About the National Archives

Remarks at “America’s First Ladies: In Service to Our Nation” Conference

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building
September 16, 2016

Good morning and welcome to my house, the National Archives!

Created by an Act of Congress in 1934, the mission of the National Archives is to collect, protect, and preserve the records of the U.S. Government––and make those records available so that the American citizen can hold its government accountable and learn from our past.

Today the collection has over 13 billion textual documents, 43 million photographs, miles of video and film, and more than 5 billion electronic records—the fastest growing format. These records start with the Oaths of Allegiance signed by George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge and continue up to the tweets created at the White House as I speak.

And the National Archives is more than just this building––we are a nationwide network of facilities. One of the busiest places is the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which houses the records of 56 million veterans. The center responds to over a million requests each year and the documents preserved are evidence required by veterans to obtain a wide variety of benefits including military honors, VA medical treatment, and security clearances for work.

The Presidential Libraries are also part of the Archives. From Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush these Presidential Libraries are not libraries in the usual sense: they are archives and museums––bringing together the documents and artifacts of the President, the administration, the First Lady, and the family––and presenting them to the public for study and discussion without regard for political considerations or affiliations.

And we will soon have another––the future Obama Library in Chicago, Illinois! This year a temporary storage site was chosen in the Chicago area, and we started to hire staff for the Library. We are hard at work packing artifacts and preparing records for the move to Illinois. By January 20, 2017, we will have transferred hundreds of millions of textual, electronic, and audiovisual records, and tens of thousands of Presidential gifts.

The papers of the First Ladies Office are part of the collections of the Presidential Libraries. There are more than 21.4 million pages of records and personal papers in our collection. Issues such as the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign of Mrs. Reagan and the public land beautification campaign of Mrs. Ladybird Johnson are of great scholarly interest.

Our conference today is about the relationship between the First Ladies and the military and their support of service members, military families, and the veterans.

In the 18th century, Martha Washington visited the troops at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War and today First Lady Michelle Obama leads the Joining Forces initiative which ensures service members, veterans, and their families have the tools to succeed throughout their lives. 

The First Ladies have had to meet personal and public demands. Each has brought her own passions and personality to the job, and we are fortunate to have their legacies documented in our Presidential Libraries.

Now, allow me to introduce my friend Anita McBride. 

She is Executive-in-Residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, DC. She previously served as assistant to President George W. Bush and chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush from 2005 to 2009, directing the staff’s work on the wide variety of domestic and global initiatives in which Mrs. Bush was involved.

Anita's White House service spans two decades and three presidential administrations, including as Director of White House Personnel under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush; and as Director of the U.S. Speaker's Bureau at the United States Information Agency.

She is an advisor to the George W. Bush Institute and a member of several organizations, including the US Afghan Women's Council, the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and the White House Historical Association.

Would you please welcome Anita McBride.