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John F. Kennedy Administration Collection: Records of the U.S. Dept. of Labor, 1961-1963

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About this Collection

Introduction: Records of the U

Introduction: John F. Kennedy Administration Collection:Records of the U.S. Department of Labor, 1961-1963


Before a researcher attempts to analyze the agency recordson file at the John F. Kennedy Library, it is important to understand thehistory of the collections and the acquisitions guidelines of the particularmaterial selected. This introduction describes the history, planning,methodology, and scope of the collection of Kennedy administration records onmicrofilm.


The Early Stages


Prior to John F. Kennedys inauguration, historian ArthurSchlesinger, Jr., Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey, and Harvard Librarian PaulH. Buck approached the president-elect in order to convince him to follow theexamples of the most recent presidents and establish a presidential libraryadministered by the National Archives and Records Service (NARS). Since theplan for these institutions usually was developed late in an administration,after many of the important collections had been donated to privateinstitutions, these men believed that if the president made it clear early inthe administration that he would like commitments from members of the staff todonate their papers to the library, the facility could offer historians andscholars a more complete picture of the Kennedy administration. This plandistinguished the Kennedy Library from the existing presidential libraries atthe time - the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the Harry S. Truman Library, andthe Dwight D. Eisenhower Library - because these three institutions housed thepersonal and public papers of the president but few collections of the personalpapers of members of the cabinet and staff. As Buck later wrote:


Our objective has been nothing less than the finestcollection of primary source materials ever brought together under one roof forresearch in a specific period. An outstanding collection surpassing in qualityany ever before assembled, is promised by the Presidents interest, by theearly start that has been made in planning and collecting.1


On September 20, 1961, the president appointed an informalcommittee to develop and expand plans for a presidential library. Members ofthis committee included Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., special assistant to thepresident; Theodore Sorensen, special counsel to the president; Paul Buck andGarde Wiggins of Harvard University; Wayne C. Grover, archivist of the UnitedStates; and Herman Kahn, assistant archivist. In November, President Kennedyformally announced his intention to establish a presidential library inCambridge, Massachusetts, to be operated by the NARS in association withHarvard University. The committee had to address several responsibilities:locating a suitable site, outlining an organizational structure, developing afund-raising plan, and writing an extensive acquisitions policy. By May 1962the committee had completed an acquisitions policy statement that Schlesingersent to top executive personnel, in which he communicated the Presidents hopethat his friends and associates will wish to assist in making the collectionsas complete as possible.2


Personal correspondence files, official correspondencefiles, work aids, notes, memorandums, personal accounts of events written asreminders, observations of high officials, extra copies of speeches,congressional testimony, reading files, and press releases were the types ofmaterials requested, not the complete official original records of eachdepartment or agency. Schlesinger also requested microfilm or paper copies ofofficial records that would help document the administrations major policies.


Schlesingers guidelines assisted the departments andagencies in identifying pertinent materials. The amount of documents in theWhite House was so enormous that by the end of April 1963 it was estimated thatthe Kennedy Library would have to be much larger than initially planned inorder to accommodate an expected eight years of presidential material. InOctober 1963, President Kennedy selected a building site next to the HarvardBusiness School along the banks of the Charles River. (These plans were laterchanged; the library is now located on Columbia Point in Boston.)


A Change of Plans


Kennedys assassination and the resignation or replacementof many of his appointees accelerated the pace of the librarys acquisitions. Asystematic program directed by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was mostlycompleted in fewer than eight months. The microfilming of department and agencyrecords was an essential part of this program.


