National Historical Publications & Records Commission

NHPRC News -- August 2020

Inside the Commission

Continuing Operations

In response to the national health emergency, staff at the National Historical Publications and Records Commission have been working remotely since mid-March. We are continuing to monitor open projects, and based on Office of Management and Budget guidance, we are looking for ways to assist your organizations. Please share with your Program Officer via email with any concerns you have due to the COVID-19 restrictions. You can find contact information on our website at

Archivist David S. Ferriero on Founders Online

Seven years ago, we launched Founders Online. In partnership with the University of Virginia’s Rotunda electronic imprint and documentary edition projects, we made a freely accessible and searchable online resource for people to read the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.

At the June 13, 2013, launch, some 119,000 documents were available, and today that number has grown to 183,000 documents, fully annotated, from the authoritative Founding Fathers Papers. That number will continue to grow as more documents are transcribed, annotated, and added to the database.

The modern documentary editions of the papers of these six Founders began in 1943 with the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, with the first volume appearing in 1950 using research assistance of the staff of the  National Historical Publications Commission, the body that later became the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The Commission issued a report to President Harry Truman in 1954 that recommended the comprehensive collecting, arranging, editing, and publishing of the papers of other individuals of outstanding importance to the founding of the nation. The success of the Jefferson Papers led to the launch of other projects: Adams and Franklin (1954), Hamilton (1955), Madison (1956), and Washington (1968).

The idea for a grants program was endorsed by President John Kennedy before his death in 1963 and, the following year, the Ford Foundation awarded $2 million to the Commission to use to provide the initial grant funds for the publishing of these collections as well as the documents associated with the ratification of the Constitution. Congressional appropriations began in 1965, and all six projects have received grant support. The Hamilton Papers project was completed first with the publication of its last volume in 1987, and the other five are working toward completion of authoritative print and online editions.

Every day, some 4,000 people access the site, and even during the early days of the COVID-19 health emergency, loyal readers were able to find and use the site for research on projects ranging from family genealogy to classroom use to writing books and articles. This year alone some 133 articles, from a National Law Review article “Is Treason Applied as the Founders Intended” to a Smithsonian article on George Washington’s genealogy, used documents from Founders Online as a resource.

Writers of book-length studies have discovered the usefulness of the searchable database that drives Founders Online. New works such as Martha Brockenbrough’s Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary, Robert L. O’Connell’s Revolutionary: George Washington at War, Peter Stark’s Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Father, and David O. Stewart, Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America cite the website. 

On C-SPAN’s Q&A show with Brian Lamb, David O. Stewart said:

“I am a huge fan of Founders Online, which fundamentally changed my research and writing in large ways and small….Though I live in the Washington area and can get to the Library of Congress, working from home saves me two hours a day in commuting time…. Also, with Founders Online I can copy-and-paste passages that I want to quote, which reduces the donkey work of transcription and also eliminates the inevitable transcription errors. Finally, Founders Online is especially valuable in the final stages of preparing the manuscript, when you look back over your research notes and realize something about the source material that your notes don’t reveal. Is that because the source document didn’t say anything about the subject, or because your notes are lousy? Every history writer keeps a list of questions or problems like that to be addressed. With Founders Online, you can double-check those problems very readily. Convenience matters.”


In addition to historical studies and biographies of the men and women behind the documents that populate thematic studies such as Lawrence Aje and Catherine Armstrong, editors, The Many Faces of Slavery: New Perspectives on Slave Ownership and Experiences in the Americas, Corey Brettschneider’s The Oath of Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents, and Susan Subak’s The Five-Ton Life: Carbon, America, and the Culture That May Save Us, which cites numerous letters to and from George Washington and to and from Thomas Jefferson as historical background in a book about returning to a lower-carbon footprint culture.

Lawyers use it in their briefs, amici curiae and otherwise. Government officials rely on its accuracy in laying the foundation for their remarks on everything from the Intellectual Property Rights Policy Advisory Group to the White House Historical Association’s article on “Thomas Jefferson’s Cabinet.” 

