The Record - March 1998

The United States Naval Academy Archives

by Gary A. LaValley, USNA Archivist

    This article, the fifth of a series on NARA's seven affiliated archives, focuses on the William W. Jeffries Memorial Archives at the United States Naval Academy and its RG 405, Records of the United States Naval Academy, holdings. Affiliated archives, first authorized under the Federal Records Act of 1950, are non-NARA institutions that hold -- by formal written agreement with NARA -- records that are accessioned into the National Archives of the United States. Affiliated archives are established in special instances where the value of the records for the researcher is significantly enhanced by being deposited at a non-NARA facility. The Office of Regional Records Services is responsible for their oversight. Jerry L. Wallace serves as NARA's Liaison with the affiliates.

The United States Naval Academy was established in 1845 as the Naval School under President James K. Polk and Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft. War Department General Order No. 40, issued August 15, 1845, transferred the nine-acre site of Fort Severn, Annapolis, MD, to the Department of the Navy and custody of Commander Franklin Buchanan, the first Superintendent of the Naval School. When the school opened on October 10, 1845, Commander Buchanan addressed the assembled professors and students on the rules and regulations for the internal government of the school and his expectations for the institution.

    "I have endeavored to confine myself to those points so absolutely necessary for the preservation of good discipline and harmony in an institution yet in its infancy which we all I am well assured feel pride should rank high in the estimation of our countrymen....

    "The Govt, in affording you the opportunity of acquiring an education, so important to the accomplishment of a naval officer, has bestowed upon you all an incalculable benefit. But few if any now in the service have had the advantages that you are about to receive. The Regulations of the Navy require you to pass through a severe ordeal, before you can be promoted; you must undergo an examination on all the branches taught at the Naval School before you are eligible to a Lieutenancy; your morals and general character are strictly enquired into, it is therefore expected that you will improve every leisure moment in the acquirement of a knowledge of your profession, and you will recollect that a good moral character is essential to your promotion and high standing in the Navy. By carefully avoiding the first step towards intemperance, shunning the Society of the dissolute and idle, and by cherishing the wish to deserve and the hope of receiving the approbation of your country, you can alone render yourself able to occupy with honor the high standing in the Navy to which many of you are destined."

Buchanan's speech and the accompanying "Rules and Regulations" are two of the earliest entries in the Naval Academy Archives. One hundred and fifty-three years later the high expectations and standards of conduct demanded of midshipmen remain, as does the "opportunity of acquiring an education, so important to the accomplishment of a naval officer" which has been extended to every succeeding class, providing the Navy and the nation with leaders of exceptional ability. The records in this archive document the history of the institution and the individuals who have participated in its program as students, instructors, and administrators.

The United States Naval Academy (USNA) Archives was established in 1970 and became part of the Special Collections and Archives Division administered by the Nimitz Library in 1993. The merger of these two offices, which had been separate for over twenty years, has created a unique repository of U.S. Navy and Naval Academy material. Originally located in Maury Hall, the Archives was moved to the top deck of the Nimitz Library in 1973 where it remains today.

Professor William W. Jeffries, who taught history at the Naval Academy for thirteen years and then served as Senior Professor in the English, History, and Government Department for fifteen years, was selected as the first Naval Academy Archivist. He provided much leadership in integrating the USNA Archives into the National Archives and Records Administration.

It was due in large part to the efforts of Professor Jeffries that in August 1985, USNA, the Department of the Navy, and NARA signed a memorandum of agreement designating the USNA Archives as a NARA affiliated archives. When this agreement was signed the USNA Archives was in possession of the Academy records dating only as far back as 1929. Earlier records, dating from the establishment of the Academy in 1845 to 1928, had been transferred, by law, to NARA in 1950. The agreement further provided for the return to USNA of physical custody of the records described in National Archives Inventory Series No. 11 and designated Record Group (RG) 405, Records of the United States Naval Academy. These records were officially returned to USNA on April 15, 1987. On August 12, 1991, the Naval Academy Archives was officially dedicated as the William W. Jeffries Memorial Archives.

The USNA Archives Collections

The USNA Archives collection comprises records that at various times have been part of Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Record Group 24, Record Group 181, Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments. They are now designated as Record Group 405, Records of the Unites States Naval Academy, dating from 1845 to the present. The purpose of the Archives is to collect, preserve, and store the noncurrent records of the Naval Academy, and make available to authorized Naval Academy personnel and other researchers, the official records of the Naval Academy and its significant policy-making and functional subdivisions. The material includes Superintendent's correspondence from 1845, Academic Board and Board of Visitors records, midshipmen personnel jackets, conduct and academic records, yearbooks and other midshipmen publications, official directives, faculty records, records of the academic departments and administrative offices, records of the reserve officers training programs during World War I and World War II, and records of special courts of inquiry.

