HOWARD ZAHNISER PAPERS
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The collection spans 1921–2004 and documents the activities of Howard Zahniser throughout his career with the U.S. Government and The Wilderness Society, as well as his posthumous conservationist legacy documented in clippings and correspondence created by his family. Materials consist of newsletters, reports, speech transcripts, congressional statements, correspondence, meeting minutes, publication drafts, notes, journals, poems, clippings, brochures, photographs, and audio recordings. The bulk of the material in the collection dates from the 1930s through the early 1960s.
This series documents Howard Zahniser’s career, including his employment with the U.S. Government working in the realm of public relations and communications; his writing for publications including Nature Magazine and Encyclopædia Britannica; and his work as an administrator and editor for The Wilderness Society, during which time he became a successful wilderness lobbyist and author of the Wilderness Bill. Items include reports, memos, press releases, speech transcripts, congressional statements, correspondence, journals, notes, and clippings. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and documents Zahniser’s early attempts at publishing and his lobbyist work in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Notes and journals detail Zahniser’s daily life, as well as his many travels to congressional hearings and conferences, and visits to public lands as part of his work and as recreation with his family.
Correspondence, clippings, and journals created by Howard Zahniser’s parents, wife, and children. The bulk of the material relates to Howard Zahniser and wilderness legislation passed after his death.
This series contains audio tape recordings of Howard Zahniser engaged in telephone conversations, radio programs, and speech rehearsals.
Black-and-white and color photographs document Howard Zahniser’s family life and his work with the Wilderness Society. Some photographs are illustrations for Bureau of Biological Survey press releases.
This series contains oversize article clippings and Howard Zahniser’s 1957 Doctor of Letters diploma from Greenville College.
The collection is open for research.
The Howard Zahniser Papers are the physical property of the Denver Public Library.
All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from material in the collection should be discussed with the appropriate librarian or archivist. Permission for publication may be given on behalf of the Denver Public Library as the owner of the physical item. It is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained by the customer. The Library does not assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright or publication rights of the manuscript held by the writer, heirs, donors, or executors. Reproduction restrictions are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Howard Clinton Zahniser was born February 25, 1906, in Franklin, Pennsylvania, to Bertha Belle (Newton) Zahniser and Reverend Archibald Howard McElrath Zahniser, a Free Methodist minister. While the family moved frequently, Zahniser spent his teenage years in Tionesta, Pennsylvania, just west of the Allegheny National Forest, where he cultivated a lifelong interest in nature and literature. At the age of seventeen, Zahniser developed osteomyelitis, a bone infection in his femur. He recovered but suffered from poor health throughout his life.
In 1926, shortly after his father accepted a position as a pastor of the Free Methodist Church in Greenville, Illinois, Zahniser enrolled in Greenville College where he majored in English and edited the college newspaper, The Papyrus. He also worked as a reporter for the Greenville Advocate and Pittsburgh Press. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1928, Zahniser taught high school English for one year in Greenville.
In 1930, Zahniser entered government service as an editorial clerk for the Division of Publications in the United States Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Over a year later, he moved to the Bureau of Biological Survey in the Department of Agriculture, where he edited scientific reports and wrote press releases, speeches, and radio program scripts. Zahniser was soon put in charge of the Section of Current and Visual Information, where he continued writing and editing. He also appeared in radio programs such as The National Farm and Home Hour. While employed with the Bureau of Biological Survey, Zahniser wrote regularly for American Nature Association’s Nature Magazine, producing the columns “Indoors and Out” and “Nature in Print” from 1935 through 1959. From 1940 until his death, Zahniser contributed conservation-related entries to Encyclopædia Britannica.
In 1939, the Bureau of Biological Survey became part of the newly-created Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of Agriculture. When the Fish and Wildlife Service relocated to Chicago in 1942, Zahniser chose to stay in Washington, D.C., where he became Assistant Chief of the Division of Information in the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering. He stayed with the Bureau until resigning in September 1945, when he accepted a full-time position with The Wilderness Society.
Founded in 1936 by conservationists Robert Sterling Yard, Benton MacKaye, Aldo Leopold, Robert Marshall, and Harvey Broome, The Wilderness Society is an organization that works to protect wilderness areas. Zahniser and Olaus Murie were hired to lead The Wilderness Society after Yard, the organization’s chief administrator and editor, passed away in May 1945. While Murie acted as a part-time advisor and policy maker, Zahniser‘s role was that of administrator and editor. Zahniser looked to grow the society and its influence, and was successful in significantly increasing membership. Zahniser became an elected council member of The Wilderness Society in 1954.
Beginning in the 1950s, Zahniser became progressively more concerned with the growing number of wilderness areas threatened by dam building, logging, mining, farming, and tourism. In 1954, he worked with Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to preserve the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal area in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and West Virginia. Zahniser then led a campaign which successfully terminated plans for construction of the Echo Park Dam in western Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument when the Colorado River Storage Project Act was passed in 1956.
After his 1955 address “The Need for Wilderness Areas” was published in the Congressional Record, Zahniser gained notoriety among lawmakers and conservation activists. Zahniser’s belief that only strict zoning programs would halt the exploitation of wilderness areas led to the drafting of the Wilderness Bill in 1956. The Wilderness Bill was introduced to the Senate by Senator Hubert H. Humphrey on June 7, 1956, and to the House of Representatives by Representative John P. Saylor on June 11, 1956. Despite failing health, from 1956 to 1964 Zahniser led a campaign for the Wilderness Bill, spending most of his time traveling, lobbying, and attending public hearings around the country. In his free time, Zahniser liked to hike and camp with wife Alice Bernita (Hayden) Zahniser and their four children, Mathias, Esther, Karen, and Edward. Zahniser collected books and read extensively, often studying the Book of Job and the works of Dante Alighieri, William Blake, Rachel Carson, and Henry David Thoreau. He served as President of the Thoreau Society from 1956 through 1957.
Howard Zahniser died unexpectedly of heart failure on May 5, 1964, at the age of 58. His death came just months before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, on September 3, 1964.
After his death, many items from Howard Zahniser's personal library were donated to the Denver Public Library's Conservation Library Center (now known as the Conservation Collection in the Western History and Genealogy Department). Known as the Howard Zahniser Memorial Wilderness Collection, this collection was added to by the Wilderness Society with donations made in Zahniser's memory.
3 boxes (3 linear feet)
1 photo box
1 oversize folio
Language of Materials
Other Finding Aids
Mathias Zahniser donated the collection in 2002, with an additional donation made in 2004. Edward Zahniser donated materials in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2013.
Number of Boxes: 3 (3 linear feet)
Audio-Visual: 1 AVEnvelope
Photographs: 1 PhotoBox
Oversize: 1 OVFolio
PROCESSED AND ENCODED BY:
- Clippings. Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Correspondence. Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Manuscripts. Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Photographs. Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Wilderness areas -- United States. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- HOWARD ZAHNISER PAPERS
- February 2013
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script