On December 9, 1963, Robert Kennedy appointed a coordinatingcommittee to compile lists of important issues and subjects during the Kennedyadministration. These lists were then compared to the lists of availablematerial being compiled by individual agencies. In a December 19, 1963, letterto the department heads, Robert Kennedy reemphasized the acquisitions goals:Our most important immediate problem in connection with the John F. KennedyMemorial Library is the collecting of the significant papers and documents ofthe Kennedy Administration. To do this quickly, while memories and experienceare still fresh, will require the close cooperation of all agency anddepartment heads.3


By January 1, 1964, each agency head was to have submittedlists of topics involving presidential decision or interest. In a letter todepartment and agency heads, Robert Kennedy requested, as top priority,originals or copies of the papers, memorandums, notes, and correspondence ofthe head of each agency. The next priority was to make copies of selectedportions of the official records of the department or agency. This materialwould include staff papers, memoranda, and other documents relating to themajor Kennedy Administration issues, as well as papers on any subject, major orminor, in which the President took a personal interest, which went to him forthe decision, or which emerged in response to Presidential request.4He further stated:


I know this project will be a drain on your time andresources. But only in this way can we hope to build a collection whichaccurately reflects the career, the hopes and the achievements of PresidentKennedy and which fully illuminates the issues of his time.5


President Lyndon B. Johnson instructed the department andagency heads to provide full cooperation. However, no matter how dedicated andorganized the participants were, this project proved to be extremely intricate,time-consuming, and difficult at times. Even Robert Kennedy, after reviewingthe lists of the Department of Justice material, stated:


Lets decide what the issues are. Could you say now or anyof you say here what projects in the Department of Justice you should collect?In the Department of Defense? We would like to exchange views with someone.Would you want the weekly reports by the heads of Tax and Civil Divisions? Ithink and I am sure the other Cabinet members would like to get someguidelines.6


Questions about what to include were not limited to theDepartment of Justice. Most of the agencies deliberated the same question: Whatexactly is important in the history of the administration? The coordinatingcommittee was to help solve this problem by reviewing the lists submitted bythe agencies. The next step was to send microfilm teams to each agency from theNARS, with the exception of five agencies that used their own film crews.


On January 18, 1964, the Washington Post providedsome insight into the project as a whole, specifically the filming of the CivilRights Division of the Department of Justice:


The Federal Government began to turn itself upside downthis week in a massive effort to put on microfilm the official records of theKennedy Administration.


Other presidential libraries contain the personal papers ofthe President, the files of the White House, personal papers of friends andassociates and some kinds of audio-visual materials, but no officialGovernment records.


So yesterday, as they had done all week and as they wouldcontinue to do for no-one-knows-how-long, a group of microfilmers from theNational Archives processed the records that Department heads had designated asrelevant to Mr. Kennedys main interests.7


Unlike the filming of retired records, the filming of muchof this material included active files still used by the agencies in question.Therefore, records were not removed to other locations but instead were filmedin and around the daily working offices. The filming continued at the otheragencies in the same way and ran smoothly considering the obviousorganizational obstacles. However, when the film crews encountered restrictedor classified materials, many of the agencies refused to cooperate, citingSection 7(c) of Executive Order 10501 as their justification. This orderprovides safeguards for the administration, access, and copying of classified materials.Agency heads refused to permit microfilming without presidential authorization.


In July, President Johnson was unwilling to issueauthorization. Department of Justice attorneys then determined that section7(c) was not applicable to the acquisition of documents for archival purposes,and therefore neither the approval of the originating agency nor of thepresident was necessary.8 Filming resumed shortly. By mid-1964 overtwo million pages of documents had been microfilmed.


The Collections Today


Presently, the John F. Kennedy Librarys holdings arepartially comprised of 2,573 rolls of federal records. Thirty-nine federalrecords collections were acquired in microfilm and 14 in hard copy.Twenty-three collections of personal papers were obtained in microfilm, withthe remaining 147 collections in hard copy. Sixty percent of the rolls ofmicrofilm remain closed.


Each agencys files consist of a variety of materials.General collection policy guidelines provided an outline as to the types ofmaterials desired, but individual agencies were given the latitude to selectdocuments that fit into the guidelines. Each collection emphasizes varioussubjects and is organized differently. For example, the U.S. Department of theInterior records are comprised of files from several offices, includinglegislation papers from the Office of the Solicitor, Fish and Wildlife Servicedata on the use of pesticides, and Bureau of Indian Affairs records containingtask force minutes and publications.


