Today is International Women’s Day. Here in the United States, we are in the midst of celebrating women’s history month. In recognition of these events, the Copyright Office wants to call attention to the women who contribute to creativity—both those who work (or have worked) in the Office and those who register their creative works.
The United States Copyright Office and the position of Register of Copyrights were created by Congress in 1897. Beginning in 1870, the Librarian of Congress administered copyright registration. Of the 2,192 registrations entered into 1870’s Book 1 of the Copyright Record, only 25 were registered to women. Of those registrations, several were widows registering works created by their husbands.
The earliest work created by and registered by a woman was number 456, registered by Olive G. Pettis on July 30, 1870. She registered her book The Historical Life of Jesus of Nazareth, and Extracts from the Apostolic Age. The deposit copy of the book remains a part of the Library of Congress’ collection today.
Ms. Pettis, however, was not the first female author registered in Book 1. On July 15, 1870, the publisher A. Wundermann registered record number 40, the waltz “Isola Bella (Isle of Beauty),” written by Elise S. Hamilton. The deposit copy of the sheet music for this waltz can be viewed on the Library of Congress website.
While we don’t know how many women worked at the Library of Congress in 1870 or in the Copyright Office when it was created in 1897, we do know—from a record of Copyright Office employees that was discovered in the Office archives—that by 1902, twenty-four of the sixty-one Copyright Office staff members were women. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women constituted approximately 19 percent of the American workforce in 1900. At 39 percent, the Copyright Office was ahead of the curve. Today, approximately 60 percent of the Copyright Office staff is female.
The Copyright Office did not see a female Register of Copyrights until 1973, when longtime staff member Barbara A. Ringer was named Register. Though initially passed over for the job, Ringer was appointed after a successful discrimination lawsuit. Ringer worked closely on the 1976 Copyright Act and led the Office’s implementation of the sweeping changes brought about by the Act. She served as Register until she retired in 1980 and returned to the Office as Acting Register 1993–1994.
Marybeth Peters served as the second female Register of Copyrights from 1994 until she retired in 2010. She had a longer tenure than any other Register with the exception of Thorvald Solberg (1897–1930). Peters, also a longtime Copyright Office staff member, brought electronic registration to the Office in 2008. She oversaw implementation of important new laws, including the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
In 2011, Maria A. Pallante was named the third female Register of Copyrights. Among her accomplishments was the release of the first comprehensive revision of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices in more than two decades. She also created the Barbara A. Ringer Copyright Honors Program and the Abraham L. Kaminstein Scholar in Residence Program.
In October 2016, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden named Karyn A. Temple Acting Register. Temple had served as Associate Register of Copyrights and director of policy and international affairs for the Office since January 2013. As Acting Register, Temple released the first updates to the third edition of the Compendium. She also released the Modified U.S. Copyright Office Provisional IT Modernization Plan, which is the basis of the current Office modernization efforts.
International Women’s Day! A beautiful idea whose time has finally come. I want to place the name of my mother Helen O’Neill Barry in the historic memory bank of history of women who have done so much for so many and wound up at age 63 with Lou Gehrig’s disease, but continued to instill joy in those around her. She was forced to leave her poverty stricken home in Ireland at the age of 16 and take her two younger sisters with her to America. There, she married and raised 11 children and while doing so, did so much more for other families in need, both in her home town of Oswego NY and for the relatives she left in Ireland.