The Scranton Papers

Eric Barron
September 01, 1993
man reads with hand on head
Courtesy of the Historical Collections and Labor Archives

In a Penn State archive is the speech William Scranton gave to the 1964 Republican Convention. It is not long: about six pages, triple spaced on thin, yellowed paper—no more than 500 words. Most of it is typical political speak. Along with a few minor changes, the original last paragraph is crossed out. A rewritten final paragraph is also crossed out. With little space left at the bottom of the page, in red pen that has faded to pink, Scranton withdrew from the presidential race and asked the delegates to nominate Barry Goldwater.

Scranton, governor of Pennsylvania at the time, had decided to run for president when Goldwater voted against Civil Rights and no moderate Republican emerged as strong candidate. A descendant of the family who founded the northeast PA city of the same name, Scranton had served the state as a Congressman, as well as being its 41st governor. President Eisenhower had appointed him Special Assistant to the Secretary of State. But his decision to run for president came late—only four weeks before the convention. Despite cross-country campaigning, Scranton was unable to garner the needed number of delegates. Goldwater won the nomination, and Scranton announced he would never again run for elective office.

He remained, however, in politics. Under Johnson he was vice-chair of the National Advisory Panel on Insurance in Riot- Affected Areas. He was Nixon's special envoy to the Middle East. And Ford named him ambassador to the United Nations.

With such a public life comes an accumulation of speeches, letters, press releases, and clippings. Boxes and boxes of important and interesting documents that, for years, no library seemed interested in. George Wolf, professor of American studies and history at Capitol Campus in the 1970s and Scranton's biographer, encouraged the former governor to preserve his papers at Penn State. Although a Yale graduate, Scranton wanted to have his papers archived in a Pennsylvania school. After several years of correspondence with then-archivist Ronald Filippelli and others affiliated with the library, he decided to send them to Penn State because of its status as a state-related university.

The first donation came in 1979 to what was then called the Pennsylvania Historical Collection in Pattee Library (now the Historical Collection and Labor Archives); Scranton, now 76, has been adding to the collection ever since. Its 140 boxes make it the largest personal collection in the archives (the steelworkers archive is the largest overall) and one of the most complete. Still, the Scranton collection is just one in "hundreds and hundreds of collections—some big, but others just a couple pieces of paper," says Diana Shenk, head of the Historical Collections and Labor Archives. "The archives are one of the things that make a library special. The collections are one-of- a-kind information."

Each collection is appraised by Shenk and her staff. "What we decide to keep is based on the informational and evidential value of the material, current and future research trends, and a host of other considerations. Very little was discarded from the Scranton Papers—duplicated material and routine unannotated publications that are available in other parts of the library."

Researchers come from all over the country to use the collections. Several biographies have been written of Harry Anslinger, a 1920s drug enforcement agent from Hollidaysburg, PA, using his extensive collection in Pattee. The five letters of John B. Thomas, which make up the entire collection, provide a glimpse into 19th-century mining conditions.

The Scranton collection has been used by the Gerald Ford Library—Scranton was a member of Ford's transition team—and by numerous students interested in Scranton's role on the Commission for Campus Unrest, formed by Nixon after the Kent State shootings.

While the bulk of the Scranton collection is official documents from his governmental roles, the papers from the presidential campaign are more personal. Notes to and from friends are handwritten and informal; the diagram of the convention "war room" is sketched in pencil.

"Overall," says Shenk, "it is a good source of mid-to-late- 20th-century politics."

Diana Shenk is Head, Historical Collections and Labor Archives, W313 Pattee Library, University Park, PA 16802; 814-863-3181. William Scranton will be making his first official visit to Penn State in October 1993.

Last Updated September 01, 1993