John L. Lewis Papers, 1879-1969

Summary Information
Title: John L. Lewis Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1879-1969

  • Lewis, John Llewellyn, 1880-1969
Call Number: Mss 91; Micro 458; Disc 103A; Tape 493A; Tape 1084A; DC 520

Quantity: 4.0 c.f. (10 archives boxes), 4 reels of microfilm (35mm), 1 tape recording, 34 disc recordings, and 1 film

Archival Locations:
Wisconsin Historical Society (Map)

Papers of John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), 1920-1960, including correspondence, speeches, reports, union financial and travel notebooks, genealogical information, newspaper clippings, photographs, film, tape recordings, and disc recordings containing many of Lewis' more important speeches. The union financial and travel notebooks provide important information about the UMWA from 1911 to 1926. The important subjects of correspondence include the following persons: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Philip Murray, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Wendell L. Willkie; and the following subjects: the UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund, hospital care for miners, the Taft-Hartley Act, and Roosevelt and Willkie's relationship with the UMWA.

Language: English

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1880, February 12 John Llewellyn Lewis born at Lucas, Iowa, the eldest son of Thomas H. and Ann Louise (Watkins) Lewis, both Welsh immigrants. His father was a coal miner, although blacklisted for fifteen years for Knights of Labor activities.
1896 Lewis quit high school near the end of his senior year.
1896-1906 Worked in coal and metal mines in the West, Mexico, and Canada.
1906 Returned to Iowa where he was elected a local union delegate to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International Convention.
1907, June 5 Married Myrta Edith Bell, a schoolteacher and graduate of Drake University, Iowa.
1910-1917 Served as American Federation of Labor (AFL) representative for Samuel Gompers.
1910 Daughter Mary Margaret was born.
1911, April 14 Daughter Kathryn was born. She later became Lewis' confidential secretary.
1917 Daughter Mary Margaret died.
1917 Lewis appointed International Statistician of UMWA.
1917 Appointed Business Manager of the United Mine Workers Journal, the newspaper of UMWA.
1917, October Appointed Vice President of UMWA.
1918, November 25 Son John L., Jr., was born.
1919, July 15 Lewis appointed Acting President of UMWA.
1920, February 7 Elected President of UMWA.
1920-1929 In this decade, Lewis, UMWA, and the mining industry faced the problems of economic depression earlier than other sections of the U.S. economy, of local autonomy and factionalism in the UMWA, and of mine operators' attempts to break the UMWA. Lewis' solutions were to advocate the mechanization of the industry in order to stabilize it, to purge dissident elements in UMWA, and to present a united front to the mine operators. Statistics: Number of operating mines in 1923 - 9333; in 1930 - 5891. UMWA dues paying members in 1923 - 600,000; in 1930 - 200,000. Number of unemployed miners in 1929 - 200,000.
1921 Lewis defeated by Samuel Gompers for Presidency of AFL by vote of 25,022 to 12,324.
1922, January 17 Lewis declared union coal miners would take “no backward step” in wage arrangements.
1924 Lewis suggested by some as possible vice presidential running mate for Calvin Coolidge.
1925 Lewis published book The Miners Fight for American Standards, claiming that operators and miners could settle problems of the industry without government intervention.
1930-1939 Secure in his own, now disciplined union, and encouraged by Section 7A of the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933), Lewis began his program to organize the unorganized in the mass production industries such as auto, steel, and meat packing.
1933 National Industrial Recovery Act was passed; its Section 7A guaranteed labor the right to organize and bargain collectively.
1933 Mine operators and the UMWA signed the Appalachian Wage Agreement, the first nation-wide agreement in the coal industry. The operators recognized the UMWA as the collective bargaining agent for coal miners.
1935 Lewis and other union leaders inside the AFL formed the Committee of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to organize industrial unions in the mass production industries.
1936 The AFL suspended and later expelled the CIO.
1936 Lewis and other AFL and CIO leaders formed Labor's Non-Partisan League to work for the re-election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
1936-1940 Lewis became increasingly disenchanted with Roosevelt as a friend of labor.
1940, September Lewis came out for Wendell Willkie for U.S. President, promising to resign as President of the CIO if Roosevelt were re-elected.
1940, November Following Roosevelt's re-election, Lewis resigned as President of the CIO. He was succeeded by Philip Murray, Vice President of the UMWA.
1940-1949 Lewis fought to unite the AFL and CIO, to protect labor's rights from arbitrary wartime demands, and to obtain a Welfare and Retirement Fund for the UMWA.
1941 Lewis successfully defied the War Labor Board's attempt to freeze wages and to prohibit strikes.
1942, May 28 Philip Murray removed as Vice President of the UMWA over question of accepting the government's attempt to achieve labor-management stability during the war. Lewis maintained that labor must have the right to strike.
1942, September 9 Myrta Lewis died of a brain tumor.
1942, October 7 The UMWA voted to leave the CIO.
1943 Lewis again successfully used strikes to defy the War Labor Board and win higher wages for the miners.
1946, May The UMWA joined the AFL again.
1946 Lewis won first UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund in contract with the operators. Fund would be maintained by 5 cent royalty on each ton of coal mined. It would provide modern medical, hospital, and rehabilitation facilities for coal miners and their families, as well as life and health insurance programs.
1947 Taft-Hartley Act passed over President Truman's veto. Lewis categorized this law as “the first ugly, savage thrust of fascism in America.” It sought to restore equal bargaining power to labor and management by granting management rights comparable to those granted labor by the Wagner Act of 1935 and by placing specific limitations on union rights. Lewis failed in his attempt to get all labor leaders to boycott and so ultimately render useless the provisions of this law.
1947, November The UMWA disaffiliated from the AFL over question of honoring Taft-Hartley Act.
1948 Lewis won fight with mine operators over implementation of Welfare and Retirement Fund. First pension checks given out.
1952 Federal Mine Safety Act passed, empowering federal mine safety inspectors to close down dangerous mines.
1956, June 2 Lewis attended dedication of ten hospitals financed by Welfare and Retirement Fund.
1957, June 3 Lewis received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from West Virginia University.
1958 National Coal Policy Conference, Inc., formed to promote the use of coal and preserve the industry and, with it, the coal miners' jobs.
1960, January Lewis retired as President of the UMWA, accepting title of President Emeritus.
1960, June Lewis received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Georgetown University.
1962, January 7 Daughter Kathryn died. She had been his confidential secretary since 1933-1934.
1964 Lewis received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
1969, June 11 John L. Lewis died at age 89 in Washington, D.C.

