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Monday, October 18, 2021

DAWN V. ROGALA'S CIRCUS PHOTOGRAPHS: A SMITHSONIAN COLLABORATION

By David Haberstich

October is American Archives Month! I’m celebrating it with this backstory and update to an SI Collections Blog post by former Smith College intern Kira Leinwald, published in late 2019. Kira’s insightful post, emphasizing the cultural dimensions of circus traditions, enthusiastically described some of the fascinating photographs in the NMAH Archives Center’s Dawn V. Rogala Circus Photographs and Papers, also the subject of a book entitled When the Circus Came to Town! An American Tradition in Photographs (Photographs by Dawn V. Rogala; Essays by Dawn V. Rogala,  David E. Haberstich, and Shannon T. Perich. Dr. Rogala, now a paintings conservator at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, was a professional photojournalist during the years of her self-assigned circus project. See Kira’s article, "The Traditional, International American Circus" at https://si-siris.blogspot.com/2019/10/the-traditional-international-american.html.

This book has recently been awarded the 2021 Stuart Thayer Prize by the Circus Historical Society, so this is a fitting stimulus to update the story of the collection and the book. Don Covington, president of the society, wrote, “The award is presented annually by the Circus Historical Society in recognition of superior documentation of circus history. Your book, ‘When the Circus Came to Town,’ was deemed by the selection committee to be the top entry in a crowded field of competitors.”

Early on, Ginger Minkiewicz of The Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press expressed interest in publishing a book on Dr. Rogala’s circus photographs. At the same time Dawn was concerned about preserving her photographs from this multi-year project in a suitable repository, and engaged in discussions with Shannon Perich of the NMAH Photographic History in the Division of Work and Industry and myself in the NMAH Archives Center. We both wanted Dawn’s photographs! We easily reached an appropriate compromise. Dawn donated her original negatives, work prints, and related papers from her circus project to the Archives Center, but also prepared a new portfolio of 16” x 20” exhibition-quality prints as a gift to the Photographic History Collection, giving new life to the documentary photographs she had created decades earlier.

Dawn was available to consult on the arrangement of her archive, although it was already in a logical, meaningful order when she delivered it to the Archives Center. I emphasize her role as a congenial consultant, as I know archivists and curators with cautionary tales about allowing donors to “curate” their own collections! Dawn worked with me and Kira Leinwald, answering questions, offering suggestions, and explaining how her working methods as a photographer and journalist had informed her decisions about arrangement. Processing was completed by Alison Oswald.

Dawn, Shannon, and I simultaneously embarked on a related collaboration, the creation of the lavishly illustrated scholarly book mentioned above, for which we all wrote essays. Dawn recounted her fascinating experiences in photographing a dozen small traveling circuses over a seven-year period, “embedded” with her subjects in much the same sense that war photographers are said to be embedded with the troops they follow and photograph. Shannon wrote about Dawn’s photographs within the historical context of circus, carnival, and entertainment photographs. As Dawn’s images concentrated on circus people and their behind-the-scenes work and relationships, rather than the spectacle of circus performances as entertainment, I chose to write about her images within the context of “work” photography and its history. Her pictures vividly depict the muscle work of practice and rehearsals, of erecting and dismantling tents, training animals, and the myriad efforts of performers and other workers to create a spectacle for audiences. I also contributed a preliminary finding for the archival collection and other reference material to an appendix in the book. All three of us reviewed each other’s texts, trying to meld them into a cohesive, informative, and entertaining volume. To me, our most rewarding collaboration was the selection, sequencing, and layout of the photographs to be reproduced in the book, conducted by all three of us in several long sessions in conference rooms with large tables. We seemed to be of a single mind, with no significant disagreements.

"Kiss," by Dawn V. Rogala. Copyright © Dawn V. Rogala. Reproduced with permission. Gelatin silver print, Photographic History Collection, National Museum of American History. 




Ephemera from the Archives Center's Rogala Collection: Route Cards for Kelly Miller Circus and Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, 1995.

This archival collection contains a rich trove of information beyond the pictorial documentation, including interviews with circus performers and personnel, memorabilia and colorful ephemera, rare publications, travel itineraries, and related documents. One senses the end of an era, as some of the circuses which Dawn lovingly photographed no longer exist, literally having folded up their tents for the last time.

