Organizers of Museum History: Honoring the Labor of Librarians and Archivists in the Bureau of American Ethnology

How to Cite

Lea, M. M., & Emmelhainz, C. (2024). Organizers of Museum History: Honoring the Labor of Librarians and Archivists in the Bureau of American Ethnology. International Journal of Librarianship, 9(2), 87–102.
Received 2023-12-11
Accepted 2024-04-08
Published 2024-06-20


In 1879, the United States funded care for the records of government-funded geological, ethnographic and archaeological explorations in the American West, in what later became known as the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) within the Smithsonian Institution. But who was doing the organizing of library and archival sources so integral to this scientific mission? This article highlights eight women working in the Bureau of American Ethnology library and archives in the early 20th century, including head librarians and archivists Jesse Thomas, Ella Leary, Miriam Ketchum, Carol Jopling, Mae Tucker, and Margaret Blaker, as well as library assistants Louvenia Russell and Ella Slaughter, who were classified as laborers but also conducted library work for the Bureau. We suggest that each of these women served as “glass shoulders,” creating an administrative and scholarly infrastructure that enabled the work of others, even as they advocated for their own value within the Bureau and the wider museum structure. In focusing on how librarians and archivists care for museum collections, we also examine how their work remains almost invisible in museum circles. Telling these stories enables us to honor the work of librarians and archivists in creating and curating museum histories, and to consider how this labor and expertise can be recognized and highlighted.


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