Black and white photograph of three couples of men and women at a restaurant. The men are in military uniforms.

Processing from the Outside In: Ann Bakke Buchanan

This blog post was written by Rachel Barton, GRA for the Buchanan Papers processing project and is one in a series about the project. The project is supervised by Buchanan Papers Project Archivist Rebecca Thayer and is grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Square color photograph of Ann Buchanan reading a book

Ann Buchanan captioned this photograph “Aug. 1970 Sitting in corner of my bedroom. Guess what I am reading?” James McGill Buchanan papers, C0246. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

When you work in a collection like the James M. Buchanan papers, you get to be familiar with names, so I’d seen Ann Buchanan’s name pop up frequently in administrative memos and correspondence. However, I hadn’t seen much actually produced by her. This blog post focuses on the research that I’ve completed around Ann’s life due to the relative lack of information that we have on her within the collection itself.


The trouble with researching individuals is that nuanced information often eludes even the best investigators. Names, dates, and locations are easy (easier) to find, thanks to databases like family genealogy websites and the digitization of census records and city directories. These resources make it simpler and more efficient for researchers to locate and date the individuals they’re studying, and to consider how that information might affect their lived experiences.

The research I did on Ann Buchanan had varying levels of difficulty accompanying it – for a few different reasons. The surface level information that we have for her (names, dates, locations lived) was simple to find because the 1910-1940 United States censuses and North Dakota censuses had everything that I was looking for in that regard. I could easily find her home address, her age, the members of her household, a general job title, etc. The Jamestown City Directory, a surprising but delightful find, gave me information on where she worked and her job title from age 18-22.

Color photograph of Ann Buchanan, Betty Tillman, and an unknown woman at a party.

Ann Buchanan (center) and Betty Tillman (right) at a party in an undated photograph, circa 1980s. James McGill Buchanan papers, C0246. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Because of this, we have a solid timeline of Ann’s life before her marriage to James Buchanan. Unfortunately, these types of records don’t give us the clear window to the personal world that we’re really looking for. Such is the importance of archival records like correspondence and personal journaling.

Sadly, the collection has very little correspondence from Ann herself. As far as we know, she didn’t save copies of her own letters or keep a journal. There is a small section of the collection dedicated to some of her received letters, though that mostly consists of holiday cards and a few additional letters.

Ann (who went by Anne or Anna in her youth) Bakke was born on August 21st, 1909 in Jamestown, North Dakota. Her father Andrew was born and raised in Norway, but moved to the United States before Ann was born. Her mother Hilda was also Norwegian (though born in Minnesota). Ann herself read Norwegian fluently, and this can be seen in the small amount of correspondence in Norwegian between Ann and her family in the Buchanan collection. In addition to her parents, she grew up with four siblings: an older brother named Orval (changed to Orville after the 1910 census), a younger sister named Clara, and two younger brothers named Arthur and Erling.

Ann lived in Jamestown until at least age 22 (1932). From age 18 to age 22, she worked as a stenographer for F.L. Kellogg while she lived in her parents’ house. She had moved to Fargo, North Dakota by 1935 at age 25, according to the 1940 US Census. It can be assumed that she was working in a secretarial administrative position then, as her career experience to that point and then after was in this type of role.

Black and white photograph of three couples of men and women at a restaurant. The men are in military uniforms.

Honolulu, Hawaii, 1944. Left to right: James M. Buchanan, Ann Bakke, unknown, Lee Ayres, unknown, Carl Soden. James McGill Buchanan papers, C0246. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

By 1940, Ann was living in Washington, DC and working as a secretary for Federal Power. She lived with four other women, who were nurses and administrative assistants. In World War II, she served with the Army Air Transport Command at Hickham Field, Oahu doing administrative secretarial work. She and James Buchanan met while serving, and got married in 1945 in San Francisco, California.

As a couple, the Buchanans moved all over the United States for Dr. Buchanan’s various jobs and academic studies. Some of these locations include: Chicago, Florida, Tennessee, and California. More about Ann’s moves while married can be read about in Buchanan’s autobiography as he discusses them from his personal history perspective. In addition to permanent moves, Ann traveled all over the world with him. She attended his Nobel Prize ceremony in Sweden and went with him on visiting scholar trips and to conferences.

Color photograph of Ann and James Buchanan outdoors

Ann and James M. Buchanan, November 9, 1986. James McGill Buchanan papers, C0246. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

The Buchanans came to Virginia in the 1950s when Buchanan got a job as a professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Their next stop was UCLA for just a year before eventually moving to Blacksburg, Virginia for Buchanan’s new job at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Despite the Center eventually moving to Fairfax, Virginia at George Mason University, the Buchanans kept their Blacksburg farm home for the rest of their lives. Ann spent most of her time there, even with Buchanan teaching in northern Virginia and spending time at their Fairfax townhome. It was a four-hour drive that they made frequently, despite the inconvenience. When she died on November 14th, 2005, her ashes were scattered at the Blacksburg farm.

The timeline linked below gives a linear perspective on Ann’s life. Not included are the locations and dates from after her marriage to Buchanan. Each bubble has the associated resource linked to it.

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