Pioneering Women Archivists in early 20th century England

Elizabeth Shepherd


Many professions, as they mature, seek to understand themselves through reflection on and investigation of their own histories and of their historical context. Archival science is no exception. Archival history has tended to be the history of great men and institutional archives, such as the Public Record Office (now The UK National Archives, Cantwell, 1991). My own work (Shepherd, 2009) focused on the national themes of archival history in 19th and 20th century England, examining government commissions and reports, the development of archival institutions, professional infrastructure and university education, providing the larger framework for our history. Few women in the archival field have been studied in detail: Eileen Power (1889-1940), Professor of Economic History at London School of Economics (Berg, 1996) and Margaret Cross Norton, head of the Illinois State Archives (Mitchell, 2003), are notable exceptions. Where are the voices of pioneering women in the history of archives?

This paper will explore the development of the new sub-field of archival history and set out an approach to the study of early 20th century women archivists. It will examine the life and professional work of a small number of women in the archival field to exemplify their pioneering endeavour, to give them a voice in archival history and to provide a basis for some observations about the role of women archivists in shaping the emerging archival profession in early 20th century England. This paper will focus on the life and work of one pioneering woman archivist, through which I hope to be able to draw some conclusions about the contribution of women to the early development of the archival profession in England.


Elizabeth Shepherd, PhD, is Professor of archives and records management at University College London, Department of Information Studies (DIS). She teaches on the Masters programme in Archives and Records Management and is currently Director of Research for DIS. She established a research centre, ICARUS, to bring together researchers in records and archives management ( ). Elizabeth’s research interests include the relationships between records management and information policy compliance (the subject of AHRC and ESRC-funded projects) and the development of the archive profession in England in the 20th century, which is the subject of her PhD and book (2009). She serves on the editorial boards of Archival Science and the Records Management Journal, was an editor of the Journal of the Society of Archivists, a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Peer Review College and served on the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Research Excellence Framework REF2014, Panel 36. She has published numerous articles, (with Geoffrey Yeo) the internationally best selling book Managing Records: a handbook of principles and practice (Facet Publishing, 2003) and the monograph Archives and Archivists in 20th Century England (Ashgate, 2009).

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