birds.

As a scientist, Carson felt a great obligation to make sure that the science that informed the writing of Silent Spring was as accurate as she could make it, so she enlisted the help of prominent scientists to review the work before it was published. That said, by the time she published Silent Spring, Carson was already well respected for her ability to communicate complex concepts in lyrical prose.

As Carson anticipated, Silent Spring met fierce opposition from chemical companies, but it was also serialized in The New Yorker and chosen as a selection by the Book of the Month Club, which got it into the hands of people all across the country. Many people were horrified by what they read and were moved to take action.

While she was researching and writing Silent Spring, Carson was also battling breast cancer. She succumbed to the disease in 1964. She lived long enough to see her work hailed as ground-breaking and instrumental in boosting the environmentalist cause. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Oil spills, particularly in oceans, are devastating industrial disasters that are also far too common. One of the more recent and destructive oil spills occurred in April 2010, when methane gas exploded in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, operated by British Petroleum, in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 90 workers were evacuated from the rig, several of whom suffered injuries. Eleven workers are still missing and are presumed dead. The rig sank two days later, on April 22, 2010.

More than three months passed before the well was finally sealed off. In that time, nearly five million barrels of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico. Millions of tons of oily debris were cleaned off beaches in the American South, and the toll on wildlife and marine habitats, tourism industries, and fishing industries persist to this day. Furthermore, oil slicks were spotted immediately after the explosion, but leaks continued after the well was officially declared sealed, creating new oil slicks. The U.S. government responded to the disaster by paying for the cleanup of beaches and wetlands and the containment and eradication of oil slicks at sea.

Cleaning up America

You might think that because you are a kid, you can’t do much about environmental pollution, but the fact is that young people have been leaders of the environmental movement from its very beginnings. From picking up trash to helping your family and school recycle, there are many ways that you can contribute to making the environment cleaner and safer for everyone.

“How to Destroy the Earth”

Sometimes the best way to get your point across is to use satire. In 1990, the Boston office of the EPA produced a booklet titled “How to Destroy the Earth” that did just that. Featuring tips like “Run the water while you brush your teeth” and “Drive everywhere,” the booklet is sarcastic, snarky, and spot-on. It almost reads like something that might have been written today—and its advice is exactly what we still need.

Laying Keel

The USS Arizona was a Pennsylvania-class battleship that met a tragic end. On December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona, along with 1,177 officers and crew members, was lost during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. To this day, the remains of the battleship lie at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and is straddled by the USS Arizona Memorial, which is visited by millions of people every year.

Before it was christened the USS Arizona in 1915, the battleship was known as Battleship Number 39. Built in Brooklyn, New York, the keel of the battleship was officially laid on March 16, 1914 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. This rare photo depicts a young FDR walking across the scaffold, wearing a derby hat, and smiling at the camera on the day of the keel laying.

JFK and Friendship 7

In recognition of astronaut Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr.’s historic flight aboard the Friendship 7, which carried him around the world three times, President John F. Kennedy presented Glenn with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Distinguished Service Medal at Cape Canaveral on February 23, 1962. Afterward, Kennedy took a look at the capsule that Glenn had flown in. Kennedy’s official White House photographer, Cecil Stoughton, was on hand to document the event.

Factory Visit

Sometimes, even a president has to roll up his sleeves and do some heavy lifting. Or operating. On a Monday in January 2002, President George W. Bush climbed into a combine at the John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Illinois, and turned a gold key that fired the big machine up. Afterward, he chatted with assembly line worker Deborah Davis, captured by White House photographer Eric Draper, and gave a speech to 1,500 employees and supporters.

A Dog’s Life

Presidential pets are often privy to conversations that most of us could never hope to take part in. White House photographer David Hume Kennerly took many photographs of President Gerald Ford and his beloved golden retriever, Liberty, in the White House. This shot shows Liberty enjoying a much deserved head scratch by the Resolute desk, while this shot of the sweet pup captures her stretching out at the feet of Henry Kissinger during a meeting in the Oval Office.

Down on the Dance Floor

President Barack Obama followed the lead of his wife, Michelle Obama, and got out on the dance floor with kids from Holy Name High School in Mumbai, India. Pete Souza, who also was the official White House photographer for President Ronald Reagan, took this shot of President Obama grooving to the music.

The Netherlands Carillon

In recognition of the help they had received from the United States during and after World War II, the people of the Netherlands gave the American people a carillon, a percussion instrument with bells that are played with a keyboard and foot pedals. The 50 bells in the Netherlands Carillon are housed in an open steel bell tower.

Queen Juliana of the Netherlands presented President Harry S. Truman with the first bell for the carillon on April 4, 1952. The ceremony took place in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C. When the remaining 49 bells arrived in the U.S. in 1954, the carillon was temporarily installed in Potomac Park. Each of the bells bears an inscription and an emblem representing a group in Dutch society. Finally, in 1960, construction of the permanent bell tower was completed near the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

The carillon automatically plays the Westminster chimes on the quarter of each hour, but concerts of carillon music are also held by the National Park Service, which manages the site. A musician who plays a carillon is called a carillonneur. Only very skilled carillonneurs are permitted to play the Netherlands Carillon.

The Roman Coliseum

The President serves as the chief diplomat and ceremonial head of state when visiting other heads of state. President William Jefferson Clinton had a private audience with Pope John Paul II, who was the head of state of Vatican City and the bishop of Rome, in 1994, during which the two discussed religious freedom, world population growth, and the role of the family in society. The Pope presented President Clinton with this glass mosaic of the Roman Coliseum.

Lady Liberty

She stands in New York Harbor, facing southeast toward the open sea. For countless immigrants, she has been the first to greet them as their ships sailed past her. Standing 305 feet and one inch tall from her base to the tip of her flaming torch, she is in every sense of the word majestic. The statue is one of the most famous gifts to the people of the United States from the people of another country, in this case, France. Designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the copper statue was constructed over a metal framework created by Gustave Eiffel, he of the famed tower in Paris. She holds on her left arm a tablet inscribed with the date of U.S. independence, July 4, 1776, and holds aloft in her right hand a torch. Constructed in France and shipped to the United States in multiple crates, the statue was assembled on Bedloe’s Island. On October 28, 1886, the statue was dedicated with a ticker-tape parade through the streets of Manhattan, a nautical parade to the island, and an address by President Grover Cleveland.

Furry Goodwill Ambassadors

In February 1972, President Richard M. Nixon traveled to China, a trip that opened the doors for diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries. Shortly thereafter, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, two giant pandas, arrived from China on loan to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. First Lady Pat Nixon officially accepted them on behalf of the nation. The Chinese government has continued to loan pairs of the famous bears to the National Zoo for nearly fifty years.

Can You Guess the Country?

The exchange of gifts among kings and chiefs and presidents and premiers is a centuries-old tradition. Can you guess which country each gift to the U.S. came from?


1) Algeria – Saddle
Because of his love for riding, President Reagan received dozens of saddles from both the general public and foreign leaders. Chadli Bendjedid, President of Algeria, presented this richly embroidered saddle during an official state visit in April 1985.

2) Norway – Tea set, by David Andersen, Oslo, Norway, ca. 1930s
This tea pot, sugar bowl, creamer, and tray were a gift to President Roosevelt from Olav and Martha, the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway.

3) Israel – Water or Wine Vessel, Roman, first or second century
This remarkably preserved remnant of Israeli history was a gift to President Ford from Shimon Peres, Israeli Defense Minister.

4) Libya – Pair of Slippers
These slippers were presented as a gift for the First Lady to President John F. Kennedy by Hassan Rida el-Senussi, Crown Prince of Libya, during his state visit to the White House on October 16, 1962.

5) Mexico – Jade and Quartz Necklace
This necklace was a gift from Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, the President of Mexico, to President Lyndon B. Johnson. It consists of pale green jade and white quartz beads, with gold beads interspersed throughout. The jade beads are believed to be of pre-Columbian age and of Guatemalan origin.

6) Republic of the Congo – Ngaady a Mwaash Mask
This gift was presented to President Kennedy through the State Department by the Deputy to the National Assembly of the Republic of the Congo, Fwamba Mukengele on August 2, 1962

The One and Only

The Harlem Globetrotters is a world-renowned exhibition basketball team that was established on Chicago’s South Side in 1926, when the National Basketball Association was not drafting black players. Originally named the Savoy Big Five, for the Savoy Ballroom where they played, the team adapted its new name in 1928 and took the show on the road. In 1940, they won the World Professional Basketball Tournament. They won again in 1948 against the Minnesota Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers), one of the best all-white teams in the world.

Since then, the Harlem Globetrotters have played all over the world, averaging 450 games per year, and spreading goodwill throughout the globe. The games are a combination of performance and athletic expertise, with the players demonstrating exceptional ball handling and shooting skills. The team plays against an opposing team, and the outcome of the game is not predetermined, although the Globetrotters certainly win most of the time.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford hosted the Harlem Globetrotters at the White House. In his remarks, President Ford said, “Somebody suggested that Congress ought to pass some bills like you pass the ball.”

Check out the National Archives’ recent virtual program, “Spinning the Globe: The History and Legacy of the Harlem Globetrotters.”

The Dream Team

The 1992 Summer Olympic Games, held in Barcelona, Spain, were the first to allow professional athletes to compete. That summer, the United States assembled a basketball team comprised almost entirely of professional basketball players—the “Dream Team.” The roster included Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls, Patrick Ewing of the New York Nicks, David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, Charles Barkley of Philadelphia 76s, Chris Mullin of the Gold State Warriors, and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. Christian Laettner, who played for Duke University, was the only college athlete chosen for the team. In Barcelona, the Dream Team won every one of its eight matches and scored more than 100 points in every game.

Champions at the White House

In 1963, John F. Kennedy hosted the Boston Celtics at the White House after the team won the NBA championship. That visit was the start of a tradition that continues to this day. The National Archives has substantial holdings of photographs, documents and audio that record such visits. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan hosted the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball team, who had won that year’s NCAA championship, in the Rose Garden. You can even listen to President Reagan’s remarks from that day!

Inventor of Basketball

In 1891, Dr. James Nasmith, a Canadian educator who was teaching physical education at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented a new game that could be played indoors, when the weather was too bad for outdoor sports. He went on to establish the basketball program at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. In this picture, Dr. James Naismith (in the suit) is seated with the “First Team” of basketball.

An Enduring Tradition

Much has been written about Indian boarding schools, which were quite openly designed to destroy Indian cultures. Native children were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to boarding schools, where their hair was cut and their native clothing was taken from them, and they were forbidden to speak their native languages or practice their religions. One positive legacy of the Indian boarding school era, however, is that many students were introduced to basketball at school. In a letter to his father, written on January 16, 1929, Curtis Etsitty wrote, “We have pitcher [sic] on the wall. And we made books too. They have basketball game too. Please send me some mutton. How are the snow on ground. How are my brothers and sisters.”

In 1904, the Fort Shaw Government Industrial Indian School’s girl’s basketball team won the World Championship at the St. Louis World’s Fair, defeating a team from Central High School in St. Louis. The boarding school was about 25 miles west of Great Falls, Montana. The women returned home to great acclaim, and people on the reservations began to play basketball in earnest. Today, on Indian reservations across the United States, basketball is played with avid abandon by students from elementary through high school.

The One and Only

The Harlem Globetrotters is a world-renowned exhibition basketball team that was established on Chicago’s South Side in 1926, when the National Basketball Association was not drafting black players. Originally named the Savoy Big Five, for the Savoy Ballroom where they played, the team adapted its new name in 1928 and took the show on the road. In 1940, they won the World Professional Basketball Tournament. They won again in 1948 against the Minnesota Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers), one of the best all-white teams in the world.

Since then, the Harlem Globetrotters have played all over the world, averaging 450 games per year, and spreading goodwill throughout the globe. The games are a combination of performance and athletic expertise, with the players demonstrating exceptional ball handling and shooting skills. The team plays against an opposing team, and the outcome of the game is not predetermined, although the Globetrotters certainly win most of the time.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford hosted the Harlem Globetrotters at the White House. In his remarks, President Ford said, “Somebody suggested that Congress ought to pass some bills like you pass the ball.”

Check out the National Archives’ recent virtual program, “Spinning the Globe: The History and Legacy of the Harlem Globetrotters.”

The Dream Team

The 1992 Summer Olympic Games, held in Barcelona, Spain, were the first to allow professional athletes to compete. That summer, the United States assembled a basketball team comprised almost entirely of professional basketball players—the “Dream Team.” The roster included Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls, Patrick Ewing of the New York Nicks, David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, Charles Barkley of Philadelphia 76s, Chris Mullin of the Gold State Warriors, and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. Christian Laettner, who played for Duke University, was the only college athlete chosen for the team. In Barcelona, the Dream Team won every one of its eight matches and scored more than 100 points in every game.