Because of occasional conflict between the sources, preference in the above biography has generally been given to the obituary issue of the United Mine Workers Journal, 80th year, No. 12 (1969, June 15). See also:

  • Alinsky, Saul. John L. Lewis. An Unauthorized Biography . New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1949.
  • Lauck, Rex, editor. John L. Lewis and the International Union United Mine Workers of America . Published by Authority of the International Executive Board of the United Mine Workers of America, 1959.
  • McCarthy, Justin, editor. A Brief History of the United Mine Workers of America . Washington, D.C.: United Mine Workers Journal , circa 1952.
  • UMW News. “John L. Lewis, President Emeritus United Mine Workers of America”. Washington, D.C.: United Mine Workers Journal , 1968.
History of the Collection

The material in this collection is that which John L. Lewis considered so personal that he did not deposit it with the UMWA archives; most of it pertains to himself, but he also saved some membership certificates belonging to his daughter Kathryn. After Lewis' death, his son John L. Lewis, Jr., had this material auctioned by the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Auction Galleries on December 5 and 7, 1969.

Using funds pooled by Cornell University, Wayne State University, and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, the Society purchased most of the papers and memorabilia sold at this auction. Xerox or photographic copies of many letters purchased by private collectors were obtained and included with the Society's collection. Dr. and Mrs. John L. Lewis, Jr., donated to the Society that portion of the Lewis collection that was not put up for sale. From Mr. Richard Leekley, Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, the Society purchased a number of lots that Mr. Leekley had purchased at the auction.

