Publication Date

March 1, 1989

Perspectives Section


Reclaiming Our Past: Landmark Sites of Women’s History

The National Coordinating Committee, the Organization of American Historians, and the National Park Service have joined efforts in a project to increase awareness and appreciation of historic sites commemorating women’s experiences, struggles, and accomplishments.

Despite the fact that the National Historic Landmark Program is over 25 years old, only about 3 percent of the approximately 2000 National Historic Landmarks focus on women. The Landmark program has the mandate of identifying sites of national significance, to mark them, and to encourage private initiative in their preservation. Unlike the National Register of Historic Places, now listing over 50,000 sites that have local and state as well as national significance, the Landmark program is limited to those sites of national significance that possess exceptional value for illustrating or interpreting the nation’s history.

Discussion during Congressional hearings on the operation of the National Historic Landmark program led the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs to recommend that “the National Park Service establish an ongoing and substantial cooperative effort with the major professional and scholarly societies to research and publish National Historic Landmark Theme Studies.” Building on this recommendation, the goal of the project, “Reclaiming Our Past: Landmark Sites of Women’s History,” is threefold: to increase the number of National Historic Landmarks that commemorate the experiences of women; to develop theme essays that integrate the tangible resources of women’s past with recent scholarship on women’s history; and to involve the wider scholarly and preservation communities in preparation of this theme study. Special efforts will be made to identify sites associated not only with famous and exceptional women but also those more representative of their time and place. The use of tangible resources is particularly appropriate for the study of women’s history because fewer documents on women are available and because women’s experiences were often closely associated with sites such as homes, schools, and settlement houses.

The NCC director will serve as the Washington coordinator for the project. Please contact the NCC office if you have a special interest in women’s history, the built environment, and material culture and if you have specific recommendations of sites to be considered for nomination as a National Historic Landmark. Contact , Director, NCC, 400 A St., SE, Washington, DC 20003.

Federal Suit to Prevent Destruction of White House Computer Tapes

Journalist and author Scott Armstrong and former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, with other plaintiffs, filed suit on January 19 against President Reagan, President-elect Bush, and the Archivist of the United States to prevent the destruction of secret National Security Council internal computer messages, commonly known as PROFS (Professional Office System, originated by IBM). The National Archives’ position has been that most of the items on the electronic tapes were brief messages, equivalent to telephone slips, and that substantive statements or memos of permanent value were printed out and preserved in paper form. However, Armstrong said the Iran-Contra affair demonstrated that many important messages existed only on tape. In response to the suit, the White House has stressed that that there was nothing improper about the destruction of the electronic tapes because leaving the National Security Council computer system clogged with Reagan administration data would be a handicap to the new administration. The restraining order to prevent the destruction of the electronic records was originally to expire on January 30. However the judge has extended the time and a hearing may not occur until mid-February. Members of both the Senate and the House have expressed concern about this matter for it raises larger issues about the authority of the Archivist and federal policies for dealing with electronic records.

National Endowment for the Humanities

Before leaving office President Reagan made a series of recess appointments, including two appoints to the National Council on the Humanities for terms expiring January 26, 1994. These were Gary L. McDowell, a historian and former member of the staff of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Jeanne J. Smoot, a member of the comparative literature faculty at North Carolina State University. Such appointments may stand through the 1989 congressional session unless confirmed by the Senate for a longer period of time. If the Senate does not hold confirmation hearings on these recess appointments, President Bush may resubmit these names or submit new names.

Report Released on the Effects of Electronic Recordkeeping on Preservation of Federal Historical Records

In 1987, the National Archives asked the National Academy of Public Administration to undertake a review of the impact of electronic technology on the historical records of the federal government. The purpose of the review was to determine the extent to which the federal government uses electronic technology and whether or not decision-making or policy documents are being lost. In February the National Academy of Public Administration completed the study and presented to the National Archives a report titled “The Effects of Electronic Recordkeeping on the Historical Record of the U. S. Government.” The report concludes that though federal agencies currently retain policy documents in paper form that “a number of factors are at work that imperil the historical record.” Describing this as a transition period, the report noted the ways in which electronic technology is increasingly influencing the workplace, the roles and responsibilities of federal employees, and the documentation of the work of government agencies. “A coordinated federal effort, led by NARA,” the report states, “is needed to exert a shaping influence both on the technologies themselves and ways they are used.”

In specifying some of the actions needed, the report includes seventeen recommendations which involve additional research, coordination, and training as well as changes in administrative procedures and uses of resources. While many agencies are involved in information policy, the report makes clear that “the National Archives and Records Administration, as an independent agency, must take the lead and develop a systematic, long- term strategy for electronic records.”

Page Putnam Miller
Page Putnam Miller

University of South Carolina