• IdentificationICU.SPCL.ACLUIL
  • TitleGuide to the American Civil Liberties Union Illinois Division Records1920-1982
  • PublisherUniversity of Chicago Library
  • LanguageEnglish
  • Date1920-1982
  • Physical Description355 linear feet (705 boxes)
  • RepositorySpecial Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.
  • AbstractDocuments the activities of the Illinois Division of the American Civil Liberties Union from its founding through the early 1980s. Includes case files, finances and fundraising information, individual and institutional correspondence, minutes, newsletters and publications, film, audio cassettes, and photographs.

© The contents of this finding aid are the copyright of the University of Chicago Library

African American Studies

Chicago and Illinois

Gender Studies and Sexuality


Politics, Public Policy and Political Reform

Military, War and Veterans

This collection is open for research.

When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: American Civil Liberties Union. Illinois Division. Records, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was founded in 1920. The ACLU calls itself the nation's "guardian of liberty," seeking to aid in litigation, influence legislation, and educate the community. It is concerned with the protection of First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech and religion; the right to "due process," or equality before the law and fair treatment under it; and the right to privacy, particularly freedom from state intervention in personal life. It considers itself a non-partisan organization. It has been critical of, and criticized by, both Republicans and Democrats.

The ACLU was preceded by the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), founded in 1917. Members of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), an organization opposed to American involvement in World War I, created the NCLB to provide legal protection for conscientious objectors and individuals targeted by the Espionage and Sedition Acts.

The NCLB became the ACLU in 1920, retaining Roger Nash Baldwin as its director. Baldwin, formerly a sociology instructor, social worker, and chief probation officer in St. Louis, was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The industrial boom of the Gilded Age had been followed by economic depression in the 1890s; widespread unemployment and disillusionment with government gave socialist and anarchist platforms a new relevance. Baldwin, and his influential ACLU associates Albert DeSilver, Crystal Eastman, and Walter Nelles, came of age in the early years of the twentieth century, and were committed to peace, social equality, and free speech.

The organization would be involved in most landmark civil rights trials of the 1920s through 1970s, including the Scopes trial, Brown v. Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade. It argued against the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, called for Richard Nixon's impeachment, and fought the ban on James Joyce's Ulysses.

ACLU has always been a source of controversy. Shortly after its founding, Baldwin published Liberty Under the Soviets, based on his travels to the Soviet Union; he reportedly declared that "Communism, of course, is the goal" for the ACLU. Though Baldwin renounced Stalinism in 1939 and maintained a cordial personal relationship with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the organization was frequently accused of being a communist front, and the FBI kept files on it and on Baldwin.

The Illinois Division of the ACLU was preceded by the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee, an independent group affiliated with the national organization, founded in 1929 and incorporated in 1931. The CCLC severed its ties to the ACLU in 1945, in response to charges of Communist sympathies within the CCLC. A group of former CCLC members reincorporated as the Chicago Division of the ACLU the following year, becoming the Illinois Division in 1954.

Now the ACLU of Illinois, the organization has been involved in important state and national issues, notably the drafting of the 1970 Illinois Constitution, and civil rights cases arising from police misconduct during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In 1977 it attracted attention for its defense of neo-Nazis who planned a parade in Skokie, IL. The Chicago office backed the group's right to free speech, and although the march never took place, they lost an estimated 30, 000 members who resigned in protest. The ACLU of Illinois continues to play an active role in lobbying the state legislature defending civil liberties.

The records of the ACLU of Illinois are divided into three series:

Series I: Administration, contains by-laws, financial and fundraising materials, committee minutes, membership information, correspondence, clippings, and newsletters. These pertain to the general operation of the ACLU of Illinois, specific events it has sponsored, and its relationship with the national branch and other civil liberties associations. It includes files collected by the FBI and released to ACLU under Freedom of Information Act in 1976 and 1977. Files date from the 1920s to 1980.

Series II: Subject Files, contains case files, clippings, correspondence, and publications related to specific civil rights issues. These issues have been broadly categorized as politics, legislation, and voting rights; public health; women's rights; religious freedom; freedom of speech and association; and general civil rights issues, including immigration, racial equality, and sexual orientation. This organization reflects historic and current issues targeted by the ACLU. Of note in this series are papers and research on the Broyles Commissions and Bills (1947), a manifold of cases concerning the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as well as other cases on Loyalty and discrimination by political filiation. Also of note are minutes and proposals from the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention of 1969-1970; witness statements and photographs of clashes between police and protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and files related to the 1977 freedom of speech defense of neo-Nazis in Skokie specifically the case: Frank Collin v. the City of Chicago Park District. The series also includes a subseries on Womens Rights, which is particularly rich in papers and cases concerning abortion and sterilization. Other cases of relevance are: Dorothy Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) (Equal Housing), Calvin v. Conlisk (Police Brutality), Illinois Migrant Council (IMC) v. Pilliod (INS discriminatory practices), and Tometz v. Board of Education.

Series III: Alphabetical Files, contains case files by title.

The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:

  • Names
    • Baldwin, Roger N, (Roger Nash), 1884-1981
    • Douglas, Paul Howard, 1892-
    • Ernst, Morris Leopold, 1888-1976-
    • Fraenkel, Osmond Kessler, 1888-
    • Humphrey, Hubert H. (Hubert Horatio), 1911-1978
    • Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965
    • American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois
  • Subject
    • Censorship -- Illinois
    • Civil rights -- Illinois
    • Conscientious objectors -- United States
    • Discrimination -- Illinois
    • Citizen suits (Civil procedure) -- Illinois
    • Equality before the law -- Illinois
    • Freedom of speech -- Illinois
    • Loyalty oaths -- Illinois
    • Police misconduct -- Illinois
    • Religion and state -- Illinois
    • Democratic National Convention (1968 : Chicago, Ill.)
    • Legal documents