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Application Denied!

Today’s blog post was written by Sam Rushay, a supervisory archivist at the Truman Presidential Library.

The application from Frances Curtis, part of the holdings of the Truman Presidential Library. Photo courtesy of the Truman Library.

In the late summer of 1945, Frances Sarah Curtis of Mt. Rainier, MD, applied for a White House pass. Curtis, a Treasury Department employee in the Bureau of Public Debt (BPD), had worked in the White House File Room for 10 days in June before returning to the Treasury Department.

Perhaps hoping for a permanent White House job, Curtis applied for a pass.

The U.S. Secret Service conducted a standard background investigation of Curtis. She did not receive a White House pass. Two reasons were given. The first reason was because she owed $100 in unpaid tuition to the Wilcox College of Commerce in Cleveland, OH, where she had taken secretarial courses from 1937 to 1939.

The second, more damaging, reason was the presence of her name on the mailing lists of the American Peace Mobilization (APM) and the Current Events Club, formerly the Council Education Alliance. The investigators note in the report that these “groups are considered Communistic in nature.” She had also contributed money to the APM. And while there was no evidence that she had ever attended any meetings, there also was “nothing to indicate that she was not active” with these groups. Known Communists had attended these meetings, although evidence suggested that Curtis herself was not a known Communist.

The evidence against Curtis was circumstantial and far from firm. The investigators report that “superficially, it appears that this applicant may have been directly connected with the Communist Party.” But they go on to state that “practically every person who has attended Glenville High School [which Curtis had attended], which is located in the Jewish Center of Cleveland, has, at one time of another, subscribed to one of these alphabetic groups, or at least put on their mailing lists.”

Page from the report on the application submitted by Frances Curtis. Photo courtesy of the Truman Library.

Frances Curtis had no police record, and her efficiency ratings as a typist at the BPD for 1944 to 1945 were “Very Good.” All of her personal references and employers submitted favorable information concerning her services, character, reputation, and loyalty to the U.S. Government. She was described as a single 26-year-old white female who lived with her parents.

There is no record that shows if Curtis was ever informed why she was denied a White House pass. Nor is there any indication that the Secret Service ever gave her an opportunity to explain her memberships. Curtis’s associations undoubtedly affected her career, even though she retained her job at BPD. This raises the question of how Curtis was too untrustworthy to receive a White House pass but trustworthy enough to continue her employment at the Treasury Department.

The investigatory memorandum for Curtis’s case reads as if it was written during the time of McCarthyism, although it predated that era by almost five years. During the Truman administration (1945–1953), the Secret Service denied few applications for White House passes. In one case, an application (file #5-P-2319) was recommended for a man who had been jailed for attempted rape in 1925.

The story of Curtis, who died in 1995, emerged from recently opened Secret Service records that are now available for research at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Her file, #5-P-2173, is one of thousands of background investigation files concerning applicants for White House jobs during the Truman administration.

George Drescher, a Secret Service supervising agent and author of the memorandum requesting a routine background investigation of Frances Curtis. Drescher is in the center of the photo, behind President Truman and Harry Vaughan, military aide to the President. Courtesy of the Truman Library.


Honoring the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”

Today’s post comes to us from Michael Hussey, education and exhibition specialist at the National Archives.(He’s also a speaker at tonight’s program!)

Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913. In honor of her centennial, “Public Law 106-26, An Act to authorize the President to award a gold medal on behalf of the Congress to Rosa Parks in recognition of her contributions to the Nation,” is on display at the National Archives until February 28.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks went as usual to her job as a seamstress.  By the time she returned home, her role as an enduring symbol of the African American civil rights movement had begun.

Fingerprint card of Rosa Parks, from "Aurelia S. Browder et al. v. W. A. Gayle et al., No. 1147," from the Civil Cases series of the Records of District Courts of the United States.

Seamstress Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus on December 1, 1955, after her day’s work. The driver ordered her to move to the back to make room for white passengers, in compliance with the state’s racial segregation law.  She refused, and her arrest sparked a successful boycott of Montgomery buses (led by 26-year-old minister Martin Luther King, Jr.) that led to their integration. Her courageous act at a pivotal moment in the American struggle for racial equality led some to name her the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

In 1999, Congress authorized President Clinton to bestow upon her its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.  At the medal ceremony, the President noted the “ripples of impact she had on millions of people who lived in the United States.” She reminded us, he said, that for many Americans, “our history was full of weary years—our sweet land of liberty bearing only bitter fruit and silent tears. And so she sat, anchored to that seat, as Dr. King said, ‘by the accumulated indignities of days gone by, and the countless aspirations of generations yet unborn.’”

