Skip to main content

George L. Radcliffe papers

Identifier: MS 2280


This collection contains the papers of the prominent lawyer and politician, George L. Radcliffe (1877-1974). Included are personal papers that deal with his family and his property in Dorchester County, Maryland; papers pertaining to his twelve years as a United States Senator; and papers concerning his affiliation with various social, political, economic, and historical organizations.


  • circa 1895-1972
  • Majority of material found in 1910-1965


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical Note

The Civil War had been over only twelve years when George Lovic Pierce Radcliffe was born on the family farm in Dorchester County, Maryland. He was raised in the midst of political unrest from the recent war, coupled with English influences brought by settlers and perpetuated by their descendants on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Specott, the farm where Radcliffe grew up, was completely self-sufficient. Cotton and wool raised there furnished clothing. Livestock, crops, fruit and nuts provided necessary food. Inexhaustible supplies of seafood teamed in the waters nearby. Timber provided the raw materials needed in shipbuilding. Wind mills, carpenter's shops, and blacksmiths were all present. The fertile soil and the mildness of climate helped contribute to the type of economic self-sufficiency present at Specott.

The foundation for Radcliffe's interests and occupations later in life was molded out of this environment of political upheaval, gracious Eastern Shore life styles, and hard work on the farm. His studies at Johns Hopkins University focused on history and political science, and he eventually took a Ph.D. from the university after writing a thesis on the then still contoversial subject of the secession movement in Maryland during the Civil War. After teaching history at Baltimore City College, Radcliffe decided to shift his career towards law. In 1903 he received a law degree from the University of Maryland and after having been admitted to the bar, began an extensive career in the business world as an attorney for the American Bonding Company. By 1913, Radcliffe was president of the American Bonding Company and was also 1st Vice President of Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland. His work and interest with these companies spanned his lifetime.

By 1916 Radcliffe began to show interest in governmental work. From 1916-1919 he was Liquor License Commissioner of Baltimore City, and in 1919 he became Secretary of State in Maryland. He was also deeply involved with the inauguration of Governor Albert Ritchie and became an influential figure in Maryland Democratic campaigns, especially the campaigns of Franklin D. Roosevelt and prominent Maryland political figures. In 1934, at Franklin Roosevelt's request, Radcliffe became regional advisor for the Public Works Administration. In this capacity he had a great influence on securing funds for New Deal projects not only in Maryland but in nine other states of the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions as well.

Urged to run for governor of Maryland in 1934, Radcliffe somewhat reluctantly entered the race, then abruptly withdrew out of a desire for party unity. He did, however, shift his aspirations towards the United States Senate and won handily in November of 1934. This was the first elected position Radcliffe had ever held. His years in the Senate spanned 1934-1946 and included work in the Banking and Currency, Finance, Commerce, Merchant Marine, Immigration, Migratory Wild Life, and Library Committees. Although accused of being a rubber stamp for President Roosevelt (as a result of his close personal friendship with the President) Radcliffe split ideologically with Roosevelt over the Supreme Court Packing Case, and the re-election of Maryland Senator Millard E. Tydings. Radcliffe lost his bid for re-election in 1946 to Herbert L. O'Conor.

Throughout this hectic period of Radcliffe's life he never lost sight of his first two loves, history and farming. He became a member of the Maryland Historical Society in 1908, became its Vice President in 1933, and its President in 1939. Not until 1964 did he relinquish his position as President, to become Chairman from 1965-1974. During his years as President, Radcliffe increased the membership of the society, added significantly to its holdings and its physical plant, and generally improved the status of the institution. Radcliffe supplemented his devotion to the Maryland Historical Society by accepting other responsibilities related to Maryland history. These included: Chairman of the 1924 Baltimore City Commission which saved the Shot Tower; chairman of the Star Spangled Banner Committee 1939; Maryland War Records 1942; Chairman of the celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Religious Toleration Act, 1949; Chairman of the Committee of Historical Markers in Maryland, 1954; organizer of Grace Foundation Inc. of Taylor's Island to restore Old Trinity Church and Chapel of Ease.

Radcliffe also never lost sight of his Eastern Shore heritage, nor of his property and homes in Dorchester County. He had tenants on some of his land, and frequently corresponded with them concerning crops, farm buildings, and finances. Radcliffe, although never actually farming the land himself, played a major role in the decision-making processes of the farms. His devotion to the land was pervasive even up to the year he died when he gave the Maryland Environmental Trust a perpetual easement on Specott. Under the terms of the deed of easement, the Radcliffe family retained ownership of the land yet gave up the right to develop it. The easement contains development restrictions which the Environmental Trust has the right to enforce.

History, farming, banking, law, and politics all had a profound effect on George Radcliffe's life. He was also a great humanitarian whose interest in the general welfare of the public was strong. His work as state chairman of the Infantile Paralysis March of Dimes Campaign for over 30 years is just one of the many areas of public welfare to which he gave his time and effort.

A vigorous and physically active man throughout his life, Radcliffe lived 96 full and productive years. He died in Baltimore on July 29, 1974 and is buried in the Cambridge Cemetery, Cambridge, Maryland.


42.5 Linear Feet (102 boxes; 50 volumes)

Language of Materials



The papers have remained in essentially the same format they were in upon their arrival at the Maryland Historical Society. They are arranged alphabetically according to correspondents and subjects. Some sections of papers, because of their importance and quantity, have been removed from the basic alphabetical arrangement and placed after the general correspondence and subject section.

The collection is arranged into 11 series: 1) General Correspondence and Subject; 2) Political Papers; 3) Speeches; 4) Maryland Historical Society Papers; 5) Grace Foundation Inc. Papers; 6) Radcliffe Family Papers; 7) Emilie McKim Reed Estate Papers; 8) Financial Papers; 9) National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis Papers; 10) Civil War Centennial Papers; 11) Dinners

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of George M. Radcliffe in July 1977.

Separated Materials

There are eighteen scrapbooks of photographs dating from circa 1885 to 1972, and many loose photographs. The photographs reflect Radcliffe's public career including his attendance at banquets, meetings, commencements, and political gatherings. There are also some family portraits and some photographs from his years at Johns Hopkins University. Also enclosed is a large amount of printed ephemera including invitations, programs, and menus.

All of this material has been separated to form the George L. Radcliffe photograph collection (PP 0039).

Scope and Contents

The George L. Radcliffe papers date from circa 1895-1972, although the bulk of the material dates from 1910 to 1965. The papers trace the career of George L. Radcliffe from his work as an attorney with the American Bonding Company in 1903 to his position as Chairman of the Council of the Maryland Historical Society in 1965. The in between years found Radcliffe extraordinarily active in public life as a statesman, humanitarian, and historian.

Most of the collection consists of correspondence however there are also minutes, financial reports, and a large number of Radcliffe's speeches. Other important sections of papers include those dealing with Radcliffe's political career 1934-1946; his association with the Maryland Historical Society 1912-1974; his family, including his wife, mother, brothers, and son; his Eastern Shore property; his work with Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland and the American Bonding Company; and his work with the Grace Foundation Inc. of Taylors Island, Maryland circa 1950-1965, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis 1934-1965, and the Civil War Centennial Commission 1959-1965.

The remainder of the collection is made up of 50 volumes of scrapbooks containing newsclippings of events in Radcliffe's public career. The majority of these scrapbooks relate to Radcliffe's two terms in the United States Senate.

Guide to the George L. Radcliffe papers
Under Revision
Drew Gruenburg
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Revision Statements

  • 2020-02-03: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Sandra Glascock .

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States