In 1983, the chair of the Association of Curators of the National Museum of American History (NMAH), Harold D. Langley, hosted a series of talks by senior curators "On Being a Curator." Informal remarks were followed by a question and answer period with curatorial staff. Margaret Brown Klapthor, J. Jefferson Miller, II, and John T. Schlebecker discussed their careers at the museum, focusing on development and curation of collections, and reminiscences of their museum years. Klapthor and Miller served on the NMAH Collections Committee and also addressed issues of collecting policies and curatorial methods. Their reminiscences span the years of the United States National Museum (USNM), the formation of a separate National Museum of History and Technology (NMHT), and its renaming as the National Museum of American History in 1980.
Margaret Brown Klapthor (1922-1994) received the B.A. from the University of Maryland and was appointed Museum Aid in the Division of History of the USNM in 1943. She advanced to Assistant curator in 1947, Associate Curator in 1952, and Curator in 1970. After forty years at the museum, she retired in 1983. Her curatorial work focused on the First Ladies gowns collection, White House china, and political campaign contributions.
J. Jefferson Miller, II (1928-2005) received the B.A. from The Johns Hopkins University and the L.L.B. from the University of Maryland. He changed careers after pursuing a fellowship in American decorative arts at Winterthur and receiving the M.A. in American culture history from the University of Delaware. He came to the Division of Ceramics and Glass of the NMHT as Assistant Curator in 1962, after completing his master's degree. He served as Associate Curator from 1964 to 1969 and Curator from 1970 until his retirement in 1980. He then served as director of the Maryland Historical society from 1984 to 1989. His collecting and research focused on European ceramics and American art porcelains.
John T. Schlebecker, a noted scholar of agricultural history and a key player in the living historical farms movement, graduated from Hiram College in 1949 with a major in social science, earned the M.A. in history from Harvard University in 1951 and the Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1954. He was curator of agricultural history at the American History Museum from 1965 until his retirement in 1984, and also served as chair of the Department of History of Science and Technology in 1978.