Gaylord Nelson Papers, 1954-2006 (bulk 1963-1980)

Contents List

Scope and Content Note

The Hart Papers outline the general nature of his long political career and document many of the issues that he advanced as a political candidate. Overall, however, coverage is disappointing and quite incomplete. Entire periods, particularly the 1930s and 1950s, are unrepresented and several spheres of activity such as leadership in the Wisconsin Socialist Party during the 1960s and active involvement in trade unionism are underrepresented. Most complete in this small collection is coverage of his Wisconsin political campaigns and activities during the 1970s and early 1980s. There are virtually no true personal papers in the collection.


The GENERAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL consists of general correspondence, biographical clippings, and photographs. The correspondence is spotty, almost entirely incoming, and primarily from the 1970s and 1980s. Substantial exchanges with individual correspondents are filed in the SUBJECT FILES rather than in this series. Invitations and letters of appreciation for various public speaking engagements dominate the general correspondence, but isolated items of interest include two letters from Robert Kastenmeier pertaining to Hart's 1983 testimony on the federal budget, a lengthy letter from Paul Gilk of Merrill from whom Hart had solicited advice on agricultural policy in 1982, and a 1976 letter from LeRoy Gore (addressed to Fred Dahir) about his “Joe Must Go” Campaign and the recent death of Gore's son. The general clippings span the years from 1943 to 1989, with most of the stories focusing on Hart's electoral campaigns. Three scrapbooks about the 1948, 1949, and 1950 elections have been incorporated with the clippings. Because they could not be accurately placed, undated items and fragments are filed with the paper files and have not been filmed. The photographs, which are similarly spotty in nature, primarily consist of candid portraits. Notable are snapshots of the 1961—1962 civil rights sit-in in the Capitol which Hart helped to organize, views of Badger Village where the Harts resided during the 1940s, and images of a press conference by Hart at the Capitol in 1976.

The POLITICAL PAPERS are arranged as campaign files and party files. The chronological campaign files date from 1949 to 1984 and include correspondence, position papers, publicity, speeches, and financial records, with the quantity and distribution of the documentation varying for each election. Several campaigns represented in the collection are documented only by the microfilmed clippings in the GENERAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL PAPERS. The best documented races include Senate campaigns in 1962, 1976, and 1982, the 1974 gubernatorial campaign, and the 1984 Presidential primary.

Hart's 1962 Senate campaign received national attention because of the prominence of the peace issue in his platform. Correspondence about this includes contacts with the Student Peace Union and the Chicago-area Voters for Peace and two letters from Frank Zeidler describing the Wisconsin socialists' position. A brief letter from Miles McMillin conveys his own strategic disagreement with the campaign, as well as the position of William T. Evjue. This file includes several national analyses of the 1962 peace candidacies. This election is also documented by the most complete file of campaign speeches in the collection. Highlights of the documentation about the 1974 gubernatorial election are campaign literature, form letters, press releases, position papers on energy and the environment, remarks delivered at an August 21, 1974 press conference, copies of Election Board financial reports, and contracts for television ads indicating the length and frequency of broadcasts. Correspondence for this race is limited, but it includes letters from Miles McMillin and others about their financial contributions.

The 1976 Senate campaign is documented by campaign literature; a ledger of contributions and expenditures; and exchanges with the Federal Election Board, sponsors of campaign forums, and publishers of candidate questionnaires. Also present is an interesting letter from William Proxmire clarifying a statement he had made on estate taxes at a candidate forum and letters of friendship and support from Mrs. Richard Bardwell, Bettie Eisendrath, and David Obey.

Hart's 1982 Senate race as the candidate of the Labor and Farm Party is documented by several outgoing letters, the occurrence of which is unusual in the collection. Notable among these is one to the League of Women Voters about his exclusion from their campaign forums, an expression of his views on the arms race, a letter to Mayor Henry Meier about revenue sharing, and an exchange with Milwaukee socialist James Ingbretson about Hart's resignation from the party. Other prominent correspondents in this file include campaign coordinator Dennis Boyer, Leon Varjian (who contributed a campaign song), and conservative Madison minister Richard E. Pritchard. A letter from an unidentified correspondent contains interesting comments about Communist Peggy Dennis. The remainder of the documentation consists of arrangements for public appearances, letters of support, and press releases, posters, scripts for radio spots, and other campaign literature.

The 1984 Presidential primary file primarily consists of correspondence and legal papers about the suit brought by the LFP in order to place Hart's name on the primary ballot. This file also contains Hart's resignation from the party and reactions from party leaders.

The party files in the Political Papers series document the Labor and Farm Party and the Wisconsin Socialist Party. Although limited in quantity, the material on the LFP represents the only known party records in archival hands. Here, Hart's incoming and outgoing correspondence as party chair, 1983-1984, contains numerous letters to the editor and state legislators expressing his own and the party's positions on various public policy issues. Also included are memoranda authored by Dennis Boyer and exchanges with party activists such as Conrad Amenhauser (on Dennis Serrette's presidential campaign for the Consumer Party), Mary K. Baum, and Leonard H. Cizewski. Position statements, minutes, and rules document the LFP's founding convention on November 4, 1983. In addition, small files of minutes document the functioning of the party's Steering and the 2nd Congressional District committees. Party literature in the collection includes “Ethical Responses to Economic Problems,” a discussion paper by Hart and Boyer; “A Nuclear Free Wisconsin,” another Hart paper; and a manual on lobbying for progressives.

