Don’t sign your name…

How many people typewrite a letter to the president and forget to sign their name? Three so far. And the crazy thing is that 100 years later, someone actually cares enough to track down who they are.

At first, I would just say that there was no correspondent when I cataloged unsigned letters. Sometimes, I still have to do that, but I’m getting better at sleuthing.  If the letter is part of a series, sometimes I can figure out who sent the unsigned one by seeing who the reply is addressed to. Sometimes, the letters use titles instead of names, e.g., Chief Clerk of the Department of Agriculture. In that case, I have to look up who that person was in whatever year the letter is dated from.

The hardest documents to identify are the half-letters. Sometimes, we only have the scan of the third page of a three-page letter. I always try to identify these as post-Wilson, because if it’s post-Wilson, I don’t need to catalog it. Warren G. Harding took office on March 4th, 1921, and if the letter is dated or postmarked, that makes it easy.

If the date isn’t written on it, I scan the document for people’s names and names coupled with titles and check if those people belonged to the Wilson or Harding administration.  A letter-end referencing “former Comptroller Williams” dates from the Harding administration since Williams served until the end of the Wilson administration.

I’ve been enjoying the work. It makes daft old me feel like Sherlock Holmes.

Author: Althea Cupo

I’m Althea Cupo, a Museum Studies MA student at Johns Hopkins University, and I’m interning in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum (WWPL)'s archives from August 29th through early November. My task for the semester is to create finding aids for the papers in "Woodrow Wilson and Segregation Box 1" and curate a digital exhibition based on the information in the box. I’m very excited because I eventually hope to start a museums consulting firm dedicated to equitably presenting controversial history and this is a chance to test out my personal theories.