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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

New Darrow Letters Available Online

The Riesenfeld Center's Darrow Collection includes more than 1,000 letters to and from Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), the legendary American trial attorney. The vast majority of letters have been digitized and are searchable as part of the Clarence Darrow Digital Collection, which also includes a rich trove of documents and analysis related to Darrow's most prominent cases, written and gathered by Professor Michael Hannon. Recently we've added 30 new and transcribed Clarence and Ruby Darrow letters to the digital site. The diverse letters relate to Darrow's legal and political views, publications, speaking engagements, friends, and family.

Among highlights are a 3-page letter to Maria Sweet Smith responding to Sweet Smith's proposal for a campaign against the death penalty. At the time, in 1930, Darrow was president of the American League to Abolish Capital Punishment. In the letter, Darrow firmly rejects the plan, which was premised on economic benefits expected from a predicted drop in crime. Darrow’s response is testimony to his humanist philosophy. For him, crime was caused by larger social forces and the abolition of the death penalty had to be based in compassion. Another reply is evidence of Darrow's support for euthanasia. Several others, like this, detail his deep opposition to the Volstead Act and Prohibition, which Darrow lectured on and debated about frequently in the 1920s. 

Other letters touch on debates and lectures, potential clients and book contracts, and on Darrow's large network of friends. Darrow's wife Ruby has several notable letters that are also now available. In one, Ruby reflects on Irving Stone's upcoming biography of her husband, Clarence Darrow for the Defense, completed three years after Darrow's death. The letter reveals Ruby's desire to protect her husband's legacy and to be credited appropriately in what became a widely-read and standard biography of Darrow.

The handwritten letters in the batch were expertly transcribed by Special Collections Assistant Ian Moret.  Many thanks are due to Ian for his wonderful work; and many thanks for all of his terrific work at the Riesenfeld Center in the past five years.  Though he is now moving on, his excellent contributions to the Darrow collection, to our physical and digital exhibits, and to the archives, in particular, will live on.     

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections 


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