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Friday, October 2, 2015

Flashback Friday: William J. Rhees

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

William J. Rhees, 1893

What better way to kick off American Archives Month than to take a look at the Smithsonian's first archivist, William J. Rhees?  Rhees had a long career at the Smithsonian, beginning as a general assistant and private secretary to Joseph Henry, the Smithsonian's first secretary. In 1891, Secretary Samuel P. Langley established an archives for the Smithsonian and he asked Rhees to be its keeper.

William J. Rhees in his office

Rhees's personal hobbies of collecting autographs and manuscripts often mixed with his daily work. His official files often mixed with files for his many publication projects. In 1857, He wrote An Account of the Smithsonian Institution which functioned as a guide and history of the National Museum as well as two decades of the Visitor's Guide to the Smithsonian Institution. He wrote on the James Smithson and published several more volumes on the history of the Smithsonian.

William J. Rhees, c. 1860s

Rhees was an integral part of the Smithsonian. He worked for three secretaries as Chief Clerk, serving as Acting Secretary whenever the Secretary was out of town, and his job description included sixty-six different duties. While maintaining the archive, Rhees continued his responsibilities as Chief Clerk and was also in charge of publications for the Smithsonian.  After his death, the Board of Regents passed a memorial resolution in his honor, describing him as a trustworthy officer, model citizen, and born archivist.

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant
Smithsonian Institution Archives

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