About the National Archives

Remarks of Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero at the ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the enactment of Social Security. Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N.Y.

August 14, 2010

Who is the Archivist?

David S. Ferriero
David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

The AOTUS Blog


What's an Archivist?

The Archivist was introduced by William vanden Heuvel, chairman emeritus and founder of the Roosevelt Institute.

Thank you, Ambassador vanden Heuvel, for that kind introduction.

It’s a pleasure to be here today to observe the 75th anniversary of a program that was one of the cornerstones of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Since it became part of American life, Social Security has done much to help our senior citizens spend their final years in dignity rather than dependency.

So it is all together fitting and proper that we observe this anniversary in the library of the President whose administration conceived it—and who supported it and signed it into law.

But I’d like to speak for a few minutes about two other legacies from FDR—this library and the National Archives itself.

The President signed legislation creating the National Archives on June 19, 1934, even as our main building was still under construction along Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington.

As the building took shape—and even before the first Archivist of the United States was on the job—both the architect and the archivist within Franklin Roosevelt emerged. He involved himself in plans for the building and for the records that would fill it.

He took a great interest in how the building was being constructed, how records would be handled when they came to the Archives, and who would deal with them. An inner courtyard was planned, but he ordered it filled with additional stack space when told the building was inadequate for the amount of records that would be coming.

Four years later, as Roosevelt was preparing to retire to Hyde Park at the end of his second term, he decided there should be a library to house the records of his two terms in office. So he created a Presidential library—right here, on land he donated to the government for that purpose.

This library was the first of the federally-operated Presidential libraries, and FDR spent many hours working in it after it opened in 1941. He is the only President to have his presidential library operating while he was still in office, during his third and fourth terms.

Today, the library reflects his personal touch in so many ways. He delivered several Fireside Chats from here, entertained dignitaries, and sorted his records and memorabilia.

But, most important, this library set the standard and a process for the establishment of the 12 other federally-run Presidential libraries located around the country.

The term "library" has always been a misnomer for these presidential libraries. On one hand, they are archives. On the other, they are museums.

The exhibit about Social Security that we open today, "Our Plain Duty," is an excellent example of how the research archives and the public museum support each other and enhance education and civic literacy that are so vital to our democracy.

This exhibit is built mainly around documents from the library’s holdings. But there are important contributions from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Social Security Administration.

We are particularly grateful to the Social Security Administration for its generous loans to this exhibit: posters and early pamphlets, documents, forms and other printed items. Also on loan is the "signing pen" that FDR used to sign the Social Security legislation, which he gave to the Fraternal Order of the Eagles for their stalwart support of the Social Security Act. We are also deeply indebted to the Roosevelt Institute for its primary financial support of this exhibition through the William J. vanden Heuvel Endowment for Special Exhibits.

This exhibit is also providing a springboard for discussion of other major New Deal legislation from 1935 and their meaning for 21st Century America. This fall will bring a series of forums titled "1935 and the Enduring New Deal." A national audience will join attendees here in Hyde Park in considering not only Social Security, but also other New Deal legislation, such as the National Labor Relations Act, the Works Progress Administration, and the Rural Electrification Administration.

These programs will be webcast by the Library and recorded by C-SPAN for later broadcast. For students, a series of document-based programs and curriculum guides will be presented here in Hyde Park and online. This will enable the Library to bring the story of Social Security into classrooms across the country and better equip students to evaluate the issues surrounding the program.

Exhibits marking important anniversaries not only remind us of historical events --- they also provide us with an opportunity to examine these events from a new perspective. As we all know, Social Security is part of our national debates today, and is likely to remain there for some time to come. A fresh look at its history is imperative.

We are all grateful to Franklin D. Roosevelt for this remarkable institution here in Hyde Park and for the National Archives and Records Administration, which holds the records of America’s story in 44 locations around the country. The Library and the Archives bring together documents and artifacts under the care of archivists and curators.

This, as FDR said in dedicating this library, allows our citizens "to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."

About the National Archives >

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

.