The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW)collection includes files of several task forces, committees, and legislationenacted on subjects such as education, welfare, the National Service Corps, andmental retardation. For some subjects, such as the HEW mental retardationfiles, the microfilm offers the librarys most complete resource of backgroundmaterial and working files on the Presidents Panel on Mental Retardation andthe Secretarys Committee on Mental Retardation. This file includes theproposed commission, selection of panel members, meetings, and conferencerecommendations. In conjunction with these files a researcher could then referto the librarys nonmicrofilm collections of Presidents Office Files, thepersonal papers of Elizabeth Boggs, and the staff files of Myer Feldman andStafford Warren.


The holdings of the Kennedy Library also contain the filesof the Presidents Commission on the Status of Women and several oral historyinterviews involving the issue of equal pay. The Womens Bureau records fromthe U.S. Department of Labor collection also present further information. Thefiles include state programs, legislative proposals, and background material onthe Equal Pay Act of 1961.


Often the microfilm collections not only provide backgroundinformation complementing existing files but also serve as a primary source ona particular topic. The U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency files on thelegislative history of the Housing Act of 1961 are more detailed than the othercollections on the housing issue. Records of the U.S. Office of EmergencyPlanning also provide a firsthand look at the governments response to naturaldisasters nationwide.


The papers and records of Walter Heller are alsodistinctive. This collection provides both the files of the Council of EconomicAdvisers and government committees, as well as his personal files from 1941 to1971. Researchers interested in the economic policies of the Kennedyadministration should regard these files as a critical resource.


Sometimes a subject is included in more than one microfilmcollection. For example, if a researcher is interested in examining the Kennedyadministrations approach to youth services and programs, aside from thepresidents papers and selected personal papers, he should also examine thefollowing HEW records: committee files and legislative data on juveniledelinquency and on school dropouts; public assistance programs, including Aidto Dependent Children; legislation details on tax deductions for child-careexpenses; models and background information on the National Service Corps; andreports and summaries of other action programs. The Department of the Interiorrecords provide further details on youth employment, with specific emphasis onthe Youth Conservation Corps, and a legislative history of the act establishingthe Corps. The Department of Labor files provide data on the Youth EmploymentAct of 1961, the Presidents Committee on Youth Employment, as well as the 1960White House Conference on Children and Youth.


These and other collections offer important insights intothe Kennedy administrations response to the domestic problems of the early1960s. From a historians perspective, an agencys records can offer a uniqueview into how and why certain issues were important, how they were handled, towhom they were referred, and how they were solved. The agency recordssupplement files of administration personnel and demonstrate the implementationof the Kennedy administrations policies by the bureaucracy. Many times eventhe personal papers of agency heads do not offer a complete perspective of theagency itself. Just as research would be incomplete if the papers of keyadministration personnel were not examined for a particular project so, too,would research that did not include a review of the agency files. Such anexamination of the agencys working records presents a more complete picture ofhistorical discussion.


Maura Porter
Reference Archivist
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library




1Letter by Paul Buck,Kennedy Library 1963 folder, Presidents Office Files, box 130, John F.Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (hereafter JFKL).


2Letter, Arthur M.Schlesinger, Jr., May 23, 1962, Kennedy Library 9/2/61 - 12/24/63 folder,Theodore C. Sorensen Papers, box 35, JFKL.


3 Letter, Robert F. Kennedy to heads of departments and agencies,December 19, 1963, Collection of Materials - Letter to Agency Heads folder,Papers of Robert F. Kennedy. Attorney Generals Papers, JFK Library File, box11, JFKL.






6Minutes, JFK LibraryCorporation meeting, December 9, 1963, Meetings and Memoranda, 11/63 - 12/63folder, Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney Generals Papers, JFK Library File, box 15,JFKL.


