Contribute to our blog!

One of the Women ARchivists Section’s (WArS) goals for next year is to increase communication between the members about what we’re all collectively doing. So many of the members of this roundtable have started their own archives-related direct action as a response to the election. The WArS steering committee invites you to share information about your projects and contribute to our blog.

Please include: your name, institution, the title of collection or digital project you’re working on, the scope of that collection or project, lessons learned and a URL or link. We love to hear about and share your projects in general, but we’re especially interested in anything our members are working on that centers intersectional social justice and/or community-driven work. Send entries to Co-chair Stacie Williams.


Identifying and Crushing Barriers, Women’s History, and Workplace Inclusion: The National Archives’ Women’s Affinity Group

Guest post by Elizabeth Dinschel

The country, or mostly women, are buzzing about the wage gap, but does the gap exist in fields dominated by women such as Museums, Archives, or Libraries? Maybe not in the way you think, but the gap exists. I founded the Women’s Affinity Group (WAG) at the National Archives and Records Administration to address some of the obvious barriers, highlight the important contributions women have made to history through our collections, and provide inclusive activities to help women who may be struggling in the workplace. It is worthy of note that the executives and senior level staff have been abundantly supportive of the Women’s Affinity Group and all affinity groups across NARA. In fact, the first people I discussed the affinity group with were Debra Wall, Deputy Archivist of the United States, and Maria Stanwich, Chief of Staff, who encouraged me to start the affinity group. I had that conversation with Maria and Deb in 2013, but WAG was not officially chartered until December 2015.

The National Archives uses a database called Performance Measurement and Reporting System (PMRS) to collect and track all kinds of NARA data. Shortly after I started working for NARA, I was introduced to the wonders of PMRS. I am kind of a statistics geek, so I dug into the numbers and what I found was alarming. Number one – even though women made up more than half of the workforce (51% to be exact), we did not even make up half of the executive positions (27% to be exact). In fact, women stacked up at one pay level (the glass ceiling) and rapidly decline in pay grades after that. Why? I wish I knew. The pay grade where women stack up feeds into management, so there is not a pipeline issue. I know this is complicated by several factors, but no one could seem to place their finger on why this was happening, so NARA is working on a barrier analysis to identify the root causes.

Number two – women were leaving NARA and retention of female employees is 2-3% below male employees. On the issue of retention, most people assume, falsely, that women leave their jobs to start or tend to families. They are wrong. But for the group of women who do have children and return to the workforce, they may be faced with challenges where they are discriminated against and not protected by FMLA. The American Association of State and Local History just posted a blog about the experience of motherhood in small museums. Fortunately, federal employees do enjoy FMLA leave, but retention is a concern, of course. For the women we fear are leaving for lack of opportunity, WAG started working with Learning and Development to advertise career advancement trainings such as- resume writing, applying for jobs, building Individual Development Plans (IDP), etc. We are also committed to advertising leadership training opportunities and providing spaces for women to discuss the unique difficulties or challenges they face.

One of the issues women are faced with is the lack of historical recognition of the accomplishments of women. Since most of us are, in some way, public historians, this is a big blow to our professions. In an effort to remedy that, the Women’s Affinity Group will be revamping the women’s sections of the NARA webpages, hosting social media events like Wikipedia edit-a-thons (our social media team told me that 90% of Wikipedia contributors are male and they recognize there is a gender gap in contributions. Wikipedia knows it). WAG will be reaching out across the country to bring NARA’s records of the Suffrage Movement and the centennial of the 19th Amendment to as many people as possible as well. Fortunately we can help bring the story of women to the country through NARA’s rich collections.

Lastly, WAG is launching some activities across NARA to promote inclusion. Recently, we launched a quarterly book club where members of WAG, all genders, select a book and then we hold a discussion with Debra Wall, the Deputy Archivist of the United States. WAG members are encouraged to start clubs at their respective sites and discuss the book on our employee pages. Our first book selection was, Wendy McClure, The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of the Little House on the Prairie. We have discussed clothing swaps and mentorships, but everything is in its infancy.

We know the mountain is steep and things will not change overnight, but we will encourage our colleagues to keep applying for management positions, take advantage of professional development opportunities, and to lean on each other because it is not just about “leaning in.” After all, Madeleine Albright said, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” so we will make sure we help each other take credit for our work and ideas and we will always take our seat at the table.

Elizabeth Dinschel is a historian and the founder and Chair of the Women’s Affinity Group for the National Archives and Records Administration. She is currently the Education Specialist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Formerly, she was the Oral History and Education Coordinator for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum. All views expressed in this blog post are that of Elizabeth Dinschel and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Archives and Records Administration or the United States Government.

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 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 . 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 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.)