Champions at the White House

In 1963, John F. Kennedy hosted the Boston Celtics at the White House after the team won the NBA championship. That visit was the start of a tradition that continues to this day. The National Archives has substantial holdings of photographs, documents and audio that record such visits. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan hosted the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball team, who had won that year’s NCAA championship, in the Rose Garden. You can even listen to President Reagan’s remarks from that day!

History Snacks

Inventor of Basketball

In 1891, Dr. James Nasmith, a Canadian educator who was teaching physical education at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented a new game that could be played indoors, when the weather was too bad for outdoor sports. He went on to establish the basketball program at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. In this picture, Dr. James Naismith (in the suit) is seated with the “First Team” of basketball.

An Enduring Tradition

Much has been written about Indian boarding schools, which were quite openly designed to destroy Indian cultures. Native children were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to boarding schools, where their hair was cut and their native clothing was taken from them, and they were forbidden to speak their native languages or practice their religions. One positive legacy of the Indian boarding school era, however, is that many students were introduced to basketball at school. In a letter to his father, written on January 16, 1929, Curtis Etsitty wrote, “We have pitcher [sic] on the wall. And we made books too. They have basketball game too. Please send me some mutton. How are the snow on ground. How are my brothers and sisters.”

In 1904, the Fort Shaw Government Industrial Indian School’s girl’s basketball team won the World Championship at the St. Louis World’s Fair, defeating a team from Central High School in St. Louis. The boarding school was about 25 miles west of Great Falls, Montana. The women returned home to great acclaim, and people on the reservations began to play basketball in earnest. Today, on Indian reservations across the United States, basketball is played with avid abandon by students from elementary through high school.

Women Marines in Vietnam

Women have served in the U.S. Marine Corps at several different times and during different conflicts, but it was not until 1948, well after World War II had ended, that women were permanently welcomed into the corps. Master Sergeant Barbara Dulinsky was the first female Marine stationed in Saigon when she received the orders that sent her there on March 18, 1967. Most of the female Marines in Vietnam worked as administrators, clerk-typists, and nurses. In November 1967, President Johnson signed the legislative bill that gave female soldiers the same promotion opportunities as male soldiers.

The War at Home

The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War officially began on November 11, 1955, when the Military Assistance Advisory Group Vietnam was established in-country. By 1967, antiwar protests were rocking the U.S., culminating in the March on the Pentagon that October.

Conversely, many people felt that the protesters were hindering the war effort by not supporting the troops. Often, people blamed the media for not reporting the war in a good light. Like their counterparts, these people demonstrated in support of the war.

The country was bitterly divided.

The Wall That Heals

The story of how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial came to fruition is about unlikely individuals setting out to achieve something that many people felt was ill-timed or even inappropriate. It begins with Jan C. Scruggs, who came back from two tours in Vietnam with shrapnel in his body and the trauma of losing comrades in his mind. In 1979, he began raising money to build a memorial to the fallen soldiers in Vietnam.

Maya Lin was 21-years-old and an undergraduate studying architecture at Yale when she won a competition for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Her design was a tapered black granite wall that sank into the earth and was covered with the names of those who had died and were missing in action in the conflict. Currently, 58,279 names are engraved on The Wall. Many people objected to the design of the memorial—one opponent called it “a black gash of shame”—but since its dedication on November 13, 1982, The Wall has become one of the most-visited sites on the National Mall. Few who have visited the memorial will ever forget the experience.

An Unsung Heroine

Many soldiers stationed in Vietnam during the war also worked with the local inhabitants to improve their lives. Marine Staff Sergeant Ermalinda Salazar, who was stationed in Vietnam for a little over a year in 1968-1970, became interested in the St. Vincent de Paul orphanage, which was run by two nuns who looked after about 75 orphans. She worked to secure donations and funds for the orphanage and arranged for the children to have a Christmas party in 1969. In 1970, her commanding officer nominated Salazar for the Unsung Heroine Award for her work at the orphanage.

The War in Photographs

When soldiers have downtime, they often turn to ordinary pursuits to help them relax. When not fighting on the frontlines of the Vietnam War, soldiers could be found singing songs and strumming a guitar; attending a church service while a fellow soldier stood watch; reading a magazine; and playing cards with a Red Cross volunteer.

Female Inventors You Should Know

For centuries, women have been creating, building, inventing, and innovating, but it wasn’t until 1809 when Mary Kies became the first woman to receive a U.S. Patent. Since then, countless other women have been granted patents for their inventions, many of which we use every single day. Here are just a handful of these remarkable women:

    • Sarah E. Goode: Sarah Goode was one of the first African American women to receive a U.S. patent when she invented the Folding Bed, which would fold up to resemble a desk when not in use.
    • Mary Anderson: In 1902, Mary Anderson patented the Window Cleaning Device, or what we know today as a windshield wiper blade.
    • Margaret E. Knight: As a young woman working in a paper bag plant, Margaret Knight created a Bag Machine that would automatically make paper bags with flat bottoms.
    • Marjorie S. Joyner: Marjorie Joyner was a teacher and advisor for the Walker Manufacturing Company when she invented the Permanent Wave Machine in the 1920s.
    • Josephine Cochran: While popular mostly in hotels and restaurants, Josephine Cochran’s Dish Washing Machine became the hot ticket item in homes by the 1950s.
    • Lizzie Magie: Lizzie Magie was a board game creator who patented The Landlord’s Game, which went on to inspire the game Monopoly.

Patent Office Fire of 1836

On December 15, 1836, a fire broke out in the basement of the Blodgett Hotel in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Patent Office was housed. The local fire department was no match for the fire, which reduced the building to ashes in short order. The fire destroyed almost 10,000 patent drawings and 7,000 patent models. Following the fire, almost 3,000 patents, known as “X-patents,” were resubmitted to the U.S. Patent Office by the inventors and restored.

185 Masks for Veterans

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. During World War I, terrible new weapons like machine guns killed millions of soldiers and inflicted gruesome wounds on many who were not killed outright. At the height of the worst battles in 1917, Anna Coleman Ladd, an American sculptor who was married to a doctor, moved with her husband to France. She heard of the work of Francis Derwent Wood, a London-based artist who was helping soldiers who had suffered horrific injuries to their faces. Inspired by Wood’s work, Ladd arranged to meet her and then persuaded the American Red Cross to pay for detailed facial masks for injured soldiers, who were often distraught about their wounds and self-conscious about being seen in public. Ladd opened a studio in Paris that was devoted to this work.

When 1919 ended, Ladd and her assistants had made 185 masks designed to look like an uninjured face. They used copper and silver as the bases of the masks and painted them to match the soldiers’ skin tones exactly. Each mask cost $18. Ladd donated her services.

There is no doubt that Ladd’s work transformed the lives of many of the soldiers she worked with. After the war ended and the Red Cross ended their collaboration, Ladd returned to the United States and took up her work as an artist once again. She died in Santa Barbara, California, in 1939.

Did Somebody Say “S’mores”?

Soon the temperatures will rise, and even though we are still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the advent of several vaccines has given us hope that we will be able to gather with family and friends again soon. In that spirit, we invite you to look at some of the ideas that inventors have submitted to the U.S. Patent Office that are essential for a good old fashioned camping trip: a camp bed, combined blanket and sleeping bag, a hammock, and a camping lodge. The Archives are also home to patent drawings for a camp stove and a utensil holder designed for use over a campfire.

Down by the Boardwalk

If you’re pining for the chance to go to an amusement park with your friends this summer, these utility patent drawings of carnival-style rides might cheer you up! Wouldn’t it be fun to take a spin on this “Amusement Device” or this Merry-Go-Round? And, if you are really a thrill seeker, how about giving this Roller Coaster a whirl?

A Mural Not Mailed In

The holdings of the National Archives include important drawings for municipal buildings from all across the country. Around 1940, at the height of the New Deal, Carlos Lopez submitted this proposal for a mural for the post office in Paw Paw, Michigan to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts, which managed competitions for designs and embellishments of public buildings. Lopez’s submission was ultimately chosen, and his mural is still in place today.

A Design to Fit the Moment

Sometimes referred to as “The Forgotten War,” the Korean War began in 1950 and ended in 1953. The American Battle Monuments Commission was authorized to solicit proposals for a Korean War Memorial in 1986, four years after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was completed.

More than 500 proposals were submitted. The design of John Paul Lucas, Veronica Burns Lucas, Don Alvero Leon and Eliza Pennypack Oberholtzer, which ultimately was chosen, included 38 statues of soldiers in Korean war gear spread out along a pathway. When the memorial was completed, the designers insisted that the contractor that built it had altered their design. The finished memorial, which is located along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., consists of 19 statues of soldiers moving in two columns.

The Making of a City

When it came time to design Washington, D.C., President George Washington appointed Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French engineer and architect who had fought in the U.S. Revolutionary War, to survey the swampy land that had been chosen for the capital city. The process of planning the city was complicated by disagreements about L’Enfant’s mandate and conflicts with other individuals, including Thomas Jefferson, then the Secretary of State. In the end, however, L’Enfant submitted a substantially more ambitious set of drawings that delineated the streets, canals, and bridges and many of the federal buildings. His plan was not fully realized, but portions of it are still evident in the city’s final form.

Goggles? For Chickens?

The holdings of the U.S. Patent Office include millions of applications and approved patents for inventions of all descriptions. Some went on to be commercial successes, but others… not so much.

A case in point: Patent #730,918 for—wait for it!—eye protectors for chickens. That’s right, chicken goggles! “This invention relates to . . . eye protectors designed for fowls, so that they may be protected from other fowls that attempt to peck them,” inventor Andrew Jackson, Jr., wrote, adding, “An additional object of the invention is to provide a construction which may be adjusted so that it will fit different-sized fowl.” Maybe chicken goggles are one of those inventions that you aren’t familiar with, but once you see them, you have to have them! The U.S. Patent Office records are housed in the National Archives, and chicken goggles are only the tip of the iceberg.

National Park Master Plans

Even though President Theodore Roosevelt established the first 23 national parks and monuments during his presidency, it wasn’t until 1916, seven years after President Roosevelt left office, when then President Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service (NPS). To manage what writer Wallace Stegner called “America’s best idea,” the employees of the NPS began creating master plans to guide the development and preservation of the lands in their charge.

The National Archives is the repository of a series of documents titled “Master Plans of Parks and Monuments, 1931-1941 (NAID 591991).” Many of these plans incorporate beautiful drawings, photographs, and maps. Several examples can be found here, including one for the Dinosaur National Monument, which features a dinosaur on its cover.


Jacqueline Cochrane was an entrepreneur who created a cosmetics company from the ground up in the mid-1930s. But she was also a convert to private aviation, smitten with flying from the first time she went airborne as a passenger. She got her pilot’s license and flew from place to place promoting her cosmetics. She was also an avid air racer and a good friend of many prominent pilots, including Tex Rankin, Roscoe Turner, and Amelia Earhart.

But it was during World War II that Jacqueline Cochrane introduced her most far-reaching innovation. In 1941, she proposed to the U.S. Army Air Corps (the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force) the recruitment of a group of women who would fly an aircraft from where they were located to where they were needed. The corps declined her offer, so she went to Britain and created the same type of organization for the Royal Air Force. She recruited many women pilots from the United States to fly for the RAF.

When the United States entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Air Corps asked Cochrane to come back to the U.S. and lead a training program for women pilots. The Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) eventually included over a thousand women who ferried airplanes from place to place and even flew experimental aircrafts.

When the war ended, the WASPs were dissolved to make way for male pilots returning from overseas. Cochrane became close friends with Dwight D. Eisenhower, supporting his political campaigns and hosting him at her ranch in California. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home has in its holdings many documents about Jacqueline Cochrane and the WASPs.

A Hidden Gem

Mathew Brady (1822-1896) was the preeminent photographer of the U.S. Civil War. He used a mobile studio and darkroom to produce photographs of soldiers, camp life, and the aftermath of battles that brought the stark realities of war to people elsewhere. Sadly, the commercial value he was anticipating to gain from his photographs never materialized, and Brady died penniless.

In 1936, the National Archives hired Josephine Cobb, who eventually became the head of the Still Photo Section. She was fascinated by Brady’s Civil War photographs and devoted herself to studying them. In 1952, she identified President Abraham Lincoln in one of Brady’s photographs of Gettysburg on the day the president gave his famous “Gettysburg Address.” Hers is a seminal discovery that reaffirms the importance of Mathew Brady’s contribution to the preservation and interpretation of Civil War History.

From Adventure-Seeker to Serious Scientist

At a time when few women were actively exploring the ends of the Earth, Louise Arner Boyd was an avid explorer of the Arctic. A wealthy woman from San Rafael, California, she did not see the region until she was in her thirties, but it appears to have been love at first sight. Her first trip was a hunting expedition, but she very quickly became a serious and highly respected explorer. She returned to the Arctic again and again, leading excursions in search of the lost explorer Roald Amundsen, documenting the coastline of Greenland, and investigating, on behalf of the U.S. government, whether an airfield could be constructed at Baffin Island just before World War II began.

