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First woman to serve as U.S. Archivist sworn in to office

The National Archives on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., photographed on Sept. 11, 2023. Photo by Ashley Murray/States Newsroom.

Pennsylvania native Colleen Shogan was sworn in as the 11th Archivist of the United States on Monday, marking the first time a woman has been appointed to oversee billions of the nation’s records and artifacts since the role was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Colleen Shogan, the first woman to be appointed as Archivist of the United States, speaks at her ceremonial swearing-in at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2023. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to Shogan, who was dressed in white to honor women’s suffrage, a movement she’s fought to memorialize with a monument on the National Mall.

“The suffragists didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, so they aren’t on these murals behind me. But their contribution to the vitality of our democracy is no less meaningful,” Shogan said during remarks delivered under the grand dome of the National Archives rotunda.

“Along with many other inspiring leaders in American history, they believed in the principles enshrined in these documents and claimed them as their God-given natural rights. The fulfillment of those rights, which continues today, is why these documents aren’t simply pieces of parchment. They are living promises to hold our government accountable.”

The swearing-in was ceremonial, as Shogan began the job on May 17.

Shogan is a native of the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, where she graduated in 1993 from Norwin High School, just under 20 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Trump documents and modernizing the archives

Shogan’s term comes as the National Archives and Records Administration receives renewed national attention after former President Donald Trump was indicted for refusing to return classified documents after his term.

Shogan also takes the helm as the independent government agency aims to digitize a massive amount of materials. The NARA archival holdings include 13.5 billion pieces of paper, 80 million photographs and aerial images, 448 million feet of film, and 700,000 other artifacts.

First lady Jill Biden, who introduced Shogan at the ceremony, said the records housed by NARA — from the Declaration of Independence to the manifests from slave ships — show that “our present and our future are inextricably linked to our past.”

“These national archives have captured our complicated story for nearly 100 years,” Biden said.

“And for that entire period our archives have been led by men. You know where I’m going,” she said to laughter from the audience of roughly 200.

“What we choose to preserve and whose voices we deem worthy of placing in our national memory, that’s why this milestone, the first woman head of the National Archives and Records Administration, is so momentous,” Biden continued.

Senate confirmation

Shogan faced criticism during Senate hearings in 2022 and 2023, with conservatives scrutinizing her Twitter feed and a 2007 academic paper she wrote, titled “Anti-Intellectualism in the Modern Presidency: A Republican Populism.”

During her February hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri described Shogan’s social media posts on firearm regulation and favoring mask mandates as “grossly partisan.”

She gained Senate approval in May, as expected, after Democrats captured a slight margin in the chamber following the 2022 midterms.

However, Shogan enjoyed strong support from GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who introduced and praised the nominee during her September 2022 hearing.

The senator from West Virginia attended Shogan’s swearing-in ceremony Monday.

Shogan’s background

The Boston College and Yale University graduate began her career as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate, followed by seven years as an assistant and deputy director at the Congressional Research Service. She then worked in outreach and collections at the Library of Congress.

In 2018, Congress appointed her to vice chair of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission.

She then joined the White House Historical Association in 2020 during the Trump administration, with which she worked “very effectively,” she told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee in February.

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First woman to serve as U.S. Archivist sworn in to office