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Goldwater Collection at ASU ready at last

August 18, 2009

Barry M. Goldwater, Arizona’s five-term senator, was a true desert pack rat. He saved everything that passed through his hands, from campaign materials to family photos.

Box after box of Goldwater items arrived at the Arizona Historical Foundation in Hayden Library, from Goldwater’s first years in the Senate in the early 1950s, until his death in 1998.

This was a good thing – and a bad thing – for the Arizona Historical Foundation staff.

The bad part was that the AHF ended up with a mountain of materials to process into its collection – and not enough help to do it.

“In the 1970s, the AHF placed an ad in the local paper recruiting people to sort the material,” said archivist Linda Whitaker. “The Junior League of Phoenix sent 24 housewives to help organize the collection.

“They faded into the sunset, and were replaced by other workers. By 2004, what you had was the end product of all those attempts to organize the collection.”

In other words, it was still a jumble of papers, pictures and personal mementoes. Still a mess.

Since all efforts to put a dent in the mountain had failed, the current AHF staff – Whitaker, Susan Irwin and Rebekah Tabah (who joined the effort in 2006) – found themselves face to face with all those remaining piles of boxes.

For the past five years, they have been going through the boxes, searching for parts of the collection that had already been scattered throughout the AHF holdings, preparing archival boxes, preserving photographs, and digitizing microfilm, and on July 22, they celebrated a milestone: The processing of “The Personal and Political Papers of Senator Barry M. Goldwater” was complete.

That it was a monumental task is not in doubt, first because it was a political collection, and second, because of its enormity and variety.
Political and Congressional collections are notorious for their bulk and complexity,” said Whitaker. “Most Congressional collections cover 3,000 boxes. They are often high profile and generate a political environment of their own.”

Only about 200 archivists and librarians in the United States work on political collections, Whitaker noted. “Political collections are an acquired taste and not for the faint of heart Whitaker said. “For most archivists, this is a self-selecting career path requiring a passion for solving big puzzles.”

Goldwater established the AHF in 1959 as a repository for his family photos and historical materials, as well as his political papers and memorabilia.

“He wanted Bert Fireman, the first director of the AHF, to write his family history,” Whitaker said. “Fireman worked on it until his death in 1980, and Dean Smith finished it.”

During the past five years, the AHF staff has had to contend with the twin problems of organizing and preserving the material, and, at the same time, giving researchers from all over the world access to the collection.

“Traditionally, you never make a collection available until it’s done,” said Susan Irwin, acting director of the AHF. “But we make our material available processed or unprocessed. That’s a philosophical stand we made early on.”

Archivists frown on letting people use – or even see – materials that are unprocessed because of the fear of theft. But Whitaker said that was not a problem at ASU.

Whitaker even sat in the AHF’s reading room to work on the collection, in full view of all visitors. “I wanted to demystify what we do,” she said. “Historically, what archivists do is hidden.”

The job of organizing the vast collection was made somewhat easier because Whitaker, Tabah – who is a photo archivist – and Irwin had specific guidelines to follow.

“There is a national standard for processing these materials,” said Whitaker. “In some cases, we had to undo all the previous efforts.”

Goldwater’s materials are in demand because “he spans a very important time,” Whitaker said. “Research topics include Indians, water use, aviation, civil rights, and presidential elections.”

But Goldwater the politician had another side, one that made organizing the collection so enjoyable, Tabah noted.

“He was charming and witty, and in demand for television shows by people such as Jay Leno, Dinah Shore and Art Linkletter. He had celebrity status and he even appeared on Laugh-in.”

There are tapes of many of these shows, such as Goldwater on the Dean Martin roast, and numerous record albums with songs people had made up about Goldwater. “They would just send him these albums,” Tabah said.

Besides the papers, photos, records and tapes, there are boxes and boxes of memorabilia from his presidential campaigns, such as Goldwater Girl outfits, hats, a stadium seat cushion, and “Goldwater” aluminum cans.

Other items of interest are Goldwater’s well-used camera, his signature black eyeglasses, a note pad that he took from the White House after the meeting when President Nixon announced he was going to resign, and “weirdest of all,” said Irwin, “a wire from one of his hip replacements.”

In all, the collection includes 8,000 unmounted photographs, 1,500 negatives, 5,000 slides, 110 photo albums, 107 scrapbooks of news clippings, 480 reels of microfilm and 1,028 film reels, cassettes and tapes – not to mention the 1.14 million documents that cover more than 125 years of Arizona and U.S. history.

To celebrate the completion of the collection, Goldwater’s 100th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of AHF, the foundation is planning a conference Nov. 13 at the University Club, titled “The Goldwater at 100 Conference.” The event will feature presentations by “some of the best and brightest of the young scholars who have used this collection,” Whitaker said.

The collection is “a national treasure distinguished by its Arizona territorial materials, family pioneering documents, personal and political correspondence, diaries, and photo-documentation of a long, eventful life,” according to Whitaker.

She is certain that Goldwater would be happy with the results of the last five years’ labors.

“When Barry Goldwater founded the Arizona Historical Foundation nearly 50 years ago, the last thing he would have expected is to find his papers in disarray,” she said.

For more information about the collection and the conference, go to