Boyd self-financed seven Arctic expeditions, published three books of photographs of the region, and chartered the first private flyover of the North Pole. She also personally shot thousands of feet of film documenting her expeditions. The National Archives is the repository of 150 reels of 35mm film that Boyd shot of her travels to the Arctic.

Mrs. President

Several women of wildly varying political persuasions have run for President of the United States, but the first to do so was Victoria Woodhull. And by all accounts, she was a handful. A spiritualist who claimed to be clairvoyant, a eugenicist, a suffragist, and an advocate for labor reform, Woodhull ran for president in the 1872 election. She chose as her vice presidential running mate the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, apparently without consulting him. She of course did not win the election, but she ruffled a lot of feathers during her campaign.

She was also an advocate of “free love,” although what she meant by that is a lot less radical than one might assume. Married and a mother at a very young age, Woodhull divorced her first husband because he was an alcoholic and a womanizer. When she spoke of “free love,” she was advocating the rights of women to marry, divorce, and have children without any social or government strictures.

In 2016, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, hosted a forum with author Ellen Fitzpatrick about her book “The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency,” in which she discusses the presidential campaigns of Woodhull, Margaret Chase Smith in 1964, and Shirley Chisholm in 1972. A transcript of the conversation is in the library’s holdings.

One Giant Leap

Mae Jemison is used to wearing many different hats. A Peace Corps volunteer, an engineer, a physician, a teacher, and the founder of a nonprofit and a technology company, she was the first African American woman admitted to NASA’s space training program and the first to fly into space on the space shuttle “Endeavor.” In all, she logged more than 190 hours in space before she retired in 1993.

She went on to found the Jemison Group, a consulting company that advocates for science, technology and social change, and the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which is dedicated to helping young people reach their full potential and is named for her mother. She even appeared in an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation!”

And the Award Goes to…

Anyone who has ever sat through an entire presentation of the Oscars knows that Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress are not the only awards that are handed out. In 1945, the documentary film With the Marines at Tarawa, produced by the United States government, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. The document was assembled from footage shot by cameramen in the field during and after a major battle fought in the South Pacific over a period of four days in 1943, during which the U.S. Marines stormed the island of Tarawa. When the battle ended, more than 1,000 Marines were dead, and another 2,000 were wounded. Virtually all of the 4,700 Japanese soldiers and Korean forced laborers who had occupied the island had been killed or wounded.

IMAGE: 22-year-old Staff Sgt. Norman Hatch (far right) tells other combat cameramen about filming during the first wave of the Battle of Tarawa. (Still from Army-Navy Screen Magazine #21)

I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Picture

The movie Mank, nominated for a 2021 Golden Globe for Best Picture, deals with the thorny question of who should have been credited with writing Citizen Kane, widely considered the greatest American movie ever made and the film that definitively launched Orson Welles’ career. Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, a screenwriter who had come out from New York to work for Paramount Pictures in the late 1920s, famously and publicly wrangled over who should receive credit for writing the screenplay. Although Welles repeatedly stated that he had written the entire film as well as directing and acting in it, Mankiewicz insisted on – and ultimately received – a co-writing credit for it.

Another burning question about the film was whether the character Charles Foster Kane was entirely fictional or was based on an actual person. Apparently, the depiction paralleled the life of media magnate William Randolph Hearst closely enough that Hearst attempted to suppress the film, refusing to run advertisements for it in any of his newspapers and accusing Welles of being a communist.

Hearst wasn’t the only one who believed Welles had based Citizen Kane on his life. In 1948, author Ferdinand Lundberg sued Welles, Mankiewicz and RKO, the studio that produced the film, alleging that they had plagiarised his book “Imperial Hearst: A Social Biography” when they wrote Citizen Kane. The National Archives has in its holdings a copy of Orson Welles’ deposition for the case, which was taken in Casablanca in 1949, where the actor was filming Othello. In the deposition, Welles denied that the film was based on the life of William Randolph Hearst and stated that he had not read “Imperial Hearst.”

IMAGE: This untitled illustration by cartoonist Clifford Berryman, which appeared in the Washington Post on November 8, 1905, depicts William Randolph Hearst, who ran for mayor of New York in the 1905 election, sitting at his desk while being taunted by the Tammany Tiger as election results came in showing powerful Tammany-backed candidate George B. McClellan Jr. to be the winner.

The True Story of a Jazz Icon

This year, actress Andra Day has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for her portrayal of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in the upcoming movie, The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Born in Philadelphia in 1915, Eleanora Fagan took her stage name when she began singing in Harlem as a teenager. One of America’s most important and influential jazz singers, Holiday worked with the likes of Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, and Artie Shaw.

Billie Holiday’s most recognized song is “Strange Fruit,” a song written by a Jewish school teacher from the Bronx, Abel Meeropol. Holiday first performed “Strange Fruit” in 1939 and recorded it that same year. The release of the song is considered a turning point in the American Civil Rights movement, as it drew attention to the shameful practice of torturing, burning and lynching Black Americans in the South.

The subject was extremely controversial. Based on “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” by Johann Hari and directed and produced by Lee Daniels, The United States vs. Billie Holiday posits that federal law enforcement officers felt “Strange Fruit” was inciting unrest in the South and thus set out to discredit Holiday by using her addiction to heroin against her.

While Holiday brought awareness of the lynching crisis in America through her recording of “Strange Fruit,” First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was battling to end lynching from Washington, D.C. She made the passage of anti-lynching legislation a keystone of her efforts to improve Black Americans’ lives. In 1935 and again in 1937, she lobbied legislators and her husband unceasingly, imploring them to stand up to Southern legislators and put a stop to these inhumane murders. President Roosevelt, however, feared for his legislative agenda and therefore refused to support the legislation. The defeat of the legislation was one of Mrs. Roosevelt’s most bitter disappointments.

Many years later, in December 1945, Mrs. Roosevelt saw a new play titled “Strange Fruit” on Broadway. In response, she wrote, “We need to understand these circumstances in the North as well as in the South. There are mental and spiritual lynchings as well as physical ones, and few of us in this nation can claim immunity from responsibility for some of the frustrations and injustices which face not only our colored people, but other groups, who for racial, religious or economic reasons, are at a disadvantage and face a constant struggle for justice and equality of opportunity.”

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, one of the partners of the National Archives, has important holdings that document Eleanor Roosevelt’s campaign to outlaw lynching.

The Academy Award of Protests

Violence erupted at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968, when anti-Vietnam War protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the war. In response, the Chicago Police Department attacked not only demonstrators, but also photographers, reporters and bystanders. The Golden Globe-nominated film The Trial of the Chicago 7 depicts the trial of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner and John Froines on charges of inciting the riots at the 1968 convention.

In 2012, the National Archives in partnership with Historypin created a virtual tour of the events that occurred during the convention. The tour includes maps, documents and historical photographs, some of which are paired with contemporary photographs of the same places to give viewers a sense of how the physical landscape has changed since 1968.

“Then and now” photography projects have been gaining popularity in the past several years. What sort of “then and now” project would you like to do? You can start by finding a photograph of a place or an event and then using an online app to locate a street-view image of the same place. You can learn a lot by comparing an older view of a place with a more contemporary one.

IMAGE: Thousands of protestors gathered in Grant Park for the National Mobilization Committee to end the war in Vietnam (mobe) rally on August 28, 1968. National Archives Identifier: 6210766

Acting Is Just the Beginning

Myrna Loy and Hedy Lamarr were contemporaries who worked in Hollywood during roughly the same era. Loy was a girl from Helena, Montana, who made good in Hollywood in the 1930s. Starting off with small parts in silent movies, she won rave reviews for her work as Nora Charles opposite actor William Powell, who played Nick Charles in the immensely popular Thin Man series of movies.

But outside the studio, Loy was a living, breathing embodiment of the concept of giving back. First, she was active in politics, supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaigns for president. In the early days of World War II, before the United States entered the conflict, she raised money for the relief for beleaguered European countries. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, Loy worked tirelessly to raise funds and improve the morale of U.S. troops. In the middle of the war, she worked in an unpaid position for the American Red Cross in New York City. After the war ended, she was an outspoken opponent of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating communism in the United States, especially among people working in entertainment in general and motion pictures in particular.

Loy’s longest-lasting and most enduring contribution to philanthropy may have been her work for the cause of the United Nations. For years, she worked for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the American Association for the United Nations, an organization that supported the UN’s mission in the United States. Despite her long and distinguished acting career, Myrna Loy never won an Oscar for any of her performances. In 1991, the Academy finally gave her an award in recognition of her lifetime achievements both on the screen and off it.

Actress Hedy Lamarr was a bona fide movie star. Born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary in 1915, she made several movies in Europe before fleeing to the United States in 1937, just before World War II began there. She was soon under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio, for which she made a series of box-office hits, beginning with Algiers in 1938. Her star turn as Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949) was her biggest hit.

But Hedy Lamarr was not just a talented actress, but also a talented inventor. In the early 1940s, she worked with composer George Antheil to invent a system designed to make the U.S. Navy’s radio-controlled torpedoes much more effective. She and Antheil applied for a patent for the invention in 1942. The immediate reception for their invention was lukewarm at best, but it became the basis for the development of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

ABOVE IMAGE: This is a photograph of Miss Myrna Loy, American film star in Paris for the conferences is being shown the Exhibit of Human Rights by Clive Entwistle, 9/1949

We Can Do It!

You’ve probably seen the famous World War II posters of Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter, but many other countries, including China, Russia, Italy and France, also issued posters that urged their citizens to do their part to support the war effort. The Royal Indian Navy distributed this poster describing opportunities “for Educated Boys between the ages of 15-17 and for Youths of 17-1/2 to 26.” The poster also lists other positions such as writers, sick berth attendants, stewards, cooks, signal and wireless operators, and seamen and stokers. The poster was designed by artist Frank Norton and printed by the Times of India Press. At that time, India was still part of the British Empire.

The National Archives holds a vast and varied collection of World War II propaganda posters. A digital version of the exhibition “Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II,” which was on view at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. from May 1994 to February 1995, features eleven of the posters and one sound file that were included in the original exhibition. If you are interested in more, check out the well known World War II propaganda posters in the Archives’ Still Picture Branch.

Why Viet-Nam?

On July 26, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson held a press conference to address the question of why the United States was committed to fighting a war in Southeast Asia. A partial transcript of his speech is located in the holdings of the Archives.

The U.S. Army later produced a 31-minute film titled Why Viet-Nam? It begins with footage of Johnson asking that question at the press conference. It then echoes Johnson’s question three more times, backed by dramatic music and featuring images of the fighting in Vietnam.

Then the film compares the situation in Vietnam to the events of September 30, 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler in an attempt to avoid having to go to war with Germany. The film characterizes the agreement as a failure of concession. The implication is that the United States, having long been committed to protecting the democratic ambitions of South Vietnam, would not make the same mistake that Britain had and thus would prevent communism from spreading throughout all of Southeast Asia.

The Archives holdings include a copy of the film, the first two minutes of which have been digitized.

A National Loss

It happened 35 years ago last month. Tuesday, January 28, 1986 began as any ordinary day for most Americans. President Ronald Reagan was working his way through a series of meetings when Vice President George H. W. Bush and National Security Advisor John Poindexter came in and told him that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded shortly after take-off. It was, the President noted in his diary, “A day we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”

Many of those who recall the disaster also remember the speech that President Reagan delivered that evening. He spoke of the seven members of the Challenger’s crew – Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. He spoke directly to their families, expressing his and First Lady Nancy Reagan’s condolences. He spoke to the nation’s children, for many of whom the event was probably their first experience of a national loss. And he spoke to the nation as a whole. “The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted,” he said. “The future belongs to the brave.”

President Reagan’s speech has long been considered a masterwork of public rhetoric. With its plain language and quiet tone, it describes both the courage of the crew and the excruciating pain of losing them. It expresses Reagan’s genuine empathy and affirmed, yet again, his status as “the Great Communicator.” Certainly, with the calm sincerity of his words, Reagan paid tribute to the crew and evoked a national period of mourning. He also most likely forestalled, at least for a little while, the onslaught of questions, investigations, and inquiry that followed the tragedy.

“I Want You” to Create a Propaganda Poster

During World War II, the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) Bureau of Graphics distributed millions of posters that conveyed encouraging, inspirational, and warning messages to the public. The posters urged men to join the military, women to join the workforce, and the general public to watch their words, lest foreign spies learn secrets that could injure the war effort.

Visit the website of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, located in Hyde Park, New York to learn how to make your very own propaganda poster.

It Is a Crisis of Confidence

In the summer of 1979, the United States was beset by an energy shortage, rising unemployment and double-digit inflation. President Jimmy Carter was doing his best to deal with these problems, but the results of his efforts were decidedly mixed.

On July 15, 1979, exactly three years to the day after he had accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States, Carter addressed the nation, describing a “crisis of confidence” he felt Americans were experiencing. The principal subject of the speech was the energy crisis, and Carter outlined ways in which the public could conserve energy and thus put the United States on a more independent and certain footing.

