Fifth State Historian: 1956-2004
Robert M. York was born in Wilton, Maine on June 10, 1915, the son of Maurice A. and Josephine Brown York. He graduated from Wilton Academy as valedictorian of the Class of 1933. He graduated from Bates College, Class of 1937, received a master’s degree from Clark University in 1938, and a Ph.D. from Clark in 1941.
Robert York enlisted in the Navy at the beginning of World War II. He served aboard the USS Morrison in the South Pacific until it was hit and sunk off the coast of Iwo Jima. He then received a post at the Office of Naval History in Washington, D.C., where he worked until being discharged in 1946.
He became a full professor at the University of Maine in 1953, after having developed an expertise in the history of Maine. Dr. York taught history for 40 years at several campuses of the University of Maine. In 1962 he left Orono to become Dean of Academic Affairs at Gorham State Teacher College. He retired from the University of Southern Maine in 1984, but continued to teach Maine history until 1997.
York was active in several historical organizations, including the Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums, the Pejepscot Historical Society, and the Harpswell Historical Society. In 1956 Governor Edmund S. Muskie appointed him State Historian, which he held until shortly before his death on June 17, 2004 at the age of 89. He viewed his role as State Historian as a natural extension of his 51 year classroom teaching career. His mission was to educate Maine people about their history through countless talks to schools and colleges, civic, church, and business groups, and historical societies. He also helped to found historical societies, encouraged the publication of town histories, and successfully campaigned for the establishment of the Maine State Archives.
In recognition of his service to the State of Maine, the Maine Legislature adopted a resolution in 2004 thanking Robert M. York for his efforts on behalf of Maine history. The citation read in part, “We salute Dr. York’s dedication, diligence and delight in the education of three generations of Maine students across half a century, and his enrichment and enthusiasm for the field of Maine history, made broader and deeper by his contributions to coming generations.”