A Life and Taxes

By M. Marie Maxwell

As an archive for federal agencies, we don’t tend to process too many personal papers, if any. One of the exceptions is that of the Office Files of Hans Paul Caemmerer, ca. 1924 – 1954, (ARC 4723842), documenting the period ca. 1777 – 1954. H. Paul Caemmerer (1884-1962), also known as H.P. Caemmerer served as the Secretary for the Commission of Fine Arts from 1922-1954. Though a majority of the files concern his book “The Life of Pierre Charles L’Enfant” which is related to the work of the Commission, there is a fair amount of material in the series reflecting a life mixing the public and private. The file labeled “Income Tax” reflects this.

The papers of this Secretary of the Commission of Fine Arts are different from other agency heads who have papers or office files. Typically a director or secretary’s papers strictly reflect the business of the agency. They typically will have memorandums and other correspondence regarding policies and projects. This series is different. From processing the Papers of Hans Paul Caemmerer, I know where he went to church, where he lived, where he shopped, and with what charities he was involved.

The folder “Income Tax” contains the joint and individual taxes of Hans Paul and his wife Alice (1906-1992) from 1937 to 1940. The tax return seems so simple compared to the current version. No social security numbers were required. The instructions and schedules fit on a double-sided one page sheet, and appear simple enough that they could be understood. One particular interesting item was that an elderly aunt was listed as a dependent. The forms are incomplete as they do not detail why this aunt, who is over 18 years old is in need of care. Modern tax forms, such as these are a odd find, as the National Archives does not collect, nor holds, tax forms, nor tax returns regarding individuals or entities from the Internal Revenue Service. It is more reflective of the very personal nature of this one Secretary’s papers, giving us a peak into the mundane life of a government official during the early 20th century.

As the deadline for submission of Federal Income Taxes collected by the IRS looms near, I am reminded of this unexpected and rare find in Record Group 66: Records of the Commission of Fine Arts (1910- ).

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