Introduction: American Civil Liberties Union Archives: The Roger Baldwin Years, 1917-1950


For the last seventy-five years the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been the principal defender of the rights that citizens can assert against government. Its primary aims have been the defense of the freedoms of speech and press, the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law and privacy rights of all citizens. The organization has been responsible for what historian Samuel Walker has called “a revolution of law and public attitudes toward individual liberty.” Walker estimates that modern constitutional law has been shaped in no small measure by the ACLU, with the organization involved in some 80 percent of the landmark cases of the twentieth century. The ACLU has fostered the growth of tolerance, fought to end racial discrimination, promoted a legal definition of privacy rights, and defended the rights of the unpopular, the powerless, and the despised.


Origins of the ACLU


The ACLU began as part of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), which had been formed in New York in 1914 to oppose American entry into World War I. Following the declaration of war in 1917, Crystal Eastman, AUAM’s Executive Secretary, and Roger Baldwin, a social worker involved in juvenile justice, established the Bureau of Conscientious Objectors to oppose the new draft law and to advise conscientious objectors. On July 1, 1917, the AUAM created the Civil Liberties Bureau, which became an independent organization known as the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) on October 1, 1917. Once Eastman and Baldwin took their efforts to this new organization, the AUAM quickly folded.


The NCLB had two main tasks: to defend the rights of conscientious objectors imprisoned in camps around the country and to fight the increasing suppression of free speech by both government officials and conservative patriotic societies. Its leadership came from a mix of social workers such as Baldwin and Eastman, Protestant clergy (Norman Thomas, Harry F. War, and John Haynes Holmes), and lawyers (Walter Nelles, Albert DeSilver, L. Hollingsworth Wood, and Clarence Darrow).


The NCLB sponsored three tests of free speech rights during wartime, all of which ended in failure for the organization. Socialist Party leader Charles T. Schenck was denied the right to mail antiwar and antidraft literature in a case that established Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s “clear and present danger” test. Also upheld were convictions of Eugene Debs for condemning war and capitalism in a speech and Jacob Abrams for distributing leaflets opposing the American intervention in Russia.


By late 1918, Roger Baldwin had become the leader of the organization due to Eastman’s ill health. Baldwin was gifted with the ability to build an organization due to his effectiveness as a publicist, fundraiser, and administrator. Although Baldwin favored public education and reasoning with public officials, he soon became a target. The NCLB’s defense of the Industrial Workers of the World led to investigations by army intelligence and the Bureau of Investigation and to phone taps. On August 31, 1918, federal agents seized the NCLB’s files, which were eventually used by New York State’s Lusk Committee prior to their return to the NCLB.


When Congress extended the draft to age 35 late in the war, Baldwin notified his draft board that he would refuse induction. Imprisoned in November 1918, Baldwin used the time until his release the following July to read, write, create a prisoners’ self-help group, issue a mimeographed newsletter on life in prison, and organize the NCLB’s records.


The postwar Red Scare, the Palmer raids, new laws on criminal syndicalism and use of red flags, and the need to repeal the Espionage Act and to secure amnesty for wartime dissidents led to calls for a permanent organization after the war. On January 19, 1920, the ACLU received its charter in New York.


ACLU during the 1920s


The ACLU started its career with a bang, issuing a Report upon the Illegal Practices of the United States Department of Justice written by twelve prominent lawyers, including Zechariah Chaffee and Felix Frankfurter. In these early years, Baldwin generally favored working for the cause of labor as a more effective means for obtaining desired changes in society. The failure of litigation efforts during the war probably influenced this early course. Thus, during the 1920s the ACLU was substantially involved in efforts to strengthen the labor movement, and it continued to work for amnesty, to repeal criminal syndicalism laws, to oppose compulsory military training on campuses, and to ward off attacks by right-wing groups. It fought book bans by the Customs Service and Post Office, promoted racial justice while defending the Ku Klux Klan’s right to march and opposing the NAACP’s attempt to ban Birth of a Nation, and defended the rights of Communists to free speech and applied the same standard to Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic works.


The ACLU remained a relatively small organization throughout this period, with 2,500 members in 1930 and a budget of only $25,000 annually. While there was a National Committee – a letterhead group of sixty persons that met annually – decisions were made by a small Executive Committee, which met weekly, and by a governing Board. The heart of the leadership consisted of Baldwin and his fellow pacifists – Norman Thomas, John Haynes Holmes, L. Hollingsworth Wood, and John Nevin Sayre. Baldwin tended to be an autocrat who did not easily share power. Only three of the twenty Executive Committee members were lawyers, and the position of General Counsel was not created until 1929. The organization did not seek a broad constituency and found recruiting labor leaders and conservatives to its Board a difficult task. Baldwin recruited most local correspondents during his annual tours around the country. During the 1920s most financial support came from Albert DeSilver (and his widow following his death) and from the American Fund for Public Service (generally known as the Garland Fund), a private foundation to support social reform, which the ACLU basically administered until it failed during the stock market crash.


