Today’s Blog Post is written by Patrice Brown, Archivist (Special Assistant) in the Evaluation and Special Projects Division, National Declassification Center at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
In 2014, the Panama Canal will celebrate its 100th anniversary. There are many records in the custody of the National Archives that document the well known story of the creation and construction of this tremendous engineering feat. Also in our custody are records documenting the equally important but seldom highlighted story of individuals who worked to not only build the canal but who operated and maintained it.
The Service Records Cards, 1904-1920 (National Archives Identifier 7226556) series, in Record Group 185 Records of the Panama Canal, 1848-1984, contains information on those who worked in the Canal Zone during the construction of the Panama Canal. The Service Cards usually include a summary of an employee’s work history, and personal information, such as: place of birth, date of birth or age, home address, Canal Zone address, occupation, and rate of pay, and length of service. In some cases the name and address of the employees’ relatives are also noted.
The information recorded on the cards also reveal the variety of jobs available to women and men, and the numerous nationalities (including West Indian, European, Chinese, and American immigrants) who were recruited to work in the Canal Zone.
In 1907, the central infrastructure of the Canal Zone was still under construction. Workers were still building government buildings, stores, schools, hospitals, streets, and roads. The tropical insects that infested the Canal Zone made it necessary to employ a medical staff quickly. With so many deadly diseases, one may not think that a female would apply to be a nurse in this area. Yet, Anna L. Doolittle was one of many females who served as nurses in Canal Zone hospitals. Miss Doolittle was only 23 when she left the comfort of her home in West Virginia to venture to a rough and tumble area of the world. This Service Card documents the hiring of Miss Anna L. Doolittle as a nurse at Ancon Hospital in 1907.
Miss Doolittle is one of the many stories of the many women who worked in other capacities such as store clerks, stenographers, laundresses, and housewives who performed jobs vital in supporting the construction work on the Panama Canal. Why these women came to such a desolate area cannot be determined from Service Cards alone, but the records may provide insight into genealogy research, local social history, etc. and so additional research elsewhere is necessary to possibly answer such questions.