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GFWC of Montana's A-Ha Archives Moment

(Highlighted in February + March 2009 issue of GFWC Clubwoman Magazine)

An ongoing preservation initiative within GFWC of Montana illustrates what interest, enthusiasm, and hard work can accomplish in establishing a successful archives program. An attendee at the 2008 Convention WHRC workshop, Cheryl Martin (GFWC of Montana state president, 2006-2008) shared her experiences working with state federation records during her administration. 

Like many who are thrust into the front lines of historical preservation, Cheryl quickly became an advocate.  She was fascinated by the rich documentation in the archives, but frustrated by her inability to locate information quickly to answer members’ requests: “There were so many amazing documents that are being stored but not able to be shared with the other members in the state.” 

Cheryl recognized the fragile nature of the state’s valuable collection of “historical documents that have been passed on from one state president to the next, stored in basements and garages and which could at anytime be lost, damaged, or destroyed.”

Cheryl gathered information at the workshop that encouraged her to embark on a bold plan; of particular value was “information on starting an [archives] project, decisions that need to be made before you start, the importance of preserving the order of the collection, and the importance of starting now.  History is not going to change, but it is going to be lost if we don’t take steps now to preserve [it].” 

She immediately identified The Museum of Women’s History in Billings as the perfect potential partner and began discussing a plan with them in July. The Museum was established in 1995 by Dorothy McLaughlin, a member of Cheryl’s club, GFWC Billings Junior Woman’s Club. 

Cheryl notes, “The Museum, much like GFWC Billings Junior Woman’s Club and GFWC of Montana, has a large collection of documents and articles that exemplify the great accomplishments of women in Montana, but [it] is accessible to a relatively small number of people.” 

Currently, Cheryl and her fellow GFWC Billings Junior Woman’s Club committee members Jody Nunley and Stephanie Martin are creating a comprehensive, long-term preservation plan, which includes developing internships for history students at Montana State University – Billings to help process collections under supervision of the museum archivist. Committee members will begin processing records of GFWC Billings Junior Woman’s Club, GFWC Billings Woman’s Club, and, eventually GFWC of Montana. The committee is pursuing a grant for the purchase of the PastPerfect collections management software to catalog collections and make digital content available online. 

The committee is excited about their project, but understands that patience and proper planning are essential: “We want to go about this with a solid plan – one step at a time. We understand that we are undertaking a very big project and that it is going to take several years to accomplish.  The sooner we start, the sooner we will reach our goals,  but we have to make sure the foundation is laid so that we do not create problems in the future by not researching and properly documenting the items we are preserving.”

The WHRC shares Cheryl’s excitement and salutes her committee on their thoughtful, professional approach to archives preservation. As the project progresses, the committee will be sharing a timeline and other information about their project to inspire other GFWC clubs and state federations.  Be watching the websites of GFWC Billings Junior Woman’s Club , GFWC of Montana, and the Museum of Women’s History

—GFWC Women's History and Resource Center Director Gail McCormick
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