A common thread that runs through all presidential administrations is the idea of speaking directly to the people to break up logjams in Congress. Carter directly follows this line of reasoning in his “Crisis of Confidence” speech.

What subject would you tackle in a speech? What kind of language would you use to persuade your listeners to agree with you? Write a short speech you’d give to express your opinions and win your audience’s support.

90 Letters in 90 Days

The love story of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor is one of intense, love-at-first-sight feelings and letters – lots and lots of letters. Today, two teenagers might exchange flirtatious text messages on their iPhones, but in 1934, LBJ and Lady Bird’s love story revolved around snail mail. During their two-and-a-half month courtship, each writing a letter – and sometimes even two – every day in a constant overlapping correspondence between Washington, D.C., and Karnack, Texas.

In less than three months, they had sent more than 90 letters, including pictures and books (even a congressional cookbook from LBJ). LBJ sent this photo to Lady Bird during their courtship. The caption reads “For Bird–A lovely girl with ideals, principles, intelligence, and refinement from her sincere admirer, Lyndon.” Eventually, these long-distance letters culminated in a marriage on November 17, 1934. You can read the love letters from these infamous sweethearts at the LBJ Presidential Library website.

IMAGE: Newlyweds Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson pose in a boat on the Floating Gardens in Xochimilco, Mexico, during their honeymoon, November 1934. (Credit: Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

Spilled Tea from the Archives

In 2014, the Library of Congress released hundreds of letters exposing a secret, 15-year affair between President Warren G. Harding and Carrie Fulton Phillips. And while that in itself was salacious news, the National Archives has documents that provide insight into something even more interesting: Was Carrie Fulton Phillips a German spy during the First World War?

Get the scoop here!

We Shall Meet Again

When the Civil War started, there were some 3.9 million slaves in the United States. While the nation was at war, many slaves in Southern states fled to the Union Army, risking everything for their freedom. One such man, John Boston, found refuge with a New York regiment in Upton Hill, Virginia. His 1862 letter to his wife who remained in Owensville, Maryland reveals the price many paid for their freedom. In his love letter to his wife, he wrote that his highest hope and aspiration was to be reunited with his family.

There is no evidence that Elizabeth Boston ever received this letter. It was intercepted and eventually forwarded to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Wartime Romance

Edward Spillane, Jr., was the first baby born at Camp Kilmer, NJ, on March 2, 1945. His mother Dorothy Inman Spillane was a former WAC (Women’s Army Corps). The baby’s father, S. Sgt Spillane, was stationed in France at the time of his birth… but he was still able to be a part of the special moment!

Presidential Proclamations of Love

No matter how powerful you are, don’t ever underestimate the power of old fashioned snail mail! From Ronald Reagan to Goerge Washington, check out the romantic love letters these Presidents sent their sweethearts.

Fighting for a Seat At the Table

For the first time in history, the newly minted Vice President of the United States is a woman, a black woman and a woman of South Asian descent. When she made her victory speech in Delaware immediately after the election, Kamala Harris paid tribute to the generations of black women who came before her and looked forward to the contributions of the next generations. “While I may be the first woman in this office,” she said, “I will not be the last.”

Black women have served in political office for almost a century. They have held positions ranging from school boards and local government all the way up to secretaries of national departments. Shirley Chisholm, who was at the time a member of the House of Representatives for New York’s 12th Congressional District, became the first black woman to run for president in 1972. Her campaign slogan, “Fighting Shirley Chisholm – Unbought and Unbossed,” still resonates today.

The Exoduster Movement

Before the Civil War, enslaved persons lived in the American South, most densely along the Mississippi River and in the Carolinas, Mississippi, Georgia and parts of Texas.

Once the war ended and they were free to move about as they saw fit, enslaved people left the South in droves for opportunities in other places. Between 1900 and 1970, they mostly moved north to cities like Chicago and New York and west to places like Los Angeles. Kansas saw significant black migration – known as the Exoduster Movement – and even the establishment of all-black towns like Nicodemus. Since 1970, some black Americans have started to move back to the South.

Heed Their Rising Voices

On March 29, 1960, a full-page ad headlined “Heed Their Rising Voices” ran in the New York Times. It appealed to all Americans to support black Americans who were fighting to secure their civil rights in the South, specifically Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Signed by 100 citizens, the ad implored Americans to put their voices and their dollars to work for the cause. The signers included prominent actors and actresses like Ossie Davis, Marlon Brando, and Shelley Winters, vocal artists like Nat King Cole, athletes like Jackie Robinson, and religious leaders like Rabbi Edward Klein and Dr. Alan Knight Chalmers.

The Golden Fourteen

The Golden Fourteen were the first black yeowomen to serve in the U.S. Navy, and they had a huge job: monitoring and tracking all the sailors in the Navy throughout the war. They were the yeowomen of the Mustering Personnel Division, and they served the Navy and their country faithfully and well. Learn more.

A Home Run for Baseball & Civil Rights

“Hammerin Hank” Aaron passed away on January 22, 2021. He was a legendary baseball right fielder who played for 23 seasons in the National Baseball League. He is best known for having broken Babe Ruth’s home run record when he hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974. That achievement prompted a deluge of racism and death threats, but Aaron was not intimidated. He fought for civil rights for the entirety of his career. In recognition of Aaron’s achievements on and off the baseball diamond, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.


Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, is a completely invented place. It was established by an act of Congress on July 9, 1790, which George Washington signed into law a week later. Washington himself chose the location, comprised of a square of land straddling the Potomac River. The square of land was donated by Maryland and Virginia and measured 10 miles on each side.

Since then, D.C. has been in a constant state of evolution. Take a look at these maps from 1863, 1909 and 1941 to see just how things have changed there over the past 158 years.

Mapping Historic Wars

When bombs and bullets fly over a battlefield, lives and political situations are changed, but so is the land itself. One of the most important functions of maps is to document the events and scars that war left upon the landscapes.

Historic maps in the Archives holdings of the Civil War battles at South Mountain and Antietam show the physical features of the battle as well as the placements of Union and Confederate troops. Drawn based on information from commanding officers, the maps illuminate what happened during the battles, when more than 23,000 soldiers died, were wounded or captured or went missing. Considered a Union victory, the battle of Antietam was a turning point of the war. Afterward, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved people in the Confederate states that were still in rebellion.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, maps were created to record the effects of the battle on the harbor and the surrounding landscape. One map indicates the positions of all the ships that were in the harbor at the time of the attack.

American Elections in Color

The political bent of many states has definitely changed in the past 60 years. When John F. Kennedy, Jr., won the 1960 presidential election with a popular vote margin of just over 100,000 and 303 electoral college votes, much of his support came from Southern states. The West and Midwest were solidly in the Republican camp.

In contrast, in 2020, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona voted for Joe Biden, while the only Southern state in his corner was Georgia. These differences illustrate changing attitudes toward the actions of the federal government and of population shifts since 1960.

You Are Here

From the nation’s beginnings, the U.S. government made and then violated numerous treaties with Indian tribes, which often resulted in relocating entire native nations. Did you know which tribes once lived in what became your own backyard?

The Indigenous Digital Archive is your gateway to millions of Archives documents about Native Americans. You might want to investigate the IDA Treaties Explorer. Using the “Places” tab, you can search by city and state or zip code to learn which tribes lived in a specific place.

You can also use the “Cessations” tab to find out where tribes lived and where they were relocated to. Check out this map of Alabama and then click on the links below it to see additional maps of present-day Indian country.

–40° Fahrenheit at the South Pole

What do you think the oldest maps in the Archives collections document? Europe? Africa? North America? No—Antarctica!

It’s the most remote place in the world, so it might surprise you to learn that the first efforts to map the region started in the 17th century. Henricus Hondius, a Dutch cartographer and engraver, drew the two maps that are now in the National Archives Cartographic Branch collection in the early 1600s. Very little was known for certain about the southernmost continent on Earth at the time, so his depiction is a little vague—but the illustrations that decorate the corners of the map are fascinating. Take a look!

A Duck to Water

Until 1936, the President was sworn in on March 4, as the Constitution mandates. A President who is leaving office is called a “lame duck” during the period from the election until the new President is sworn in because he or she generally can’t accomplish much in that short time. Furthermore, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, news traveled much more slowly than it does now, so the four-month lag between Election Day and the inauguration was not especially troublesome then. That situation had changed by the time Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 – news of his victory traveled swiftly, and consequently, nearly all the Southern states had seceded from the union by the time he took the oath of office in March.

The 20th Amendment, which changes the date of the ceremony to January 20, was ratified in 1933 and went into effect for the next presidential election.

Fourth Time’s A Charm

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an unusual President for many reasons, not the least being that he was elected to the office four times. Consequently, he took the oath of office at four different inaugural ceremonies, the first three of which were conducted at the U.S. Capitol. Because World War II was still raging in 1944, FDR’s fourth inauguration took place very quietly at the White House. FDR was also the first president to take the oath in January rather than March.


When he took the oath of office in January 1961, John F. Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected to the presidency. His youth, charisma and eloquence were all powerful attractions, but for much of the presidential campaign, he was running neck and neck with Vice President Richard Nixon.

During the campaign, the nation was being rocked by protests aimed at advancing civil rights, especially in the South. In late October 1960, less than a month before Election Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., was jailed in Georgia for leading a protest in Atlanta. Most of Kennedy’s advisors felt the candidate should not try to intervene—they feared doing so would alienate white Southerner voters. Others argued that Kennedy had to do something, and in the end, he agreed. He called Coretta Scott King, who was pregnant at the time, at her home and offered her his support.

When he was freed from jail, King credited Kennedy with having used his influence to secure his freedom. The election results were extremely close, but Kennedy defeated Nixon by a very narrow margin. Many historians credit Kennedy’s support of King with having won him vital support among black voters across the country.
Both John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were passionate about advancing the cause of civil rights in the United States, and both were gifted orators. Kennedy’s inaugural address and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech are among the most frequently quoted speeches in U.S. history.

When he signed the proclamation authorizing the official observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday in 1996, President William Jefferson Clinton noted, “But despite the great accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, we have not yet torn down every obstacle to equality.” A great deal of work remains to be done to guarantee every person in the United States the same freedoms and opportunities.

Taft’s Gaff

When you have to give a speech or act in a school play, do you ever worry that you’ll forget your lines? Don’t fret – it’s extremely unlikely you’ll make as big a public gaff as Chief Justice William Howard Taft did when he administered the oath of office to presidential incumbent Herbert Hoover in 1929. Instead of instructing Hoover to say he would “preserve, protect, and defend” the U.S. Constitution, Taft said Hoover should promise to “preserve, maintain, and defend” it. Considering that Taft had been President from 1909 to 1913 and thus had taken the oath himself, that’s a pretty big mistake. Unfortunately, at the inauguration, you don’t get do-overs.

Lassoing the Cowboy President

No, it wasn’t Wonder Woman – it was cowboy Montie Montana who threw a lasso around President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s shoulders as he reviewed the inaugural parade in 1953. Fortunately for Montana, he had gotten clearance from the Secret Service to pull this stunt.

History-making Memos STOP

Morse’s telegraph was used to send any number of important messages, both personal and official. Morse sent the first official one in the United States from just outside the Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol building on May 24, 1844: “What hath God wrought?”

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln used the telegraph to communicate with his generals. When the city of Savannah, Georgia, surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman, he sent the commander-in-chief a telegraph stating: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

And the completion of the Transcontinental Railway on May 10, 1869, was announced by telegraph in a single word: “Done.”

Wings for War

If you are at war and can’t be sure a message would get to headquarters by land, how about sending it by air? During World War I, the humble carrier pigeon was often the hero, transporting messages to military headquarters and other units on and behind the front lines. One of them, Cher Ami, flew through withering friendly fire to deliver a message to military headquarters that the shells were falling on their own men. He was wounded, but he recovered. For his bravery, Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm by the French government.

Transatlantic TV

On July 10,1962, NASA launched Telstar I – the first active communications satellite in space. Thirteen days later, it relayed the first-ever transatlantic TV signal, showing Europe pictures of the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, part of a baseball game and remarks by President Kennedy on the value of the American dollar.

CBS news anchor Walter Conkite, also on the broadcast, later said, “We all glimpsed something of the true power of the instrument we had wrought.”

Watch the broadcast from the National Archives holdings.

Undercover Ink

Do you ever wish you could send a message that only the recipient could read? During World War I, the Germans created invisible inks so they could safely communicate their battle plans. In collaboration with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, documents in the National Archives about the formulas for the ink were declassified in 2011. One formula (written in French with translation) is described in this June 14, 1918 Office of Naval Intelligence document. The invisible ink’s ingredients – compressed or powdered aspirin mixed with “pure water” – and the method of causing it to appear are provided.

