The Vault

Coping With a Raging Case of Beatlemania

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This letter, held in the National Archives, serves as proof that in the degree and intensity of their love for the Beatles, baby boomers rivaled the most committed of today’s Beliebers.

In the spring of 1964, the Department of Labor, worried that American-born entertainers were facing unfair competition, tightened the rules allowing foreign talent to enter the United States.

The actual law allowed for entertainers of special talent to apply through the Immigration and Naturalization Service for exemptions, so the Beatles weren’t shut out of the United States forever. Unfortunately for Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz, several poorly worded newspaper articles led teenagers to believe otherwise. Adolescents from across the United States wrote to the Labor Department in protest.

Janelle Blackwell’s arguments in this letter rested mostly on her own health and wellness. (“I and three other girls were so upset we couldn’t go to school today.”) Blackwell asked that her letter be treated as a business letter, though she acknowledged that she wasn’t quite sure how to write one: “This letter I know is not in good form of any kind … but I feel terrible. I’m 15 and I feel like 80.”

Despite its seemingly frivolous subject matter, in Blackwell’s demand to be treated like an adult and heard in the halls of power, the letter foreshadows the student movements of the latter part of the decade. Another such letter, from Bonnie Wilkins of Arizona, enclosed petitions with thousands of signatures—an impressive feat of organization in those pre-Internet days.

Janelle Blackwell letter

National Archives ID 596104, “Letter from Janelle Blackwell, 04/03/1964.”

National Archives ID 596104, “Letter from Janelle Blackwell, 04/03/1964.”