Mid-20th Century Changes in the Archives Profession: Guest Post by Cheryl Stadel-Bevans

By Cheryl Stadel-Bevans, SAA Treasurer

During the Women Archivists Roundtable (WAR) meeting at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists, panelists discussed the feminization of the archives profession. One person wondered what had led to some of the changes, and I offered some context. I’m going to expand what I said then here and offer some additional resources.

The cultural decade of the 1960s, which is sometimes defined as the time period from 1957 (the launch of Sputnik) to 1974 (the resignation of Nixon), brought a multitude of changes to American society. It was the era of space travel, hippies, Civil Rights, the Great Society, Vietnam, Woodstock, assassinations, cover ups, and student activists. It also saw the introduction of The Pill in 1960 and the launch in 1963 of the second-wave of feminism with the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

Likewise, the 1960s also brought many changes to the archives profession. In 1961, SAA had about 1,300 members and subscribers. By 1971, it had about 1,000 more. Accompanying this increase in membership was a boom in the number of universities and colleges establishing institutional archives. J. Frank Cook estimates that 600 such programs were begun between 1960 and 1980, with the greatest concentration being in the 1960s and early 1970s. [Cook, pp. 165, 167]

This growth in the number of archives and archivists heralded strong growth within the profession. It generated an increased demand for formal training, a number of regional and specialized archival professional organizations, and greater diversity in the type of archival institutions. During this time, leadership of SAA transitioned from being run by federal archivists to having a stronger state component, and by the mid-1970s was transitioning to having a strong academic focus.

The number of archival programs also grew. Prior to the 1960s, there were few formal training programs for archivists. The most notable ones were in the library program at Columbia University and the history program at American University. Wayne State University launched its program in 1962 and others followed. Many graduate library programs were shuttered in the late 1980s and early 1990s only to see a resurgence in the late 1990s and the Internet age.

What, then, does all of this have to do with the feminization of the profession? I do not have the data to detail causation, which I think could be a great research project for someone. I believe that the confluence of women entering the workforce in greater numbers, the shift in employment opportunities from government to academic archives, and the expansion of graduate archival programs within library science departments first in the 1970s and then in the late 1990s all have a part to play in the changing nature of the archival workforce.

Further Readings

  • Berner, R.C. Archival Theory and Practice in the United States: A Historical Analysis; University of Washington Press: Seattle, WA, 1983.
  • Cook, J.F. “The Blessings of Providence on an Association of Archivists.” American Archivist 1983, 46, 374-399. Reprinted in American Archival Studies: Readings in Theory and Practice; Jimerson, R.C., Ed.; The Society of American Archivists: Chicago, 2000; 143-173.
  • Gilliland-Swetland, L.J. “The provenance of a profession: The permanence of the public archives and historical manuscript traditions in American Archival Theory.” American Archivist 1991, 54, 160–173. Reprinted in American Archival Studies: Readings in Theory and Practice; Jimerson, R.C., Ed.; The Society of American Archivists: Chicago, 2000;123–141.
  • Hildenbrand, S. “Library Feminism and Library Women’s History: Activism and Scholarship, Equity and Culture.” Libraries & Culture, Vol. 35, No. 1, Winter 2000; 51-65. Available online at https://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~lcr/archive/fulltext/LandC_35_1_Hildenbrand.pdf. Accessed 15 October 2015.
  • IIP Digital “Decades of Change – 1960-1980: The Rise of Cultural and Ethnic Pluralism.” U.S. Department of State, blog post. Available at http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/publication/2008/04/20080407123655eaifas0.7868769.html#axzz3ofc02e3o . Accessed 15 October 2015.
  • Maack, M.N. “Women in Library Education: Down the Up Staircase.” Library Trends — “Education for Librarianship in America, 1887-1987” 34:401-432 (Winter 1986). Available online at https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/7440/librarytrendsv34i3e_opt.pdf?sequence=1. Accessed 15 October 2015.
  • Stadel-Bevans, Cheryl L. and Bell-Russel, Danna (2010) ‘United States: Part I Archives and Archival Science’, Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, Third Edition, 1: 1, 5389 — 5414. (Particularly the section on Professional Societies and Professionalism.)

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