Our book serves as an extension of Dawn’s circus archive, as it contains her biographical commentary, observations, and fond reminiscences of her travels with the circuses. As a paintings conservator at the Smithsonian’s MCI, she employs the keen analytical eyes she developed as a documentary photographer. She also has to her credit a number of scholarly and scientific books and other publications in her field.

Now here’s the shameless plug: our book, When the Circus Came to Town! An American Tradition in Photographs / Photographs by Dawn V. Rogala, Essays by Dawn V. Rogala, David E. Haberstich, and Shannon T. Perich, is available from the usual sources, and would make a great Christmas/holiday gift!   

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Monday, October 4, 2021

Gardens: The Universal Language

By Taylor Elyea

In January 1937, one hundred forty-seven members of The Garden Club of America ventured on a nineteen-day trip to numerous sites in Mexico. Extensive documentation of that journey, now part of The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens, makes it clear that the members covered a vast array of Mexican landscapes, gardens, and sites. The group trekked to landscapes in Guaymas, Mazatlán, the Barrancas, Guadalajara, Uruapan, Pátzcuaro, Morelia, Mexico City, Taxco, Cuernavaca, and many other cities. One of the sites visited by the group was the former home of Zelia Nuttall (1857-1933), an aficionado of Mexican gardens and botany and notable American archaeologist.

Zelia Nuttall (1857-1933)

Born in San Francisco to a Mexican-American mother and Irish father, Zelia Nuttall’s love for the Mexican landscape ultimately culminated in her purchase of Casa Alvarado, a 16th-century mansion in Mexico City. Here she explored her newfound interest in Mexican gardens and botany by studying garden and landscape art as well as medicinal herbs. She authored the monograph, The Gardens of Ancient Mexico, which was reprinted in the Smithsonian’s Annual Report for 1923, and shared her love for Mexican landscapes by hosting many visitors in the gardens at her home.

GCA members at lunch in the gardens at Casa Alvarado, former home of scholar Zelia Nuttall. 

It was in these gardens that members of The Garden Club of America enjoyed a luncheon as guests of William Richardson, manager of the National City Bank’s Mexican branch. A copy of Nuttall’s article was provided to each GCA member, courtesy of the Garden Club of Mexico. 

Walled garden, the Churubusco Monastery. Both sites in Mexico City were just two of many visited by the GCA in January, 1937.

During their 1937 trip, GCA members met with their counterparts from a number of different garden clubs throughout Mexico.  A few lines from a detailed travelogue of the trip published in the March, 1937 Bulletin of The Garden Club of America sums up the universal tie that a shared love of gardens brings: “…we have left them with our hearts and our gratitude, eternally…we said goodbye to them with real affection and regret.”

Taylor Elyea
2021 Virtual Summer Intern 
Archives of American Gardens 


Monday, June 28, 2021

From March to Marketing: The Changing Face of Pride

By Franklin A. Robinson, Jr.

The Stonewall uprising of 1969 was triggered by a New York Police Department (NYPD) raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.  Although a common NYPD practice at the time, on this particular occasion patrons rebelled and fought back, igniting the spark leading to the modern gay rights movements. The Archives Center at NMAH has been actively collecting documents, ephemera, and Pride-related materials since the early 2000s.

While the uprising may have been the spark, the marches commemorating the uprising the following year were the fire. The first celebrations, termed “Gay Liberation Day” or “Christopher Street Liberation Day,” later to be known as Pride, were held on June 27 and 28, 1970 in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, and San Francisco. Many LGBTQ organizations, including the Daughters of Bilitis, Gay Activists Alliance, Gay Liberation Front, the Mattachine Society, and others converged on these major cities to, in the words of one New York City marcher, “serve notice on every politician in the state and nation that homosexuals are not going to hide any more.” Even though the number of national and international Pride celebrations continues to grow annually, the road to universal celebration has not been smooth, with local LGBTQ organizations often encountering social and legal roadblocks before being allowed to celebrate. * 



Program for the Christopher Street Pride Celebration in Los Angeles, California, July 1976.

Central Intelligence Agency poster collected at Washington, DC Pride in 2019.

