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Friday, October 15, 2010

Career Day at the Archives

This image of John Pye appeared in the Baltimore American, 1925.
As we celebrate American Archives Month, I thought it would be a great time to highlight the John Pye papers, a collection that I often use during Career Day at the Anacostia Community Museum to educate young people about the importance of archives and to generate interest in the archives profession. Who was John Pye? What records exist in the personal papers of a seemingly ordinary man that could illustrate to students the value of archives?

Mr. Pye served as a messenger, chauffeur, butler, and cook in the White House during the administrations of Woodrow Wilson through John F. Kennedy. The papers contain correspondence, photographs, and newspaper clippings which provide a documentary record of the role of domestic workers to the inner workings of the White House. To exemplify, I show correspondence sent to Mr. Pye from the White House Luncheon Club and newspaper clippings from the 1940s and 1950s, which mention Pye by name. I stress to the students the value of preserving primary sources, for they contribute to “America’s collective memory.” I ask the students, “What if Pye’s family had disposed of his memorabilia?” Would his material be available for future generations of researchers and scholars without an archival repository for people to visit physically or electronically? By the end of my presentation, if I have inspired one student, I feel I have contributed to something bigger than myself. Ooh, and it helps that I wear white gloves; it gets them all the time!

John Pye purchasing war bond from President Roosevelt, 1942.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

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