7Susanna McBee,Records of Kennedy Era Microfilmed for Library, Washington Post,January 18, 1964, Kennedy Library, 1/2/64 - 1/30/64 folder, Theodore S.Sorensen Papers, box 35, JFKL.


8Memorandum, NormanSchlei to Robert Kennedy, July 13, 1964, Collection of Materials Memorandum,7/13/64 folder, Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney Generals Papers, JFK LibraryFile, box 11, JFKL.



Historical Note


When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in January 1961, theunemployment rate in the United States had climbed to a twenty-year high of 6.8percent. Many of the domestic issues during the previous falls electioncampaign centered on how best to deal with the growing recession. Kennedycampaigned to raise the minimum wage of $1.25 per hour, as well as to extendthe period of unemployment compensation to thirteen weeks. At the same time, hewas also keen to pursue anti-inflationary labor settlements by pressuring bothlabor and management to resolve any contract disputes.


Kennedy appointed Arthur Goldberg as secretary of labor.During the administrations first year, many significant pieces of laborlegislation were passed. Noteworthy among these were amendments to the FairLabor Standards Act and the Social Security Act, and passage of the TemporaryExtended Unemployment Compensation Act, which fulfilled Kennedys campaignpromise. The Presidents Advisory Commission on Labor-Management Policy (madeup of representatives from labor, management, and the administration) and theNational Labor Relations Board (NLRB) under chairman Frank McCulloch were bothactive in attempting to avert major strikes within the United States.


Early in 1962, Kennedy signed an executive order allowingfor the unionization of federal employees. A variety of reports from appointedcommittees concerning labor-management policy and youth employment was releasedlater in the year. The major piece of labor legislation during 1962 was theBacon-Davis Act, which set wage rates for employers of federal governmentcontractors, established a training and placement program to aid workers withobsolete skills, and extended unemployment benefits once again.


The most significant change in the department occurred inAugust 1962, when Kennedy appointed Goldberg to fill the Supreme Court seatvacated by Felix Frankfurter. W. Willard Wirtz was appointed as the newsecretary of labor. Shortly thereafter the administration was confronted withperhaps its biggest labor dispute, when the longshoremen struck in October.When negotiations failed, Kennedy invoked the national emergency provision ofthe Taft-Hartley Act, but the strike resumed in late December until itsresolution in January 1963. Other significant labor disputes included the NewYork City newspaper stoppage and a threatened railroad strike, which wasaverted by the passage of the first peacetime compulsory arbitrationlegislation.


In 1963 a further amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Actguaranteed women equal pay for equal work - but only for employees underlong-term collective bargaining contracts. Although Kennedy actively pushed forthe creation of a Youth Corps modeled after President Franklin D. RooseveltsCivilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and advocated other youth employmentprograms, the majority of this legislation did not come before Congress untilafter Kennedys death in November 1963. Both efforts fell short of Kennedysoriginal plan.


About the Records


The researcher will find the records reproduced in thisseventy-roll microfilm set organized by four major files. Reading Files -Departmental consists of general correspondence to and from the secretaryof labor; Reading Files - Office of the Secretary contain generalcorrespondence signed by the secretary of labor; Weekly Reports ofSignificant Activities are mostly memorandums to the secretary from thedeputy undersecretary regarding legislation and congressional relations,labor-management reports, and labor standards and statistics; and the WhiteHouse - Reading Files are made upof correspondence to and from the White House, as well as memorandums to thepresident, special assistant to the president, and others, signed by seniorofficials within the department.


Aside from these major categories, records from the bureauswithin the department are also included in the collection. These bureausinclude the Office of Manpower, Automation, and Training; the Bureau ofEmployment Security; the Bureau of International Labor Organization; theWomens Bureau; the Office of Policy Planning and Research; the Bureau of LaborStatistics; the Solicitor of Labor; and the Presidents Committee on Equal EmploymentOpportunity.