Katharine Martindale Family Papers, 1699-1977


Scope and Content Note

The Robert G. and Martha Wells Lewis Papers consist of four series: PERSONAL PAPERS, CAREER FILES, FREELANCE WRITINGS, and VISUAL MATERIALS.

The PERSONAL PAPERS include biographical information and clippings, family correspondence (particularly letters exchanged between Robert and Martha during his World War II military service); files on Lewis' work as director of Farmers for Kennedy-Johnson in 1960; correspondence and other records pertaining to the management of the Kickapoo Canyon Ranch and other properties owned by Lewis; and also information about his father, George Lewis, a leader in the development of Wisconsin's electrical cooperatives.

The folder of letters Lewis received during 1941 and 1942 as a student at the University of Wisconsin is from former students, some of whom were already in the military. Several letters, including single items from Selig Perlman and Max Otto, concern his editing of the Daily Cardinal. Several other friends from this period in his life such as Robert Lampman appear in the general correspondence. The World War II correspondence is extensive. In addition to the letters exchanged between Robert and his wife Martha, there are also letters to and from Lewis' parents. Elsewhere in the series is a lengthy account of the incident in which Lewis was wounded. The World War II materials consist almost entirely of photocopies. The post-war family correspondence is sparse, but there are letters from Lewis written while he was working for Agency for International Development (AID) in India in 1967.

The files on the Farmers for Kennedy-Johnson contain valuable information on Kennedy's effort to shore up his electoral weakness among rural voters. The files document Lewis' contacts with Robert Kennedy and the national campaign leadership, as well as with supporters throughout the country. Most importantly, Lewis drafted speeches for Kennedy for farm audiences, wrote press releases, and reviewed and drafted agricultural policy statements. Also includes two audio recordings of Kennedy campaign spots. Lewis' work was so important that he was considered as a candidate for the Secretary of Agriculture position.

Management of the Kickapoo Valley Ranch in Wisconsin while living in Washington, D.C., is documented by a file of outgoing correspondence, exchanges with farm managers, financial papers, and corporate records. This section provides important documentation, if only covering a few years, of the manner in which Lewis put his agricultural ideas and philosophy into practice. There is also information here on the two homes in Madison designed for the Lewis family by Marshall Erdman. For the first, which was largely constructed by Lewis himself after World War II, there is a set of original blueprints. This house is also documented with photographs. The second property is represented by a landscape plan by Homer Fieldhouse.

The purpose of the two folders in the Personal Papers that are entitled “commentaries” is not certain. The commentaries consist of photocopied newspaper clippings with notations by Lewis. Some comments were probably meant to guide Martha's reading, some were mailed to family and friends, and others may have been consciously intended for the historical record.

The CAREER FILES, which constitute the bulk of the collection, consist of general correspondence, outgoing correspondence arranged chronologically, and subject files arranged alphabetically. The general correspondence primarily dates either from before 1961 when he went to Washington, D.C. or after 1980 when he resigned from the National Farmers Union. The general correspondence differs from the career subject files, which also contain correspondence, primarily in the larger size of the subject files.

Many of the exchanges in the general correspondence are with publishers of his freelance writing, such the Capital Times, the Cheese Reporter, and The Progressive. When the correspondence with particular individuals is limited it has been grouped by the first letter of the last name. Correspondence with foreigners is generally arranged by country, although there are some individually-foldered exceptions such as S.L. Bali and Abdul Disu. Individuals for whom no surname was known are filed at the end of the general correspondence. Correspondents include actor and environmentalist Eddie Albert, missionary priest Father Vincent Ferrer, Wisconsin Governor John Reynolds, and cooperative leader Harvey Schermerhorn. The correspondence from the 1950s, which is primarily scattered in consolidated files, contains scattered information on Lewis' early Wisconsin political and agricultural activities and associations.

The chronological correspondence covers the years, 1959 to 1960 and 1965 to 1983. This file consists of carbons of outgoing letters, together with some memoranda. Except for the years in which Lewis worked with the USDA's Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (1961-1965), the file appears relatively complete, and they provide chronological entry to the subject files.

The subject files contain both incoming and some outgoing correspondence (which may duplicate in part the chronological correspondence); memoranda written and received by Lewis; draft and final copies of letters, speeches, and reports prepared by Lewis' for his various employers and clients; copies of Lewis' own written and oral presentations on behalf of his employers; and clippings and other background information.

The headings under which the subject files are arranged include organizational names such as the Farmers Union Milk Marketing Cooperative (FUMMC), National Farmers Union (NFU), the Rural Community Development Service of USDA, and the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and individuals such as Gaylord Nelson and William Proxmire as well as general subjects such as Dairy, Opportunity Homesteads, and Trade. Because these general subjects are not exclusive to any one phase of his career, researchers may find useful material scattered in many parts of the Subject Files.

In addition to the previously mentioned forms of documentation, the subject files about some organizations (NFU and FUMMC, for example) may include minutes, internal and leadership communications, and press materials. The USDA and the NFU files also contain special chronological files of incoming and outgoing materials concerning Lewis' contacts with Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman and later with NFU president Tony Dechant. These special exchanges with Freeman provide the best overall documentation of Lewis' career with ASCS, as there is no outgoing correspondence file for the years 1961 to 1965. Lewis' relationship with Dechant was particularly close and therefore notable. For other organizations such as the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and the Farmers Union Milk Marketing Cooperative, Lewis' files are the only known records in archival custody. In addition, the collection contains information on Lewis' work for Gaylord Nelson, especially on the controversial Wisconsin Farm Marketing Bill not found in Governor Nelson's official files. Lewis also wrote speeches and statements for Nelson, testified before Congressional committees in his behalf, spoke widely in Wisconsin about the governor's dairy program, and advised Nelson on political appointments. Similarly, his association with William Proxmire created documentation about that early period in the senator's career (1957-1959) that is only sparsely represented in Proxmire's own papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

While Lewis' association with the USDA and the National Farmers Union led to the creation of files that are national and international in scope, Wisconsin's agricultural interests were a special focus of Lewis' career. He was a leader in the establishment of the Farmers Union Milk Marketing Cooperative in Madison and the Wisconsin representative of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association for whom he was a frequent witness at hearings concerning the complex economic issues surrounding the dairy industry. Other Wisconsin clients that are well represented include Charles A. Krause of Krause Milling in Milwaukee, Gehl Guernsey Farms in Germantown, and Steve Miller of Central Cheese Company in Marshfield.

Throughout his career Lewis was an agricultural adviser to various Democratic Party candidates. In addition to the Kennedy, Nelson and Proxmire files, Lewis was an adviser to John Anderson, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and others. Varying quantities of material about these associations are included. The career subject files also document broad topical interests that cut across all phases of his career. These topics include cooperatives, milk and dairy marketing, international trade in wheat and grain, poverty and rural development.

Lewis' writings and public statements in behalf of clients and employers are filed with the subject files pertaining to those employers and clients, whereas his freelance writings, which was Lewis’ career focus after 1980, are found in the FREELANCE WRITINGS series. The freelance writings are arranged as both printed and draft articles and columns, an unpublished book manuscript, Let Them Eat Bread, about food policy, and speeches. During the 1980s and 1990s Lewis was an exceptionally prolific writer on agricultural topics, often preparing several news stories on a single day. As a result of his articles in Ceres and other foreign magazines and his syndicated columns “Agri-Business” and “Agri-World” that appeared in newspapers in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, Lewis was among the world's best known sources of information about American agriculture.

As received in the archives, the freelance writings included correspondence, clippings, press releases, and other background material, as well as the articles themselves. Because Lewis generally cited his sources, background information from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the USDA, and other widely available publications were discarded and only material from more obscure sources was retained. All of Lewis' research correspondence, notes, and draft economic calculations were retained with the article manuscripts.

The VISUAL MATERIALS include photographs, transparencies, negatives, one cartoon and one ephemeral item. The photographs, transparencies, and negatives consist of formal and informal portraits as well as a few images used to illustrate his freelance articles. The cartoon is of Michael Dukakis drawn by Brian Duffy with the ephemeral item being a letter to Lewis from Duffy.