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Frederick L. Rath, Jr. papers

 Collection 0232-MDHC

Frederick L. Rath, Jr. was a pioneer of historical conservation who served from 1949 to 1956 as the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, newly created by Congress to succeed the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings, which he had also headed. The papers document Rath's time at the National Trust, as well as his later career at the New York State Historical Association, where he became vice-director in 1957; at New York State's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, where he was deputy commissioner from 1972 until 1979; and at the Eastern National Park and Monument Association, where he was chief executive officer from 1979 to 1987. Also included are personal papers documenting Rath's early education at Dartmouth and Harvard, and his time in the Army during World War II, as well as his work as historian at the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York.


  • 1917-1998
  • Majority of material found within 1937-1988

Use and Access to Collection

Some personnel and student files are restricted. Please contact us for additional information.

This collection contains audiovisual materials. Items that cannot be used in the Special Collections reading room or are too fragile for researchers require that a digital copy be made prior to use. If you would like to access these materials, please contact us prior to your visit, so we may determine the proper steps to be taken.

This collection contains born-digital materials. Items may require specialized software for access. If you would like to access these materials, please contact us prior to your visit, so we may determine the proper steps to be taken.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


32.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Frederick L. Rath, Jr. papers include diaries, correspondence, educational records, writings, ephemera, pamphlets, publications, clippings, writings, memorabilia, reports, oral history transcripts, research notes, bibliographies, maps, daily logs, date books, photographs, audio recordings, pamphlets, and personal records gathered and produced during Rath's schooling, military service, and career in historic preservation. The collection dates from 1917 to 1998 with the bulk of materials dating between 1937 and 1988. Subjects addressed in depth in this collection include historic preservation and the history of the preservation movement; the interpretation of historic sites; fundraising and development for historical organizations; planning and managing preservation projects; heritage tourism; museums and museum training; and the history, development, and management of federal, state, and local historical agencies and preservation programs. The papers also include eyewitness accounts of the battle of El Alamein and operations in the Colmar Pocket region of Germany during World War II. Significant figures represented in primary documents in the Rath papers include David E. Finley, Horace Marsden Albright, Charles Hosmer, Charles Peterson, General Ulysses S. Grant III, and Louise du Pont Crowninshield.


Frederick L. Rath, Jr. (1913-2001), was an American historian and a leader in the field of historic preservation from its beginnings as a national movement in the 1940s. His engagement with the problems of preservation and interpretation at a time when no legislation or formal government body existed to support them helped to define what is today an established and expansive profession. He often referred to himself as a "roadside historian" and approached the built environment as an important instrument for public history. His idealism was tempered by pragmatism and an entrepreneurial approach to preservation, reflected in the theme, "Historic Sites are Good Business," which he used in public addresses as early as 1940 and throughout his life. His involvement in the formation of many of the core preservation organizations that exist today is a testimony to his lasting influence in the field.

Rath was born on May 19, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. A 1934 graduate of Dartmouth College, Rath earned a master's degree in history from Harvard University in 1936. Rath first brought his historical training to bear on the interpretation of historic sites while employed with the National Park Service (NPS), where, beginning in 1937, he served as historian for a number of NPS historic sites including Morristown, New Jersey; Fort Pulaski, Georgia; and Vicksburg, Mississippi. During World War II, he served as an ambulance driver with the American Field Service in Syria and Africa from 1941 to 1944 (2nd NZ Division, British 8th Army) and witnessed the battle of El Alamein. In 1945, he served in the U. S. Army in Europe (Military Intelligence-OB, XXIst and XVIIIth Airborne Corps). After World War II, Rath returned to the Park Service to become the first historian for the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York. While at Hyde Park, Rath participated in a pioneering oral history project that lasted from the late 1940s through the early 1950s, in which he and George Palmer, Site Superintendent, made wire recordings of interviews with members of the Roosevelts' house staff and the community in Hyde Park.

In 1948, Rath was invited to Washington to serve as the first executive secretary for the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings (NCHSB). The NCHSB and National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) were the first national organizations in the United States in the field of historic preservation and were formally established by an act of Congress in 1949. In 1953, the two organizations were merged into one, known as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Rath became director of this new organization, serving from 1953 to 1956.

