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Ernest M. Dickerman papers

Identifier: SC 0143
  • Not requestable

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

The Ernest M. Dickerman Papers, 1904-2005, contain a wide variety of materials that document Dickerman's efforts to obtain Congressional designations of wilderness for various tracts of public land, primarily in Virginia. The collection also contains papers of the Virginia Wilderness Committee (VWC), a grass roots conservation group that Dickerman led. These papers include correspondence, maps, field notes, reports, news clippings, wilderness proposals, minutes, financial statements, newsletters and other materials, 1940 - current, with most materials dating 1962-1999. The collection documents Dickerman’s activities as a leader of the movement to designate wilderness areas on public lands in the eastern United States under the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Eastern Wilderness Act of 1975. Operating papers of the Virginia Wilderness Committee, a grass roots conservation group of which Dickerman served as president for several years, are also included.

Papers from Dickerman's early life include correspondence from his time at Oberlin College and while serving in the Army. Select correspondence and papers from immediate Dickerman family members are also included.


  • 1904 - 2005


Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the James Madison University Special Collections Library to use this collection.

Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collection Library. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk (

Biographical/Historical Note

Ernest M. Dickerman was born December 22, 1910 to Judson Charles Dickerman (1873-1967) and Adela Miller Dickerman (1874-1920) in Austin, Illinois. His family moved to the Adirondacks in New York when Dickerman was three years old. When he was about six years old, the family moved to Richmond, Virginia where his mother died of tuberculosis when Dickerman was nine. Sometime later, the family moved to Roanoke. Dickerman attended Gettysburg Academy and Oberlin College (class of 1931). In 1934 he began working for the newly created Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Knoxville, Tennessee. Immediately, he fell in love with the Great Smoky Mountains, met conservationist Harvey Broome, and became deeply involved in the battles to preserve the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from development. He was a 1936 charter member of The Wilderness Society and knew many of the greatest conservationists of the day, including Bob Marshall, Sigurd Olson, Olaus Murie, and Howard Zahniser.

After a few years at TVA, Dickerman took a job with a plastics molding firm (apparently called the Patent Button Co. of Tennessee), also in Knoxville. He retired from a position as production manager in 1966, and in 1969 moved to the headquarters office of The Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C. as a staff organizer. He traveled frequently to teach citizens how to identify, map, and build support for wilderness areas throughout the East and Midwest. He also lobbied Congress on numerous wilderness bills, wrestled with federal land managing agencies (Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service), and was highly instrumental in passage of the 1975 Eastern Wilderness Bill. During the 1960s Dickerman also served as manager for the Robert Marshall Wilderness Fund, as evidenced by a notebook of typed minutes from the first thirteen years of the Fund (established by the will of Robert Marshall), 1940-1953, in which are inserted several 1968 letters to and from Dickerman.

When he retired from The Wilderness Society in 1976 and moved to his nephew's newly acquired mountain farm near Buffalo Gap in Swoope, Augusta County, Virginia, he was almost immediately elected president of the Virginia Wilderness Committee. At that time he inherited the organization's files prior to 1976. The Virginia Wilderness Committee (VWC) had been founded in Williamsburg at William & Mary College by a small group of private citizens in 1969 to promote the federal designation of wilderness in Virginia according to the 1964 Wilderness Act. The VWC also became involved in various other issues relevant to preservation of the natural landscape. VWC volunteers donate issues of the newsletter and occasional other VWC documents to keep these current in Dickerman's papers.

Although he held an official position in the VWC only until 1979, Dickerman was the guiding spirit in the movement for Virginia wilderness both before and long after those dates. He was widely renowned for his combination of optimism and canny strategizing, his politeness in dealing with adversaries, his sense of humor, wit, and wordsmithery. He died on July 31, 1998. In 1999, friends and colleagues produced a book of tributes titled Ernie Dickerman, 1910-1998: A Tribute.


5.41 cubic feet (6 boxes, 1 rolled storage container, 1 flat file)

Language of Materials



The Ernest M. Dickerman Papers, 1904-2005, contain a wide variety of materials that document Dickerman's efforts to obtain Congressional designations of wilderness for various tracts of public land, primarily in Virginia. The collection also contains papers of the Virginia Wilderness Committee (VWC), a grass roots conservation group that Dickerman led. Correspondence from his time at Oberlin College and while serving in the Army is included.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Places and Policies, 1962-2001
  2. Correspondence and Personal Files, 1904-1999
  3. Virginia Wilderness Committee (VWC), 1969-2005
  4. Maps, 1936-1991

Acquisition Information

Donated by Ernest M. Dickerman in November 1994. After Dickerman’s death in 1998, several additions of papers were donated by his nephew and executor, C. Robert "Bob" Dickerman. Eleanor Dickerman, Ernest's half-sister, also donated an addition in 2019.

Related Material

Wilderness Society Records, CoONS130, Conservation Collection, The Denver Pubilc Library.

Ernie Dickerman, interviewed by Dominic Pisciotta, 1994, Sd-Arch 6-3, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA.

Separated Material

A duplicate copy of Elizabeth Murray's, ed. Ernie Dickerman, 1910-1998: A Tribute (The Wilderness Society, 1999) was removed from the collection and added to the Special Collections rare book holdings. A copy is also retained in the collection.


  • "Grandad of the Eastern Wilderness," Sierra Magazine, Nov/Dec, 1986.
  • Bolgiano, Chris. The Appalachian Forest, A Search for Roots and Renewal. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1998.
  • Murray, Elizabeth, ed. Ernie Dickerman, 1910-1998: A Tribute. The Wilderness Society, 1999.

Processing Information

In order to streamline the process of applying collection numbers, Special Collections staff completed a large-scale renumbering campaign in the spring of 2017. This collection was previously cataloged as SC 3085. The collection was minimally reprocessed in early 2018, at which time the finding aid to the Wilderness Society Papers at the Denver Public Library was removed and added to the collection control file. Accessions from 2018 and 2019, comprising primarily correspondence, were added to the collection in June 2022 at which time the finding aid was updated accordingly. Brittle newspapers and clippings with limited research value were discarded.

A Guide to the Ernest M. Dickerman Papers, 1904-2005
Chris Bolgiano, Alicia Henneberry, Tiffany Cole
September 2013, February 2018, June 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • Feb 19, 2004: PUBLIC "-//James Madison University::Carrier Library::Special Collections//TEXT (US::ViHarT::vihart00022::The Ernest M. Dickerman Papers)//EN" "vihart00022.xml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Feb 25, 2004: converted to conform to eadVIVA.dtd by vivastrict.xsl
  • 2013-11-21: Converted to schema conforming EAD by dtd2schema.vh.xsl.
  • 2022-06-16: Finding aid updated to reflect addition of 2018 and 2019 accessions.

Repository Details

Part of the James Madison University Libraries Special Collections Repository

820 Madison Drive
MSC 1706
Harrisonburg Virginia 22807
(540) 568-3612