Selma Rattner was an architectural historian, preservationist, and unofficial biographer of the architect James Renwick, Jr. She received her bachelor's degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1950, earned a certificate from the Restoration and Preservation program of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) in 1969, and a master's of science in Historic Preservation from Columbia in 1977. Rattner was also a lecturer at the GSAPP from 1973 to 1977 and an adjunct professor from 1977 to 1979.
Although Rattner never wrote a full biography of Renwick, as she had intended, she lectured and published on him throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Most notably, she authored the entry on Renwick for the 1982 edition of the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects. Rattner was especially interested in Renwick's two major New York City works, Grace Church (1845) and St. Patrick's Cathedral (1858-1888), and wrote her master's thesis for Columbia on Grace Church and Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. Rattner also researched Renwick's minor, and in some cases virtually unknown works, traveling often to visit libraries, archives, museums and building sites. She amassed a significant amount of primary and secondary research material over more than three decades.
In addition to her ongoing research on Renwick, Rattner was also active in related professional organizations, including the New York Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, which she served as Vice-President from 1974 to 1976 and as Preservation Officer from 1976 to 1979; and the Victorian Society in America, for which she was Vice-President from 1970 to 1980 and 1986 to 1988 and Director from 1980 to 1989. Rattner also consulted on various historic preservation projects, including the restoration of the historic core of Mexico City, and the proposed recycling of City Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Lastly, she was CEO and President of Paragon Paint & Varnish Corp. from 1990 to 1998. Rattner died in January 2005.