Agency history, 1883-

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  • Bird, William L
  • Howell, Edgar M
  • Belote, Theodore T
  • Clark, Alonzo Howard 1850-1918
  • Collins, Herbert Ridgeway 1932-
  • Klapthor, Margaret Brown
  • Mayo, Edith
  • Melder, Keith E
  • Washburn, Wilcomb E
  • Dorman, Charles G
  • Murray, Anne Wood
  • Museum of History and Technology (U.S.) Division of Political History Growth of the United States


Agency History


  • This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
  • Guide to the Smithsonian Archives, 1996
  • Smithsonian Year 1991 Supplement
  • The collections of the Division of Political History date back to 1883, when they were part of the Section of Historical Relics, United States National Museum. The political artifacts consisted largely of George Washington memorabilia. By 1886, the collections had expanded to include relics of former presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant. Care of the collections was assigned to the Section and its various successors through to the Division of History, under the direction of Alonzo Howard Clark until 1918 and Theodore T. Belote, 1919-1948.
  • In 1943, the Division of History formed a Civil Section that included political memorabilia, costumes, and furnishings. The Section became the Division of Civil History in 1948, and was given departmental status upon the creation of the Museum of History and Technology (MHT) in 1957. In 1958 the Division of Political History was formed. The Division retained responsibility for political collections as well as costumes, which were curated by its Section of American Costume. Responsibility for furnishings was transferred to the new Division of Cultural History. Margaret Brown Klapthor was concerned with political memorabilia, costumes, especially the First Ladies' gowns, and furnishings. She was assisted by Anne Wood Murray; both women planned the First Ladies Hall and the Hall of American Costume, which opened in 1964. Charles G. Dorman assisted Klapthor in maintaining the furnishings collections. Curator Wilcomb E. Washburn primarily served as Director of Growth of the United States, an exhibition unit within the Department, which was disbanded in 1968.
  • In 1969, the MHT was reorganized into the National Museum of History and Technology, and the Division of Political History joined the divisions of military history, naval history, and historic archeology in a new Department of National and Military History, chaired first by Edgar M. Howell, Curator of Military History, 1969-1973, and then by Margaret Brown Klapthor, 1974-1977. Further changes in 1981, when the National Museum of American History came into being, found Political History assigned to a newly created Department of Social and Cultural History. In 1994 the organization was altered again and Political History staff joined the Division of Social History, which came under a new Department of History. In 2004 the Division of Social History was renamed as the Division of Politics and Reform, and in 2010 the Division of Political History was re-established.
  • The Division of Political History was primarily responsible for research documenting American political history and items of political significance since the late eighteenth century. Research interests of the Division and its predecessors included political campaigns and memorabilia, inaugural gowns and other garments worn by the First Ladies, artifacts from the White House, furnishings and personal accessories of former Presidents, histories of distinguished American politicians and their families, gifts from foreign dignitaries, history of the women's suffrage movement, development of modern political mass communications media, and themes in American government.
  • Curators and staff of the Division included Wilcomb E. Washburn, Acting Curator, 1958, Curator, 1959-1965; Margaret Brown Klapthor, Associate Curator of Political History, 1957-1970; Curator, 1971-1983; Herbert Ridgeway Collins, Assistant Curator, 1961- 1970; Associate Curator, 1971-1977; Curator, 1978-1981; Charles G. Dorman, Assistant Curator, 1957-1960; Anne Wood Murray, Assistant Curator, 1957-1963, Associate Curator, 1964-1967, and Curator Emerita, 1968-1983; Keith E. Melder, Assistant Curator, 1962-1963, Associate Curator, 1964-1985; Curator, 1986-1994; and William L. Bird, Museum Specialist, 1980-1989, Associate Curator, 1990-1992, and Curator, 1992-2015.
  • For a history of the larger creating unit, refer to "Forms part of above."

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 1883
  • 1883-1994
  • 1883-


Politics and culture


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00131

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