From 1956 to 1972, Rath was vice director of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) and Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York. In 1963, he helped launch the Cooperstown Graduate Program in History Museum Training at NYSHA, in which he was an adjunct professor until 1972. In 1972, he assumed responsibility for historic preservation in New York State as deputy commissioner in the Office of Parks and Recreation (NYSOPR), Historic Preservation Division, setting up the first comprehensive program for state sites. Rath also helped to found the Eastern National Parks and Monuments Association (ENPMA), a nonprofit educational service organization cooperating with the Park Service in developing, publishing, and procuring historical publications, media programs, and guides for sale in parks, and he served as chairman of the board from 1977 to 1978. In 1979, he left the NYSOPR and became ENPMA's chief executive officer, serving in that position until his retirement in 1988.

Throughout his career, Rath held numerous offices and government appointments in professional organizations and agencies. He was a founding member of the American Association for State and Local History and president of that organization from 1960 to 1962. In 1968, he was appointed to New York State's first Governor's Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation and was its chairman from 1971 to 1972. Upon the establishment of the first State Historic Preservation Office, he became the state's deputy historic preservation officer, working with the federal government to coordinate the preservation of historic sites in New York.. He served on the New York State Board for Historic Preservation from 1979 to 1985 and was a trustee emeritus of the Hancock Shaker Community and a trustee of the Planting Fields Foundation.

Rath's publications included Franklin D. Roosevelt's Hyde Park (1949) with illustrator Lili Rethi, The New York State Historical Association and Its Museums: An Informal Guide (editor, 1968), and the six-volume Bibliography of Historical Organization Practices (co-editor, 1975-1984). After formally retiring, Rath was also active in research, writing, editing, and preparing his papers and materials for deposit in the University of Maryland Libraries' Archives and Manuscripts Department. Discover America: The Smithsonian Book of the National Parks, prepared by Rath with master photographer David Muench and writer Charles Little, was published in 1996.

His awards include a Bronze Star Medal, the Conservation Service Award of the U.S. Department of the Interior, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the State University of New York, the National Trust's Crowninshield Award, and the Honor Award of the New York Parks and Conservation Association.

He was a member of the Century Association and the New York City Harvard Club.

Frederick Louis Rath, Jr. died on April 1, 2001 at the age of 88. His wife of 55 years, Ann Rath, and his two sons, William and David Rath, survived him.


The collection is organized as eleven series.

Series 1
Series 2
National Park Service
Series 3
World War II
Series 4
National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings/National Trust for Historic Preservation
Series 5
New York State Historical Assocation (NYSHA)
Series 6
New York State Office of Parks and Recreation
Series 7
Eastern National Parks and Monuments Association (ENPMA)
Series 8
Other Work
Series 9
Series 10
Audiovisual and Electronic Materials
Series 11

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Ann Rath donated the papers of Frederick L. Rath, Jr. to the University of Maryland Libraries in 2002. Ann Rath donated a second, smaller accession consisting of books and papers in January 2004.

Related Material

The papers of William Murtagh, first keeper of the National Register, and the papers of Charles Hosmer, author of Preservation Comes of Age, are both held by the Archives and Manuscripts Department, University of Maryland Libraries.

Rath's book collection has been cataloged in the University Libraries' Catalog using the note "Frederick L. Rath, Jr. Collection," and added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection, University of Maryland Libraries, includes over 100 linear feet of vertical files kept by staff at the National Trust and include materials collected during Rath's time at the Trust. Many of the subjects and projects reflected in the Rath papers are also reflected in these vertical files.

The National Park Service History Collection at the Harper's Ferry Center Library in Harper's Ferry, WV contains a wealth of archival materials relating to the history of the agency, its employees, and its historic sites.

The National Archives and Records Administration is the legal repository for the organizational records of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Processing Information

The final arrangement of the papers of Frederick L. Rath, Jr. follows Rath's own scheme, which was devised late in his life when he undertook the processing of his own papers for deposit for scholarly research. The overarching arrangement, by series relating to organizations in the order in which Rath worked for them, was Rath's design. At the box, folder, and item level, staff modified Rath's arrangement to promote clarity and access. Rath's original arrangement at the box and folder levels can be reconstructed by consulting his "index and summary" folders at the beginning of each series or section.

During his own processing, Rath often annotated his papers with notes on small slips of paper and on the records themselves. Occasionally the processing archivist has annotated items with dates or other identifying information, placed in brackets.

Photographs have been removed to Series IX, audiovisual and digital media to Series X, and three-dimensional memorabilia to Series XI. Oversize materials have been removed to a mapcase. A separation sheet has been placed in the original location of each item removed. Newsprint clippings have been photocopied onto acid-free paper and the original newsprint discarded. Rubber bands and metal fasteners have been removed and replaced with plastic clips or paper enclosures. Books found in the collection have been cataloged and added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Library book collection.

Guide to the Frederick L. Rath, Jr. Papers
Processed by Megan McShea.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742