Teaching American History and America in Class have built lesson plans around special topics in early American history based on documents in Founders Online. It also shows up on the syllabi for courses in American history, political science, and economics at colleges and universities, including Harvard, Penn, the University of Georgia, and there’s even a website tying together the original Alexander Hamilton letters to “Hamilton,” the musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda even gave a shout out to the primary sources on Twitter.

Media, social and otherwise, mine the trove. WETA, a public television station in Washington, DC, had a piece called “L’Enfant’s Guide to Getting Fired.”  Blubrry’s podcast on the U.S. Presidents is one of several using Founders Online, and there are dozens of Reddit threads and a slew of Wikipedia articles which rely on the site’s authority. We’re even in the dictionary. Merriam Webster turns to Benjamin Franklin, no less,  in its word history of a firebrand “”

And I am pleased with how Founders Online connects to the mission of the National Archives to provide access to the federal records in our care. At present 3,773 citations show up from a search for “National Archives” on Founders Online, and some of them have been digitized and the facsimiles added to the National Archives Catalog. 

Here’s how to connect the dots: To see the handwritten letters these transcriptions are based on, you first need to identify the archives or library that holds the original. This is indicated in the source note (generally three letters) of each document located at the bottom of each document. Mouse over the code and the full name of the repository will appear.

Let’s say you are looking for the 1790 letter from Jefferson to Washington accepting the position of Secretary of State ( At the bottom of the Founders Online transcription are these codes: RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR). “RC” = “recipient’s copy” and DNA is the National Archives, Record Group 59, Miscellaneous Letters Received.” You could then search the National Archives Catalog and find the document reproduced there.

Founders Online brings us back to the enlightened era that brought life to the American ideal, gets us as close as we can get to the “room where it happened,” through the words recorded in the collection. Browse, take a long read, be inspired again.


Grant Deadlines 


Access to Historical Records: Archival Projects

For projects that ensure online public discovery and use of historical records collections.
Final Deadline:   October 8, 2020

Public Engagement with Historical Records

For projects that encourage public engagement with historical records.
Final Deadline:   October 8, 2020

Publishing Historical Records in Documentary Editions

For projects to publish documentary editions of historical records.
Final Deadline:   October 8, 2020


News from the Field


Transcribing Jane

"The first time I tried to read Addams's adult scrawl, I tearfully despaired of ever deciphering, much less analyzing, her correspondence. The strategy I settled upon for handling this problem was to start back with Addams's childhood writings (and her childhood penmanship) and simply learn to read her hand by sequentially mastering each new idiosyncrasy she acquired over the course of her adolescence and young womanhood. The method worked; by the time I read Addams's hasty notes from Hull-House, I could decode what she was saying. . . . Grasp of her handwriting became a metaphor for comprehending her life." -- Victoria Bissell Brown, The Education of Jane Addams (2004)
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Jane Addams with school children, c. 1930. Courtesy Library of Congress

Before historians might determine the context of a document, they often must first decipher the text. For scholars of the progressive reformer and activist Jane Addams (1860-1935), the task of reading her “scrawl” is being made easier by the work of the Jane Addams Papers. With support from the NHPRC, a scholarly editing project at Ramapo College of New Jersey is publishing her correspondence and writings from 1901-1935. Working with students and citizen archivists, the editors are publishing a freely accessible digital edition and selected print edition. 
Understanding Addams is critical to understanding late 19th and early 20th century American history. Not only did she co-found the Hull House settlement to serve the poor in Chicago, she led fights to pass reforms on child labor, the corrections system, and the women’s suffrage movement. She was among the founders of the NAACP, headed the Women’s Peace Party, and was president of the International Congress of Women. In 1931 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, the first American woman to be so honored.
The Jane Addams Digital Edition is more than a straightforward collection of her correspondence and other papers. The site is rich with resources drawn from a digital humanities lab, with biographies, profiles of affiliated organizations, a chronology linking documents to particular events, a tag-frequency chart, a linked list of repositories holding originals, a blog, and much more. And the cherry on top: a wonderfully-written blog.
My favorite part of it all may well be the public invitation to participate in the project by transcribing handwritten letters. Editor Cathy Moran Hajo has created some useful tips on how to read Jane’s rather hasty hand, including an alphabet with examples of each character.  
The Jane Addams Papers project represents a new and creative way of thinking about an historical documentary edition. NHPRC’s support of the project stretches back to the early years of creating a microfilm version of available documents, and we are excited to be able to finally read Jane’s handwriting and to explore her remarkable life.



