Alaska and World War I: A Centennial Exhibit

For the past few months the Alaska State Archives has teamed up with the Alaska State Library Historical Collections to curate an exhibit featuring historical records from our collections to tell the story of Alaska during the Great War.  We’re excited to announce the exhibit has been fully installed and ready for you to visit!  Located on the second floor of the Andrew P. Kashevaroff building in downtown Juneau, this exhibit features historical photographs and documents which provide a window into a critical time in the history of the early 20th century: a time when global war transformed the world and impacted Alaska.

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The exhibit is divided into four main sections: Alaska Goes to War, The Front, The Home Front, and Armistice and After the War.  Each section examines the way in which the war was impacting Alaska and how Alaskans met and worked through these challenges.

Of the more than 10,000 men in Alaska who enlisted to serve between 1917 and 1918, 2,200 were inducted into service.  However not all men (and certainly no women) were allowed to enlist, regardless of how much they wanted to serve their country.  While Alaska Natives were turned away from registration offices¹, 12,000 American Indians from the Lower 48 volunteered to serve in the armed forces during World War I².

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This registration card was returned with eight others to the Oregon school where the young men registered along with a letter from the governor stating “…the registration of Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos, whether of whole or mixed blood, should be “deferred for the present,” and accordingly instructions were given to all registrars throughout the Territory not to register such persons.” [Alaska State Archives, VS 76]
Many women eager to help with the war effort signed up with the American Red Cross and were sent overseas to care for wounded soldiers in field hospitals.  One such nurse was Mollie B. Smith of Valdez, Alaska.  In a letter to her sister, published in the November 6, 1918 issue of the Cordova Daily Herald, she describes her experiences on the front:

“Everyone wants to go to the front; then when one gets in to the front line hospital, she is not satisfied until she gets into the dressing station or first aid station. In fact, I do not think the American over here will ever be satisfied until they can march into Berlin.”

“About dusk we reached the French hospital called Ambulance 5-11. Madame Tancenf turned her large estate over to the military department at the beginning of the war. The chateau contained an operating room, dressing rooms, a kitchen, and five wards. Besides these were five tents, capacity in all about 250 beds.”

“…after many questions, we learned the few orders which were necessary for our night’s work. Four delirious men, all the rest terribly ill. Someone was always getting out of bed, or raving for water. The few who slept had nightmares, and talked incessantly about going over the top.”

“I fear the American nurses near the front may become spoiled by the admiration bestowed upon them by the American soldiers. But hardly, for these little things are what make life endurable, for no one can paint the tragedy or strenuousness of a front line hospital. And I’m sure, at least, most of the nurses would be glad to change places with the soldiers and have the opportunity of going over the top.”

Like Mollie’s letter, news from the front was reported in local papers as letters made their way to loved ones at home.

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Alaska State Library, selections from historical Alaskan newspapers.

At home Alaskans were supporting the war effort through the purchase of Victory Loans, fundraisers and charity events, and pulling more than their weight in the work force.

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Home defense was also on the minds of Americans and Home Guard organizations began to pop up in larger towns throughout Alaska.  By 1918 there were units in Anchorage, Seward, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Sitka, Cordova, Juneau, and Eagle.  As far as daily duties were concerned it varied from town to town depending on population and resources.  While Fairbanks organized watch shifts for Guard members, a note in a report from Sitka speaks to the operation of a smaller Guard (89 members compared to 168 in Fairbanks according to a 1918 report):

“Company under organization.  During summer months majority of company absent, engaged in fish and other industries.  Plan for active drill during coming fall and winter, and to be available to guard Government property, water frontage at Sitka, or other duty for which available.”

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[Alaska State Archives, VS 160]
The fear of foreigners, especially those of German descent, was becoming an issue so much so that in 1917 Governor J.F.A. Strong issued a proclamation reminding Alaskans that “no word or deed on the part of American citizens should operate to incite racial feeling or create prejudice against those who have come to the Territory for the purposes of bettering their condition and enjoying the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness“.

During this time the Spanish Flu, a dangerous and sometimes fatal pandemic, spread across the world. Thousands in Alaska died, as well as Alaskans serving in the war effort outside of the Territory.