Throughout the 1920s labor and political speech issues predominated. The organization remained silent on such issues as the Volstead Act, the Olmstead wiretapping case, and other due process or privacy law questions. The ACLU’s greatest claim to fame during this decade was its offer to defend anyone willing to challenge the Tennessee law forbidding teaching the theory of evolution. Clarence Darrow and Arthur Hays, backed by the ACLU, defended John T. Scopes in the famous Dayton, Tennessee, “Monkey Trial.” Live radio coverage and an enormous press cadre (led by five Baltimore Sun reporters, including H.L. Mencken) made the public aware of the ACLU and helped the organization raise funds.


Other major activities prior to the New Deal included a defense of picketing by laborers in Paterson, New Jersey, establishment of the principle of the incorporation of free speech and press freedoms under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment in Gitlow v. U.S., the unsuccessful appeal to Charlotte Whitney’s conviction for organizing on behalf of the Communist Labor Party in California, a reversal of Harold Fiske’s conviction as an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer in Kansas, and foundation of the right to counsel in capital cases in the “Scottsboro Boys” appeals.


In the area of censorship, the ACLU led a march to protest a Boston ban of Mencken’s American Mercury, defended Margaret Sanger’s right to deliver a speech on birth control, stopped a Post Office ban on Mary Ware Dennett’s pamphlet The Sex Side of Life, supported a case that ended a Customs Service prohibition on the importation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, aided Yetta Sternberg in a California case banning the display of a red flag, and established limits on prior restraint on the press in the Near v. Minnesota case.


In 1929, Baldwin proposed a broad expansion plan for the organization to include increased interest in civil rights, Native Americans, police brutality, and alien rights; opposition to compulsory military training and censorship; and extension of civil liberties efforts to the international arena. The result was an increase in subject committees (for instance, Labor Injunctions and Indian Civil Rights) and a larger network of regional affiliate organizations.


Baldwin continued to try to work from within the government. The Wickersham Commission hired Walter Pollak, Zechariah Chaffee, and Carl Stern on Waldwin’s recommendation, and its report, Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, was a major bombshell. The Indian Civil Rights Committee held a day-long conference in 1933 that helped to shape the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In 1931 the ACLU published Black Justice, and Morris Ernst, as chair of the Garland Fund’s Committee on Negro Work, issued the Margold Report suggesting the need for a legal attack on segregation.


Throughout these years and later, the ACLU was by no means monolithic, and vigorous debates raged over many of the policy decisions within the organization. For example, the religious element in the organization was not unalterably opposed to Bible reading and release time in schools. While some favored turning to the courts to effect changes, others believed that public education, strikes, and working for legislative and administrative change would prove more effective. Some preferred broad legal challenges, while others wanted narrower tests designed to achieve the desired result in particular cases. The debates in the records of committee and board meetings provide lively and rich documentation of the activities and struggles of the organization.


The New Deal


Given its history of opposition to government power, the ACLU viewed President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal with misgivings. The economic situation had led to increased repression of labor, lynchings, and deportations, but the notion of granting more power to the same government that had been the cause of repression during World War I did not sit well with many in the organization.


Throughout the 1930s the ACLU continued to defend free expression, asserting the rights of the German-American Bund in Shall We Defend Free Speech for Nazis in America (1934) and commissioning two studies of Nazis in America (Shirts!) and of the effects of anti-Fascist laws in Europe. The ACLU opposed Catholic efforts to censor printed works, movies, and information on contraception, thereby leading to the resignation of Rev. John Ryan from the National Committee in 1934. Baldwin also appeared regularly on the CBS radio program, “Let Freedom Ring,” during the 1930s. Other important activities included opposition to Boss Frank Hague’s limits on union activities in Jersey City, cases to extend free speech rights to Communists, a series of Jehovah’s Witnesses cases involving flag salutes and permits for literature distribution, and the National Labor Relations Board’s attacks on Henry Ford’s free speech rights.


The most difficult aspect of the New Deal years for the ACLU was its relationship to the Communist Party. The ACLU’s bail fund had been seriously affected when five Communist Party members jumped bail and fled to the Soviet Union in 1930. Yet the two organizations had worked together in Scottsboro, the DeJonge and Herndon free speech cases, and in the International Juridical Association, Thus, when the Popular Front was organized by the Communist Party in the 1930s, the ACLU and Baldwin joined the effort because he was ever a coalition builder. Opponents continued to allege that the ACLU was a Communist front, especially since Harry Ward chaired both the ACLU and the American League for Peace and Democracy, the largest of the Popular Front organizations.


