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.


Shipman’s arrival in Naples was quickly followed by his courtesy calls on Lt. Gen. Sir Frank N. Mason-MacFarlane, Chief Commissioner of the Allied Control Commission in Naples, and to Maj. Ernest T. DeWald, a former professor of art and archaeology at Princeton and chief of the MFA&A subcommission of the ACC. He also quickly made contact with Monuments Man Sir Hilary Jenkinson, archivist at the Public Records Office (PRO) and archives adviser to the British War Office. Over 15 days of discussions, Major R. J. Cave, G-2 (Advanced Intelligence), Shipman, and Jenkinson discussed the value of archives and records for carrying out the war effort and for administrative uses. They developed what seemed to them to be a satisfactory procedure to protect records.


Both Shipman and Jenkinson believed that a leaflet should be prepared in Italian on “first aid” to damaged records. They had a translation done of a portion of a leaflet that Jenkinson had compiled for use in England. Because the greatest danger to records was from uniformed troops, another leaflet was prepared for distribution among them. In simple and direct language, the leaflet set forth the message that records are important in the war effort and should not be unnecessarily damaged or destroyed.


Next, Shipman and Jenkinson worked on producing a comprehensive list of Italian archival repositories. The British had not published any such lists, but shortly after he reached Naples, Jenkinson had begun compiling a rather full, classified list of Italian archival repositories of chiefly older records. Shipman brought to his attention the lists that the Americans had produced. During the latter part of April, Jenkinson enlarged considerably the National Archives–produced descriptive list of leading archival repositories in Italy, with special emphasis on the older historical archives. By early May, he finished his list and arranged for its distribution.


Shipman, knowing his assignment was only temporary, believed it was necessary for an American archivist to be permanently attached to the MFA&A Subcommission immediately. Already Jenkinson had arranged for two British captains to be appointed to the subcommission as archivists. On April 8 he wrote to Col. Norman E. Fiske, Deputy Executive Commissioner, Allied Control Commission, recommending the assignment of an American archivist to the ACC. He copied this communication to the President, the Archivist of the United States, Hilldring, and Devers. He attached a suggested program of work for the archivist, noting that the person would collaborate with G-2 in the work of protecting archives and records from the moment of occupation.


On April 18, Shipman began a tour of southern Italy and Sicily, surveying archival repositories, several of which had been bombed. He talked with archival authorities and generally secured information that formed the basis for a number of recommendations he would later make to AFHQ and to the CAD in Washington. When possible, he talked to officers about the importance for military purposes of the proper protection and handling of modern records.


Upon returning to the United States on May 14, Shipman provided additional information regarding the appointment of an American archivist for Italy. Attention was eventually focused on Capt. William D. McCain, current historian with U.S. Fifth Army in Italy and a former National Archives staff member. While waiting for a response regarding McCain’s appointment, Shipman wrote to President Roosevelt on June 20 regarding the disposition of captured enemy records at the end of hostilities as well as that of the records of combined operations. Roosevelt referred it to the secretary of war, who informed the President about what was being done in that regard.


There were no archivists with MFA&A when those officers went into action in France in June and July of 1944. The National Archives wanted to avoid repeating that mistake. Capt. Asa Thornton, a former National Archives staff member, was sent with Shipman and permanently assigned to the theater to carry on the contemplated program until reinforcements arrived.


On September 16 Hilldring wrote to G-5, the Civil Affairs Division of General Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), to report that Shipman had been authorized and invited to perform special temporary duty with MFA&A Section of G-5. Shipman’s orders had been issued in response to G-5’s request for an expert to be sent to the European theater of operations to prepare plans for preserving and using German archives. Thornton left within a week, and Shipman followed him to London on September 19. When Thornton arrived in London, SHAEF assigned him to work with Sir Hilary Jenkinson in making his list of archives of western Germany.


On September 27, SHAEF MFA&A staff met with Shipman to discuss German archives and U.S. archival personnel in Germany. Shipman had a chance to discuss archival issues with Maj. Mason Hammond, then acting chief, MFA&A, U.S. Group Control Council. Thornton and Shipman were directed to report next to SHAEF at Versailles and arrived there on October 3. For the next two months, Shipman provided advice and assistance regarding archival matters. In December 1944, he returned to the United States and his duties with the Roosevelt Library.


Before leaving Europe, Shipman wrote instructions for the U.S. archivists assigned to the MFA&A section SHAEF. He pointed out that their purpose was to protect the enemy archives and records in areas under Allied control from unnecessary damage, loss, or destruction. He recommended that archivists contact combat units to remind them of “the value of records as a weapon of war so that they will not unwittingly destroy important material.” Shipman added that past experience had shown that intelligence officers had done much harm through mishandling. “The Archivist,” Shipman wrote, “should move about, use his authority and influence to see to it that the instructions regarding the handling of records are obeyed.” He added, “No amount of instructing will answer all the questions that will arise. Within the limits of the authority granted him, the Archivist must exercise his own ingenuity and intelligence; that fact should be remembered at all times.”


His work in Italy and Germany, in helping to protect archives and modern records for cultural, administrative, and intelligence purposes, was greatly appreciated by intelligence and civil affairs staffs. By demonstrating the importance of having archivists involved in MFA&A work, Shipman’s efforts paved the wave for archivists like Monuments Men Maj. Lester K. Born, Sgt. B. Child, and Col. Seymour J. Pomrenze to play important roles in archival matters in occupied Germany. After the President’s death in April 1945, Shipman took charge of the transfer of White House papers and materials to the Roosevelt Library. He resigned in April 1948 and joined the newly created National Security Resources Board. The following year, he transferred to the Department of State as records management officer, and in 1954 he became librarian of the Department of State, a position he held until he retired on June 30, 1970.


He died in June 1978, fondly remembered by his National Archives colleagues and the military personnel with whom he worked in Europe and the United States.*


*The Foundation wishes to thank Dr. Greg Bradsher, senior archivist at the National Archives, for this biographical profile. Dr. Bradsher’s entire article on Shipman can be viewed online at

Photo courtesy of FDR Presidential Library & Museum.

bottom of page