Rosa Parks at the ceremony to award her the Congressional Gold Medal, June 15, 1999. From the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives

A glimpse into the Civil War experience of Company F

Today’s blog post comes from Mary Burtzloff, archivist at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

The black leather-bound journal had water stains and mold around the edges. It looked a bit icky, but the contents of the Civil War journal fascinated me.

One hundred and fifty years after our nation’s bloodiest conflict, we are  reminded of the lives and accomplishments of famous men like Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. The experiences of ordinary Americans (31 million or so who are not featured in films and books) are much more mysterious. What sort of people were they? How did they experience the war? George Boardman’s story helps me relate to those missing multitudes.

I began identifying Civil War–related holdings at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library as I worked on a proposed exhibit. Believe it or not, a 20th-century Presidential library may have records from the 19th (and even 18th) century, too!

My favorite find was the journal of George Boardman, a young man who served in Company F of the 22nd Maine Infantry from October 1862 to August 1863. Mrs. M. Hobart gave the journal to President Eisenhower in 1967. It is currently displayed in the exhibit “Civil War: Lincoln, Lee and More!” at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas.

The diary entry for George Boardman's Christmas dinner in 1862 (click to enlarge). He served in Company F, 22nd Maine Infantry. The diary is currently on display at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

I researched Boardman’s life using digitized census and military records on, Fold3, and the National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (the records themselves are mostly at the National Archives). I learned that George was 19 years old when he enlisted in the Union Army. He grew up in Calais, Maine, a Canadian border town that thrived on lumber and shipping. In 1860, 17-year-old George worked as a clerk, probably in his father’s shipping business. Back then, on-the-job training substituted for higher education in most professions, and even ambitious young people often finished their schooling at a young age.

When he enlisted in the 22nd Regiment for nine months’ service, George probably knew many of his comrades in Company F. He wrote of many things: the pride and anxiety they experienced as they paraded through downtown Calais before departing for Bangor; his encounter with citizens who did not welcome Union troops; a miserable trip in a dirty coal car; his fear that death would soon intrude on the grand adventure for him and his friends; cold, rainy nights; his excitement at glimpsing the ironclad Monitor. The self-conscious humor and gawking at unfamiliar sights gave way to a more matter-of-fact style as the months progressed.

Although George never became famous, he recorded details of life that stir my imagination. Soldiers gave tongue-in-cheek names to the four-man tents they occupied (Boardman and his pals lived in the “U.S. Hotel”), fired a “National salute” at the enemy on the Fourth of July, and gamely celebrated Christmas with meals (breakfast, lunch, and supper!) of hardtack and salt beef. Did you know hardtack is so durable that well-preserved pieces from the Civil War still exist?

In a sense, Boardman’s journal seems timeless; I am sure our military today can relate to the mix of excitement and boredom, drudgery and novelty that he depicted.

Oh, and remember the water stains and mold? On March 16, 1863, as Boardman camped five miles from Baton Rouge, it “Rained hard all night. Spoiled my photographs and journal.”

See the diary on display though March 31, 2013, in the exhibit “Civil War: Lincoln, Lee and More!” at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas.

2013 Regional Residency Fellowship: Request for Proposals

Erika Lee, author of "Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America," found her grandmother's records in the National Archives in California. The records were also featured in our recent exhibit "Attachments."

The National Archives, with the generous support of the Foundation for the National Archives, announces the 2013 Regional Residency Fellowship Program’s Request for Proposals.

The Residency Fellowship Program gives researchers the opportunity to conduct original research using records held at National Archives locations in Boston, MA; Denver, CO; Fort Worth, TX; Riverside, CA; San Francisco, CA; and St. Louis, MO. Researchers can explore overlooked records and experience what many researchers have discovered: that it is not necessary to go to Washington, DC, to do research at the National Archives.