Communist Party attacks on a Socialist Party rally in Madison Square Garden in 1934 led Norman Thomas and John Haynes Holmes to call for banning Communists from ACLU leadership. In this same decade, the Dies Committee (the House Committee on Un-American Activities, popularly known as HUAC) concluded after its first hearings that one could not say with certainty whether or not the ACLU was a Communist organization. The ACLU responded by leading efforts to abolish the Dies Committee, assigning Abraham Isserman to write the first systematic analysis of the rights of witnesses before investigative committees (a report that Baldwin suppressed, perhaps in an agreement with HUAC), and working to clear the ACLU name. HUAC raids beginning in 1939, passage of the Smith Act in 1940, and state laws banning the Communist Party from the ballot served to increase concern about totalitarian organizations. In response to these growing concerns, the ACLU in 1940 adopted a policy barring Communist Party members from official positions in the organization and thus leading to the ouster of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the Board and to the resignations of several others, including Harry Ward.


The 1930s witnessed an expansion of ACLU affiliates to St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Iowa, Indiana, and Texas. By 1939 five affiliates had paid staff. At the New York headquarters, the ACLU hired its first staff counsel in 1941.


Civil Liberties during Wartime


Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the ACLU organized a conference on Civil Liberties in the National Emergency that was keynoted by Attorney General Frank Murphy. Lucille Milner wrote popular articles on conscientious objection and freedom of speech during wartime, thereby carrying the ACLU message to the general public. When war came in 1941, President Roosevelt pledged to continue constitutional freedoms even in a state of war, a policy generally followed except for one glaring exception. Immediately after Pearl Harbor Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which created military zones to be run by the War Relocation Authority to intern Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens. The ACLU denounced the order as contrary to liberty and due process and as racially motivated since it applied only to Japanese.


While Western affiliates sought test cases, an activity made difficult by Japanese acquiescence, the ACLU split on the question of what were the limits of government power during wartime. A resolution approved the President’s order in principle but provided four technical bases for bringing challenges to the order. Similarly, the ACLU voted not to oppose a peacetime draft that included good protections for conscientious objectors (although the law did not provide political grounds for objection) and adopted the Seymour resolution not to defend individuals charged with sedition when no due process violations were involved. The national organization’s willingness to compromise on civil liberties issues during wartime led to considerable opposition from affiliates, especially those on the West Coast. Eventually the ACLU handled two leading cases involving the internment camps, Korematsu and Hirabayashi.


The ACLU also created new committees during the war: the National Committee on Conscientious Objectors, headed by Ernest Angell who met with President Roosevelt on the matter; the Committee Against Racial Discrimination, chaired by Pearl Buck; and the Committee on Discrimination Against Women, led by Dorothy Kenyon. ACLU’s strong support for civil rights led to a split with some of its old labor allies. The ACLU supported a bill of rights for union members and the growing movement for democracy in trade unions. The ACLU also aided the NAACP in cases that overthrew the white primary and restrictive covenants, and even took on a test of the segregated draft in the Winfred Lynn case which the NAACP would not accept.


Postwar Problems


The ACLU’s long-standing debate regarding its relationship to the Communist Party in many ways limited its response to the Cold War anti-Communist crusade that followed the war. Conservatives on the board, led by Norman Thomas and Morris Ernst, were strongly anti-Communist.


The basic elements of the postwar attack on civil liberties were already in place even before the war began: HUAC, the Smith Act, state loyalty oaths, and FBI surveillance on individuals and organizations. When President Harry Truman issued E.O. 9835 establishing the federal loyalty program, the ACLU opted for quiet court tests and lobbying Attorney General Tom Clark instead of a public opposition to the basic tenets of the order.


Baldwin, an activist throughout his life, had associations with many of the organizations found on the Attorney General’s list of Communist Party affiliates. He therefore protected himself by regular attacks on the Communist Party which only served to limit his ability to oppose the internal security crusade. The ACLU sought to protect the rights of HUAC witnesses rather than take on HUAC itself.


The Smith Act cases, which Judge Harold Medina presided over in New York, led to convictions of the defendants for membership in the Communist Party. Moreover, Medina’s contempt citations put a chill on lawyers who might have defended clients. When the Supreme Court’s Dennis decision sustained the Smith Act, a dissident group of ACLU members, led by Corliss Lamont, left to form the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee to pay more attention to trial-level support rather than waiting for the appeals process, which had been the ACLU’s forte. The ACLU also refused to pursue allegations of FBI abuse, often providing an active apology for the Bureau.


Even in this era the ACLU remained a small organization with a membership of fewer than 10,000. Of its affiliates, only Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles had paid staff. In response to the need for a stronger national organization, to the criticism of the Lamont faction, and to the perception that the ACLU had not responded effectively to the attacks of the anti-Communist crusade, in 1948 the Special Committee on Policy Planning, under Walter Gellhorn, urged that the ACLU become less involved in litigation and provide more public education. The Committee named civil rights and the fight against censorship as the key issues for the future and downplayed old causes such as church-state questions and defense of minority parties. Finally, the Committee recommended that Roger Baldwin be relieved from executive responsibilities and given an ambassadorial role of speaking, writing, and maintaining relations with other organizations. As a result of this recommendation, Baldwin retired as Executive Director in 1950, at the close of the organization’s first thirty years, the period covered by this microfilm edition.




