University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Thomas E. Dewey Papers

Volume X · Spring 1955 · Number 3
The Thomas E. Dewey Papers

Please note: With the construction of an addition to Rush Rhees Library in 1970, and the processing of the Dewey Papers, the collection is currently available to researchers at Department of Rare Books and Special Collections on the second floor. 

The collection of Governor Dewey's papers which was transferred to Rush Rhees Library from Albany last December represents in many ways a landmark in the development of our library program for providing research material for our faculty and graduate students, and for assuming our share of the responsibility of preserving archival material for future historians. It is the first time in the history of the library that a collection of source material dealing with the contemporary political scene has been acquired and it is by far the largest single group of manuscripts ever added to the library. Housing the collection, organizing it for use, and assisting research workers in utilizing the material to its fullest extent, are the three tasks which the library has agreed to undertake.

The first of these problems has already been solved. The papers have been moved into permanent quarters in a level of the book stack recently finished for the express purpose of housing the collection. High up in the book tower of the library, the new quarters are adequately heated, ventilated, and lighted, and the danger of damage from fire, dampness, dust, and mildew are practically non-existent. Locked doors prevent access to the material to all except those authorized to make use of it.

A detailed analysis of the contents of the collection is yet to be made, but a broad general survey has been completed. From this it is possible to give a summary of the type and extent of material represented, and some indication of ways in which it can be utilized.

The papers which relate to the period before Governor Dewey assumed office in January, 1943, form a relatively small proportion of the entire collection. They fall naturally into three groups. Two filing cases contain material relating to his private law cases before 1934. A much larger group, which fills twelve filing cases, includes correspondence covering the period from 1938 to 1942, when Governor Dewey held the office of District Attorney of New York County. The material in these files relates not so much to his official duties as District Attorney as to his broader interests in state and national affairs, and to the political campaigns of 1938 and 1940. A third group consists of papers relating to the 1942 gubernatorial campaign. This part of the collection occupies six filing cases and includes the following general subdivisions: general correspondence, lists of contacts, schedules, agenda, office memoranda, daily reports, research material, news releases, radio broadcasts, campaign literature, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous records. Three of the six filing cases are filled with speeches and speech material for the 1942 campaign.

The correspondence of the period of Governor Dewey's three terms of office from January, 1943, through December, 1954, forms the largest single group of papers in the entire collection. Broken down into two large categories, the files are labelled "General" and "Personal," and each of these divisions has separate subdivisions for papers of the first, second, and third terms. There are 138 filing cases of the "General" correspondence, and 110 of the "Personal." Material in the first category consists of letters and other papers addressed to Governor Dewey in his official capacity, and in general is concerned with specific problems of the New York State government: rent controls, discrimination, budgets, taxation, education, labor problems, highways, public utilities, to mention only a few. All other correspondence of the period falls within the second category, "Personal," and is filed accordingly. Both groups contain letters and other documentary material which the future historian, political scientist, economist, or sociologist will find a great storehouse of information.

There are several other lengthy files of material relating to the gubernatorial period, all of considerable significance, which have been segregated from the "Personal" and "General" files because of their subject matter or for some other inherent reason. In this group is included a series of files labelled "Appointments, 1943/1954," with folders for each of the various offices for which appointments were made by Governor Dewey. In each folder are letters of recommendation, copies of notification of appointments, acceptances, resignations and other pertinent correspondence. The complete file fills thirteen cases.

Three groups of papers bear the label "Major Legislation, 1948-1954," "General Legislation, by Department," and "General Legislation, by Subject." These occupy nine cases, and the folders therein contain, as the title suggests, material relating to the formulation and enactment of much of the important legislation of the period of Governor Dewey's incumbency.

Another and equally important part of the collection is the speech material. Files of research material, preliminary drafts and work sheets,  final copies, and reading copies with significant notations fill fifteen folio cases. In almost two hundred instances, tape recordings or phonograph records were made at the time of the delivery of the speeches, and these too have been added to the collection. The period covered extends from 1937 through 1954.

A most complete record of the Republican presidential campaign of 1948 will be found in the collection. One filing case contains material relating to the pre-convention Oregon primary in the spring of 1948, with papers organized under the same general headings as those of the 1942 gubernatorial campaign, described above. The post-convention campaign records fill some twenty-five cases, falling roughly into the same categories, but with a very much larger proportion of correspondence.

All the papers accumulated during Governor Dewey's "Journey to the Far Pacific" in 1951 are arranged in a separate filing case. This group includes correspondence, itineraries, and background material used in the preparation of the book of that title which he published in 1952. Preliminary drafts of the book, and the final draft and galley proofs are included, as well as a special collection of letters of commendation received by the Governor following its publication. Another filing case contains similar material used in the preparation of Rupert Hughes' biography of Governor Dewey, Attorney for the People, published in 1940.

As "First Lady of the State," Mrs. Dewey received many letters of an official or semi-official nature, which because of their character belong properly with the Governor's papers. These, with copies of her replies, she has most generously added to the collection. They are arranged in a separate group of six filing cases, and cover the twelve year period from 1943 through 1954.

The newspaper history of Governor Dewey's public career from 1933 until the close of his administration on January 1, 1955, is preserved in a series of folio scrapbooks, which, when completed, will number over two hundred and fifty volumes. The clippings are classified in one of three groups: general New York State history, New York State political history, and material relating to the national and international scene with which Governor Dewey was in some way connected. To have this vast amount of material assembled for his use in such a compact form will be a boon to any research worker in the future. Indeed, it seems quite unlikely that any individual scholar could assemble by his own efforts such a complete news coverage and record of public opinion of Governor Dewey's activities as these volumes represent.

Aside from the manuscripts, clippings, and printed records which comprise the bulk of the collection, there is another, smaller group of documentary material. Hundreds of photographs which give a pictorial history of the Governor's life are filed away in three folio cases. Motion picture films numbering some forty odd reels, kinescopes of television broadcasts, tape recordings, and phonograph records tell the story of many of the outstanding events in his career. Finally, there is the collection of memorabilia which is indicative of the great esteem with which he is held-awards, honors, diplomas, special gifts, and numerous mementos of occasions on which various organizations, institutions, and individuals sought to give tangible evidence of their admiration and gratitude.

The conditions under which the papers may be used are those which usually prevail in manuscript repositories. When records in collections such as this include information of a confidential nature concerning persons living or recently deceased, it is customary to restrict their use for a number of years. For this reason, the stipulation has been made that until January 1, 1972, access to the collection shall be granted only to those persons who have the written consent of the Governor. Following that date, the papers will be available to the general public without any restrictions except those normally placed upon manuscript collections by their custodians. Meanwhile it is unlikely that any person engaged in serious research and properly qualified to use them will be denied access to the papers.