Remembering James Berton “Bert” Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States (1968-1979)

Today’s post comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On April 7, 2015, former Archivist of the United States James “Bert” Rhoads passed away at the age of 86.

Portrait of James B. Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States, ca. 1968. (National Archives Identifier 7368465)
Portrait of James B. Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States, ca. 1968. (National Archives Identifier 7368465)

James Berton Rhoads was born on September 17, 1928, in Sioux City, Iowa. He graduated with a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1950 and earned an M.A. from the institution in 1952. He later earned his Ph.D. from American University in Washington, DC.

Rhoads joined the National Archives in 1952 as a microfilm operator, but soon headed down the professional track. In 1966 he was appointed Deputy Archivist under Dr. Robert Bahmer. He replaced Bahmer as Archivist of the United States on May 2, 1968, after having served as Acting Archivist for nearly two months.

Rhoads’s tenure as Archivist saw massive changes within the National Archives, many of which increased the accessibility of the National Archives and its holdings. He started the quarterly magazine Prologue, which saw its first issue published in Spring 1969. He also expanded the regional archives system to solve the two-fold problem of needing more records storage space and increasing the public’s access to records.

Though known as a shy man, Rhoads was an outspoken supporter of recordkeeping. He wrote extensively about the importance of saving records and the appropriate methods of records preservation, storage, and disposal. He was recognized for his hard work by the General Services Administration, the agency which previously oversaw the National Archives, with Meritorious and Distinguished Service awards in 1966, 1968, and 1979.

Rhoads retired from the National Archives in 1979. In 1984, he joined the faculty of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, as a history professor and director of the Graduate Program in Archives and Records Management until 1994.

Since his retirement from Western Washington University, Rhoads had lived in Missouri to be closer to family.

Prologue Magazine remains the flagship publication of the National Archives.

5 thoughts on “Remembering James Berton “Bert” Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States (1968-1979)

  1. My dad, James B. Rhoads, was actually 86 years old when he passed last week. I would like to thank Mr. Nieuwsma for his detailed description of my father’s archival journey.

  2. Thank you for your tribute to my father-in-law , Bert. I have had the pleasure of being married to his eldest daughter for nearly 40 years. His passing leaves a very large hole in our family.

  3. Bert is said to have wanted either a baby sister or a puppydog for his ninth birthday. Our parents compromised and he got me. For 77 years he has been my loving brother, sharing a birthday; I shall greatly miss his kindly presence in my life. Don

  4. I knew Bert well, although my career at the National Archives went in a different direction. I joined the agency in 1965, working in the office of Walt Robertson. I well recall when Wayne Grover retired and Bob Bahmer became Archivist and Bert Deputy Archivist. When Bert moved up, he offered me a position, as he put it, as “part of my team”, but by then I was committed to the Kennedy Library. He was a fine person!

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