National Archives Apologizes for Altering Women's March Photo After Backlash

The National Archives issued an official apology on Saturday for blurring out messages critical of President Donald Trump from an image of the 2017 Women's March in an exhibit about women's suffrage—a move that the agency called a "mistake" in a press release.

The independent government agency, which is tasked with documenting and preserving records relevant to American history had set up an exhibit commemorating the 100th-year anniversary of 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

As The Washington Post reported, part of the exhibit included a large photograph that linked the woman's suffrage movement of the early 20th century to more recent protests. The photo, when viewed from one angle, was black-and-white and depicted a 1913 demonstration in Washington, D.C. in favor of granting women the right to vote. But when observed from another angle, it showed the 2017 Women's March, which took place in D.C. a day after Trump's inauguration.

"The display links momentous demonstrations for women's rights more than a century apart on the same stretch of pavement," according to the Post.

However, some aspects of the 2017 photo were blurred out, specifically, anti-Trump messages.

For example, the Post reported one such altered part of the image was a sign saying "God Hates Trump" that had "Trump" blurred out and now only read "God Hates." On another sign that read "Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women," the word "Trump" was obscured.

According to The Associated Press, references to women's anatomy, which were "widespread," had also been removed from the image.

The National Archives announced on Saturday, a day after the Post published its original story, that it regretted the alterations to the 2017 photo.

"As the National Archives of the United States, we are and have always been completely committed to preserving our archival holdings, without alteration," the press release read. "In an elevator lobby promotional display for our current exhibit on the 19th Amendment, we obscured some words on protest signs in a photo of the 2017 Women's March. This photo is not an archival record held by the National Archives, but one we licensed to use as a promotional graphic. Nonetheless, we were wrong to alter the image."

Miriam Kleiman, a spokeswoman for the National Archives, told The Washington Post in an emailed statement that the references to Trump were removed "so as not to engage in current political controversy," and that the references to women's private parts were taken out because the museum draws many young people and student groups.

The Associated Press reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has encouraged the National Archives to provide a more thorough explanation for the photo's alteration.

2017 Women's March on Washington
A picture from the 2017 Women's March on Washington, the day after Donald J. Trump's inauguration as president of the United States, in Washington DC on January 21, 2017. Benjamin Lowy/Getty

"Apologizing is not enough," said ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling in a statement. "The National Archives must explain to the public why it took the Orwellian step of trying to rewrite history and erasing women's bodies from it, as well as who ordered it."

The press release from the National Archives stated that the exhibit had been removed and that it would be replaced soon with one featuring an unaltered image.

The Encyclopedia Britannica stated that the 2017 march was explicitly held to promote "gender equality, civil rights, and other issues that were expected to face challenges under newly inaugurated U.S. Pres. Donald Trump."