Nontextual records have also been collected. There are approximately 25,000 photographs depicting life at the Academy from the 19th century to the present; numerous maps illustrating the growth of the Academy grounds; architectural drawings, including original sketches by architect Ernest Flagg, who reconstructed the Academy around the turn of the century; film and videotape recordings of athletic and other events from the Educational Resource Center and Physical Education Departments; and audiotape recordings of speeches given by prominent visitors.

The still photograph collection of the USNA Archives consists primarily of 8" x 10" black and white prints which were shot by Naval Academy and commercial photographers, as well as prints donated by graduates and other interested parties. In 1991 the Archives staff, with the assistance of volunteers, completed a project which transferred 10,000 images from the collection to a 12" video laser disc, United States Naval Academy

Archives and Museum Picture Collection. This disc serves several significant purposes. It allows the researcher to view specific photographs or the entire group at his or her convenience and relieves the staff of the task of pulling and replacing groups of photographs. It also aids in the preservation of the collection, since the original photographs need to be handled less often. A detailed finding aid and a searchable data base were developed in conjunction with the disc, which enables the researcher to obtain in-depth information about each image.

Also included on the disc are an additional 10,000 images from the Naval Academy Museum's Beverly R. Robinson Collection of naval prints and images selected from the pages of Harper's Weekly, Gleason's Drawing Room Companion, and Ballou's Weekly; pictures used by the Naval Academy History Department and NROTC faculties to illustrate key events in Naval and Marine Corps History; a selection of photographs from the US Naval Institute Collection; ship models from the Navy's collection of contract models built by the firm of Gibbs & Cox, Inc.; and photographs of the medals in the collection of the Navy Museum.

When the records of RG 405 were returned to USNA, they consisted of approximately 397 cubic feet of textual records. Approximately 797 cubic feet of textual records that have been formally accessioned into that record group, and an additional 1,542 linear feet are waiting to be appraised, arranged, and accessioned into the legal custody of NARA. Records Management and Disposition Program Instruction 5210.4A, dated 4 March 1987, directed records managers of the Naval Academy divisions/ departments to institute a records disposition program in consultation with the Archivist, and is responsible for the constant flow of new material to the Archives. The Archives also holds over 344 linear feet of records gathered by the Naval Academy Alumni Association that document the post-graduate naval careers of USNA alumni; these will remain as "Naval Academy" records. These "Alumni Jackets" often contain official Navy Department biographical sketches, personal correspondence, obituaries, and other documents that are extremely useful to the Archives staff and to other researchers.

A collateral duty of the Archivist since 1970 has been preparation of the Command History of the Naval Academy, which is submitted annually to the Director of Naval History. Twenty-eight such histories have been prepared by the Archives staff.

Research Use

Use of the Naval Academy Archives by faculty, staff, midshipmen, and outside researchers continues to increase yearly. In the last year, the Archives staff of two, responded to over 1,100 outside requests for information and photographs and provided access to records for numerous internal requests by the Special Collections Division. The USNA faculty regularly consult the Archives on issues such as curriculum development, institutional history and precedents, photo reproduction for classroom presentations, and individual research projects. Members of the History and English departments schedule their classes to receive an introduction to the Archives and Special Collections to acquaint their students with the use of primary source materials, and midshipmen frequently receive assignments that can only be completed by consulting these archival collections.

The Archives serves as a constant source of information for the Public Affairs Office, providing documents, photographs, and films for commemorative events, documentary film productions, publications, the USNA Visitors Center, and other outreach programs. Our extensive collection of architectural plans and drawings, along with the buildings and grounds photographic collection, provide an historical background for the Academy's Public Works Department as they plan building renovation and expansion projects, often allowing them to compare proposed plans with those actually completed.

In addition to providing research support for Academy personnel, the Archives also serves members of the general public, alumni, and outside academic professionals researching various aspects of Academy history. We regularly provide information to individuals conducting genealogical research linked to midshipmen and officer and civilian faculty. Tours of the Archives are provided to individuals and professional groups interested in our collections or in general archival practices. Between 500-600 high school students visit the Special Collections and Archives each year as part of the Academy's Summer Seminar History Workshop.

Researchers are encouraged to submit their questions relating to US Naval Academy history to the Archives staff: Archivist Gary A. LaValley and Archives Technician Beverly Lyall. Mail can be sent to USNA Archives, Nimitz Library, 589 McNair Road, Annapolis, MD 21402-5029. The Archives may also be contacted by phone at (410) 293-6922; by fax at (410) 293-4926 and by e-mail at

Map of original Naval Academy grounds

Original Naval Academy grounds.
(United States Naval Academy Archives)

Gary A. LaValley has been the Archivist of the US Naval Academy since June 1997. He has a BA in History/Political Science from Iowa State University and a MA in History from the University of Arizona.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the position of the United States Naval Academy, the Department of the Navy, or the Department of Defense.