About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission Meeting

Archivist's Reception Room, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
February 27, 2019 

Thank you very much. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. And we are honored to have you with us today. I can’t think of a better place for you to be having a meeting like this than at the home amendment, right here in this building.

A special welcome, you are all very important, to my colleagues from the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. The three of us are in the same business, collecting, protecting and celebrating our history through our collections. So it is very nice to have another opportunity for us to work together.

And I am very proud to have my Deputy representing us on this commission––Deb Wall. Thank you!

So the Archives was created, the legislation was signed by Franklin Roosevelt. When Franklin Roosevelt was dedicating his presidential library in Hyde Park, he kind of summer up his vision, which is very much the vision that we have been fulfilling though our history. He said:

It seems to me that the dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith.

To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things.

It must believe in the past. 
It must believe in the future. 
It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.

And that is what we are all about, collecting, protecting, and encouraging the use of the records of government so that the American people can hold its government accountable and learn from our past.

We are now in 44 facilities across the country, 14 presidential libraries. All of our military and civilian personnel records are in a facility in St. Louis.

It is a huge empire, a collection of about 15 billion pieces of paper, 43 million photographs, miles and miles of film and video, and 6 billion electronic records so far. And that’s the biggest challenge and that is the agenda for the National Archives for the near future. It is shifting the government info full electronic recordkeeping.

And we are working on the President’s agenda on digital government. Electronic recordkeeping is an integral part of the digital government initiative. Every agency is now creating their records electronically. They will soon be delivering to us only electronic records. That is the wave of the future. And our goal is to ensure that those records, just like paper records, are being created in such a way that a hundred years from now people are going to have the same or even better access to the history of our country through our records.

You are going to have an extraordinary tour at lunch time to get up close and personal with some of the records we have pulled from the vault to share with you some of our history.

And keep in mind…the thing that impresses me every day on the job is that these records have survived. The Charters sit in the Rotunda. They were signed in Philadelphia. They were dragged to New York when the capital changed. And then they came to Washington. The British burned the town during the War of 1812. The night before, a clerk in the State Department, Stephen Pleasonton, realized the records were at risk, rolled them up, stuffed them in linen sacks, commandeered a wagon on the street, and took them into the hills of Virginia. It is the only reason they are sitting in the Rotunda today.

There are stories like that for all of our records.

So enjoy your time with us. And a personal invitation from me to come back for the opening of “Rightfully Hers,” our exhibit celebrating the 19th amendment, which opens on the 10th of May. So thanks for being with us.