As the LGBTQ community has gained broader acceptance, one aspect of Pride that has changed radically is the corporate and community presence at Pride street fairs. During early Pride celebrations recognizable corporate logos, participating community organizations, churches, educational institutions, and locally based businesses were few or non-existent. During present-day celebrations more and more groups, businesses, and entities look to celebrate the event and compete to be a Pride sponsor. Multi-national corporations such as Comcast, Lockheed Martin, and Price Waterhouse Coopers, LLP, actively promote their companies at Pride. Government agencies, among them, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Park Service, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) showcase their internal LGBTQ affinity groups as well as highlight employment opportunities. Colleges, universities, local businesses, and community organizations all vie for prime table space at Pride street fairs.

Modern day Pride has become an opportunity for not only celebration and commemoration but also for product and service advertising, educational and community organizations to dispense information, businesses to target potential customers, all the while remaining a diverse platform for performers, activists, and community leaders. The progression of Pride will be the subject of an upcoming NMAH Tuesday Colloquium on August 10, illustrated with items from the Archives Center's collections.

* Sources:

“Thousands of Homosexuals Hold a Protest Rally in Central Park,” Fosburgh, Lacey, New York Times, June 29, 1970, page 1.

“15 to 20,000 Join Homosexual March.” Battenfeld, John for United Press International. The Atlanta Constitution, June 29, 1970, page 2A.

“Homosexuals Get ACLU Aid in Fight for Parade Permit.” Houston, Paul, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1970, page A1.

“Homosexuals Stage Hollywood Parade,” Houston, Paul. Los Angeles Times, June 29, page 3.

“Gay Liberation Stages March to Civic Center,” Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1970, page A3.

Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., Archivist, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Note:
If you wish to attend Franklin Robinson's August 10 colloquium on Zoom, which will feature Archives Center collection items, contact David Haberstich at haberstichd@si.edu.

Seeking Pride in Our Collections

By Hannah Byrne 

Like so many employees across the Smithsonian (and at museums, libraries, archives, and cultural heritage institutions around the world), at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives we are anxious to get back into collections to pick up research projects we put down at the start of the pandemic.  At the Archives, we help collect, preserve, and tell the stories of Smithsonian employees and community members. One research project that was halted by our departure, was looking more closely at our collections to understand the history and experience of LGBTQ+ employees at the Institution. 

As we celebrate Pride this year, we’re looking back at one of the founding documents of the Smithsonian Lesbian and Gay Issues Committee. In this memo, Smithsonian employees Leonard Hirsch and Eric Keller, as representatives of the committee, sought formal recognition from Smithsonian administration for the group to operate and advocate effectively for LGBTQ+ employees across the Institution. The memo--luckily for us was already digitized--accompanied the group’s founding guidelines. We learn so much from this document: the group’s origin and connection to National Coming Out Day, the invisibility of LGBTQ+ employees at the Smithsonian, and the work they hope to accomplish as an advocacy group. When we return to the archives, we hope to explore more collections related to this topic to learn more about this group, more about the diversity of their members, more about their initiatives, and more about their successes and challenges to advocate for LGBTQ+ employees at the Institution. 


Memorandum from Leonard P. Hirsch to James Early, June 3, 1991, page 1, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 15-218, Image no. SIA2017-045374a.


Memorandum from Leonard P. Hirsch to James Early, June 3, 1991, page 2, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 15-218, Image no. SIA2017-045374b.


Hannah Byrne, Program Assistant, Institutional History Division,




Monday, June 21, 2021

Joseph Cornell Study Center Processing Project

By Anna Rimel

Joseph Cornell with Book Object, circa 1940


In the summer of 2017, I began work as the archivist of the Joseph Cornell Study Center collection in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). My task, to put it simply, was to arrange, describe, and make accessible a room full of the studio contents, personal and family papers, and library and record collection of collage artist and avant-garde filmmaker Joseph Cornell (1903-1972).




Joseph Cornell's Basement Studio. Photographed by Terry Schutte.



Working primarily from his basement studio at home in Queens, New York – a home that he shared with his mother and brother for their whole lives – he collected a wide range of materials that he would store in cardboard boxes or cigar boxes. Images clipped from magazines, articles from newspapers, and scattered notes often resided in overstuffed folders or in stacks along various surfaces of his studio.