The microfilm edition of the ACLU records covers the period from 1917 to 1950. It consists of the 1886 bound volumes of records through the year 1946, and 226 "volumes" of loose records for the 1946 to 1950 period, and three records center boxes known as Appendixes 1-3, which cover indexed material not previously filmed, mostly from 1940 to 1946. There is a small amount of material relating to an Industrial Workers of the World free speech trial in San Diego, California, in 1912 which antedates the creation of the ACLU and whose origin is unknown. As described below, some ACLU-related materials during this period have not been filmed in this collection.


The Nature of the Records


The volumes are generally devoted either to clippings or to correspondence, with each volume then relating to a single type of record, although sometimes there are several series in a single volume. The series lists that follow provide access by series even though the locations of the information are spread throughout the volumes.


While it is impossible to detail all of the information found in this massive collection, some sense can be given from two examples. The conscientious objector issue during World War I fills over 37 volumes. The ACLU received hundreds of letters from people objecting to military service. Some belonged to pacifist religions, while others belonged to political groups opposed to the war. Some of the letters and diaries contain statements of belief and vivid accounts of camp and prison conditions, and some describe noncombative service. ACLU supporters also reported on the treatment of conscientious objectors. When the ACLU took cases, its files include legal briefs, depositions, affidavits, and court transcripts, as well as informal reports. In controversial cases, the files contain letters from officials in President Woodrow Wilson's administration and letters from other figures such as Felix Frankfurter, John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, Jane Addams, and Lillian Waldo Some cases generated extensive press coverage, much of it simply filed as clippings; for example, records document the ACLU's campaign to stop the practice of chaining objectors to the bars of their cells. The records also reveal the personal concerns of Roger Baldwin and the political and legal preoccupations of his supporters.


The quality of material on labor issues matches that of the material on conscientious objectors. The files hold the letters of union organizers, labor activists, and members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Some letters describe the ill treatment at the hands of the law, mob violence, and lynchings; others describe working conditions in mines, factories, and lumber mills. The ACLU files include memoranda and trial documents such as the record of the ACLU involvement in the group trial of the IWW members in Chicago in 1918. Material on Samuel Gompers, Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, and others appear throughout this period. ACLU publications, press clippings, and unpublished reports offer illuminating details on deportations, alien issues, and the rise of what the ACLU called the "superpatriotic" organizations: the Ku Klux Klan, Knights of Liberty, and others.


Gift of the Materials to the New York Public Library


On January 5, 1920, Albert DeSilver, Director of the National Civil Liberties Bureau, wrote to Edwin H. Anderson, Librarian of the New York Public Library, indicating that the National Civil Liberties Bureau was winding up its affairs and proposing to send the records of the Bureau to the library. DeSilver indicated that the records consisted of approximately 70 volumes, one and one-half inches thick, of bound correspondence "relating to civil liberties and conscientious objection during the war" and "newspaper clippings covering the same period throughout the United States." DeSilver modestly stated, "In our judgment this is a valuable collection for reference use as historical documents." The next day Anderson replied positively to the proposal. Thus began a thirty-year relationship between the New York Public Library and what soon became the ACLU.


When the first of these volumes was finally delivered to the library in December 1921, Roger Baldwin's cover letter noted: "I feel as if we ought to apologize for the condition of these volumes. It is due to the fact that they have been roughly handled, having been sent to Washington for a Senate Committee investigation and to the Lusk Committee in New York state for their use in compiling their report." Both Baldwin and DeSilver enunciated the principle that these records be open to all "interested persons who made inquiries of us." This desire to make known the work of the ACLU almost immediately after the time during which the records were created has been a hallmark of the ACLU's approach to its records. Many materials that would be withheld today for a period of time due to concerns about privacy, privilege, and confidentiality were available for all to see upon their annual transfer to the library. The records provide a detailed picture of the day-to-day life of this institution as it grew in the Baldwin years. Its local correspondents and the general public sent correspondence, reports, and hundreds of clippings from small papers across America relating to the issues that formed the ACLU' s agenda.


Care of the Records at the New York Public library


The first volumes sent to the NYPL were canvas-backed, postbound original documents or clippings pasted on paper. Volumes were numbered starting with 1 for each series for each year or set of years. Over the years the NYPL employed conservation measures on many of these volumes that involved removing the originals from the postbindings, and cutting and pasting them into scrapbooks. This process often increased the number of volumes and split materials described as a single volume between two or more volumes. In some cases, volumes were renumbered as a part of the process, so one can see multiple numbering schemes for the filmed volumes.