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Soldiers patrol northeast of Cu Chi, Vietnam, in November 1969. Photo by Jeffrey H. Hinman, Dartmouth '68.

Dartmouth Vietnam Project


An NHPRC grant to Dartmouth College is supporting the development of a suite of digital tools to use with oral history collections to aid researchers to accurately discover and use these records. Using the Dartmouth Vietnam Project archive of 133 interviews, a project will devise new methods for adding metadata to digital oral history interviews, including a TEI-conformant tag library, as well as techniques for adding geospatial data to the interviews. The project will then test the methodology by encoding 100 selected interviews held by the online archive of the Oral History Project at the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, and developing open-source plugs-ins for content management systems using this technology.


The Dartmouth Vietnam Project (DVP) brings together members of the Dartmouth community to conduct, record, and preserve oral histories about the Vietnam War era (1950–1975). The DVP defines Dartmouth community broadly, including students and alumni, faculty and staff, parents and families, and Upper Valley residents. The DVP seeks diverse recollections of the Vietnam era, from military service to campus and anti-war activism, political campaigns, and everyday life.


Unfinished Monument

Still looking for an unfinished monument? Something to transcribe and help deepen access to historical records?
The NHPRC is supporting a project at Historic New England to transcribe a trove of documents from The Casey family papers (MS008) reflect the life and work of the Casey family of Saunderstown, Rhode Island, and life at the Casey farm. The papers cover topics such as family history, trade, and agricultural activities. Additional material includes Thomas Lincoln Casey's (1831-1896) professional papers relating to his work on the Washington Monument; the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress; the State, War, and Naval Building; and other structures in the District of Columbia. The collection is arranged in 41 series and contains some 45,000 documents.
Help make the Casey Family Papers even more accessible by transcribing the handwritten documents. Do as much or as little as you’d like, when and where you’d like. Work at your own pace and choose what interests you most from letters, diaries, financial records, military records, notebooks, legal documents, architectural drawings, and more.
Find out how to join at Historic New England.

The Birmingham Connection

We were looking for something else but found this clipping in the Birmingham Public Library's Department of Archives and Manuscripts News from the Birmingham News, August 11, 1974 edition. Yes, that’s former Birmingham student Condoleezza Rice being saluted in the local paper for being named Senior Woman of the Year at the University of Denver. Accomplished as she was at such a young age, Rice went on to serve as the 66th United States Secretary of State, in the administration of President George W. Bush. In March 2009, Rice returned to Stanford University as a political science professor and is due to succeed Thomas W. Gilligan as the next director of the Hoover Institution on September 1, 2020.
The Birmingham Public Library's Department of Archives and Manuscripts collects government records, business records, maps, photographs, letters, diaries, scrapbooks, and other primary material documenting the history and development of Birmingham, Jefferson County and the surrounding area of Alabama known as the Birmingham District. The Archives collects material statewide relating to the Episcopal Church in Alabama, the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, Jewish history and life in Alabama, LGBTQ history and life in Alabama, and the Environmental Movement in Alabama. The department’s holdings include the papers of government officials, businesses and business people, civil rights activists, environmentalists, churches and synagogues, civic groups and study clubs, clergy, artists, writers, musicians, educators, athletes and homemakers.
Serving as the archives for the City of Birmingham, the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and numerous organizations and institutions, the collection contains more than 30,000,000 documents and 500,000 photographs. The NHPRC was an early funder of Birmingham's efforts to establish an archives. See more at the Birmingham Public Library's Digital Archives.

