Archivist remarks welcoming Vice President Biden on the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act
September 9 2014, Rotunda National Archives Building, Washington DC
Welcome! It is an honor to have you all here in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building. This hallowed hall holds our founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
John Russell Pope designed this building as a "temple to American History." He believed only a monumental building in his beloved neoclassical style could appropriately showcase the most treasured documents of our democracy. He made the National Archives Building taller than the neighboring structures, surrounded it with a moat, and set it at an angle to emphasize the importance of this building to the American people. He wanted everyone to know that records matter.
Let me give you a little background on the National Archives. We opened our doors in 1935 with a mission to collect, protect, and preserve the records of the U.S. Government. And, most importantly, to make the records available so that the American public can hold its government accountable and learn from our past. We are the final destination of the most important records of the United States Government — that one to three percent deemed by departments and agencies to be important enough for permanent preservation here.
Today that collection translates into about 12 billion sheets of paper, 42 million photographs, miles and miles of video and film, and more than 5 billion electronic records—the fastest growing record form. These records include Oaths of Allegiance signed by George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge, the Louisiana Purchase, the check for 7.2m dollars with which we purchased Alaska, all the acts of Congress, including the Violence Against Women Act, as well as the Tweets that are being created by the White House as I am speaking right now.
We are now in more than 40 facilities across the country, including Presidential libraries that house the records of the last 13 Presidents — from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush — and provide an invaluable record of each President's tenure and the times in which he was in office. And one of our busiest facilities is the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which houses records of some 56 million veterans as well as the records of former civilian employees.
Over one million visitors each year come to this Rotunda to see the very pen strokes from more than 200 years ago. Here at the National Archives, history comes to life; we house the tangible reminders of where we have been, how far we have come, and what is possible for each and every American.
Each record, large or small, is a representation of a greater story, many of which are still being told today in daily life. The National Archives tells everyone's story.
We are proud to be in a country that values openness and transparency and allows its history to written and shared. And the Violence Against Women Act is one of the pieces of our written history, a story of triumph that continues to be told, 20 years later.