Files of the Socialist Party of Wisconsin contain no similar organic records deriving from Hart's years of administrative leadership. Instead, the collection consists of a chronological file of correspondence and incidental party documents, together with information on Hart's management of Zeidler's 1976 Presidential campaign. State party items include party platforms (1958, 1960, and 1966), membership lists for Madison (circa 1960) and the at-large state membership (1964), programs for party picnics (1947 and 1967), minutes of the 1976 state convention, and a constitution. Even after leaving the party in 1978 Hart continued to receive some information about SPUSA. For example, there are several 1984 mailings from Abraham Bassford and reports on party activities in Milwaukee in 1984 and 1985 communicated by James Ingbretson. The most important socialist material dates from 1978, the year in which Hart resigned. From this year Hart retained mimeographed central committee and convention minutes and other mailings from SPUSA and the Wisconsin Socialist Party. Also included are meeting flyers and a constitution for the Wisconsin Democratic Socialists, Hart's attempt to realign Wisconsin socialists on democratic lines. Of special interest is the party referendum spelling out the reasons for and against a proposed Hart gubernatorial candidacy in 1978.

When Hart withdrew his management of Zeidler's Presidential campaign in March 1976 he reportedly sent all of his records to Zeidler. Nevertheless, the collection contains some interesting documentation such as detailed reports of a national organizing trip by political consultant/campaign director Robert E. Schlichter, a lengthy explanation of Hart's resignation from the campaign committee, campaign literature and press releases, advice on federal campaign regulations from attorney Harold Langhammer, and income and expenditure information for Wisconsin Citizens for Zeidler.

The SPEECHES AND WRITINGS series primarily consists of commentaries Hart delivered over WHA and WBOO radio during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The radio talks express Hart's views on a wide range of public policy issues, but their utility is limited by the fact that only about half are dated. The series also includes two microfilmed scrapbooks; one consists of published letters to the editor, 1946-1985, and the second consists of columns written for the MESA Educator, an aspect of Hart's labor career that is otherwise undocumented in the collection. Several other Hart publications are available in the Historical Society Library: an incomplete run of his mimeographed newspaper, the Narrows Tribune, 1949-1950, and the Wisconsin's Democratic Socialist, a journal of opinion briefly issued in 1978.

The alphabetical SUBJECT FILES contain information on civic activities that were inappropriate in other series, together with correspondence not filed with the GENERAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL series. Included is information about Hart's appointment to the 1981 White House Conference on Aging and minutes and correspondence about his appointment to the Citizens Utility Board in 1980. The American Field Service file contains miscellaneous material about his World War II service and several 1946 mailings to AFS veterans. This file also contains a 1943 V-mail letter from Ruth Hart, the only true personal item in the collection, and an undated letter from a fellow volunteer after Hart had returned home. The “police surveillance” file includes clippings and a single letter from Police Chief Wilbur H. Emery retained as evidence of Hart's concern about this issue. The “Rock Spring Story,” a scrapbook available only on microfilm, documents the controversy that surrounded Hart's publication of the mimeographed Narrows Tribune. The WHA file contains broadcast arrangement with the station and a folder of listener responses, 1977 to 1981. Although the listener letters are often just brief requests for transcripts, others, such as the letters from William Kraus and Meg Skinner, are lengthy and reflective.

Important correspondence files in the series concern Norman Thomas, Virgil Vogel, and Frank Zeidler. Although Thomas and Hart had an acquaintance dating to the Presidential campaign of 1932, this file consists only of incoming letters for the years 1959 to 1965. These letters are primarily acknowledgements and references to Thomas' appearances in Wisconsin. Of special note is a tape Thomas recorded for the Wisconsin socialists' 1964 picnic. The correspondence from historian Virgil Vogel complements separately catalogued Vogel Papers held by the Historical Society. During the early 1970s Vogel sent Hart carbons of many letters that he wrote or received from SPUSA leaders. While many no doubt duplicate items in the Vogel collection, coverage of the Vogel Papers ends in 1979 while the Hart collection contains a substantial number of Vogel letters dating from the 1980s. The Zeidler file, which is entirely incoming, contains many handwritten letters not included in Zeidler's own papers at the Milwaukee Public Library. Unfortunately the majority are short and routine in content. A notable exception is Zeidler's mimeographed report on the feminist presence at the 1985 SPUSA convention.

Less extensive subject files include a folder on Wayne Morse. It contains a frank letter about campaign fundraising in 1962 to Hart who had written as president of Local 191 of the ITU to invite the senator. The Oliver Steinberg correspondence also demands comment. Steinberg was a St. Paul, Minnesota printer who purchased Hart's press in 1980. From Minnesota, he continued to be very involved in Hart's career, often designing and printing campaign literature and bumper stickers, and his letters to Hart document his personal involvement.