When the war ended many Alaskans were eager to come home and take up their old jobs.  Among those wishing for a speedy discharge were fisherman and prospectors, whose yearly salaries were dependent on specific seasonal work.  Despite the governor’s efforts to secure discharges for Alaskan soldiers, release from the armed forces was slow and many continued to serve after the war.

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[Alaska State Archives, VS 176]
After the war Alaskans wanted to honor and document those that served in the war. In 1923 the Alaskan Territorial Legislature passed an Act that asked the Secretary of Alaska to document veterans inducted into service in Alaska. A few years later the Alphabetical List of Alaska World War Ex-Service Persons was generated. Although this record did not list Alaskans that enlisted in Canada and fought with the British Expeditionary Forces or women that served in the Red Cross, it provided a comprehensive record of the nearly 2,200 Alaskan soldiers that were inducted into service during World War I.

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[Alaska State Archives, AS 34124]
Interested in learning more about Alaska during World War I?  Come check out the exhibit for yourself!  Like what you see?  Learn more about this topic through your research at our Research Center which houses both the Alaska State Archives and Alaska State Library Historical Collections, we’re free and open to the public from 10am-4pm Monday-Friday.  For those of you who can’t travel to Juneau physically, don’t worry, we’re working on a digital exhibit that will include even MORE historical documents that we weren’t able to fit into our physical exhibit space (no matter how hard we tried).  Stay tuned!


  1. Alaska Natives were allowed to register in late October of 1918, less than two weeks before the end of the war, according to an October 21, 1918 article published in the Alaska Daily Empire.
  2. “1917: American Indians volunteer for WWI”, Native Voices.   https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/timeline/650.html
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Collection Spotlight: Alaska Women’s Commission Records

Although Women’s History Month has come to a finish, we wanted to dig into one more collection which focuses on women in Alaska; the records of the Alaska Women’s Commission did not disappoint.

The Alaska Women’s Commission (AWC) stemmed from the creation of the Alaska Commission on the Status of Women, which passed in 1978 as Alaska Statute 44.19.165.  The statute outlined the purpose of the commission as “…to implement the recommendations contained in the preliminary study on the status of women in Alaska which was mandated by the Ninth Legislature, Second Session, under Chapter 99 SLA 1976, and improve the status of women in Alaska by conducting further research and by making and implementing additional recommendations on the opportunities, needs, problems, and contributions of women in Alaska including, but not limited to 1) education, 2) homemaking, 3) civil and legal rights, and 4) labor and employment.”

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Office of the Governor, Alaska Women’s Commission (RG53), Publications and Reports (SR640), AWC Poster (AS8528)

The AWC took on a variety of issues affecting women conducting studies, publishing in-depth reports, hosting conferences in rural areas, providing resources and publications, and producing and backing legislation in the interest of women from all backgrounds and from all regions of Alaska.

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The Alaska Women’s Commission records not only record the administrative history of the commission but also offer a view into the issues affecting women during that time on a state and national level.  Photographs, public service announcements, speeches, correspondence files, legislative files, committee meeting packets, and annual reports are just some of the resources available in the AWC records.

 

“Many outstanding women have helped to shape Alaska by contributing their talents and skills.  To honor these women and to provide visible role models for tomorrow’s leaders, I have established the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.  These awards will acknowledge the achievements of true pioneers like Lisa Starr Rudd, whose unwavering belief in women’s equality led to the creation of the Alaska Women’s Commission. To memorialize her achievements, the Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to her.”  – Governor Steve Cowper

Established in 1988 during the 10th anniversary of the AWC, the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame went on to induct leaders such as civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich, health care professional Arne Beltz, activist and educator Lucy Frey, and mayor and activist Lillie Hope McGarvey.  In box AS 9427 theirs are just a few files among dozens of biographic profiles on the women who have helped shape the history of Alaska.

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File folders in Alaska Women’s Commission box AS 9427

These folders include biographical sketches, subject files, photographs, news clippings, and other materials compiled from the State Archives and Library’s Historical Collections as well as from other archives across the state like the University of Alaska’s Archives and Special Collections.  Below are peeks into the files of Mary Antisarlook, Marie Drake and Elinor Dusenbury, Della Keats, and Nell Scott, and represent a sample of materials you might find in these folders.

