The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library: Paving the way

October is American Archives Month! We’re celebrating the work of archivists and the importance of archives with a series of blog posts about the Presidential libraries. The records created by Presidents while in office will become part of the National Archives, and eventually will be used by researchers. Here’s how it happens! 

Today’s post comes from Meagan Frenzer, graduate research intern for the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, located in Hyde Park, NY, was conceived and designed by President Roosevelt while he was still in office.

FDR's sketch of his vision for a presidential library at his home in Hyde Park, NY, April 12, 1937. (FDR LIbrary)

FDR’s sketch of his vision for a Presidential library at his home in Hyde Park, NY, April 12, 1937. (FDR LIbrary)

The library holds the President’s personal and family papers, the papers covering his public career at the state and national level, Eleanor Roosevelt’s papers, as well as those of many of their friends and associates.

FDR speaking at the dedication of the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, June 30, 1941. (FDR Library, National Archives)

FDR speaking at the dedication of the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, June 30, 1941. (FDR Library, National Archives)

Before President Roosevelt’s administration, records of the Presidents were considered private property, which they took with them upon leaving office. Previous Presidents’ materials and collections remained in collections at their estates.

President Roosevelt hoped to make his papers and other items available to the public, however, while also keeping the entire collection in one location.

The plan was for the library to function as a center for the study of the New Deal and the American government in World War II.

Thus, President Roosevelt proposed the creation of a Presidential library, which would then be donated to the United States Government, along with his papers.

The Presidential library system is now under the control of the National Archives, founded during Roosevelt’s administration.

FDR built his new library on a 16-acre section of his mother’s home in Hyde Park.

Eleanor Roosevelt opening the Franklin D. Roosevelt papers at Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York, March 17, 1950. (National Archives Identifier 196619)

Eleanor Roosevelt opening the Franklin D. Roosevelt papers at Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York, March 17, 1950. (National Archives Identifier 196619)

As nation’s first Presidential library, it also holds papers donated by Harry L. Hopkins, Frances Perkins, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and others who were critical figures during Roosevelt’s Presidency.

During its creation, the library encountered a legal battle over the rights to Roosevelt’s materials.

The decision was made that the collection could not be accessible to the public until it had been evaluated for “sensitive information” concerning World War II and other diplomatic discussions.

A committee diligently processed the collection, and on March 17, 1950, the first batch of  FDR materials were opened to the public.

After First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s death in 1962, her enormous collection of papers was added to the library.

The facilities expanded in 1970 to accommodate the First Lady’s materials and the increasing number of visitors.

The 2010-2013 renovation at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, August 2011 (FDR Library)

The 2010-2013 renovation at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, August 2011 (FDR Library)

By May 2010, a new renovation began that attempted to preserve the library’s historical appearance while bringing the building up to National Archives’ standards for the long-term preservation of historic collections.

After renovations, the library held a rededication ceremony on June 30, 2013, 72 years after FDR’s original dedication in 1941.

With the creation of his library, President Roosevelt set a precedent for the donation of Presidents’ papers. His actions paved the way for the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 and the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which together solidified the transfer process of presidential materials and creation of Presidential libraries.

Each President after President Roosevelt, and Hoover who was President before him, followed this tradition of constructing privately built libraries where their papers are housed after leaving office.

For more information visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum website.

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