The Society will retain this collection and distribute microfilm copies to Cornell University and Wayne State University.

Scope and Content Note

The John L. Lewis papers, spanning the years 1879 to 1969, include correspondence, speech drafts, printed copies of speeches and reports, notebooks, memorabilia, clippings, photographs, tape and disc recordings, and one reel of film. It has been arranged by type of record, such as “Speeches and Reports,” “Union Records,” and “Clippings.” All paper records are also available on microfilm.

The Auction Catalog listing those items from the Lewis estate to be auctioned has been arranged first, since most of this collection was obtained at the sale. It is followed by Biographical Material on Lewis, including a biographical sketch approved by him and the obituary issue of the United Mine Workers Journal.

Lewis' Correspondence falls into two divisions. The general correspondence includes letters and Xerox or photographic copies of letters from as early as Lewis' quest in 1907 to receive pay for a delivered load of hay until 1969. In another letter dated April 28, 1924, J.W. Harriman wrote that Lewis' name had been suggested to President Calvin Coolidge as his possible running mate in the forthcoming national election. Other letters are remarkable for their autograph value, being from such persons as Amelia Earhart, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Separated from the general correspondence are invitations received by Lewis from many sources, most notably from various occupants of the White House. At the foot of Xerox or photographic copies of correspondence, the name and address of the owner is given, as well as the lot number from the auction at which it was purchased.

The Speeches and Reports section of this collection contains manuscript fragments, typed drafts, and printed copies of many of Lewis' public statements. Included is the typed radio script with manuscript annotations of his speech of December 31, 1936, supporting President Roosevelt's plan to alter the Supreme Court. Also in this section is a book, a sampler of UMWA's project to print all of Lewis' speeches; at this writing (1970), the fourteen-volume project has not yet been completed. A number of speech drafts have been authenticated by John L. Lewis, Jr., who signed himself “J.L., M.D.” or “John Lewis, M.D.”

The most significant segment of the Union Records is the series of five Financial and Travel Notebooks Lewis maintained from 1911 to 1926. These chronicle his life during his fast rise from AFL representative to UMWA President. Following these are UMWA certificates, dues receipts, and coal price estimates. Concerning the UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund, the collection includes the brochure from the dedication of ten hospitals in 1956, as well as copies of some of the annual financial reports from 1954 to 1968.

The Personal Documents section is comprised of genealogical information, the accounts of the Lewis household expenses kept by Mrs. Lewis and later by Kathryn Lewis, and three passports.

Included in Memorabilia is a wide range of material. Lewis saved programs from many banquets he attended from 1931 to 1953, among them those of the National Coal Policy Conference, Inc. He also kept many engraved cards of his visitors, certificates of his and Kathryn's membership in non-union organizations, passenger lists and a map from voyages taken by members of the Lewis family, and the program of the commencement at which West Virginia University awarded Lewis an Honorary Doctor of Law degree.

The Clippings section includes magazine and loose newspaper clippings, as well as five bound volumes of newspaper clippings. One of these volumes had to be disassembled for microfilming, so that none of its original scrapbook structure remains apparent. Upon his retirement, Lewis received a four-volume collection, “The Nation's Press on John L. Lewis,” from UMWA.

The Photographs document Lewis' private and public life from the first through the sixth decade of this century. They range from carefully posed vignettes of Lewis and his miner friends to candid shots of Lewis relaxing at home or glowering at a Congressional Committee hearing. The original photographs are considered unprocessed; only the microfilm version is listed below.

The disc recordings and the film record important Lewis' statements on political or union issues, made on radio and on television. The tape recording was taken at the press conference announcing Lewis' retirement as UMWA President.

Administrative/Restriction Information
Acquisition Information

Purchased in part by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and in part donated by Dr. and Mrs. John L. Lewis, Jr., Washington, D.C., December 15, 1969.

Processing Information

Processed by Eleanor Niermann, June 15, 1970.