Unbreakable Code

During both World War I and II, the U.S. military needed a fool-proof way to communicate with their troops—one that the enemy could not decipher. The solution was the Code Talkers, Native Americans who were trained to encrypt the messages they sent over the radio in their native tongues. The Code Talkers were members of the Choctaw, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, Yankton Sioux, Navajo, Kiowa, Hopi, Creek, Seminole, and other tribes. Their “code” was never broken, and the Code Talkers are credited with helping win both wars.

During World War II, Philip Johnston was the initiator of the Marine Corps’ program to enlist and train the Navajos as messengers. Although Johnston was not a Navajo, he grew up on a Navajo reservation as the son of a missionary and became familiar with the people and their language. Johnston was also a World War I veteran and knew about the military’s desire to send and receive messages in an unbreakable code. He hit upon the idea of enlisting Navajos as signalmen early in 1942 when he read a newspaper story about the Army’s use of several Native Americans during training maneuvers with an armored division in Louisiana.

Ban Bars! Open Polls!

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was founded in 1874 with the aim to win the prohibition of alcohol consumption because of its ill effects on domestic abuse and child abuse. Soon after its founding, however, the union began supporting other issues that were important to women.

One of the union’s most important actions was supporting the movement for women’s suffrage in the United States. In 1886, members of its chapters from all over the country signed petitions in aid of a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing votes for women. The petitions were then sent to the Committee on the Judiciary. The legislation failed, but the fight for women’s suffrage persisted.

A Whiskey A Day…

Hooch is just like vitamins…right? According to the U.S. Treasury Department during Prohibition, apparently it is. The Department authorized physicians to write prescriptions for medicinal alcohol to treat ailments ranging from cancer to indigestion to depression. Learn more here.

But a visit to the doctor wasn’t the only way to get around the 13-year ban on the production, sale and distribution of alcohol. Farmers were allowed to produce wine for their own consumption and priests, ministers and rabbis were allowed to serve it during religious ceremonies. Hello self-described spiritual leaders!

Undercover Hooch Hunter

Because of the federal responsibility of enforcement, the National Archives holds records of some pretty creative enforcers of prohibition.

Sometimes called the “lady hooch hunter,” Prohibition Bureau agent Daisy Simpson was known for her acting ability and her skill at disguises, which allowed her to bust many bootleggers in the act. Special Agent Simpson posed as a variety of characters and attempted to buy liquor at speakeasies, hotels and restaurants. Learn more here.

Save the Sugar

Alcohol isn’t the only beverage Americans have been discouraged from drinking throughout history. During World War I, there was a Coca-Cola shortage due to the conservation of sugar for the war effort.

This item is a poster from the Coca-Cola Company that appeared on a Clark Street streetcar line in Chicago. It comes from a file about Coca-Cola’s compliance with food regulations during World War I.

Archives from Sea to Shining Sea

Where can you find the National Archives of the United States? If you said “Washington, D.C.,” you are right – but the Archives has many partner facilities located all over the country, from New York to California.

The Archives has research facilities and federal record centers in states across the nation.

Also, the National Archives’ Presidential Libraries and Museums house documents and artifacts of the administrations of 13 Presidents, starting with Herbert Hoover and running through George W. Bush (with the Barack Obama Presidential Library on the way).

Finally, the National Archives partners with eight archival repositories across the country: the Library of Congress and the U.S. Government Printing Office, both in Washington, D.C.; the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD; the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe, NM; the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City, OK; the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, PA; the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY; the University of North Texas Libraries in Denton, TX; and the Yellowstone National Park Archives in Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Learn more >

On the Road

Between September 1947 and January 1949, more than 3.5 million Americans had a unique opportunity to view some of the most important artifacts of American democracy. On September 17, 1947, the Freedom Train, a specially designed seven-car train, pulled out of Philadelphia bound for New York City. Over the next 16 months, the train carried 133 historically significant objects—127 documents and six flags—to more than 300 cities in the 48 continuous states.

The brainchild of Attorney General Tom C. Clark, the train was comprised of three exhibition cars, three cars for personnel and one car for equipment.

The documents aboard the train included the Bill of Rights, George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, the Treaty of Paris, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Specially designed cases housed the documents, and the displays were organized so that the most famous and important documents were visible to all the viewers. Temperature and humidity levels were carefully controlled to protect the objects from damage.

From the outset of the project, the American Heritage Foundation, which was financing the Freedom Train and its tour, mandated “that no segregation of any individual or groups of any kind on the basis of race or religion be allowed at the exhibition of the Freedom Train held anywhere.”

When the train turned southward, only two cities had refused to agree to those terms: Birmingham, AL, and Memphis, TN. Despite intense lobbying by both cities’ officials, the foundation refused to back down, cancelling the planned stops in those two cities. Several prominent citizens in both cities hailed the foundation’s actions, declaring them important developments in the ongoing battle for civil rights in the United States.

Painted white and emblazoned with a red and blue stripe that down its entire length, the train enjoyed Presidential priority, so it had the right of way on any track it was traveling.

Learn more >

A Home Down the Street

In 1934, one architect’s bold design for a new building to house our nation’s most important documents was complete – except for the documents themselves! The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States didn’t debut in the building designed and constructed in their honor for another 16 years. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States had been transferred from the Department of State to the Library of Congress in 1921, and Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress, had no intention of handing them over to the new agency.

Prior to 1934, the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had been housed, both separately and together, in several different places. When he presided over the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new National Archives building in early 1933, President Herbert Hoover stated that the Declaration and the Constitution would be moved there from the Library of Congress. However, Putnam begged to differ, stating very plainly that Hoover was mistaken.

This made R. D. W. Connor, the first Archivist of the United States, furious, but he and President Roosevelt agreed in private conversation not to press the issue of moving the Charters to the Archives.

In 1938, the Bill of Rights, which was stored at the Department of State, was moved to the new National Archives building.

World War II put a halt to all discussions about the permanent home for the Charters of Freedom. For the duration of the war, the Library of Congress sent the Declaration and the Constitution to Fort Knox for safekeeping, where they stayed until 1944. It was not until December 13, 1952, that the two documents were formally transferred to the National Archives, where they joined the Bill of Rights. All three were unveiled two days later, on Bill of Rights Day, in the Rotunda of the National Archives.

Archivists in Action

Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation that authorized the establishment of the National Archives and Records Administration, 10 individuals have served as the Archivist of the United States. Learn more about them here.

In addition to their role of protecting our nation’s most important documents, they also have some lesser-known jobs – i.e. administering the Electoral College, certifying new amendments to the Constitution and flipping famous chocolate chip pancakes at the National Archives sleepover. Meet the current Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, and discover his many important jobs here.

More Time for Shopping

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was only trying to help when he broke with the decades-old tradition of holding Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Because most Americans waited until after Turkey Day to begin their holiday shopping, business owners would lose out on much-needed revenue during those years when November had five Thursdays.

But President Roosvelt’s change came with its fair share of opposition, like this strongly-worded letter from Arnold’s Men’s Shop, Inc. As opposition grew, some states took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation. Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th. This was worse than changing the date in the first place because families that lived in states such as New York did not have the same day off as family members in states such as Connecticut!

Gifts Gone Missing

The Washington Monument has been held in high regard across the world. The Masons, the International Order of Odd Fellows, the states and even foreign countries sent gift stones to help create the monument from the ground up. But these gifts didn’t always make it in; in fact, more than half have actually gone missing over the years.

Check out the journey to discover the estimated 196 stones that were lost compared to the 193 that are currently in the Washington Monument.

The Thought that Counts

President Harry S. Truman’s relationship with a member of the Parliament of Iraq earned him a nice shipment of fresh dates, the country’s largest export. Truman never got to enjoy the gift, however, after the results of the Department of Agriculture’s inspection determined that the dates had to be destroyed. It was found that the fruit contained a nasty plant disease and a number of date stone beetles. Nevertheless, it was the thought that counted, and the gift was much appreciated by the President.

Pro Gift Givers

December isn’t the only time for gift giving at the National Archives. The Office of the Archivist assists the Protocol Office in the Department of State in putting together unique gifts for heads of state. From architectural plans of the White House given to the Prime Minister of Libya to a patent application for a polo stick given to Prince Charles, there seems to be something for everyone in the National Archives.

As American as Apple Pumpkin Pie

Although Thanksgiving was certainly not a new American tradition, President George Washington officially made it one in 1789 with the first Thanksgiving Presidential Proclamation (are those grease stains we see 🧐?). Proclaiming the first Thanksgiving celebrated under the new Constitution, Washington’s words give insight into the state of the country that year; something which following Presidential Proclamations have come to institute as well.

Feathered Friend Turned Food

Only recently did the annual White House turkey actually end up living out its life on a rural Virginia farm. Up until 1989, it actually became part of the President’s Thanksgiving dinner! President George H. W. Bush was the first to actually begin the formal turkey pardoning tradition, deciding then and there that his new feathered friend would be more enjoyed roaming the fields than in the White House kitchen.

Learn more about the Presidential turkey pardoning tradition.

Don’t Take the 🦃 Out of Turkey Day

President Harry S. Truman’s poor turkey didn’t even make it until Thanksgiving of 1947, as the Truman family enjoyed their holiday meal the day before instead. That year, Americans were urged to eat less poultry, so that grain that would normally go to feed the livestock could be shipped overseas to the hungry and needy in Europe. “Poultry-less Thursday” became a thing, and so the Trumans went all out with the turkey and trimmings on Wednesday night instead. How they were able to enjoy such a hearty lunch before the evening’s dinner feast still remains a mystery.

Mission: Turkey

Although Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, many individuals cannot always be in America to celebrate––including our troops. Members of the U.S. military often partake in their own ways, by catching their own food and enjoying group dinners. Take a look at some images of our Armed Forces having an overseas Thanksgiving of their own.

Family Frakturs

People have kept track of their family lineage in a variety of interesting ways over the years––including the fraktur. These family records were hand-drawn and illustrated in a German calligraphic style, often showing the names as well as important dates from birth to marriages. Bethyah Hopkins used this fraktur from her 1872 marriage to Abraham Requa to support her claim for pension after her husband’s service in the Revolutionary War. She received $80 per year beginning in 1834.

Journey Home

Despite being the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy took such pride in his Irish heritage that he once said of the country of Ireland, “This is not the land of my birth but it is the land for which I hold the greatest affection.” Here are a few relics of his Irish ancestry at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Explosion of Interest

The National Archives holds a vast collection of genealogical records. After the 1977 miniseries “Roots” hit primetime, interest in studying family history exploded. There was a 300 percent increase in inquiries about genealogical research, and since then, the National Archives has increasingly focused on digitizing these records and making them accessible to the public.

Start your own genealogy research at the National Archives today.

Congress Counts

The decennial census started as a way for the Founding Fathers to allocate an appropriate number of Congressional seats per district, but over time, it has become one of the greatest tools for genealogical research.

The Constitution requires that Congress conduct a census every 10 years to determine the representation of each state in the House of Representatives. When the authors of the Constitution allocated seats in the House for the First Congress, they had no census data to guide them. As a result, the sizes of the first congressional districts varied dramatically. A Massachusetts congressman represented 96,550 people, while one from Georgia represented only 16,250.

To solve this problem, Congress had to determine how to conduct a census. The new nation was the first to institute a national, periodical census. The size of the United States made the task rather daunting. The Senate census committee worked for eight months before they decided to start from scratch in January of 1790.

Discover the full story of how Congress conducted the first census.

Armistice Day to Veterans Day

After serving in World War II, Navy veteran Raymond Weeks fought to have the Armistice Day holiday changed to recognize all those veterans who had served, not just those who served in World War I as it had originated. Seven years of his tireless dedication to the cause saw President Dwight D. Eisenhower make the change to what we now celebrate today as Veterans Day.

[Learn More]

Art Overseas

Corporal Albert Racine of the Blackfoot Tribe from Browning, Montana drew from his Native American heritage to see him through World War II. The artist and soldier brought with him drawings that connected the Blackfeet community and the troops overseas, and reinforced his legacy as an artist even after the war ended.

Racine’s drawings of the Blackfeet figure Napi, a local Indian gremlin, created a connection between Montana and troops overseas that resonated with the Blackfeet community in Browning and left an enduring mark. This juxtaposition between playfulness and seriousness would become characteristic of Racine’s legacy as an artist.

Napi went with Racine to North Africa, where he drew sketches of the figure in uniform to entertain his fellow soldiers and to send back to the local newspapers.

[Learn More]

A Soldier’s Story

Every veteran has a unique story and experience from their time serving in the U.S. military; six of these are highlighted in the online exhibit, “World War I: A Soldier’s Story,” such as 24-year-old Russell Hoag who suffered from neurasthenia, a common diagnosis for shell shocked soldiers after returning home to the U.S. One of many shell-shocked veterans, Hoag spent time after the War at the Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, just one of countless organizations that was created to provide care for veterans returning from the battlefield.

Visit the online exhibition.

