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Honoring the Life and Legacy of Senator Frank Lautenberg

March 12, 2018

In 2013, United States Senator Frank Lautenberg donated his papers to Rutgers University—for the second time.

He had originally pledged his papers to the university in 2000, after completing his third term in office. A brief retirement later, however, Lautenberg decided to reenter the political sphere, serving for additional terms in 2002 and 2008. The papers ultimately arrived at Rutgers five years ago, after the senator’s death due to viral pneumonia at the age of 89. He was the oldest sitting senator at the time.

Processing the collection proved to be another multiyear endeavor. Beginning in 2015, a team led by archivist Sheridan Sayles meticulously sorted through 2,250 boxes provided by the senator’s office. Their contents ranged from constituent correspondence, research files, and photographs to campaign memorabilia and audiovisual materials in formats running the gamut from floppy disks to U-matic tapes.

Fast forward to 2018, and the collection is making its first foray into the public.

New Jersey First: The Life and Legacy of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg is on display at Alexander Library through September 28. The exhibition includes over a dozen cases and displays highlighting the senator’s life, political campaigns, and many policy achievements.

Throughout his Senate career of more than 28 years, Lautenberg championed for causes including civil rights, public transportation, gun control, environmental safety, consumer protection, and public health. He helped raise the federal drinking age to 21, ban smoking on domestic airline flights and in buildings receiving federal funding, provide federal services to AIDS patients, and prevent domestic abusers from purchasing firearms. He served on many Senate committees, including the Committee on Appropriations and the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health (which he chaired).

He was also a great supporter of Rutgers, advocating for federal funding for student aid and research. For these efforts, he was awarded the prestigious Rutgers Medal in 2000.

Senator Lautenberg’s daughter Ellen spoke about her father’s deep ties to Rutgers and to New Jersey at the exhibition opening in February.

“He really was very proud of Rutgers. It was important to him that his papers were here, because it is the state university of New Jersey and he was really a kid from New Jersey,” she said. “I’m glad that we were able to see that project through.”

Prior to his life in politics, Lautenberg served as CEO of Automatic Data Processing (ADP), a computer payroll company founded by his former classmates, whose foundation provided generous funding to support processing the collection.

The Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Papers join the political papers of more than 20 New Jersey senators, governors, and representatives in Special Collections and University Archives—including those of Millicent Fenwick, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for a seat against Lautenberg in 1982, giving him his first victory.

“Taken together, these collections constitute a tremendously useful resource for anyone studying the intricacies of political history in New Jersey,” said Dee Magnoni, assistant vice president for information services and director of New Brunswick Libraries.

The Lautenberg Papers will be made available for research later this year.