top of page

 Fred W. Shipman (1903-1978) 


Born in 1903, Fred W. Shipman came to Washington in 1929 to work in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress after receiving his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Clark University, pursuing further graduate studies at Harvard, working at the American Antiquarian Society, and teaching at Boston University.


Shipman was one of the first professionals selected by the first Archivist of the United States, R.D.W. Connor, for the new National Archives in 1935. On March 16, 1936, he was appointed chief of what later became the Division of State Department Archives. In December 1938, Shipman became involved with Roosevelt’s plans to establish a separate institution for his papers and collections. Connor, who was working with the President on the project, selected Shipman to make a survey of President and Mrs. Roosevelt’s papers in Washington. After consulting with FDR, on July 16, 1940, Connor named Shipman director of the first presidential library.


After reading the paper “Public Records Under Military Occupation,” written by Dr. Ernst Posner and published by the National Archives, Shipman wrote a memorandum to Roosevelt in which he stressed the importance of protecting records in war areas, both for their eventual usefulness to military government and for their cultural value. Two days later, Roosevelt read the memorandum at a cabinet meeting and asked that the members issue any orders required to ensure that records in war areas were given necessary protection.


Following up on Roosevelt’s interest and concern, on May 8 Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall cabled General Eisenhower, then Supreme Commander, Allied Forces of the North African Theater of Operations (NATOUSA), and Jacob L. Devers, Commanding General of U.S. Army Forces in Europe. The secretary of war established a Civil Affairs Division (CAD) within the War Department, on March 1, 1943. The CAD was to formulate and coordinate U.S. military policy concerning the administration and government of captured or liberated countries, to advise and assist the commanders engaged in such occupation or civil affairs activities, and to train and supply personnel for such activities. Maj. Gen. John H. Hilldring became the CAD director in April 1943. Discussions within the military civil affairs authorities led to the creation in May of the Office of Adviser on Fine Arts and Monuments to the Chief of Civil Affairs at the headquarters of Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT). On May 13, Marshall informed Eisenhower by cable that the first American appointed to that office was former Harvard professor Capt. Mason Hammond, formally making him the first “Monuments Man.”


Meanwhile, early in July 1943, representatives of the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas visited the National Archives. They asked for the agency’s advice and cooperation in developing lists for the armed forces of cultural monuments, treasures, and institutions. The National Archives furnished overall supervision, materials, typing assistance, and revision and editing,


The Allies, led by British General Harold Alexander’s Fifteenthth Army Group, landed on the mainland of Italy on September 3, 1943. As the Italian campaign progressed, there was growing interest in the state of Italian archives. In late October, Eisenhower told the Combined Chiefs of Staff that already the headquarters at Algiers was receiving requests for Italian documents. He indicated that the systematic collection of archives and documents required organized and directed effort by competent archivists. Within a week, the Combined Chiefs of Staff said they agreed with Eisenhower. In response to Eisenhower’s request for an archivist, Shipman was attached for three months to the ACC Sub-Commission on Fine Arts, Archives, and Monuments.


On January 20, 1944, Hilldring notified the National Archives that arrangements had been completed with the North African Theater Commander for the attachment of Shipman to the Allied Con­trol Commission in Italy (ACC)’s MFA&A subcommission. Shipman’s mission would be to survey the archival collections, propose ways that G-2 (Army Intelligence) and the Office of Naval Intelligence could use the materials, secure the preservation of the archives, and make them available for the ACC’s use.


Shipman’s mission was to survey the problems relative to records and archives in Italy and to advise in the preparation of plans to preserve, salvage, and make available important records for use in the administration of Italy. He was also authorized to perform special and temporary duties with the MFA&A subcommission of the Allied Control Commission. He left Washington on March 17, and on March 30 reported to AFHQ, Military Government Section, at Algiers, as archives adviser to the Fine Arts, Monuments, and Archives subcommission. When Shipman arrived, many thought he had come to inquire into these matters for the President directly. Knowledge of the President’s personal interest in the subject created an atmosphere that was of immense help to Shipman, as was a personal letter from the President that he took with him.