Working 2x As Hard

Minnie Spotted Wolf contributed to American society in not just one but two extremely hardworking and deserving professions: becoming the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps in WWII and becoming an elementary school teacher. Spotted Wolf’s time spent growing up on a Montana ranch doing manual labor prepared her for the Marine Corps so much so that she said boot camp was “hard, not not too hard.” After four years in the Corps, she earned a degree in Elementary Education and was a schoolteacher for 29 years.

The War After the War

After Jimmie King and Howard Nez fought for their country as Navajo Code Talkers in World War II, they found themselves back on American soil once again fighting for their democracy. Though a 1924 law officially granted citizenship to all American Indians, state and local municipalities came up with their own rules and regulations that barred Native Americans from registering to vote. Because those living on nearby reservations in Arizona and New Mexico were wards of the government and did not pay taxes, the courts determined they would not be allowed to vote. The issue continued nationwide until 1957; explore the records which show the lengthy battle to achieve civil rights for Native Americans.

Beginning of Promises

The many treaties between the Native Nations and the U.S. government began with the 1778 Treaty between the United States and the Delaware Indians signed at Fort Pitt. During the American Revolution, Native Americans often tried to stay neutral, but some took the side of the British, as they believed they posed less of a threat to their land. One tribe, the Delaware, took the side of the Americans in the war, and thus the first treaty between the United States and a Native American tribe was born. It is also the only treaty to have been signed by the Continental Congress. Check out this treaty and others that depict the history of Native American rights through the online interactive Records of Rights exhibit.

Treaties & Maps Reveal the Past

This 1826 map of the U.S. created by the Office of Indian Affairs in the War Department shows populations of Native American tribes throughout the nation. Curious about the tribes who once occupied the land where you live today? With DigiTreaties you can dig deeper and search by location, zip code or state to discover documents related to treaties in your area.

What Sweet History

One of the best parts of Halloween trick-or-treating is the exchange process as kids barter and trade their candy stash. During World War II, the U.S. Marines did this too. But rather than trading for other candy, their chocolate bars scored them swords, flags and other souvenirs from abroad.

The Death Mask

One of the more curious oddities in the National Archives’ holdings has got to be this death mask of former Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham. After his passing in May of 1895, officials determined that the popular, beloved executive would be highly sought after to create commemorative statues and monuments of. A sculptor created this plaster death mask of Gresham (there’s even a few beard hairs stuck in it!) and delivered it to the Department of State. While no statues (or Halloween costumes) were ever created from the mask, it eventually found itself at the National Archives.

Less Gleeful, More Ghoulish

There are images upon images in the National Archives holdings: beautiful photos of the National Parks, pictures from every single White House administration and even images from space. But some more ghoulish photos lurk in the dark corners of the Archives.

This collection from the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theatre Project shows a group of performers from the entertainment industry that benefited from the program: clowns. The 65 employed circus clowns were well loved in New York City at the time, though it appears that opinions about the profession may have changed a bit since 1935.

Unfairly Administered

Up until a 1970 amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states were allowed to require literacy or civic knowledge tests as a precursor to being able to register to vote. These were often done so in order to prevent those who they did not want to vote from voting, often minorities, as they had free reign over the difficulty of the tests and who would judge them. Mary Hampton of Mississippi ran into this issue in 1958 when a clerk told her she failed the test––and because she believed “because of race or color I have not been allowed to register” she submitted an affidavit to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

We Vote as Free Men

On the eve of his unprecedented third term election as President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered an address to the American people from his home in Hyde Park, New York about the necessity for each individual to cast their ballot. Speaking not just on voting for the Presidency, President Roosevelt stressed the urgency of voting for local officials too, as that is also when the people have “the right to determine for themselves who should be their own officers of government,” at any level.

Old Enough

Student activists during the Vietnam War took up the effort to lower the voting age in the U.S. to 18, using the World War II-era slogan, “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” After the 26th Amendment was pushed through Congress and ratified in 100 days, faster than any other amendment, President Nixon signed it as a witness, and he even invited three 18-year-olds to sign with him.

Vote Early 2020

Did you know that over 200 million Americans can vote early? Find out what your options are and get a game plan together by visiting www.voteearlyday.org.

Visit the Store

We’ve created a great collection of election themed gifts and finds for everyone! Shop today and find collectibles, memorabilia and much more for your party of choice.

Roots in the Soil

The turning of the leaves from green to yellow not only signifies the beginning of autumn, the new school year, and the start of the holiday season, it also signifies one of the busiest times of year for those in agriculture: fall harvest. Many of our Presidents spent a number of years on the farm before heading into the capital city for a life of politics. President Harry S. Truman worked on his family’s farm in Missouri, President Lyndon B. Johnson had his Texas cattle ranch, and President Jimmy Carter is, of course, known as the peanut farmer from Georgia.

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Beer = mc2

Perhaps the biggest fall festival of all time is Oktoberfest, which takes place every autumn in Munich, Germany. This festival is so old that at one point, beer drinkers had to celebrate from the light of day into the darkness of night––that is, until Albert Einstein himself screwed in the first lightbulb. Granted, it may have been his father and uncle who are truly due the credit (Albert was a six-year-old at the time), but the math whiz was there checking wiring and ensuring that the Einstein Brothers lights stayed on at the world’s largest fair. Learn more about Albert Einstein’s early years.

Putting the Puzzle Together

How Naval History Becomes the Climate Science of Tomorrow

Handle with Care

Centuries-old logbooks are handled with the utmost care by the National Archives Innovation Hub. Each logbook is thoroughly inspected for mold, torn pages or obscured words and sent to the conservation team if that’s needed. Then an imaging team images and processes the Navy records, which are audited and delivered for inclusion to the National Archives online catalog. From there, it’s up to citizen archivists to transcribe the information within the log books from handwriting to a digital format computers can understand. Not as easy as it sounds to digitize these hundreds of logbooks, huh!

Black Men in Navy Blue

Thanks to digitized U.S. Navy muster rolls, we have access to new information about the crew members of each naval vessel. These muster rolls include a full list of the onboard sailors, including “contraband,” which referred to black crew members who escaped slavery and served in the Navy.

One World War II naval vessel, the USS Mason had a majority all-black crew, and their responsibility as a protection escort ship can be seen through the many deck log pages that are now available online. The USS Mason (DE-529) was commissioned on March 20, 1944, with a crew of 150 African-American enlisted men and six officers. The vessel was part of the Evarts-class destroyer escort, with the responsibility of providing protection for other naval vessels in the Atlantic Ocean.

The USS Mason was involved in several convoys across the Atlantic Ocean during the war. A few of the escorts included journeys to Belfast, Ireland and Plymouth, England. On one particular convoy in the Atlantic, the USS Mason was damaged during a severe storm in 1944. The African-American crew repaired the ship and was able to continue with their voyage. These men did not received any letters of commendation for this act until 1994.

New Year’s Day Deck Log

The Navy had a longstanding tradition of writing the first deck log of the New Year in verse. Some used Edgar Allen Poe’s style, some opted for “T’was the night before Christmas style, and some even tried their hand at writing in their own (sometimes even throwing in a doodle or two). But whatever their style, they always managed to communicate the day’s information about the ship’s location, weather conditions and observations.

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Withstanding the Test of Time

U.S. Navy deck logs dating as far back as the late 1700s are a treasure trove for climate scientists. But the great amount of time spent poring through their individual pages can sometimes yield rather unusual data. This 1891USRC Corwin entry mentions flora and fauna from its Pacific expedition––including some actual flowers! Perfectly preserved, the pressed dried flowers even made their way into the digitized records.

The National Archives working with the American Horticultural Society and the Department of Agriculture to identify the flowers.

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The Seas of Knowledge Digitization project is supported by the Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Bat to Baseball, Pen to Paper

MVP and Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson is one of the most highly regarded baseball players of all time. But Robinson’s legacy is bigger than baseball. He was the first African-American to play in the major leagues, fighting everyday for civil rights just by stepping onto the field. Robinson leveraged his position in the American limelight to advocate for civil rights, even writing a letter to each American President who held office between his retirement from baseball in 1956 to his death in 1972. These letters can be found in the National Archives holdings, like this one sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in response to the events surrounding the Little Rock Nine.

Put Me In, Coach

Good old sibling rivalry exists in all shapes and sizes––including on the football field at the annual Army-Navy game. Sports were (and still are) a way in which members of the military come together to build camaraderie and patriotism. Just a few years into the long-standing tradition, the Military Academy at West Point became so consumed with beating the Navy, that they wrote to the Adjunct General of the Army requesting the services of three officers to be football coaches for the fall of 1916. Spoiler alert: the request was approved and Army took home the W.

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One Point for Women’s Rights

Seventeen-year-olds Cynthia Morris and Emily Barrett wanted to spend their last years of high school playing the sport they loved: tennis. But because they were women, they were barred from playing interscholastic sports when a boy was present on the same or competing team. Cynthia and Emily filed a complaint on this discrimination in April of 1972, just two months before Title IX would be passed. Cynthia and Emily filed a complaint on this discrimination in April of 1972, just two months before Title IX would be passed. The monumental bill made it illegal to discriminate based on sex in educational programs that receive educational funding, opening up a world of opportunity for women to play in sports that did not exist before. It was game, set, match for Cynthia, Emily, and women all across the country to finally have their turn on the court.

The Great Jazz Legends

Jazz emerged as a major form of musical expression in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and its influence can be felt and heard throughout American history. The National Archives holds an incredible number of jazz-related records, from Louis Armstrong to Benny Goodman to Lionel Hampton. Records even tell the tale of Hampton’s illustrious time serving as the “Ambassador of Goodwill” on his Far East tour in the 60s. Jazz became even more important during this time as he used it to bridge gaps across cultures; everyone could speak the same language of jazz.

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The Right to Sing

Renowned American contralto singer, Marian Anderson, was no stranger to concerts after performing throughout the U.S. and Europe since 1925. But after Howard University petitioned to use the Daughters of the American Revolution music hall for a concert with Anderson, their request was denied because the singer was black and they had an all-white performer policy. This gained national attention when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in. Instead of the music hall, Anderson ended up performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000 and becoming an important figure in the fight for equality among African-American artists.

Peace, Love, and… Nature Calls?

The Woodstock Music Festival brought together nearly 400,000 people to see 32 different acts. The “3 Days of Peace and Music” solidified the counterculture generation and was a high point for 1960s youth culture. But with so many people gathered in one place, you can imagine some logistical snafoos ensued. One such instance lasted for years after the concert. Read about the stinky situation here.

A Guitar Like No Other

Coming from a musically-inclined family in Genoa, Italy, young Pasquale Taraffo felt the call to follow in his family’s footsteps. Beginning with guitar concerts, Taraffo eventually graduated to the harp guitar––an interesting looking device with fourteen strings that had to be mounted on a pedestal. The virtuoso brought his music to many world tours, where he even ended up in the United States on more than one occasion.

World Famous Friendship

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s special relationship went down in history books as a necessary effort in defeating the Axis powers. But this dear and cherished friendship all started because Roosevelt simply wanted to get a little networking with the promising First Lord of the Admiralty across the pond. In this first letter, Roosevelt congratulates him on his appointment, connects their common interests, and lets him know that he’d love to chat anytime. Roosevelt saw the potential in Churchill and surmised that he may become Prime Minister someday, leading him to establish those strong diplomatic ties early that would eventually become so famous.

Learning More of Each Other

When President Eisenhower established the People-to-People program in 1956, he said, “If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and to leap governments––if necessary to evade governments––to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other.”

Read President Eisenhower’s speech from that day.

Redefining Diplomacy

“Her Excellency Eugenie Anderson” certainly had a nice ring to it when the Minnesota woman became the first female U.S. ambassador in 1949. She would serve as ambassador to Denmark for four years and coin what was to be called “people’s diplomacy.” She instituted many firsts, including inviting all of her residence staff to a housewarming party and learning the Danish language within only six months of moving to the country. Becoming the first woman to be presented the Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog by the King of Denmark prior to her departure, she assuredly had a large impact on the diplomatic ties between the two countries. But she didn’t stop there. Check out the full story of her work in international affairs here.

Setting Sail for Peace

On July 2, 1959 LIFE Magazine published an article advocating for a reimagined Great White Fleet. Unlike its predecessor under Theodore Roosevelt, the idea first suggested by Commander Frank Manson was that this new fleet would not carry weapons, but rather, acts of peace and goodwill toward other countries to combat communism. Learn more about the vision for the “New Great White Fleet.”

Diplomacy and Daiquiris

Marrying into the Bacardi family meant three things for Jose Pepín Bosch: maintaining the Bacardi company, supporting revolutionaries against communist Cuba, and of course, unlimited rum for his daiquiris. Bosch succeeded in the first two, as he moved ownership of the company away from the island and worked with the Department of State and CIA to keep them informed of the movement in Cuba. As for the third, we can only imagine that this man of diplomatic action kicked back and with a good beverage once in a while!

