We the People
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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]
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.
(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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.