Contents List
Mss 91/Micro 458
Box/Folder   1/1
Reel   1
Series: Auction Catalog, 1969, November 21 (Vol. 1)
Box/Folder   1/2
Reel   1
Series: Biographical Material, 1968; 1969, June 15
Series: Correspondence
Box/Folder   1/3
Reel   1
1907, Sept. 14 - 1913, Dec. 14
Box/Folder   1/4
Reel   1
1914, May 1 - 1929, Dec. 13
Box/Folder   1/5
Reel   1
1930, Jan. 4 - 1942, Sept. 28
Box/Folder   1/6
Reel   1
1946, April 10 - 1969, June 30
Box/Folder   1/7
Reel   1
1922, Jan. 12 - 1940, Jan. 18
Box/Folder   1/8
Reel   1
1942, Sept. 13 - 1952, Dec.
Series: Speeches and Reports
Box/Folder   1/9
Reel   1
1912, Feb. 17 - 1928, Oct. 16
Box/Folder   1/10
Reel   1
1933, Oct. 11 - 1936, Jan.
Box/Folder   1/11
Reel   1
1936, July 6 - 1937, May 14
Box/Folder   2/1
Reel   1
1937, Sept. 3 - 1939, Aug. 9
Box/Folder   2/2
Reel   1
Manuscript fragment, 1939, Oct. 8
Box/Folder   2/3
Reel   1
CIO Constitutional Convention Daily Proceedings and Reports, 1939, Oct. 10-13
Box/Folder   2/4
Reel   1
1940, Jan. 23 - July
Box/Folder   2/5
Reel   1
1940, Sept. 2 - Nov. 18
Box/Folder   2/6
Reel   1
Manuscript fragment, 1940
Box/Folder   2/7
Reel   1
1941, April - 1947, Oct. 14
Box/Folder   2/8
Reel   1
Manuscript fragment, 1947, Dec.
Box/Folder   2/9
Reel   1
1951, June 23
Box/Folder   2/10
Reel   1
John L. Lewis and the International Union United Mine Workers of America, 1952, Oct. (Vol. 2)
Box/Folder   2/11
Reel   2
1953, April 24 - 1955, Nov. 28
Box/Folder   3/1
Reel   2
1956, Oct. 2 - 1957, July 9
Series: Union Records
Financial and Travel Notebooks
Box/Folder   3/2
Reel   2
1911, Dec. 31 - 1913, Jan. 4 (Vol. 3)
Box/Folder   3/3
Reel   2
1916, Jan. 1 - Dec. 31 (Vol. 4)
Box/Folder   3/4
Reel   2
1917, Jan. 1 - Dec. 31 (Vol. 5)
Box/Folder   3/5
Reel   2
1919, Jan. 1 - Dec. 31 (Vol. 6)
Box/Folder   3/6
Reel   2
1926, Jan. 15 - Sept. 20 (Vol. 7)
Box/Folder   3/7
Reel   2
Union Certificates, 1915, Jan. 23 - 1916, Sept. 30; 1947, July 8; 1955, April 1 - 1960, April 1
Box/Folder   3/8
Reel   2
UMWA Dues Receipts and Coal Price Estimates, 1912, Feb. 8 - 1917, Dec. 8; 1961 - 1969?
Box/Folder   3/9
Reel   2
Reports of UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund: Hospital Dedication Brochures, 1956, June 2
Box/Folder   3/10
Reel   2
Reports of UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund: Annual Reports, 1954, June 30 - 1968, July 18
Box/Folder   3/11
Reel   2
UMWA Press and Radio Releases, 1935, Jan. 30 - 1940, Sept. 2
Box/Folder   3/12
Reel   2
UMWA Press and Radio Releases, 1952, Jan. 29 - 1963, Aug. 10
Series: Personal Documents
Box/Folder   4/1
Reel   2
Genealogy, 1879, April 25; 1906, July 17 - 1943, Feb. 6
Box/Folder   4/2
Reel   3
Household Accounts, 1913, Oct. 8 - 1961, Nov. 18
Box/Folder   4/3
Reel   3
Passports, 1923, Feb. 20; 1936, Aug. 11; 1952, Nov. 20; 1956, Dec. 4
