In a long and illustrious career, Margaret Cross Norton, Superintendent of the State Library’s Archives Division, became a revered figure among librarians in the state. She also earned a national reputation as a leader in archival administration.

Born in Rockford on July 7, 1891, Norton earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Chicago in 1913, where she received a master’s degree in history the following year. Norton then graduated from the New York State Library School (now a part of Columbia University) in Albany, New York, in 1915 and subsequently worked as a cataloger at the Vassar College Library. 1

At Vassar, Norton underwent a change in career thinking, as she began to realize that she did not particularly like library work. However, while at a meeting of the American Historical Association, she learned of the extremely poor condition and organization of records across the nation. As a result, she decided to become an archivist. In 1918, she accepted a position as cataloger in the Department of History and Archives at the Indiana State Library. However, she was in her new job only a few months, spending early 1919 and the 1919-1920 academic year pursuing a doctorate in history at the University of Chicago. In late 1920, she became cataloger for the State Historical Society of Missouri. 2

On April 1, 1922, she was named the first superintendent of the new Archives Division of the State Library and quickly engaged in the mammoth task of organizing the state’s records. She found large quantities of records  stashed in various places in the Capitol Building, from the attic to the basement. Many had succumbed to dampness, dirt, and vermin. Still, she managed to clean and inventory all records and create a well-organized system of records management, taking great care to keep these records in a material-friendly climate with safe environs. 3

In 1938, Norton supervised the move of the Archives Division into its own building, located just west of the Centennial Building. The new facility was dedicated on Oct. 26, 1938, during the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists. 4

Norton served as President of that society from 1943 to 1945, just one of several national posts she held. She also served as secretary-treasurer of the National Association of State Libraries (1933-1938) and was greatly influential in many other professional library and archival societies as well. At Columbia University in the summer of 1940, she taught the first course in archivology ever offered in an American library school. Known for her humility and wellmannered approach, Norton constantly befriended younger archivists, always encouraging their advancement in the field. She also authored countless articles for such publications as Illinois Libraries, and many of her writings are still standards in the field today. Under her direction, the staff of the Archives increased from one to 20. The first three African-Americans to achieve professional status in Illinois government were Archives staffers, a fact that greatly pleased Norton. 5

Norton retired on April 15, 1957, and nine years later was named Archivist Emeritus by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. In 1975, a collection of her writings, Norton on Archives, was published by Southern Illinois University Press. In 1981, she authored a book, Archives in Illinois: The Pioneer Period, earning her further acclaim. 6

Norton spent many of her remaining years in her home on Lake Springfield, rebuffing repeated requests to write more articles. She traveled extensively before her death on May 21, 1984, at age 92. As a testament to her towering legacy in Illinois state librarianship and archival preservation, the Illinois State Archives building was named in her honor in 1994. 7

  1. Kwedar 19; Mitchell xv; Norton Interview 1; Illinois Libraries April 1957, 108.
  2. Kwedar 19-20; Mitchell xv; Norton Interview 2; Illinois Libraries April 1957, 108.
  3. Illinois Libraries April 1957, 107-108.
  4. Mitchell xvi, xviii; Kwedar 20; Illinois Libraries April 1957, 107-108; Illinois State Register July 3, 1940.
  5. Mitchell xix-xx; Kwedar 20-21; Norton Interview 7-8.
  6. State Journal-Register May 22, 1984; Illinois Libraries April 1957, 107; Kwedar 21; Mitchell xv, xxi.
  7. Mitchell xx-xxi; State Journal-Register May 22, 1984; Norton Interview 9.