At some point the ACLU began to forward loose materials arranged in series to the NYPL, which became responsible for the pasting and binding process. In order to improve access to the volumes, the NYPL eventually renumbered the entire run of volumes starting with 1. In assigning the numbers, or upon undergoing conservation work, some volumes were numbered with a combination of volume and letter designations (e.g., 595A and 595B). There is also an enormous gap in the numbering system from 1099 to 2000 which appears to have been a mistake made by the person applying the numbers to the volumes. There are also some missing numbers, but there is no internal evidence that would indicate that those volumes are missing. Again, it is likely that those numbers were not assigned by mistake.


Preparation of the Microfilm


In 1952 the NYPL decided that it could no longer house a vast and growing collection like that of the ACLU and made plans to film the materials on hand and then destroy them. For the future, the NYPL planned to film on an annual basis, a strategy that was never implemented. The ACLU apparently hoped to preserve the originals and in 1953 signed an agreement with Princeton to bring the records to the University's spacious new Firestone Library. By the 1970s, despite several additions to the main library, Princeton too had run out of space. Upon completion of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library on the Princeton campus in 1976, the records were transferred to this still spacious facility.


When the NYPL prepared its microfilm between 1953 and 1957, it had already bound material into volumes through most of 1946, but the rest of the material through 1950 still remained loose in boxes. In addition, three boxes of pre-1950 indexed material at Princeton (not filmed by the NYPL) were filmed as Appendixes 1-3 of this microfilm edition.


Self-Indexing Nature of the Volumes


In many ways the volumes themselves are self-indexing in that a fairly elaborate, although usually unpaginated, index outline is found at the front of each volume. The researcher should remember that the index, while originally prepared for a single volume, may now relate to material spread over two or more volumes created as a result of rehousing for conservation. The index outline for each volume is carried over throughout its contents with each new section of the outline listed on what is a blue paper section header pasted in before the records. While this blue paper marker helps to locate the sections of the outline in the bound volumes, finding it is somewhat more difficult due to the black and white nature of the film.


Arrangement of the Material in the Volumes


Throughout the records there is a clear division between correspondence and newspaper clippings. For the most part, materials are then arranged chronologically by year (or set of years in the early volumes) for each series. For each topic within a series (roughly equivalent to a file folder), there is also a chronological arrangement. There are, of course, occasional overlaps of material at the beginning and end of each year and breakdowns in the order as materials were pasted into volumes.


At the beginning of the run, there are relatively few series. Except for separate runs for organizational matters and conscientious objectors, most early materials fall under general correspondence/clippings or state case correspondence/clippings. Over time, with the increasing complexity of the organization, other series dealing with academic freedom, censorship, federal agencies and legislation, outside organizations, and labor injunctions became a part of the organization of these records. There are also special series for the records of the Pennsylvania Civil Liberties Committee and the Philadelphia Branch (1930-1933), the New York City Civil Liberties Committee (1936-1950), and the personal papers of Walter Nelles (1920-1926).


While there is an apparent organization to these bound volumes, the task for the researcher is to determine which series (and there are often several, all of which may contain records) are appropriate for the research task. A combination of the reel and series lists, the card index, and the volume outlines found on the film should enable the researcher to find the appropriate records with a modest degree of effort.


Omissions from the Microfilmed Records


The microfilm does not include all ACLU records prior to 1950. The major series omitted, but available on other microfilm, are board minutes, mailings to the board, policy guides, legal briefs, press releases, and publications. Portions of these series appear under appropriate topics (for instance, board actions and publications are often found as related to a particular subject, but there are no complete runs of minutes or publications). Other materials relating to the Elizabeth Gurley Flynn ouster in 1940 and to labor and radio were not filmed since they came directly from the ACLU to Princeton at a later time.




History of the Index


In 1978 the Princeton University Library received a Higher Education Act Title II-C grant to index the bound volumes of ACLU material for the thirty-year period from 1917 to 1946. The bound nature of these archival materials had always been problematic in terms of use and copying: the paper copies were turning to dust, and researchers complained bitterly over the years about the inability to find relevant materials in these volumes.


Over a two-year period an index team created hundreds of subject categories, some used only for a single year and others stretching over the entire thirty-year time span. In addition, major or frequent correspondents or authors were indexed under the category "People." By the end of the grant, 57,500 cards (40 file drawers) had been filed to index the 1,886 volumes. Four additional cartons of loose materials from the pre-1947 period were also indexed as Appendixes 1-4. Appendixes 1-3 were newly filmed for this microform collection (Reels 280-288). Appendix 4 had previously been filmed as Volumes 1-7 of the 1946 correspondence (Reel 238).


The Nature of the Index


The index is first organized chronologically by year or set of years, which generally follows the manner in which the volumes themselves are organized. For each chronological division, the cards are then arranged under specific subjects. Use the list of subjects (pp. 19-43) and the list of names (pp. 45-48), which may be found under the subject heading "People," to identify relevant index terms and the years they appear.


