Washington State Historical Society’s New Head of Collections Asks You to Help Document COVID-19 in the Evergreen State

Submitted by Washington State Historical Society

Margaret Wetherbee hit the ground running at the Washington State Historical Society, joining the organization days after its buildings closed due to safety protocols around the coronavirus pandemic. “My first day included developing a remote working plan for the Research Center team,” said Wetherbee. “Now, I’m reaching out to citizens across the state to ask for their participation in documenting this historic event for the Historical Society’s collections. We want to capture what you’re going through right now as it unfolds, because this is an extraoridinary time in our history. We will continue to collect as we experience the impacts over the coming years.”

Washington’s coronavirus history will be notable as one of the first pandemic hot spots in the United States. The Historical Society’s director, Jennifer Kilmer, remarked, “Future Washingtonians will research these days, asking how we coped with the suddenly vacated office buildings, curtailed services, and medical supply shortages. They’ll want to know know how this event impacted our lives on a personal level. Just as we are now looking to the 1918 flu epidemic for insight into our present experience, folks in the future will want to know about our Stay Home/Stay Healthy protocol, and how we managed to come together to help one another.”

The Historical Society is asking for digital content including (but not limited to) photographs, audio and video clips, screenshots of social media memes or posts, reports, correspondence, observations and anecdotes. The Historical Society would also like physical objects and ephemera (home made masks, coronavirus closure notices, decals, diaries, letters, etc.) but asks that you gather and save objects until their Research Center reopens. For details, see WashingtonHistory.org /yourCOVID19story.

Wetherbee joined the Historical Society following the recent retirement of Head of Collections Lynette Miller, who had worked with the agency for more than two decades. “We are excited to have Maggie with us to build upon the great accomplishments of Lynette Miller and our talented collections team. Maggie brings a wealth of knowledge regarding collections care, as well as a strong commitment to preserving the history of diverse communities,” said Kilmer.

A fifth generation Washingtonian, Wetherbee has worked as a collections professional at the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum in Tacoma, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the Riverside Metropolitan Museum in Riverside, and others. Her passion for the stories of the Evergreen State began at a young age.

“My love of preservation, archives, and collections started in my great-grandfather’s hand-built barn in Leavenworth. As a museum professional, my work has focused on opening collections to the cultural groups that are represented, to the families that have donated, and to new audiences through digital initiatives that can be accessed by all,” she said.

The well-documented history of the women in Wetherbee’s family also inspires her, including her family’s connection to Japanese American history. “In 1936, my great aunt married a Japanese American man. When World War II arrived, she had to choose, did she go to Minidoka with her husband or did she stay and try to save the family property? She stayed. Her husband went to Minidoka, joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all Japanese American unit and still the most highly decorated unit in the military. Working at the Japanese American National Museum was a wonderful opportunity to help tell stories of families like mine,” she observed.

“At Washington State Historical Society, I will work to preserve the diverse stories of my home state, and ensure we are moving the collection forward through digitization, while also collecting in new ways as we are doing during this pandemic,” Wetherbee said, inviting all Washingtonians to contribute to collections and offer ideas about what the Historical Society should collect by emailing DigitalArchive@wshs.wa.gov.

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