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Mary Antisarlook pioneered reindeer herding at the turn of the 20th century.  [AS 9427]
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Marie Drake authored the official Alaska Flag Song, while Elinor Dusenbury composed the music to accompany Drake’s words.  [AS 9427]
DellaKeats
Della Keats dedicated her life to medical practice and traditional healing.  [AS 9427]
NellScott
Nell Scott became the first woman elected to serve as a Territorial Representative in 1937.  [AS 9427]
In a letter to Governor Hickel in 1991 Mary McClinton and Carol Mikon, Chair and Vice Chair of the AWC, stress the importance of the commission, its effectiveness and inclusiveness, and their intention of “minimizing the use of state dollars and pursuing efforts to increase the independence and decrease long term dependence of women on state services.”  While the AWC was ultimately consolidated with the Alaska Commission on Children into the Alaska Human Relations Commission in 1993, during their existence they branched out, helping communities establish local councils and commissions on a regional scale in places like Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage, Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), and Fairbanks, some of which still exist today.

If you’re interested in digging further into the Alaska Women’s Commission records (RG53), you can visit us at the Alaska State Archives, located on the second floor of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building in downtown Juneau, Alaska.  We’re open to the public Tuesday – Friday from 10a – 4p*.

*Summer hours begin April 30th.  The Archives will be open Monday – Friday, 10a – 4p.

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Caption reads: “Gov. Hammond signs a proclamation designating the week of March 8-14 as Women’s History Week. From left are: Emma G. Widmark, grand president, Alaska Native Sisterhood; Jean Munro, representative, Future Homemakers of America; Blanche L. McSmith, representative, National Council of Negro Women; Donna Flint, representative, Soroptimists International of Juneau; Chottie Angst, representative, League of Women Voters; Caren Robinson, director, AWARE, Inc.; Barbara A. Dale, vice chairwoman, Commission on the Status of Women; Susan Clark, representative, American Association of University Women; and Laraine L. Glenn, representative, Girl Scouts.” Photo credit: Chuck Kleeschulte. [AS 8536]

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Records

At 12:04 am on March 24, 1989 the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef off Prince William Sound resulting in one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history.  Approximately 11 million gallons were spilled covering an area of 460 miles from Bligh Reef to the village of Chignik, impacting 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline and killing countless animals (with estimates as high as 250,000 seabirds alone) and billions of salmon and herring eggs.¹

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The above images come from a collection of over 2,000 slides from the Office of the Governor, SR612 Press Secretary, Public Information Files (AS 17959).  You can view more images from this group by visiting Alaska’s Digital Archives at vilda.alaska.edu or by clicking HERE.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) had a huge impact on multiple state agencies in Alaska.  The records created by those agencies as they dealt with the impact of the spill hold a wealth information related to this event and how it impacted government, and in turn citizens.   You can access these records at the Alaska State Archives in agencies such as the Office of the Governor, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

Among them you’ll find textual records such as reports and minutes, photographs, video and audio records, and maps.  Below are a few examples of records relating to the Exxon Valdez oil spill held in the Alaska State Archives:

  • Dept. of Administration, RG84 – Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Commission, 1989-1990
  • Dept. of Fish and Game, RG261 – Division of Habitat and Restoration, SR621 – Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) files, 1989-1994
  • Dept. of Fish and Game, RG261 – Division of Habitat and Restoration, SR1290 – Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) restoration project files, 1989-1998
  • Dept. of Environmental Conservation, RG299 – Division of Spill Prevention and Response (SPAR)
  • Dept. of Environmental Conservation, RG297 – Division of Environmental Quality,  SR563 – Subject files, 1989 – Daily Reports, Coast Guard Exxon Valdez spill fact sheet, EVOS daily status reports
  • Dept. of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, RG21 – Commissioner of the community and Regional Affairs, 1975-1999, SR1336 – Exxon Valdez oil spill records
  • Dept. of Environmental Conservation, RG295 – Commissioner of Environmental Conservation, SR1363 – Speeches, 1990-1992
  • Office of the Governor, RG1 – Executive Office, SR88 – Central Subject files – Exxon Valdez Files of Mike Nizich, Governor Cowper’s Administrative Services Director March – May