The cards always provide volume numbers and pages for volumes that are numbered. The reel numbers (often indicated on the card as r:) for Reels 1-69 (Volumes 1-380) are generally listed on the cards. Thereafter the cards usually read "No Film." This only indicates that Princeton did not own a copy of the film when the index was prepared. Use the reel contents list (pp. 59-111) to determine the appropriate reel for the volume you want to use.


Limitations of the Index


The index requires the researcher to determine the relevant subject which is not always easy. Any number of relatively broad topics might well, and often do, encompass the proposed area of research. In addition, the index does not provide the view of the organization of the records that the reel and series lists provide.


Most legal cases are listed under a subject; therefore, there is no centralized access to the cases by name, except for certain periods (for example, conscientious objector cases during World War I), or for certain well-known cases (for instance, Scopes). Remember that legal cases are often filed under the clippings and correspondence for an individual state from which it initiated. Again, the reel contents and series lists should not be overlooked as other means to find relevant material.


There are also limits to name access to correspondence. The indexing team included more names in the early years and fewer as the project progressed. In addition, not all names or every appearance of that name in a given year is indexed, especially for individuals active in ACLU affairs. Researchers should certainly look at reel contents and series lists to find other avenues of access.


Finally, the index does not include some of the loose material for 1946 (Volumes 8-18 found on Reels 238-239 for which the originals seem to have been lost), or any of the materials for 1947 to 1950 (Volumes 19-189, Reels 240-274). The originals of these loose materials, except for the clippings, were recently reorganized as part of an ACLU processing project for the post-1946 unbound ACLU records. Thus, to gain access to these materials, one must use the reel contents and series lists.




The first seven series contain newspaper clippings, and their descriptions are arranged alphabetically by title of the series. The fourteen other series are correspondence series that are also arranged alphabetically by title. The researcher should understand that even though these materials are organized into discrete series descriptions, the records themselves are intermingled throughout the microfilm. In other words, this is a conceptualization of the series found in these volumes if one were to bring like matter together; the material itself has not been rearranged.


Clipping Series


The ACLU, through a clipping service and from its local committees and agents, received hundreds of clippings annually which it organized. The sheer variety of journals included in these series is staggering. Much material is taken from left-wing press and little-known local and regional papers. A small sample volume included over thirty-six different papers ranging from the Seattle Industrial Worker and the Riverside, California Press on the West Coast to the Providence Journal and the Baltimore Post on the East Coast, from the Albion, Michigan Recorder and Minnesota Labor Review in the Midwest to the EI Paso Herald and Denver Rocky Mountain News in the mountain west


Series 1 - Academic Freedom-Clippings (1917-1950)


This series provides access to information on academic freedom cases from roughly 1925 when the Academic Freedom Committee came into existence until 1950. There is a small amount of general material prior to 1925. Clippings are generally arranged by state, but there are a few subject files as well. Of special note are the many volumes of clippings on the Scopes trial found under Tennessee. Subjects found under this series are Bible reading laws, anti-evolution laws, loyalty oaths, conscientious objectors, flag burning, bans on lectures, bans on unions, flag salute cases, discrimination, compulsory military training, textbook censorship, Communists in the schools, dismissals of teachers and students, and individual cases of various college and university professors.


Series 2 - Censorship-Clippings (1928-1929, 1933-1946, 1949-1950)


Most of this series is arranged by state, although there are a number of subjects as well, including censorship of books, comics, magazines, motion pictures, newsstands, the mails, the press, radio, theater, and war correspondents. See also States Clippings (Series 7) for clippings on censorship, especially prior to 1933.


Series 3 - Chronological-Clippings (1947-1948)


This small series includes clippings from 1947 and 1948 arranged chronologically by month. It contains materials normally found in the other clippings series.


Series 4 - Federal Departments - Clippings (1920-1923, 1925-1946, 1949-1950)


This clippings series mirrors the types of materials found in the Federal Departments Correspondence (Series 11). In general, it covers due process matters arising from agencies of the federal government. One should also look at General Clippings (Series 5) and Censorship Clippings (Series 2) for other clippings involving federal departments of government. The clippings are generally arranged alphabetically by the appropriate government department.


Series 5 – General - Clippings (1912, 1917-1946, 1949-1950)


This series covers a variety of subjects in which the ACLU had a general interest but which were not directly associated with individual cases in the states. The chief focus of this series is on the labor movement (including strikes, injunctions, industrial espionage, labor violence, and IWW cases, among them the San Diego free speech case from 1912), conscientious objection, civil rights (including Japanese-American internment, lynchings, Negroes, and racial discrimination), patriotic organizations, press coverage of civil liberties issues, religious freedom, and government intrusions on civil liberties (including aliens, raids, deportations, and wiretapping). A small number of clippings relating to the organization of the ACLU are also included.


