National Museum of American History Acquires Women’s History through Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Auxiliary Documents

February 28, 2013

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently acquired archival materials from the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Auxiliary, which tell the story of both women’s history and small business. The collection includes organizational records and 27 scrapbooks documenting the organization’s 92-year-old history.

Originally named the Women’s Auxiliary-National Association of Master Plumbers, the group was formed in 1919, just one year before the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote in 1920. The collection, housed in the museum’s Archives Center, includes photographs, charter books for state chapters and committees, financial records, various iterations of the by-laws, verbatim transcripts of annual meetings accompanied by reports from committee chairs and officers as well as ledger books detailing expenditures and income. The materials date from 1919 through 2011.

“This is the Archives Center’s first collection to specifically document the records of a long-standing women’s organization,” said curator Cathy Keen. “We are delighted the PHCC Auxiliary stepped forward to help fill this gap.” Keen added that the collection, unusually complete and well organized, closely documents the changing roles of women in business and as activists.

While the women originally sought to assist their husbands’ businesses, their responsibilities evolved over time from bookkeeping and answering inquiries to successfully advocating for improved public sanitary facilities, most notably in 1938 with the Texaco registered service station program featuring clean restrooms. The complete collection relates to business history, especially family-owned business, advertising history and the history of technology in plumbing, heating and cooling.

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