A Homefront Battle

As many Americans answered the call to serve their country overseas during World War II, those at home were left to support the war effort in other ways. Most labor unions collectively agreed to hold off on striking during the war, but the United Mine Workers were facing such harsh and unfair working conditions that they communicated to President Roosevelt that they were unable to abide by that promise. Five hundred thousand coal mine workers went on strike in April 1943, despite the President’s Executive Order placing coal mines under control of the federal government. Though miners eventually won wage increases and travel pay, there were many complexities which led to them obtaining these rights; take a look at the full story here.

Women at War

When World War II began, many women stepped into new roles at home. However, many women also felt the call to serve their country as soldiers, and so the Women’s Army Corps was born. Because of the WAC, the War Department began to follow Army policy of admitting African American women at a 10 percent quota. Recruitment of African American women was difficult, as discrimination proved to be a large issue, and many were turned away even before recruitment and training began. Fighting for equal training and assignments and to be stationed overseas, African American WACs opened up opportunities for women of color in a field previously dominated by men.

Living a Nightmare

Marie Adams had just one job during World War II: to stay alive. As one of thousands of American civilians living in the Philippines just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Adams was held captive by the Japanese until the end of the war. Adams not only fought for her life, but also for the lives of her fellow internees. While her own physical condition declined, she continued to work in the compound’s medical center, caring for others until the camp was liberated in February of 1945, for which she was eventually awarded the Bronze Star Medal. This report, which she wrote just four months later, described the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the camp and her calculations at survival.

Rightfully Hers: The Asterisk

The 19th Amendment was a milestone moment for women’s voting rights but it did not make all women voters. In the sixth video in our Rightfully Hers series, we explore why, for millions of women, the fight for women’s suffrage did not end in 1920.

Lifetime Advocate

Mary Church Terrell devoted herself to the women’s suffrage movement and the fight for justice. She was a founding member and president of the National Association of Colored Women. Terrell is one of many Black women who tirelessly worked toward equality for all. Join us on August 27 at 1 p.m. ET as we sit down with another important African American suffragist, Ida B. wells. Following the presentation, join A’Lelia Bundles in a special conversation with Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter Michelle Duster.

Advocate for Mental Health

Having spent nearly 50 years working in mental health issues, Rosalynn Carter continues to be one of the most outspoken advocates even after she left the White House. After acting as a key member in the passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, she went on to create the Carter Center’s Mental Health Task Force. Recognizing that back in 1971 when she began working in the mental health field, there was so little she and others knew about mental illness, she updated her book twelve years later in order to reflect the discoveries and advancements that had been made. Carter even now hosts a symposium each year that brings together top mental health organizations to discuss key issues in the ever-evolving field.

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The Great Question

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?” Eleanor Roosevelt posed this great question to the United Nations as the first woman delegate to represent the U.S. Assigned to Committee 3 because others in the delegation assumed she would be content to do the least harm there, she proved them wrong and earned the title of chairperson for the newly-formed Human Rights Commission. Later calling her role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights her greatest achievement, Eleanor Roosevelt was a trailblazer in setting an example for the standard of how all nations should treat their citizens. Take a deeper look at the behind-the-scenes of drafting this Declaration in this online exhibit!

Champion of Women’s Rights

Betty Bloomer was only two years old when the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. But in the White House as First Lady some fifty years later, Betty Ford dedicated her platform to speaking out about women’s rights. Not only did she support passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, but she also supported the U.N. International Women’s Year in 1975 and encouraged government agencies to appoint more women to senior positions, while also supporting a woman’s right to choose to work in the home. In the bicentennial issue of Women’s Work magazine, Betty Ford remarked on women’s rights and the work they do – whether that be in the home or in a profession. “Pride, self-respect, and doing the best job possible is the key here.”

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Life of Service

Pat Nixon dedicated her time as First Lady to the cause of volunteerism––supporting and uplifting those organizations who focused on providing service for others. She made it known numerous times that “people are my project,” volunteering for the American Red Cross and leading earthquake relief efforts in Peru. She was even given The Grand Cross Order of the Sun, the highest decoration the Peruvian government can bestow. Visiting over 80 countries during her time of public service, many of them solo, she made it a priority to visit orphanages, hospitals, and schools. Her example led many to take a role in volunteer service.

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Rightfully Hers: Change Isn’t Easy

First Ladies have been pivotal in pushing the boundaries of influence and opportunities women can have in American society. They stand on the shoulders of suffragists who fought so that all women could have the right to vote and make their voices heard.

Don’t miss the fourth video in a series about the women’s suffrage movement and its lasting impact on future generations. Check out our upcoming centennial programs this month.

The Pole at Last

Arctic explorer Robert Peary became famous for reaching the North Pole in his historic 1909 expedition. Less well-known, however, is his right-hand man and friend of 20 years, Matthew Henson. Henson was the first African American polar explorer, and an integral part of the North Pole expedition, taking on the role of navigator, driver, craftsman and translator. He was even the first person to physically reach the spot of the North Pole (brrr!). Henson’s achievements went unacknowledged outside of the African American community until nearly 30 years after they returned home, when he was invited to join the Explorers Club and was awarded a US Navy medal.

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Chilling Adventures

Louise Arner Boyd’s interest was sparked in polar exploration in 1926, when, in addition to 11 polar bears, she captured valuable scientific information about arctic ice. She would go on to self-finance six more expeditions (including searching for missing explorer Roald Amundsen), publish three books of photographs, and charter the first private flyover of the North Pole. Most of her time in the arctic can be seen through her self-made films that are now housed in the Center for Polar Archives.

A Frigid Courtroom

Perhaps the coldest war of all occurred in the summer of 1925, between the inventors of the Popsicle and the Good Humor Bar. Both gentlemen claimed to be the original creator of ice dessert on a stick. After a lengthy legal battle, the court decided that Popsicle Corporation would have the rights to water ices on a stick, while Good Humor Corporation would have the rights to ice cream on a stick. There would be peace in the frozen treat market once again. That is, until Popsicle Corporation dipped their popsicle sticks in “ice milk.” Cue another battle of the frozen treats!

Officers (and Dogs) Reporting for Duty

The U.S. Navy has a long history in groundbreaking polar exploration. As early as 1839, Captain Charles Wilkes led the first U.S. naval expedition into Antarctic waters. In the early 1900s, Admiral Richard E. Byrd established an Antarctic naval base known as Little America I and conducted the first flight over the South Pole. On Byrd’s third Antarctic voyage, the goal was exploration and the establishment of U.S. bases in Antarctica. Accompanying Byrd and his crew, a fearless team of sled dogs made the trek in the name of the U.S. Navy.

Arctic exploration depended heavily on dog sled teams and Byrd had specific requirements for the dogs. In fact, there are more than twenty-five communications solely about acquiring the right sort of dog, the numbers, their names, leader experience, weight and gender!

Reforming the Promised Land

Mabel Ping Hua-Lee is not unlike many suffragists we’ve featured previously––a brave woman who fought for something she had no hope of immediately or directly benefiting from. But her path to the cause of women’s suffrage took a slightly different path. Lee immigrated to the United States in 1896 with her father, and because he was a missionary, their family was able to enter based upon the exception outlined in the Chinese Exclusion Acts. While they were allowed to move to the U.S., Chinese immigrants were not allowed to become U.S. citizens, rendering them unable to vote. After fighting for women’s suffrage since she was a teenager, Lee was still not able to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Beyond her suffrage work, she accomplished much in the U.S., including becoming the first Chinese woman to obtain a Ph.D. at Columbia University.

Honor Your Ancestors

The National Archives helps us remember those who came before us and made us who we are. This summer, a generous member of our Board of Directors has offered to match all individual gifts received by the Foundation up to $25,000. We need your support, and you can double your impact today to help us continue to connect Americans to the stories of their past.

Become a Member

Private Mohammed Kahn

Born in Persia and raised in Afghanistan, Private Mohammed Kahn had already experienced many life challenges by the time he was 31 years old. Shortly after immigrating to the U.S., he enlisted in the 43rd New York Infantry Regiment and was one of only about 250 known Muslim soldiers to serve in the Civil War.

In Kahn’s approved pension file, we can see details of the situations he experienced while serving, including when he was arrested after being separated from his Infantry; the guard insisted that because he was not a white man, he could not have been part of a white unit.

An Orphan of the Holocaust

Like far too many immigrants to the U.S., 12-year-old Michael Puppa experienced tremendous hardship before calling America home. Michael’s parents were killed during the Holocaust when he was just four years old, and he and his uncle spent the next two years living in a forest, waiting out the end of World War II. After moving from one Displaced Persons camp to another, at age 12 Michael immigrated to the United States. He became a U.S. citizen at 19.

Read the full details of Michael’s story here.

Dress of Dreams

Held in the JFK Presidential Library, First Lady Kennedy’s iconic wedding gown may be one of the best preserved out there. While this wedding gown was featured in many magazines and newspapers, the story of the woman who designed the dress is less well-known. Ann Lowe spent just a few years in the segregated schools of Alabama, taking sewing lessons from her mother and grandmother, until she was able to move to New York to open her own dress salon. Lowe made a name for herself as the first African American premier dress designer, and sewed dresses for the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and the Bouviers, and was asked to be the seamstress for the wedding of the century. While uncredited at the time, Lowe’s legacy lives on today with her work shown in many museums around the country.

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For Feminine Safety

Before World War II, fashion was glamorous and flashy – a ripple effect of the Roaring Twenties. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, fashion changed drastically as men left to serve in the military and women took on civilian jobs at home. Functionalism and safety were valued more than standard femininity, and certain materials were rationed for military purposes. Learn more about how practicality became a trendsetter during the war.

At the Polls

Nearly 48 years before women won the constitutional right to vote, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for illegally voting in the 1872 presidential election. Mr. Beverly W. Jones, an election official at the polling place, testified in U.S. vs. Susan B. Anthony about his encounter with Anthony. Take a deeper look at his recollection and mark your calendars to commemorate women’s suffrage with the Archives next month.

Our New Destructive Force

From inside the B-29 Superfortress, the Great Artiste, Dr. Luis Alvarez, recounts his experience on the observation aircraft just minutes after the bombing of Hiroshima in a letter to his son. Alvarez tells his son that he hopes his involvement in creating this “new destructive force” will bring together countries of the world and put a stop to future wars.

From the Trenches

Upon their return from the frontlines during World War I, soldiers from the 36th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces were asked to write letters reflecting on their war experiences. Corporal W. R. Cox harrowingly describes his 23 days at the front under “hellish shellfire.” In his 1918 letter, he explains that there are truly no words to describe what he and his comrades went through, and expresses belief that if every human being could live through those same experiences, that Earth would have peace and goodwill forever.

An FBI Case File from Selma

As hundreds of Black Americans marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 7, 1965, they couldn’t have predicted that the day would go down in history as “Bloody Sunday.” In the FBI case file of the attack on the civil rights demonstrators, there are countless documents detailing the brutal moment. Read 17-year-old Arzula Sanders’ statement about that day.

Learn more about that day and the eyewitness account from U.S. Representative and civil rights crusader John Lewis here.

Man (and Others) on the Moon?

As the 51st anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing nears, we look back on the many photographs and records in our holdings from that monumental moment. This flight profile shows the path that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins took 51 years ago. But were they alone in their infamous moonwalk?

A Game of Eye Spy

In the Appendix of the Project Blue Book Report, the U.S. Air Force tracked the frequency of unidentified flying object reports in June, July, August and September 1952. You’ll notice that many spikes in UFO sightings over these four months correlate with media articles published about UFOs.

POTUS and UFOlogy

Apparently, even Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were drawn into the flying saucer craze. In a 1966 memorandum, then-Congressman Ford of Michigan proposed that “Congress investigate the rash of reported sightings of unidentified flying objects in Southern Michigan and other parts of the country.”

Then, in October 1969, the governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, saw a UFO over the skies of Leary, Georgia. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library has the full report that he submitted to the International UFO Bureau.

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Fifty Years in the Making

The first Declaration of Independence reading ceremony at the National Archives was held on July 4, 1970. Although some things have changed––we’ve swapped confetti cannons for real cannons and the crowd sports different fashions––more remains the same. The spirit and pride Americans bring to the July 4th celebration with the National Archives have become constants we can count on.

Take a look at July 4th at the Archives through the years:

  • – 1952: The Library of Congress, transferred the document to the National Archives. The first Independence Day it was on display at the Archives was July 4, 1953.
  • – 1969: The National Archives Fourth of July became more extensive. In the early afternoon, the U.S. Army Band played a concert on the Constitution Avenue side of the Archives.
  • – 1970: Visitors listened to the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence in the Rotunda.
  • – 1976: Celebrations reached new levels when the Declaration turned 200 years old and the Archives established its annual July 4th event. On July 2, 1976, President Gerald Ford spoke in the Rotunda to honor the Bicentennial.
  • – 1977: The National Archives created the National Bicentennial Time Capsule, which will be opened on July 4, 2075.
  • – 1990: The Declaration’s 15th annual birthday party included a reading of the document, Revolutionary-era music, a simulation of musket fire on Constitution Avenue, and a parade.
  • – 2001: The 225th birthday of the Declaration marked the last day until July 4, 2004, that the Declaration would be on display for the holiday.
  • – 2002–2003: The National Archives’ Fourth of July festivities took place at Union Station in Washington, DC, while the National Archives Rotunda underwent renovations.
  • – 2009: The National Archives exhibited a rare print on parchment of the Declaration of Independence—made from the original copperplate engraved by William J. Stone in 1823—which was on loan from David M. Rubenstein.

