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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

New Acquisitions: Clarence Darrow's Will, Letters, and Books

The Law Library holds the most extensive collection of letters written by and to the legendary American trial attorney, Clarence Darrow (1858-1937). The great majority of the Library's collection was acquired in 2004 under the guidance of Joan S. Howland, the Roger F. Noreen Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Information & Technology. The major acquisition represented the Law Library’s millionth-volume milestone and is a centerpiece of the collections at the Riesenfeld Center.
The Darrow collection continues to grow, today comprising more than 1,000 letters, and now includes books, speeches, debates, trial briefs and transcripts, and other material by and about Darrow and his extraordinary career. In 2011, the Library also released an award-winning digital research site under the direction of Associate Law Library Director, Michael Hannon ('98), to make available extensive material related to Darrow's career, his letters, and his major cases.   

Often considered America’s greatest trial lawyer, Darrow remains a symbol of consummate courtroom skill. Over his long career, Darrow built his legacy on an unmatched record in capital cases, and represented clients at several “trials of the century,” most notably the Scopes “Monkey” trial (1925), and the Leopold and Loeb murder trial (1924). As a labor lawyer in his early career, Darrow often defended controversial figures and thrust himself, sometimes unwillingly, into the national spotlight. In his later career, Darrow was recognized as the nation's leading criminal defense attorney, aiding otherwise hopeless defendants in the face of almost impossible odds. When involved in a case at the trial stage, Darrow never lost a client to the death penalty. 

Outside the courtroom, Darrow became a famous controversialist and a truly original iconoclast. His contrarian views, particularly in the 1920s during the height of his activity, challenged popular assumptions and taboos, adding greatly to his celebrity. His career and trials have been the subject of numerous novels, biographies, and movies. Darrow has captured the popular imagination like few other lawyers in America or elsewhere. 
The Riesenfeld Center has recently acquired a series of new items, including letters, related to Darrow's life and career. Fifteen letters between Darrow and Charles J. Dutton (1888-1964) document a previously-unknown friendship between Darrow and a mystery novelist and Unitarian minister. The two shared views on crime and Darrow several times lectured to Dutton's congregation in Des Moines. Another letter, to an associate in San Antonio, reveals how Darrow mixed client visits with opportunities to speak publicly on issues close to his heart, sometimes related to cases he was trying. A letter to his friend Forrest Black, a law professor at the University of Kentucky, shows Darrow's favorable comment on Black’s book manuscript, Ill-Starred Prohibition Cases: A Study in Judicial Pathology (1931), for which Darrow wrote a preface. 

In another newly-acquired letter Darrow writes to his co-counsel, John Wourms, as Darrow argued before the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus in
Pettibone v. Nichols (1906). The petition sought the release of murder suspects kidnapped and transported across state lines to face indictment in a notorious case. Several personal letters from Darrow to his second wife, Ruby, have also come into the collection, and reflect on their long and affectionate relationship.  

The Library this past year also received by donation Darrow’s will from 1911, during a turbulent period in his life. The will was generously donated by Henry Mangels, a nephew of the pathbreaking lawyer, Nellie Carlin (1869–1948), who served as a witness to the will. Carlin worked in Darrow’s office and later became the second President of the Women's Bar Association of Illinois and Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney.

Beyond this material, the Library has very recently acquired an important and revealing documentary collection related to Ruby Darrow's estate. The trove relates to Ruby's estate in her later years, and that of her family member William Hamerstrom, whose estate planning involved Ruby. The documents and legal correspondence shed light on Ruby's life and include revealing biographical facts, among which were negotiations for the film rights to a movie about Ruby and Clarence's life, and the circumstances of Ruby's later years, after Clarence passed away in 1938. With this collection also came several letters from Ruby to Clarence, and signed and inscribed copies of Darrow's autobiography, The Story of My Life.  

These new acquisition will enrich our knowledge of Darrow’s career, causes, family, and associates, and provide valuable new resources for study.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

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