Series 6 – Legislation - Clippings (1917-1923, 1926-1946, 1949-1950)


This series relates principally to federal legislation, although there are several volumes that include state and local legislation as well, especially relating to the espionage acts enacted in the period during and after World War 1. The principal legislative issues are labor unions, censorship, immigration and naturalization, anti-lynching bills, espionage and sedition, and congressional investigative committees. In general, the terms used by the ACLU to describe the legislative matters have been retained. Thus, the entire list should be surveyed for matters relating to the same subject.


Series 7 – States - Clippings (1919-1946, 1949-1950)


The ACLU arranged most of its activities by state, and this series provides access to clippings relating to many of the issues with which it dealt over the years. One should also consult clippings for academic freedom, censorship, and general material which also contain clippings related to individual states. For 1947 and 1948 only, clippings were arranged in chronological order. The states clippings files related to such topics as lynchings, strikes, criminal syndicalism, unions, blacklisting, police brutality, free speech and assembly, miscegenation, sterilization, discrimination, the Ku Klux Klan, prosecutions, arrests, police raids, interferences with meetings, official violence, deportations, fingerprinting, mob violence, and handbill ordinances. There are many clippings relating to the celebrated Mooney-Billings bomb attack case in California, the 1926 Passaic Strike in New Jersey, Communist demonstrations in New York, and the Centralia murder case in Washington in 1920. Each volume's index outline provides much more detail about topics covered. The term "states" includes many United States territories or other nearby countries in which the United States had an interest (for instance, Cuba and Nicaragua).


Correspondence Series


The correspondence of the ACLU is wide ranging and reflects the growth in the various matters in which the ACLU took an interest over time. While most series focus on the work of the organization, there are several series dealing with events or organizations outside the scope of the ACLU. Of particular importance is the States Correspondence (Series 21), which contains much on the ACLU's involvement with cases throughout the nation.


Series 8 - Academic Freedom - Correspondence (1917-1919, 1921, 1924-1926, 1928-1934, 1936-1941, 1943-1950)


This series principally represents the work of the Academic Freedom Committee and the staff that worked under its direction. One should also see records relating to the Committee in Organizational Matters (Series 18). For the most part, records are arranged by state, although there are some other subjects. Frequent issues include evolution, yellow dog contracts for teachers, Bible reading in schools, compulsory military training in schools, loyalty oaths, Communist Party membership, flag-saluting cases, textbook bans, and release time in schools.


Series 9 – Censorship - Correspondence (1917- 1921, 1930- 1950)


This series contains correspondence relating to free speech issues during World War I and matters handled by the Committee on Freedom from Censorship during the 1930s and 1940s. Two other committees functioned in these areas at a later time: the Committee on Freedom of Communications (which largely dealt with monopoly issues) and the Committee on Radio. Again, Organizational Matters (Series 18) should be consulted for more information about the work of these committees. The records are mostly organized around individual types of censorship (book, comics, customs, speech, magazine, motion picture, post office, press, radio, and theater). For a few years there are some cases arranged by state.


Series 10 - Conscientious Objectors - Correspondence (1917-1921, 1927, 1940-1942, 1944-1950)


Records found in this series are concentrated around the time of the two world wars when conscientious objection was a paramount issue. For the first war, records are generally organized around the camps and forts to which COs were assigned, although there are several sets of cases organized by states or alphabetically by name. For the second war, the bulk of the material is organized alphabetically by name of the conscientious objector. Much of the work of the ACLU during the Second World War was conducted by the National Committee on Conscientious Objectors, whose records were placed at Swarthmore College following the war. The records include telegrams, letters, and memoranda to federal officials. There is much personal information on COs, depositions they gave, and reports on camp conditions based upon site visits by the National Civil Liberties Bureau during World War 1.


Series 11 - Federal Departments - Correspondence (1924- 1950)


This series documents the ACLU's considerable correspondence with the three branches of the federal government over the years, especially in the area of due process. Matters addressed with some frequency include rights of aliens, loyalty investigations, civil service questions, congressional investigations, military investigations, labor disputes, fair employment practices, Japanese-American internment, Indian affairs, and civil rights. In general, the material is organized by department, although there are many subject files in this series. Since the ACLU did not consistently organize this material, the researcher is urged to review the entire list of subjects.


Series 12 - Federal Legislation - Correspondence (1919-1921, 1926-1950)


In its early years the ACLU shied away from lobbying for specific legislation, other than in the areas of amnesty for conscientious objectors and repeal of the wartime espionage and sedition acts. With the coming of the New Deal, the ACLU was much more involved on the legislative front, although the organization still did not have a Washington office at the end of Baldwin's tenure in 1950. The ACLU described legislation in a variety of ways: by author, by subject, by bill number, and by the general name of the bill. Researchers are advised to read the list carefully since there is no grouping of records; this is simply an alphabetical listing. Frequent topics include wiretapping, immigration and naturalization, labor, conscientious objection, civil rights, censorship, radio, and the espionage act.


