John L. Lewis Papers, 1879-1969

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.