American Civil Liberties Union records, 1917-1950.

American Civil Liberties Union [Browse]
315 linear ft. (1886 bound volumes, 12 archival boxes on 288 reels of microfilm). Bound scrapbook volumes for the years 1912, 1917-1946, with an extensive subject card file index.


Getty AAT genre
Series: I. Academic Freedom--Clippings, 1917-1950; II. Censorship--Clippings, 1928-1929, 1933-1946, 1949-1950; III. Chronological--Clippings, 1947-1948; IV. Federal Departments--Clippings, 1920-1923, 1925-1946, 1949-1950; V. General--Clippings, 1912, 1917-1946, 1949-1950; VI. Legislation--Clippings, 1917-1923, 1926-1946, 1949-1950; VII. States--Clippings, 1919-1946, 1949-1950; VIII. Academic Freedom--Correspondence, 1918-1919, 1921, 1924-1926, 1928-1934, 1936-1941, 1943-1950; IX. Censorship--Correspondence, 1917-1921, 1930-1950; X. Conscientious Objectors--Correspondence, 1917-1921, 1927, 1940-1942, 1944-1950; XI. Federal Departments--Correspondence, 1924-1950; XII. Federal Legislation--Correspondence, 1919-1921, 1926-1950; XIII. General--Correspondence, 1917-1924, 1926-1929, 1931-1950; XIV. Injunctions--Correspondence, 1931-1935, 1937-1939; XV. Labor and Liberal Organizations--Correspondence, 1921, 1931-1950; XVI. Nelles Papers, Walter--Correspondence, 1920-1926; XVII. New York City Committee--Correspondence, 1936-1950; XVIII. Organizational Matters--Correspondence, 1917-1950; XIX. Pennsylvania Civil Liberties Committee and Philadelphia Branch--Correspondence,1930-1933; XX. State Legislation--Correspondence, 1928-1929, 1935-1941, 1943-1947, 1949-1950; XXI. States--Correspondence, 1917-1950. Series are arranged alphabetically by title of the series. The records themselves are intermingled throughout the microfilm.
Biographical/​Historical note
The ACLU grew out of the AUAM, formed in 1914 to prevent United States involvement in World War I. The National Civil Liberties Bureau grew out of the AUAM with Baldwin as director (1917). The ACLU was chartered (1920) after calls for a permanent organization to deal with issues such as the Red Scare and amnesty for wartime dissidents. Important activities in which the ACLU has been involved include the Paterson, New Jersey labor strike (1913), Margaret Sanger's right to deliver a speech on birth control (1929), and the commission of studies of Nazis in American and anti-Fascist laws in Europe. Significant cases in which the ACLU participated include the John Thomas Scopes trial (1925), the Sacco-Vanzetti case (1920-1927) and Near v. Minnesota, which established limits on prior restraint of the press (1931).
Summary note
  • Consists of the records of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), documenting its activities in protecting individual rights under the leadership of Roger Baldwin. Its primary aims have been the defense of free speech and press, separation of church and state, free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and privacy rights of all citizens. The collection contains primarily correspondence and clippings. Also included are the records of the ACLU's predecessor organization, the National Civil Liberties Bureau (1917-1920) of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) and some material documenting a 1912 Industrial Workers of the World free speech trial.
  • Academic freedom clippings focus on evolution, Bible reading in schools, loyalty oaths, and Communist Party membership. Censorship clippings deal with censorship of written works and the media. Federal Department clippings cover due process matters. Legislation clippings primarily concern federal legislation and state and local legislation on espionage acts after World War I. State activities are documented within the States clippings and cover lynchings, strikes, unions, blacklisting, police brutality, free speech and assembly, discrimination, prosecutions, arrests, police raids, deportations, fingerprinting, mob violence and handbill ordinances. General clippings primarily cover the labor movement, conscientious objection, civil rights, patriotic organizations, press coverage of civil liberties issues, religious freedom and government intrusions on civil liberties
  • Academic Freedom Committee correspondence includes evolution, loyalty oaths, and Communist party membership matters. Censorship correspondence relates to free speech during World War I and the Committee on Freedom from Censorship. Conscientious Objectors correspondence concentrates on the two world wars and includes personal information on COs. Federal Departments correspondence particularly concerns due process. Federal Legislation correspondence pertains to amnesty for conscientious objectors and repeal of the wartime espionage and sedition acts. Injunctions correspondence focuses on attempts by the ACLU to obtain uniform state laws relating to the issuance of injunctions in the face of union organizing efforts. The Labor and Liberal Organizations series reflects the ACLU's vast correspondence with a variety of cooperating organizations and includes anti-Fascism, protection of aliens, and civil rights matters. Attorney Walter Nelles's personal papers, including writings on the constitution, the Knights of Labor, labor injunctions, the Sherman antitrust act and the Law and Freedom Bulletin, which Nelles edited (1920-1924), are included in the Nelles series. New York City Committee (after 1950, New York Civil Liberties Union) correspondence documents the internal activities of this committee and its many special interests, including opposing limits on free speech and assembly, labor strikes, and restrictive Works Progress Administration policies. Organizational Committee correspondence documents the ACLU board of directors and various committees. Pennsylvania Civil Liberties Committee and Philadelphia Branch correspondence focuses on injunctions, censorship, deportations, police brutality, and strikes. State Legislation concerns state legislative activities. State correspondence is probably the most important series in the microfilm set and primarily covers state and local officials, legal cases and the early activities of state affiliates. Records of the ACLU's involvement in many of its most significant legal cases, for example the Sacco-Vanzetti defense, are found in this series. General correspondence relates to numerous matters not found elsewhere in the collection, in particular deportations, international civil liberties, organized labor, Native Americans, minority political party rights, African Americans and civil rights, propaganda for and against civil liberties, race relations and discrimination, sedition, the United Nations, and attacks on the ACLU
Due to the size of this collection, the catalog record has been divided into two, with this record containing the personal name subject added entries and the other containing the topical term subject added entries. Aside from this, they are identical.
Other format(s)
Microfilm for volumes 1-2762 (1917-1946) is available.
Finding aid
A 224-page finding aid to the collection is available.
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