Celebrating the 19th Amendment

On August 18, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution! See more about the National Archives celebration of the fight for women's rights to vote
In 1872, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting in her hometown of Rochester, New York. On June 18, 1873, she was found guilty, and the following day was fined $100. Here's what she had to say upon sentencing:
Judge Hunt—(Ordering the defendant to stand up), Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?
Miss Anthony—Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor's verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.
Judge Hunt—The Court cannot listen to a rehearsal of arguments the prisoner's counsel has already consumed three hours in presenting.
Miss Anthony—May it please your honor, I am not arguing the question, but simply stating the reasons why sentence cannot, in justice, be pronounced against me. Your denial of my citizen's right to vote, is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as an offender against law, therefore, the denial of my sacred rights to life, liberty, property and
Judge Hunt—The Court cannot allow the prisoner to go on.
Miss Anthony—But your honor will not deny me this one and only poor privilege of protest against this high-handed outrage upon my citizen's rights. May it please the Court to remember that since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury
Judge Hunt—The prisoner must sit down the Court cannot allow it.
Miss Anthony—All of my prosecutors, from the 8th ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest for not one of those men was my peer; but, native or foreign born, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer. Even, under such circumstances, a commoner of England, tried before a jury of Lords, would have far less cause to complain than should I, a woman, tried before a jury of men. Even my counsel, the Hon. Henry R. Selden, who has argued my cause so ably, so earnestly, so unanswerably before your honor, is my political sovereign. Precisely as no disfranchised person is entitled to sit upon a jury, and no woman is entitled to the franchise, so, none but a regularly admitted lawyer is allowed to practice in the courts, and no woman can gain admission to the bar hence, jury, judge, counsel, must all be of the superior class.
Judge Hunt—The Court must insist the prisoner has been tried according to the established forms of law.
Miss Anthony—Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor's ordered verdict of guilty, against a United States citizen for the exercise of "that citizen's right to vote," simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man-made forms of law, declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months' imprisonment, for you, or me, or any of us, to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night's shelter to a panting fugitive as he was tracking his way to Canada. And every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law, reckless of consequences, and was justified in so doing. As then, the slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so, now, must women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it; and I have taken mine, and mean to take it at every possible opportunity.
Judge Hunt—The Court orders the prisoner to sit down. It will not allow another word.
Miss Anthony—When I was brought before your honor for trial, I hoped for a broad and liberal interpretation of the Constitution and its recent amendments, that should declare all United States citizens under its protecting aegis that should declare equality of rights the national guarantee to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. But failing to get this justice—failing, even, to get a trial by a jury not of my peers—I ask not leniency at your hands—but rather the full rigors of the law.
Judge Hunt—The Court must insist
(Here the prisoner sat down.)
Judge Hunt—The prisoner will stand up.
(Here Miss Anthony arose again.)
The sentence of the Court is that you pay a fine of one hundred dollars and the costs of the prosecution.
Miss Anthony—May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper—The Revolution—four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government; and I shall work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God."
Judge Hunt—Madam, the Court will not order you committed until the fine is paid.
From the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, a documentary edition supported by the NHPRC.

Missing the Iowa State Fair

August arrived all too soon, bringing the waning days of summer and the anticipation of another school year. It is a month of vacations and annual conferences and the state fair. We are missing a great many familiar pleasures.

That is why we were sad to hear that the Iowa State Fair has been postponed. Iowa State University has a great history on the role the university has played at the fair, fitting for a school that began as the Iowa Agricultural College. One of our favorite shots is of these two young women wistfully looking for someone to stop by their booth at the 1930 fair and take them on at ping pong on that rather challenging table.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission regularly assists colleges and universities in building and improving their archives. A grant to Iowa State funded a two-year project to migrate nearly 1,500 existing and 200 nearly-complete text-based finding aids into a new EAD-compliant archives management system, and to create and link the respective MARC records for collections focused broadly on the history of Iowa and its institutions, agriculture, and rural life.

While it may not be surprising that Iowa State has extensive agricultural records, the Special Collections Library is also strong in Life Sciences, Engineering, and Women in Science and Engineering. And the University Archives tell the story of the nation’s first designated land-grant institution. Coeducational from its founding in 1858, Iowa State was the alma mater of suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt and Vice President Henry A. Wallace. The Cyclones wrestling team has won eight national championships and sent many wrestlers to the Olympics.

The Special Collections and University Archives refurbished the CARDinal (Cyclone Archival Research Database) search engine through the grant, allowing for multiple methods of archival materials and making connections among related collections. You can visit at

And don’t miss their wonderful blog at