My first task was to familiarize myself with the history of the collection and how it came to be at SAAM – no small task, since the collection began with a donation from Joseph Cornell's sister, Elizabeth Cornell Benton, in 1978, along with several additional donations and transfers of personal materials into the 1990s. A veritable treasure trove of material giving insights and contextual clues to Joseph Cornell's work and life, the collection has been available to visiting researchers and previously included in comprehensive exhibitions and publications on the artist. But access was previously limited by the extreme extent and variety of the materials and the lack of a complete finding aid (an organizational document providing description of contents and contextual information) to the collection.

The next step was to familiarize myself with the physical materials, the extent of groups or types of material, and determine if the creator of the collection, Joseph Cornell, had any organizational systems in place and maintain those systems. I also needed to determine if there were any conservation or preservation concerns, which ultimately required going through all of the items in the collection to make a preliminary assessment.




An array of damaged negatives found in the Joseph Cornell Study Center during processing. Photograph by Anna Rimel, 2019.





An example of a rusted paperclip found in the Joseph Cornell Study Center collection during processing. Photograph by Anna Rimel, 2019.


As most gatherers of things are aware, materials kept in basements and attics where temperatures and humidity tend to fluctuate, are often more at risk for mold, rust, and pests. Since the collection has been in a climate-controlled space for upwards of 40 years, any discovered damage was likely due to the materials themselves degrading. For example, archivists are generally averse to keeping old paper clips in collections because these tend to rust and damage paper, and this was no exception for this collection. Also, in a collection like this it is not unusual to discover unstable film and paper materials, such as old newspapers and newsprint or nitrate and acetate film negatives.

Acetate film negatives were introduced in the 1930s and the popular film negative used until the more stable polyester film was introduced in circa 1960. Acetate negatives, after a number of years and depending on their storage conditions, can break down and off-gas, becoming a risk to materials stored near them, and negatives can warp and wrinkle, rendering the image inaccessible. Newspaper, inherently unstable and acidic, becomes brittle over time.

These materials need special housing considerations and take more measured and planned approaches as other processing and arrangement work continues. The extent of this type of material, material that needed more attention and care, turned out to be much more than originally anticipated, causing me to necessarily adjust workflows and timelines. 





Joseph Cornell's source material box of "Mouse Material" in the Joseph Cornell Study Center. Photograph by Anna Rimel, 2018.


But my work hasn't been all rusty paperclips and brittle pages. One of the most interesting aspects of Joseph Cornell's life has been how nostalgic he appeared to be about so many things. He might be having a good day, taking a walk, and find a rusty bit of metal or a pull tab from a soda can. He would pick up that found bit and attempt to capture that good day by scrawling a little note, or a date and a word, and fold it around that bit of metal. These were the constant surprises of the collection, in addition to whimsically labeled boxes of other stuff – "Mouse Material" being one of my favorites. Much to my relief, this box doesn't actually contain mouse fur, but what appears to be gathered dust or lint from a vacuum.

While working through what amounts to Joseph Cornell's life and a kind of fractured story of his artwork and ideas, there's a certain urge to create groups of material based on known works of art. This urge simply comes from wanting to understand Cornell's mind and present a body of material that makes sense to outside eyes. However, the work of an archivist is not to contrive groups of material or force things to fit into our need for order, it is to understand the original intent behind a stack of paper, given contextual clues, folder titles, or material type. With Cornell, the complexity of a found objects artist combined with an individual who nostalgically collected and gathered so much, this work was often like untangling an especially knotted bundle of chain jewelry. For me, this meant that I never decided a group of material was about any one thing unless explicitly stated through labels and notes by Cornell himself. Oftentimes, a group of material was about more than one thing, idea, person, memory, etc.

Understanding this, my next step, apart from reading extensively about Joseph Cornell, was to come up with a planned arrangement for the collection. With a collection numbering hundreds of boxes, a planned outline is necessary to make the work doable. Having gone through the collection and available inventories, I could estimate which boxes would include which kind of material, according to my arrangement, and approach the collection work in this way. Of course, with all great plans comes the possibility for adjustments along the way, and that is part of the work as well. Having tackled the overall high-level approach to the collection, I then spent the next several years working through each item – unfolding notes, removing paper clips and staples, removing materials from envelopes, interleaving acidic documents with archival paper to extend the life of the material, and properly housing everything in new, acid-free and lignin-free folders and boxes. I began with the paper-based documents, which made up a large part of the collection. My approach was to think of the collection as large groups of material: with the paper-based materials as one group, including photographs, prints, magazines, letters, financial records diaries, etc.; the three-dimensional objects that require special housing considerations and a different approach, as another part of the collection; the library collection of hundreds of boxed books with notes and annotations, as another part; and the record album collection as another part. Each of these larger groups has been described in the same comprehensive finding aid to the collection, but housing and planned physical approach differs for each type of material.





