Karen A. Stuart, a Library of Congress archivist who had been head librarian at the Maryland Historical Society, where she was also associate editor of Maryland Historical Magazine, died of cancer Aug. 19 at Stella Maris Hospice. She was 59.
"As head librarian at the Maryland Historical Society, Karen always took her job seriously, trying hard to help researchers who sometimes had fairly arcane questions," said Robert J. Brugger, an author and Maryland historian who is a senior editor at the Johns Hopkins University Press. "She had a welcoming smile and a sly sense of humor."
Mary K. Mannix, director of the Maryland Room for the Frederick County Public Libraries, worked with Ms. Stuart at the Maryland Historical Society in the 1980s.
"She did an awful lot for Maryland history and played a pivotal role in the development of the society. She was very dedicated to Maryland history," said Ms. Mannix. "She knew a lot of things about a lot of things, and had a wide variety of interests, including pop culture."
The daughter of Mason Stuart, an insurance man, and Mildred Stuart, a secretary, Karen Ann Stuart was born in Greensboro, N.C., and raised in Lutherville.
After graduating from Towson High School in 1973, she earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1977 from what is now Loyola University Maryland.
In 1984, Ms. Stuart earned a master's degree in American history from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Her thesis was on the Brafferton School, which was located on the William & Mary campus. Its mission, from its founding in 1723 until it closed in 1779, was to prepare Native American youths to be Christian clergymen and missionaries to their people.
Ms. Stuart also earned a master's degree in library science, archives and archive administration from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1990.
Her professional career began in 1976 when she was an intern at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis. The following year she was an archives technician, also at the state archives.
She completed a graduate fellowship in 1978 as an archives apprentice at William & Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Ms. Stuart began working at the Maryland Historical Society in 1979 as assistant manuscripts librarian and was in charge of the society's reading room. She was later named associate editor of Maryland Historical Magazine.
In 1985, she was made acting head librarian of the museum and library of the Maryland Historical Society. A year later, she was named the permanent head librarian of the museum and library.
"I certainly knew her work at the library, but she tended to be a private person, and was all business," said Romaine Somerville, a Baltimore preservationist and former director of the Maryland Historical Society.
"Karen was a talented and hard worker. The world has lost a talented and key person, and an important professional," said Mrs. Somerville.
"She was very helpful in guiding my career," said Ms. Mannix. "Karen could be quiet, but she was a very kind person."
An expert on the "Star-Spangled Banner" manuscript, which is in the society's collection, Ms. Stuart was often called upon by local and national media to comment on the document.
She planned and executed an exhibition on the Calvert Papers of the founding family of Maryland, and also worked with Donna M. Ellis on an accompanying book, "The Calvert Papers."
In 1990, Ms. Stuart, who lived in Alexandria, Va., became an archivist at the Library of Congress.
"Karen worked in the processing section as an automated operations archivist in the manuscript division of the Library of Congress," said Janice F. Ruth, assistant chief of the division.
"When she first came, she worked in processing the manuscript collection as we were just starting on digitization. This was the American Memory project," she said. "Karen was interested in technology and how we could do our jobs better and make the collections accessible. She worked hard at getting information out to the research community."
Ms. Ruth described her as being "very warm, smart and witty and well-liked and respected by all."
"Because of her work, she interacted daily with everyone in the division who had questions about software and hardware," said Ms. Ruth.
From 1995 to 1996, Ms. Stuart was a member of the team that traveled to France to microfilm and prepare a finding aid to help visitors navigate the Marquis de Lafayette's papers at Chateau LaGrange.
Her professional memberships included the Mid-Atlantic Archives Conference, where she served on the publication committee and was Maryland State Caucus representative from 1983 to 1986, and the Society of American Archivists.
She was a collector of vintage postcards, and continued to pursue her research into the Brafferton School. She was also a nature photographer, family historian and genealogist.
Ms. Stuart was a world traveler, enjoyed music of all types, and was a "huge Nationals fan," family members said.
A memorial service will be held from 1 p.m to 5 p.m. Sept. 20 at the McFaul Center, 525 W. Macphail Road, Bel Air.
She is survived by an uncle, Elmer Stuart of Rural Retreat, Va.; an aunt, Delphine Cullop of Essex; and several cousins.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun