HELEN W. DALRYMPLE, 68
Library of Congress Researcher Co-Authored Several Books
By Matt Schudel, Washington Post Staff Writer
Helen W. Dalrymple, 68, a Library of Congress researcher and spokeswoman,
who was the co-author of several books about the library and was a leading
authority on its holdings, history and mission, died February 13, 2009, at
Capital Hospice in Arlington, Virginia. She had complications from brain
Mrs. Dalrymple joined the library's Congressional Research Service in 1967
and quickly distinguished herself as a researcher and analyst, preparing
background papers for Congress on everything from presidential appointments
to the D.C. government. She was a liaison between Congress and the library
and spent two years as acting director of the library's planning office
during a major reorganization in the 1970s.
From 1985 until her retirement in 2005, Mrs. Dalrymple worked in the
library's public affairs office and was its chief spokeswoman. She wrote for
in-house publications, prepared detailed descriptions of new acquisitions
and often advised Librarian of Congress James Billington on interviews and
speeches. She was considered, in many ways, the caretaker of the library's
"She was quite simply one of the nicest and noblest public servants I have
had the privilege of working with," Billington said. "I learned about the
Library of Congress from her books before I was librarian." Throughout the
1970s, Mrs. Dalrymple worked closely with Charles A. Goodrum, who was
assistant director of the Congressional Research Service and later became
director of planning and development for the library as a whole. When
Goodrum was asked by the Harry N. Abrams publishing company to write a
history of the library, Mrs. Dalrymple became his chief assistant.
"Without her," Goodrum said yesterday, "the book couldn't have been
The lavishly illustrated 318-page "Treasures of the Library of Congress"
(1980) described how the library grew from an original purchase of 6,487
books from Thomas Jefferson to become the largest repository of printed
information in the world.
During the years she worked on the book, Mrs. Dalrymple conducted research
in practically every branch of the library's vast holdings, arranged
illustrations and photographs and wrote captions for the book's 440
"Leafing through the pages," a Christian Science Monitor reviewer wrote,
"you can survey the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the day of his
assassination; savor the delicate brushstrokes of a 17th-century Japanese
manuscript; study Alexander Graham Bell's first sketch of the telephone;
marvel at violins crafted by the master Stradivarius; or note Richard
Rodgers's original handwritten score of the musical 'Oklahoma.' " Goodrum
and Mrs. Dalrymple collaborated on several shorter books and pamphlets about
the library before publishing a second book with Abrams, "Advertising in
America: The First 200 Years" (1990), which drew on the library's
surprisingly large collection of advertising materials.
"The Library of Congress is the copyright office of the federal government,"
Goodrum said. "It has two copies of every advertisement since the beginning
Mrs. Dalrymple, who was credited as a co-author with Goodrum, secured
permission to use the hundreds of photographs and illustrations featured in
the book. The only company that refused her entreaties was the cigarette
manufacturer Philip Morris, which would not allow images of the Marlboro man
to be used.
Helen Wheatley was born March 10, 1940, in Norwood, Massachusetts, and grew
up in Springfield, Massachusetts, two doors away from a public library.
Throughout her life, she kept 3-by-5 cards with typed descriptions of the
books she read.
She was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society at Bates College in
Lewiston, Maine, and came to Washington after graduating in 1961. She worked
in the office of U.S. Sen. Leverett Saltonstall (R-Mass.) for five years
before joining the Library of Congress.
In the 1960s and 1970s, when Mrs. Dalrymple worked at the Congressional
Research Service, her office typically received 150 to 200 information
requests a day from members of Congress. She often emphasized that the
library is an arm of Congress, responsible for providing prompt and accurate
information to lawmakers.
Away from the library, Mrs. Dalrymple enjoyed hiking and helped her husband
edit several editions of a guidebook to the Appalachian Trail. In 1999, she
traveled a 65-mile portion of the Lewis and Clark trail in Montana on
She was also a member of PTA groups and joined with other residents of the
District's Palisades neighborhood to improve local public schools.
Survivors include her husband of 42 years, Dana Dalrymple of Washington DC;
two sons, Daniel Dalrymple of Hope, Maine, and William Dalrymple of Bexley,
England; a brother; and two grandchildren.