Franz Lee Rickaby was born 15 December 1889 in Rogers, Arkansas, the oldest child of Thomas and Dora Mohrweis Rickaby. His father was a musician and taught music to all of the children. The family moved to Taylorville, Illinois, in 1896 and then, several years later, nearby to the state capital of Springfield. Rickaby attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, graduating in 1916. He met his future wife, Lillian Katar, at Knox. Rickaby continued his education at Harvard University, obtaining a M.A. in English in 1917. After he and Lillian were married that summer, he accepted an offer from professor Frederick Koch to come to the University of North Dakota (UND) as an instructor in English and to direct the theater group, established in 1910 under Koch as The Sock and Buskin Society. Rickaby changed the name of the group to Dacotah Playmakers in December 1917.
Apart from his teaching and directing responsibilities at UND, Rickaby wrote the school fight song It's for you, North Dakota, U. and penned several plays. He is also known for his work as a folklorist and gained notoriety for his trek in 1919 from Charlevoix, Michigan, to Grand Forks documenting lumberjack songs in the northern regions of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. This work became the basis for Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy first published in 1926. Diagnosed with rheumatic fever in 1917, Rickaby moved to Claremont, California, for health reasons and began teaching at Pomona College in 1923. His health continued to decline and he died 18 May 1925 in nearby Loma Linda. Rickaby was survived by his wife and one son.
OGLMC 175: Olger B. Burtness Papers
OGLMC 685: Frederick H. Koch Papers
OGLMC 1155: Sara Edna Hesketh Papers
Franz Rickaby Collection at the Mills Music Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Rickaby, Franz, and Lillian Rickaby. The Christmas Spirit: A Poetic Fantasy in Two Acts. Grand Forks, ND: The Normanden Publishing Company, 1921.
Rickaby, Franz, and Lillian Rickaby. Waiting at the Church: A Farce in One Act. Boston, MA: Walter H. Baker Company, 1923.
Rickaby, Franz. Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926.
Rickaby, Franz, Gretchen Dykstra, and James P. Leary. Pinery Boys: Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.