Life in the Archives

What piece of advice would you give to future William and Mary women?

Learn from the women who came before you. Each generation has its challenges, and oftentimes those challenges are very similar. It’s helpful (I think) to know you are not alone.

In your interview, you were so passionate about your work, and the “people” you meet while working. Can you describe how you approach working in the archives, and how the people you’re reading about come alive to you? To go along with that, who are some of your favorite people you’ve “met” through working in the archives?

Given the immense volume of record material, combined with limited staff resources – it isn’t possible to read every document, much as I might want to.  Sometimes, however, a person’s papers or the records of a specific office dictates taking a closer look. In that regard, it’s easy to get lost in someone’s life, where you may be like “I wonder what happens next,” “what happened to so-and-so,” etc. For some collections, I felt a connection to the long-deceased person whose letters I’m reading.  For others, I may have finished the project not liking the person at all. One of my favorite W&M folks is Earl Gregg Swem, for whom the main library is named. It’s through his efforts that we have a Special Collections at W&M. He was also on the committee which raised the funds for the College Mace. The Mace is my favorite W&M artifact, and it pleases me to no end knowing he had a hand in its creation as well as being the person entrusted with its care. The Mace has been on display in the Library since it was given to the W&M students at Charter Day in 1923.

What has been the greatest challenge for you as a woman working at William and Mary, and in archival research in general?

I feel lucky to work in Swem among a lot of smart, talented women.  In regards to archives, the reality is that vast majority of the institution’s records, especially those from leadership offices, are from the perspective of men.  It’s much more challenging to find the female voice within the institution’s records. That is all due to change, however, considering there are more women in leadership roles here than ever before.

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