David C. Duniway, State Archives Founder

David Duniway in his senior years sits in a tall back wooden chair and wears a suit.
"History is always treacherous. There is what the papers were willing to print and families to furnish, but there is always the possibility of making assumptions that may not be true when checked against better sources." - David Duniway, "Glimpses of Historic South Salem," 1982
David C. Duniway served as Oregon's first State Archivist from 1946-1972. He was an avid historian, prolific writer and activist for Salem's historical community.

Early State Government Archives

Prior to 1946 there was no unified approach for preserving historical state records in Oregon. The Secretary of State had custody of the Legislative Assembly and the Governor. Other agencies cared for their own records. Some records of defunct agencies were deposited with the Secretary of State or the State Library, but some were destroyed. The Oregon Historical Society in Portland held the Oregon provisional and territorial government records due to a lack of storage space in Salem. Many records documenting state government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries disappeared over the years, and the fire at the state Capitol in 1935 consumed additional records.

In 1942 the Board of Library Trustees asked the State Librarian to develop a strategy to improve the archival situation. A committee studied the problem for a year before submitting a report to the Board. Research into how and where records were housed showed that many records were in danger of destruction due to neglect.

First State Archives Budget 

A provision of $15,000 for the State Archives was part of the 1945-1947 State Library budget. State Librarian Eleanor Stephens painted the budget in rosy terms in a letter to a prospective candidate for the State Archivist position, "Because office and storage space will be furnished the Archives in the Oregon State Library Building without expense to the archival budget, this provision is even more liberal than it appears."Footnote 1

Eventually, the Board of Library Trustees approved the appointment of David Cushing Duniway as State Archivist:

Open for Business

The State Archives opened its doors in the basement of the State Library Building in January 1946. From 1946 to 1972 Duniway worked to improve record keeping practices for Oregon's historical documents. He established rules for retention and destruction, streamlining the process of deciding how long to keep various records. He introduced the first Records Management Manual in 1959. 

To learn more about the history of the State Archives see: The Duniway Years at the State Archives, 1946-1972.


  1. Eleanor Stephens to John E. Dethman, October 3, 1945, Oregon State Library Records, Box 27, Oregon State Archives.