However the bulk of records created in response to EVOS were created by the Department of Law, Series 708 Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) litigation, 1969-1993.²  To learn more about these records and the Archive’s involvement in appraising and processing the materials in this collection visit the Archive’s webpage, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Litigation Records Appraisal and Processing Project.  Currently the Archives is negotiating with the Department of Law to transfer the remaining litigation files of permanent value, referred to as the Reopener files, to the Archives.  These files were not among those in the original transfer due to the possibility that the materials might need to be used again in the event that a Reopener Claim was made.  The 1991 settlement between the State of Alaska, United States and Exxon included a decree entitled “Reopener for Unknown Injury” which could allow the governments to make an additional claim for unforeseen damages that were not covered in the original settlement.  While actions were taken in 2006, the governments ultimately decided not to pursue the claim in 2015, allowing for the final transfer of records to the Archives.

For additional resources and information outside the Alaska State Archives, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC) website at www.evostc.state.ak.us is a great place to start your research.  The EVOSTC is a joint partnership between the federal and state governments “formed to oversee restoration of the injured ecosystem”.  The EVOSTC website offers multiple resources on the spill from their Oil Spill Facts page, to publications including some of the council’s historical records (stored at ARLIS), to the current status of restoration projects.

If you’re interested in reviewing any of the Archive’s EVOS materials, or would like to know more about what we have, you can shoot us an email at archives@alaska.gov, give us a call at (907) 465-2270, or just drop in!  We’re located on the second floor of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building located at 395 Whittier Street, Juneau, AK 99801.

 

  1. “Oil Spill Facts.”, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/index.cfm?FA=facts.QA. Accessed 22 March 2018.
  2. Records in Series 708, Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) litigation, 1969-1993 are restricted.  If you’d like to include these materials in your research we will refer your request to the Department of Law for approval before we can release the records for review.

Alaska History Week

Alaska History Week is celebrated during the first week of March.  This year the Alaska State Archives decided to participate by showing off some of our collections through an Instagram campaign (seen below).

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Established by Sec. 44.12.092, “The first week of March each year is established as Alaska History Week to celebrate the contributions and experiences that comprise the past development of The Great Land. Alaska History Week may be observed by school assemblies, programs, and other suitable observances and exercises by civic groups and the public.”

Each day we shared historical government documents you can find in our collections and how we at the Archives can help you with your research needs.  If you weren’t able to follow along while it happened, search #akhistoryweek2018 on Instagram to see what you missed!

In our collections you’ll find District, Territorial, and Statehood records created by government agencies such as the Office of the Governor, all state departments, the Legislature, and the Court.  The records include a variety of formats like photographs, maps, microfilm, audio reels, video tapes, and of course, good old-fashioned paper.

Currently we store around 25,000 cubic feet of permanent records – that’s a lot of potential research material.  Whether you’re interested in genealogy, legislation, agency histories, historic events or government figures, we’ll likely have something of interest for you.  You can schedule an appointment or just walk in; we’re open to the public Tuesday-Friday from 10a-4p in the brand new Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building in downtown Juneau, Alaska.  If you’re not located in town you can contact us by phone at (907) 465-2270 or by email at archives@alaska.gov.

We hope you learned some fun tidbits of Alaskan history and more about our role at the State Archives.  Remember to join us again next year!

 

 

What Is That: Mysteries of the Archives

It’s a #historymystery!

Sometimes as collections are being processed you come across curious and occasionally downright confusing material.  That is precisely how our new blog series, What Is That: Mysteries of the Archives, was born.

The beauty of the internet is that when we do come across a mystery chances are SOMEONE out there might have a good guess as to what the answer is.  And that’s where you come into play!  We’ll be highlighting objects and documents from our collections in the hope that one of you will be able to share your knowledge on the subject, helping both us gain a greater understanding of our collections and researchers in the future who come across these materials.

For our first What Is That post we know WHAT the objects are, but we’re looking for the WHY and HOW.  Why were they created and how were they used?  Below are wooden stamps found in the Alaska Railroad Corporation records.

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Our question to you: What were these stamps originally used for?

For a little context on the Alaska Railroad Corporation records check out our catalog record by clicking HERE or search our collection via our webpage at www.archives.alaska.gov

Comment below with your best guesses or email us at archives@alaska.gov  – thanks everyone!

~ Alaska State Archives Staff