Shifting work in progress as files of material are placed in their appropriate locations. Photograph by Anna Rimel, 2019.



Going forward, further work can be done to physically get the collection to where it needs to be, but the collection now has a publicly accessible, comprehensive description in the form of the finding aid, which is a big step towards accessibility and findability of such a significant, unique collection of an important American artist.

To learn more about the Joseph Cornell Study Center collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, please visit https://americanart.si.edu/research/cornell

To view the finding aid to the collection, please visit https://sova.si.edu/record/SAAM.JCSC.1

Anna Rimel, Joseph Cornell Study Center Archivist, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Monday, June 14, 2021

Collections-Based Research and Zoom Programs

By David Haberstich

     The pandemic of 2020-2021 suddenly and ruthlessly limited human interaction, but educational institutions and organizations responded rapidly to fill the gaps. Everyone had to “pivot” in some manner from old ways to the “new normal.” Much formal learning took place in virtual classrooms, while separate Zoom and YouTube programs on a wide variety of specialized topics proliferated. As the National Museum of American History prepared to shut down in March 2020, one of my disappoint-ments was having to cancel or postpone indefinitely the remaining schedule of speakers for the weekly NMAH Tuesday Colloquium series which I had assembled. After a few months, as it became clear that the health crisis was not going to disappear soon, it seemed like a good idea to “pivot” the Tuesday Colloquium from its in-person setting in a conference room, complete with tea and cookies, to a virtual Zoom room. The procedures for hosting and managing a Zoom meeting are relatively simple and easy; I’ve had far more technical trouble over the years just trying to project a computer image onto a conference room screen!

Our ability to expand colloquium audiences is aided by Zoom. People who might be unable to attend in person can watch on their computers, and I can provide recordings on demand to those with schedule conflicts. Audiences were very large for a series of eleven related colloquia called “Pandemic Perspectives,” woven through our general schedule to fill gaps. This special mini-series was assembled by a team of NMAH curators who utilized the usual colloquium mailing list, plus targeted audiences and wider publicity. Rather than featuring a single speaker, each “Pandemic Perspectives” program was built around a panel composed of NMAH staff and outside experts for each topic. Nearly all of those programs were illustrated with NMAH collection materials as points for analysis and discussion—for example, objects from the medical history collections.


Mulford Rabies Vaccine Outfit, ca 1921. From the Division of Medicine and Science, National Museum of American History. This particular image was not part of a "Pandemic Perspectives" colloquium, but other NMAH collection materials related to pandemics, vaccination, and related topics were included.


The NMAH Tuesday Colloquium has been a tradition in the museum for decades. (See my post about its history at https://si-siris.blogspot.com/2018/06/nmah-tuesday-colloquia-from-research.html.)
It was originally intended as a forum for curators, other staff, and fellows to present their research, but we invite outside speakers as well, especially colleagues recommended by staff. Programs presented by staff and fellows frequently feature information about collection items from the museum. After all, the need to study materials in the museum’s rich collections is usually part of the rationale for research projects by staff, fellows, and visiting scholars. Collection artifacts have been featured in many NMAH Tuesday Colloquium presentations, including a recent illustrated lecture by Jennifer A. Porter-Lupu, an NMAH fellow and Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, Northwestern University: "Excavating Healthcare Inequalities: Mapping Disease and Drug Access in Washington, DC, 1890-1920."

If you would like to be on the mailing list for the NMAH Tuesday Colloquium, please leave your request in a comment here, or email me.

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography, Archives Center, National Museum of American HistoryCoordinator, NMAH Tuesday Colloquium; haberstichd@si.edu

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Elizabeth Peratrovich: An Early Civil Rights Activist from Alaska

By Mikaela Hamilton and Nathan Sowry

On February 16th, 1945, nearly 20 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the first anti-discrimination law in the United States was signed into effect. The Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945 was created to address discrimination against Indigenous populations within the Alaskan territory by banning segregationist policies based on race. The successful passing of this act has often been credited to the dedicated work of Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich (Tlingit), a prominent figure in the fight for equality and civil rights in the early twentieth century.