For 2013, one fellow will be assigned to each of the participating National Archives facilities, for a total of six fellowships. Each fellow will receive a $3,000 stipend, funded by the Foundation for the National Archives, to assist with travel and research expenses.

The Fellowship recipients are expected to complete a research project that results in a publishable product. Each recipient will also prepare a short report (within one year of receiving the Fellowship) for publication by the National Archives that describes the research experience: the discovery, method, and use of the records.

We encourage our Fellowship recipients to use social media to talk about their experience. At the end of their research visit, Fellows will also conduct a staff briefing to share their discoveries.

Academic and independent historians, public and local historians, and writers are encouraged to apply. Current National Archives employees and contractors or their immediate family members are not eligible.

Submit proposals by email or mail. Proposal must be received by March 15, 2013. Awards will be announced May 1, 2013.

What to send:

  • A description and justification for the project, not to exceed six pages. This proposal should include:
    • a description of the records to be used for research (there should be enough records in your location for a research visit of at least one week);
    • a listing of the records that will be used at the location;
    • the proposed final product; and
    • the significance of the project to historical scholarship.
  • Please also include:
    • Vita (no more than three pages) including current contact information; and
    • two letters of recommendation.

Proposals should be sent by mail or email to the NARA facility the researcher intends to use for the fellowship.

2013 Fellowship locations

Boston, MA

National Archives at Boston
2013 Fellowship Program
380 Trapelo Road
Waltham, MA  02452-6399
Tel: 781-663-0121
Fax: 781-663-0154

Denver, CO

National Archives at Denver
2013 Fellowship Program
17101 Huron Street
Broomfield, CO  80023
Tel: 303-604-4740
Fax: 303-604-4750

Fort Worth, TX

National Archives at Fort Worth
2013 Fellowship Program
1400 John Burgess Drive
Fort Worth, TX  76140
Tel: 817-551-2051
Fax: 817-551-2034

Riverside, CA

National Archives at Riverside
2013 Fellowship Program
23123 Cajalco Road
Perris, CA 92570-7298
Tel: 951-956-2040
Fax: 951-956-2049

San Francisco, CA

National Archives at San Francisco
2013 Fellowship Program
Lee J. Ryan Federal Building
1000 Commodore Drive
San Bruno, CA 94066-2350
Tel: 650-238-3501
Fax: 650-238-3510


St. Louis, MO

National Archives at St. Louis
2013 Fellowship Program
Attn: Ashley Mattingly (RL-SL)
P.O. Box 38757
St. Louis, MO  63138

For FedEx and UPS deliveries ONLY:

National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
Room 340, Ashley Mattingly
St. Louis, MO  63138-1002
Tel:  314-801-0620
Fax:  314-801-9187

Getting Ike into the Loop

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

“I am a newspaper reporter and I would like to know if anything unusual happened during either of President Eisenhower’s inaugural ceremonies.” —Anonymous


California Cowboy Montie Montana lassoes President Eisenhower in the reviewing stands at the inaugural parade, January 20, 1953 (Eisenhower Presidential Library)

Have you ever seen a U.S. President lassoed by a cowboy? It likely qualifies as “unusual!” General Eisenhower related this incident while describing the 1953 inaugural parade in his 1963 memoir, Mandate for Change: “A California cowboy, riding a highly trained horse, got clearance from the Secret Service, stopped in front of me, and threw a lasso around my shoulders.”

The “California cowboy” was none other than Montie Montana, motion picture star and rodeo rider. No one can say for sure what exactly was going through Eisenhower’s mind at the moment the lasso fell over his shoulders, but it might have been a severe bout of regret that the inaugural parade committee did not take up Mr. Montana’s earlier suggestion of simply presenting him and Vice President Nixon with their very own ten-gallon cowboy hats right there on the reviewing stand.

Hats for the inaugural ceremony, were, as it turns out, a topic of some consideration. Eisenhower favored a Homburg but was told that tradition dictated a silk hat. Eisenhower replied that if they should be so concerned with what happened in the past, “we could wear tricornered hats and knee britches.” Stylish!

Do you have a question? The Eisenhower Presidential Library Facebook page hosts a weekly “Ask an Archivist” question. Of course, library staff answer every reference question we receive, but not all questions will be posted to “Ask an Archivist.” Questions will be edited for length and privacy. If you would like to ask a question, please contact us!