Series 13 – General - Correspondence (1917-1924, 1926-1929, 1931-1950)


This series includes the correspondence of the ACLU on a variety of matters that are not found elsewhere in the collection. Major topics addressed include aliens, amnesty, attacks on the ACLU, deportations, Indians, IWW cases, international civil liberties, organized labor, minority political party rights, Negroes and civil rights, patriotic organizations and their attacks on the ACLU, propaganda for and against civil liberties, race relations and discrimination, radio, religious freedom, sedition, and the United Nations.


Series 14 – Injunctions - Correspondence (1931-1935, 1937-1939)


This small series focuses on attempts by the ACLU to obtain uniform state laws relating to the issuance of injunctions in the face of union-organizing efforts. Most of the records are organized by state, although there are a few special subjects.


Series 15 - Labor and Liberal Organizations - Correspondence (1921, 1931-1950)


Records in this series indicate the ACLU's vast correspondence with a variety of cooperating organizations around the nation and the world. Baldwin believed that there was strength in numbers and his wide-ranging correspondence reflected a desire to work with other organizations on the variety of issues addressed by the ACLU The series is arranged alphabetically by name of the outside organization. These organizations focused on such subjects as anti-Fascism, protection of aliens, civil rights, conscientious objection, pacifism, Communism, socialism, and religion.


Series 16 - Nelles Papers, Walter - Correspondence (1920-1926)


This series covers the personal papers of Walter Nelles, an attorney who handled many of the ACLU's cases during its first decade. The four bound volumes include a few legal records (U. S. v. Steene [1920], Connecticut v. Coleman [1921], and a Roger Baldwin case [1925-1926]), but they principally consist of writings on the Constitution, the Knights of Labor, labor injunctions and the Sherman antitrust act, and a publication called the Law and Freedom Bulletin, which Nelles edited from 1920 to 1924. The reason that these records are found among the ACLU archives is unclear, except for Nelles’s relationship to the organization.


Series 17 – New York Committee – Correspondence (1936-1950)


Beginning in 1936 the ACLU formed a quasi-independent New York City Committee to handle local matters. Eventually this organization became one of the most important local affiliates in the country, namely, the New York Civil Liberties Union, but not before Baldwin’s retirement in 1950. These records document the internal activities of this Committee as well as its many special interests, including limits on free speech and assembly, labor strikes, Communist activities, civil rights, police brutality, wiretapping, and Works Progress Administration policies.


Series 18 – Organizational Matters – Correspondence (1917-1950)


This series documents the activities of the ACLU board of directors, the Executive Committee, the National Committee, and various subject committees created over the years. There is also material on local affiliates, although one should certainly look under States Correspondence (Series 21) as well. The use of the ACLU’s bail fund during the 1920s and 1930s is of special importance in terms of its relationship to unions and Communists. The series also includes some runs of ACLU publications and minutes. The series is arranged alphabetically by subject.


Series 19 – Pennsylvania Civil Liberties Committee and Philadelphia Branch – Correspondence (1930-1933)


These are the records of the Pennsylvania State Committee, which had an office in Harrisburg during the legislative season, and the Philadelphia Branch. For most of the period covered, Allan G. Harper, who subsequently headed the Indian Rights Association in Philadelphia, was the Executive Secretary for both organizations. John V. Stranger, who followed Harper as Executive Secretary, reported that the organization was insolvent and that no one wanted to maintain the “six files” of material. In an August l1, 1934, letter Baldwin urged Stranger to send the material to the New York Public Library, which explains why the early Pennsylvania records wound up in New York. These records focus on several local issues including injunctions, censorship, deportations, police brutality, and strikes. Generally, one should assume volumes include material from all four years even when they are marked otherwise.


Series 20 – State Legislation – Correspondence (1928-1929, 1935-1941, 1943-1947, 1949-1950)


The State Legislation series includes correspondence dealing with state legislative activities. In general, it is arranged by state, although there is a large amount of general material and some subject files. In addition, one should review the correspondence found in the injunctions and States Correspondence (Series 21), which also deal with state legislative activities.


Series 21 – States – Correspondence (1917-1950)


This is probably the most important series in the microfilm set. The national office maintained an active correspondence with state and local officials, friendly correspondents, clients, and other individuals on a variety of matters, principally relating to legal cases. These records are arranged by state and often include records for the early activities of the growing number of state affiliates. The record of ACLU’s vigorous involvement in many of its most significant legal cases is found in this series. For instance, the Massachusetts records include materials relating to the ACLU’s role in the Sacco-Vanzetti defense. Colorado records cover the 1928 coal strike. Alabama records in the 1930s provide much information about the Scottsboro cases. ACLU’s campaign against Boss Hague in the 1930s is found in the records of New Jersey during that time period. Again, one should utilize the index and the internal volume descriptions to find appropriate materials for the research question.`