Series: Memorabilia
Banquet Programs
Box/Folder   4/4
Reel   3
1931, May 21 - 1936, Dec. 21
Box/Folder   4/5
Reel   3
1937, April 10 - 1953, May 8
Box/Folder   4/6
Reel   3
Cards, Certificates of Membership, and National Coal Policy Conference, 1917, June 20 - 1963, April 3
Box/Folder   4/7
Reel   3
Passenger Lists, Map, and West Virginia Univ. Commencement Program (1957), 1938, Nov. 25; 1939, Jan. 9; 1952, Nov. 28; 1957, June 3 (Vol. 8)
Series: Clippings
Box/Folder   4/8
Reel   3
1922, Jan. - 1928
Box/Folder   4/9
Reel   3
1933, Sept. 9 - 1935, Oct. 30
Box/Folder   4/10
Reel   3
1936, Jan. - Dec. 5
Box/Folder   4/11
Reel   3
1937, March 13 - 1939, Feb.
Box/Folder   4/12
Reel   3
1940, May 24 - 1948, April 12
Box/Folder   5/1
Reel   3
1953 - 1963, June
Box/Folder   5/2
Reel   3
1912 - 1922, Nov. 8
Box/Folder   5/3
Reel   3
1923, July 29 - 1924, Dec. 13
Box/Folder   5/4
Reel   3
1925, Jan. 24 - 1928, March 24
Box/Folder   5/5
Reel   3
1930, Aug. 17 - 1934, Sept. 15
Box/Folder   5/6
Reel   3
1934, Nov. 21 - 1937, Oct. 21
Box/Folder   5/7
Reel   3
1940 - 1969, Nov. 28
Bound Volume now disassembled
Box/Folder   5/8-13
Reel   3
Box/Folder   6/1-12
Reel   3
Bound Volume, “The Nation's Press on John L. Lewis”
Box   7
Reel   4
Alabama to Maryland, 1959, Dec. 15-21 (Vol. 9)
Box   8
Reel   4
Maryland (cont.) to Pennsylvania, 1959, Dec. 15-21 (Vol. 10)
Box   9
Reel   4
Pennsylvania (cont.) to Virginia, 1959, Dec. 15-21 (Vol. 11)
Box   10
Reel   4
Virginia (cont.), West Virginia, and London, England, 1959, Dec. 15 -24 (Vol. 12)
Reel   4
Series: Photographs, 1901-1969
Disc 103A
Series: Disc Recordings
No.   1-4
“Wages and Hours” speech, 1932, September 11
Note: User copy listed below.
No.   4a-b
“The Problem of the Worker in a Changing World” speech, 1934, December 7
No.   5
Speech, 1935, November 28
No.   6-9
“Industrial Democracy in Steel” speech, 1936, July 6
Note: User copy listed below.
No.   10-13
“Industrial Democracy” speech, 1936, December 31
Note: User copy listed below.
No.   14-15
“Labor, Industry and the Court” speech, 1937, May 14
Note: User copy listed below.
No.   16-26
Statement before the Sub-Committee of the House Committee on Education and Labor, 1947, April
No.   27
“Two Billion Strong” speech, 1949, May 7
No.   28
“John L. Lewis” portion of “The C & 0 News Summary”, 1953, December 9
No.   29-31
Soundtrack from Face the Nation interview of Lewis, 1955, September 4
No.   32
“Carl Sandburg's 79th Birthday,” 1957, January 6
Tape 1084A
Tape user copies of Nos. 1-4 and 6-15
Series: Tape Recordings
Tape 493A
Full track tape of press conference announcing Lewis' retirement as UMWA President, 1959, December
Series: Film
DC 520
Face the Nation interview with Lewis (CBS-TV), September 4, 1955
Physical Description: 1 r of 1; 1050'; sd; b/w; 16mm Kinescope