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Descendant of the Declaration

Civil Rights lawyer Laura W. Murphy has spoken several times at the National Archives July 4th celebration. Her connection to our nation’s founding? She is a descendant of Founding Father Philip Livingston, who signed the Declaration. But Murphy is also a descendant of Barbara Williams, a woman enslaved to the Livingston family. Murphy said if she could go back in time and speak with Livingston, she’d say, “You should make sure that all people, regardless of race, gender or religion, should enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Learn more about the descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Dunlap Broadsides

Long before people came to see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, the Declaration came to the people. Without televisions and high-speed internet, the colonists learned about America’s independence through a broadside––a large poster hanging in public spaces and town squares. This was the first public version of the Declaration, and you better believe we have an original copy at the National Archives!

Pomp and Parade

How did the Founding Fathers envision the nation would celebrate its independence from Britain? John Adams had a pretty good idea when he wrote a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, proclaiming that American independence “ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” That’s right––from fireworks to parades and festivities, our wise Founding Father predicted many of the traditions that are still in place on July 4th!

The Roosevelt Boys in WWII

The sons and daughters of thousands of American families heeded the call to serve their country during World War II––including the four sons of America’s First Family. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four sons all joined the U.S. Armed Forces and served with distinction and honor for the duration of the war. As was the case with many wartime GI’s, the Roosevelt boys left behind a loving father to worry about their safety. Learn about their stories.

My Wish for U.S.

Right now, history and democracy are taking center stage and we all have a role to play in shaping what comes next. Check out My Wish For U.S., a platform for contributing our vision for the future. For the first time in history, more than 65 history and civic engagement organizations from around the country have joined forces to engage the public in a conversation about what’s next. Add your wish and then explore what others are saying across the nation by searching location, demographics or topic. There are even some historical wishes. Share your wish with your social network or pass it along to your local representative so your voice is heard. What’s your Wish for U.S.? Learn more and submit your wish today.

It Is My Desire to Be Free

Letters written to the President often give a voice to the voiceless and provide snapshots of the political and cultural landscape of the past.

This letter was written by an enslaved woman from Belair, Maryland, Annie Davis, to President Lincoln 20 months after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Despite the expansive wording of the proclamation, which stated ”that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious areas “are, and henceforward shall be free,” the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union and it excluded parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most importantly, the freedom it promised depended upon a Union military victory.

The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the slave-holding border states that had remained loyal to the Union, including Maryland, where Annie Davis was from. In Ms. Davis’s letter to President Lincoln, she stated:

  • Mr. President It is my Desire to be free. to go to see my people on the eastern shore. my mistress wont let me you will please let me know if we are free. and what I can do. I write to you for advice. please send me word this[?] week. or as soon as possible. and oblidge. Annie Davis

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Fighting for Rights You’ve Been Denied

In this photograph, an 87-year-old man named Ike Sims from Atlanta, Georgia, holds up two signs with 11 stars to represent his 11 sons who enlisted in the service during World War I. While African Americans fought Jim Crow laws, legal segregation and racism on the homefront, many black men were eager to emphasize their status as American citizens and fight for their country during World War I. By the war’s end, roughly 370,000 African Americans had served our country. [Learn More]

Discover the story of these nine soldiers

Higher Education during the Great Depression

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played an important role in empowering and educating African American students for more than 180 years. During the New Deal era, HBCUs were critical. In a 1936 speech at Howard University, President Franklin D. Roosevelt underscored the importance of HBCUs. A collection of photographs from the National Archives tells a story of an underrepresented and unique time in American history––one of black students attending college during the Great Depression.

[ View the full collection. ]

(Transcript for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address at Howard University, given on 10/26/1936. National Archives Identifier 197359)

Excerpt from President Roosevelt’s speech:

“Its founding, many years ago, as an institution for the American Negro was a significant occasion. It typified America’s faith in the ability of man to respond to opportunity regardless of race or creed or color. …Today, we dedicate this new chemistry building, this temple of science, to industrious and ambitious youth. May they come here, to learn the lessons of science and to carry the benefits of science to their fellow men.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, October 26, 1936

Flour Sack Art

Here’s a head scratcher for you: the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum has one of the largest collections of flour sacks in the world. What’s more peculiar? These are no ordinary flour sacks. During World War I, these cotton bags were stenciled, embroidered, painted and remade into pillows, clothing and accessories.

The sacks were decorated by Belgium citizens to be sold in England and the United States to raise funds for food relief and to help prisoners of war.

During World War I, Herbert Hoover was chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). Through donated money and voluntary contributions of food, this commission fed over 11,000 Belgiums. Between 1914 and 1919, about 697,116,000 pounds of flour was shipped to Belgium.

But once empty, the flour sacks were dangerous. The German military could use them in producing ammunition. Therefore, the empty sacks were sent to schools, convents, and sewing workrooms, where women and girls transformed the sacks into works of art. Hundreds were sent to Herbert Hoover as thanks for the work of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and are now part of the Hoover Presidential Library.


Freedom Is Not Free

At the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. there is a mural wall with a critical reminder written in ten-inch silver letters: FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.

There is perhaps no more sobering depiction of the human cost of war than this photograph from the National Archives holdings of a grief-stricken American infantryman whose friend had just been killed in action. In the Haktong-ni area, Korea, another soldier comforts the infantrymen, while in the background, a corpsman methodically fills out casualty tags.

Discover how the work of the Archives in St. Louis has helped identify missing soldiers from the Korean War and send them home for burial.

The Story behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Visit the two-acre granite wall inscribed with 58,195 names in Washington, D.C., and you’ll see everything from flowers, family members tracing engraved names on parchment paper, and perhaps on very rare occasions, even a motorcycle. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was designed as a symbol of America’s recognition of the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. Learn about the story behind the wall with an online exhibit from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Poetry from the Front Lines

Walt Whitman is known as one of the greatest writers of the 19th century. But in addition to his poetry, he also used his pen in a lesser-known but important way. During the Civil War, he visited thousands of soldiers at the military hospitals, providing company, morale boosts and, most importantly, a helping hand to soldiers writing letters to their loved ones. Throughout the war, he drafted letters on behalf of soldiers who were not able to write themselves and sent them home to wives, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters.


Below is the transcription of a letter Whitman wrote on behalf of Nelson Jabo, a soldier serving in the 96th New York infantry throughout the Civil War.

Jan 21, 1865

My dear wife,

You must excuse me for not having written to you before. I have not been very well, & did not feel much like writing—but I feel considerably better now—my complaint is an affection of the lungs—I am mustered out of the service, but am not at present well enough to come home—I hope you will try to write back as soon as you receive this & let me know how you all are, how things are going one on—let me know how it is with mother—I write this by means of a friend who is now sitting by my side—& I hope it will be God’s will that we shall yet meet again—Well I send you all my love, & must now close.

Your affectionate husband
Nelson Jabo

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The Tomb of Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was established in 1921 at Arlington Cemetery. The unknown soldiers laid to rest at the tomb signify all the missing and unknown who gave their lives and their identities to protect our nation. Throughout history, Presidents of the United States have traditionally laid a wreath at the tomb in honor of those who have served our nation.

The National Archives also holds a sketch from the original plans for the tomb over the vault at Arlington Cemetery.

Nine from Little Rock

As we celebrate our school systems today, we remember our nation’s long and ongoing path toward justice and the individuals who paved the way for equal access to education. These individuals included the Little Rock Nine. Watch the 1964 Academy Award-winning short subject documentary produced by the United States Information Agency about the students who integrated Central High School in 1957. The film was restored by the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab.

Hats Off to the Grads

Commencement season includes serious knowledge dropped by academics, inventors, authors, artists, business people, and of course, political leaders. Some of these commencement speeches have eventually gone down in history.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson officially unveiled his “Great Society” in his commencement speech at the University of Michigan. “The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to… advance the quality of our American civilization,” Johnson told the graduates. “For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the ‘Great Society.’”

President Ronald Reagan’s commencement speech at Notre Dame University in 1981 reflected his vision of America and evoked great pride and optimism for the United States.

And he made a prediction: “The West won’t contain communism, it will transcend communism. It won’t bother to dismiss or denounce it, it will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.” A decade later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Learn about more history-making commencement speeches.

Moms Know Best

When Tennessee became the final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment and grant American women the right to vote, it should come as no surprise that a wise, strong mother was at the helm of the monumental legislative decision. The vote in the House of Representatives was tied, and Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old representative, provided the infamous “aye” that broke the tie and ratified the amendment. Burn had hoped the issue wouldn’t rest with him—he supported suffrage himself, but his constituents were opposed, and he faced an election that fall.

Why did he vote for ratification at the last second? His mother had sent him a letter asking him to be a good boy” and vote for suffrage. When explaining his vote, Burn said, “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.

After the infamous Tennessee vote, Governor Albert H. Roberts sent notice of the ratification to Washington, D.C., and on August 26, 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment effective August 18, 1920. Learn more about the road to ratifying the 19th Amendment and the women’s suffrage movement with our Rightfully Hers online resources.

Supreme Opinion

From her Supreme Court writing to the videos of her pumping iron, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a cultural icon. Did you know that RBG is a longtime fan of the National Archives? Just 16 days after she was sworn in to the Supreme Court in 1993, she came to the Archives to see the original 19th Amendment. In 2018, she visited the Archives Rotunda to swear in new citizens in front of the Constitution and for the D.C. movie premiere of “On the Basis of Sex.” So grab your popcorn and get ready to learn about the life of RBG!



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Sinbad the Sailor Dog

Believe it or not, we didn’t invent the concept of four-legged coworkers during the time of social distancing. In fact, sailors aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter CAMPBELL commissioned Sinbad the sailor dog as their on board mascot during World War II. His morale-boosting smile, bravery and fighting paws earned him several awards for his service.

His 11 years at sea were immortalized in film!

But his late nights gallivanting with the guys and ladies at each port also landed him in the doghouse more than once! Apparently, after one particularly raucous night out with the boys, Sinbad failed to muster and stayed sacked in his specially made sea hammock.


A Space for Women

Throughout American history, women have fought for equal opportunities in STEM fields in general and space exploration in particular. The women of NASA are a group of many firsts––the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, the first African American in space, Mae Jemison, and first woman to manage a spacecraft launch for NASA, Marjorie Townsend.

These brave trailblazers made it possible for young girls today to dream of being anything they want to be when they grow up––even astronauts.

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Sneaky Spies, ChapStick Lies

It’s no secret that the Watergate scandal had its share of eavesdroppers and bugfinders. A lesser-known piece of the puzzle, however, is that some of these bugs were found in the most unlikely places—even inside the tubes of ChapStick! The lip balm with hidden microphones were one of many bugs on display at the trial of the Watergate burglars.

Can’t get enough Watergate-era sneakiness? Check out the Watergate Files online exhibit from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.

Hey, Batter Batter

Nothing says spring like a day at the ballpark. Though baseball is on hold this season, we can look to our past and explore how our nation’s favorite pastime has made history. Presidents throwing out first pitches or hosting World Series winners at the White House are familiar images from each baseball season.

The connection between Presidents and baseball stretches back as far as Abraham Lincoln. According to research conducted for the 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration, Lincoln was playing baseball in Springfield, Illinois, when he was informed that the Chicago Republican Convention had nominated him as the Presidential candidate. Lincoln is reported to have responded, “They will have to wait a few minutes until I get my next turn at bat.”

Source: National Archives & Records Administration

Giddy Up

How are you communicating with friends and family during quarantine? While virtual happy hours and zoom conference calls might feel new, Americans have been redefining how we communicate for centuries.

April 3, 2020 marks the 160th anniversary of the first ride of the Pony Express, a mail service delivering messages, newspapers, and mail using relays of horse-mounted riders that operated between Missouri and California. With its young riders and horses delivering mail faster than ever before, it became a symbol of American individualism and the adventures of the American West.

Source: National Archives & Records Administration

In World War I, communication was extremely important. Unfortunately, technology—like the telephone or the telegraph—was not as reliable as the commanders of Europe would have liked.

In an attempt to improve combat communications, the leaders of World War I turned to a much older form of communication: the carrier pigeon. These pigeons were used by both the Allied and Central Powers to pass on important messages from the front lines.

Source: National Archives & Records Administration

To highlight women’s history, hear from former National Archives Foundation Vice President Cokie Roberts, Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters, and more to find out what some of our nation’s female leaders think about the future of women’s rights in America in the third video in our Rightfully Hers series.

This video is part of our Rightfully Hers initiative. Click here to learn more about the project and who made it possible.

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