As of this month, the Peratrovich family papers are now available online, and will soon be available for research and reference in the National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center. This collection includes photographs, audio recordings, correspondence, and newspaper clippings documenting the life and important civil rights work of Elizabeth and her husband Roy. 

Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich, 1911-1958.
Peratrovich family papers (NMAI.AC.078), NMAI.AC.078_001_01_021.

Elizabeth (Ḵaax̲gal.aat) was born on July 4, 1911, in Petersburg, Alaska, as a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan, in the Raven moiety of the Tlingit nation. Elizabeth spent the first decade of her life in Sitka, a coastal city in southeast Alaska, until her family moved further southeast to the Native village Klawock, where Elizabeth met her future husband, Roy Peratrovich (Tlingit). Although Elizabeth and Roy spent their early years at segregated boarding schools, they were able to graduate from Ketichikan High School, which was integrated following a lawsuit won by attorney William Paul (Tlingit). In 1931, Elizabeth married Roy Peratrovich. They had three children: Roy Jr., Loretta Marie, and Frank Allen. 

In 1941, the Peratroviches moved to Juneau, the capital of the Alaska Territory, in search of more opportunities for themselves and their children. Although they encountered hostile white homeowners who refused to rent to Native Americans, they persevered to become one of the first Indigenous families to live in a non-Native neighborhood. They soon took on leadership roles within the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood. Throughout Juneau, discrimination was ubiquitous; local businesses commonly displayed signage reading "No Natives Allowed," "No Dogs, No Natives," and “We cater to white trade only." After encountering a “No Natives Allowed Sign” on a local inn just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Elizabeth and Roy were driven to write a letter to Governor Ernest Gruening in protest, marking the beginnings of their political activism to establish legal protections for Indigenous people in Juneau and beyond. The letter read, in part:

“The proprietor of ‘Douglas Inn’ does not seem to realize that our Native boys are just as willing as the White boys to lay down their lives to protect the freedom that he enjoys. …We as Indians consider this an outrage because we are the real Natives of Alaska by reason of our ancestors who have guarded these shores and woods for years past."

Letter from the Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich to Ernest Gruening, Governor of Alaska, December 30, 1941.
Peratrovich family papers (NMAI.AC.078), NMAI.AC.078_001_02_001.

Successfully gaining Governor Gruening’s support, Elizabeth and Roy began a campaign to pass an anti-discrimination bill in 1943. With a vote of 8-8 in the House of Alaska’s two-branch Territorial Legislature, it failed to pass. Undeterred, Elizabeth continued to tirelessly campaign across the Alaskan territory. After garnering public support, Elizabeth and Roy, representing the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood, brought a new anti-discrimination bill before the Alaska Senate in 1945. In an eloquent two-hour long testimony, Elizabeth stood before a white male majority and eloquently argued for an end to racial discrimination within Alaska. 

During the hearing, Allen Shattuck, a Juneau territorial senator, asked Elizabeth “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?” Elizabeth famously responded, “I would not have expected that I, who am ‘barely out of savagery,’ would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.” A local newspaper printed that she “shamed the opposition into a ‘defensive whisper.’” The Alaska Equal Rights Act of 1945 was signed into law by Governor Gruening on February 16, 1945. The Act provided that all Alaskans be entitled to “full and equal enjoyment” of public areas and businesses and banned signs that discriminated based on race. This marked the end of “Jim Crow” laws within Alaska.

Transcript of Alaska Territorial Senate Hearing regarding proposed Equal Rights Bill, February 6, 1945.
Peratrovich family papers (NMAI.AC.078), NMAI.AC.078_001_02_082 and NMAI.AC.078_001_02_083.

In recognition of her antiracist advocacy to provide equal accommodation privileges to all citizens regardless of race, in 1988 the state of Alaska posthumously established February 16th as Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich Day. More recently, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Law, Elizabeth Peratrovich appeared on the 2020 Native American $1 coin design. That same year, a Google doodle featuring the work of Tlingit and Haida artist Michaela Goade (Sheit.een) commemorated Elizabeth’s life and activism. Elizabeth and Roy’s efforts helped to pave the way for continued Indigenous activism within the United States. 


Mikaela (Mik) Hamilton, Intern, National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center

Nathan Sowry, Reference Archivist, National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center