About the National Archives

James E. O’Neill, Acting Archivist of the United States (1979-1980)

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Portrait of James E. O'Neill Acting Archivist of the United States, 1979-1980.


James O’Neill was appointed Acting Archivist of the United States on September 1, 1979, and served in the position until July 23, 1980.

O’Neill, originally from Renovo, PA, earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Detroit and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. He began his career as a professor at the University of Notre Dame, where he taught until 1963. He also worked at the Library of Congress, and taught history at Loyola University of Chicago.

In 1969 O’Neill began his career with the National Archives as the Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY. Before becoming Acting Archivist, he served as Deputy Archivist from 1972 to 1979. During that time he established new standards for access to records, oversaw the seizure of the Nixon Presidential Materials, and created an exhibit to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Archives’ establishment.

After serving as Acting Archivist, he became Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries, a role he filled until his death in 1987.

Throughout his time at the National Archives, O’Neill helped increase access to federal records and archives, oversaw the openings of multiple Presidential libraries, and assisted in shaping the agency’s policy on Presidential papers.

After nearly 20 years of service, Dr. O’Neill died of a heart attack on March 6, 1987, at the age of 58.

View historic photos of O'Neill in the National Archives Online Catalog.