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The Federal Paper Chase: Judges' Papers in the Manuscript Division

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit

Located in the Potter Stewart Court House in Cincinnati, Ohio, the United Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit exercises jurisdiction over federal appeals arising from the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The papers of judges found in the Manuscript Division who served on the court can be found below.

Florence Ellinwood Allen Papers

In 1919, Florence Ellinwood Allen became the first woman appointed to the position of assistant county prosecutor in the nation, taking up the role in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Though Congress had passed the nineteenth amendment giving women the right to vote, it was not ratified until August of 1920, meaning Allen who had dreams of serving as judge in the Ohio courts, an elected position, lost valuable time in campaigning for the 1920 election. After all, one cannot run for an elected office if one hails from a demographic denied the vote. With the election ten weeks away, only a petition with 10,000 votes could get her on the ballot.

Luckily, Allen had the support of an army of newly empowered women voters, who with “petitions in hand, some hitching up their ground-dusting skirts and scaling scaffolding … collect[ed] signatures from construction workers -- all men no doubt -- raising skyscrapers in the fifth largest city in the country,” noted Andrea Simakis in a 2019 Cleveland Plain Dealer article.1

Harris and Ewing, photographer. Democratic and Republican lady voters talk things over. Washington, D.C. April 26. The National League of Women Voters General Council Dinner 'The Liberty We Prize' had as its guest speakers the outstanding ladies of both parties. L to R: Miss Marguerite M. Wells, President; Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Lady; Mrs. Robert A. Taft, Toastmistress; and Judge Florence E. Allen. April 26, 1939. Harris and Ewing Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

When opponents suggested a woman might feel more comfortable presiding over family court, Allen recalled such suggestions with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “I did not care to spend my life hearing and deciding divorce controversies,” she wrote. “Since I was unmarried, I thought these eleven men, most of them married, were better qualified than I to carry their share of this burden.”2

Allen emerged victorious and secured a position as a trial judge in the state courts, the first woman to do so in the country. She eventually ascended to the Ohio Supreme Court, again the first female jurist to do so. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. While not the first woman appointed to the federal courts -- fellow Ohioan Genevieve R. Cline earned that distinction when President Calvin Coolidge appointed Cline to the United States Customs Court in 1928 -- she was the first woman to ascend to the Court of Appeals.

The Florence Ellinwood Allen Papers span the years from 1907 to 1965. For the most part, the collection documents her time as associate justice of the Ohio Supreme Court and as a judge, and briefly chief judge (1958-1959), on the United States Court of Appeals. In comparison with the papers of other federal jurists in the Manuscript Division, the collection is small. Researchers interested in a more robust archive of Allen’s life should contact the Western Reserve Historical Society where a larger collection is housed. In addition, two smaller collections of Allen’s are held by the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women at Radcliffe College and the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College.

During her 25-year tenure on the court of appeals, Allen presided over a wide array of cases including issues related to taxation, patents, personal injuries, contract law, interstate commerce, and labor law. For New Deal historians, Allen’s ruling in the 1937-1938 Tennessee Valley Authority trial, in which 18 private utility companies challenged the constitutionality of the TVA, remains arguably one of the more significant of her career and can be found in the collection. Allen ultimately ruled in favor of the New Deal agency’s constitutionality. Only a few other case files reside in the Florence Ellinwood Allen papers.

Researchers interested in issues of gender might also wish to consult the collection. Allen was a noted feminist and active in the women’s rights movement, which is documented in the collection through speeches and articles. Additionally, the Correspondence File series includes letters between her and members of the International Federation of Women Lawyers. For others interested in international law, the collection also contains materials documenting her interests in this regard as well as related issues of peace, war, and disarmament.

Nearly half of the Florence Ellinwood Allen Papers consist of newspapers clippings pertaining to her activities on behalf of suffragists, her campaigns for Congress, her possible selection to the United States Supreme Court, and her status as the first senior judge in United States Court of Appeals history.

Finally, Allen’s correspondence files feature a number of iconic political figures including Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Wither Langhorne Astor, Viscountess Astor, and Margaret Chase Smith.

  1. Andrea Simakis, "Before RBG, A Cleveland Judge Made History External," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 30, 2019. Back to text
  2. Ibid. Back to text

The following collection title links to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. A link to the collection finding aid is included when available.

William H. Taft Papers

Harris and Ewing, photographer. Supreme Court, U.S. Taft Court. Between 1905 and 1945. Harris and Ewing. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In a 1895 speech to the American Bar Association in Detroit, Judge William H. Taft acknowledged that corporate malfeasance undermined public trust, but cautioned that no modern thinker could imagine an industrialized and growing United States without them and that the efforts by Eugene Debs and others in the recent American Railway Union led strike were unwise. “A public nuisance more completed in which Debs et al were engaged in furthering, cannot be imagined,” he told the audience. Taft’s opinion regarding organized labor represented the dominant view of the federal courts during this period and provided a salient indication of his conservative political and juridical leanings. Justice Anton Scalia would later hail Taft’s leadership of the Supreme Court. “Taft had a quite accurate ‘vision of things to come,’ did not like them, and did his best, with consummate skill but ultimate lack of success, to alter the outcome,” Scalia wrote.3

Famously, Taft might have been the unhappiest president in United States history. In a 1911 speech, he openly expressed his attraction to jurisprudence: “I love judges and I love courts … they are my ideals that typify on earth what we all meet hereafter in heaven under a just God.” He would return to the law immediately after his presidency as a constitutional law professor at Yale, and later as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

His judicial career began on the Cincinnati Superior Court in 1887; three years later he was appointed Solicitor General where he served until his appointment to the United States Court of Appeals in 1892. His tenure on the court lasted until 1900 when he accepted a position as the Governor of the Philippines. He held that job until 1904 when he became Secretary of War. After one decidedly unhappy term as president (1908-1912), Taft landed on the Supreme Court in 1921 as Chief Justice, presiding over its affairs until 1930. He remains the only person in United States history to have served as both president and chief justice.

Researchers interested in Taft’s tenure on the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit will want to consult first the Legal Papers of William H. Taft and the Legal Notebooks series. Both correspond with Taft’s time as a superior court and appellate court jurist, though the former consists of appeals, abstracts, affidavits, agreements, applications, arbitration proceedings, awards, bills of particular, briefs, correspondence, court orders, decisions, dockets, fragments, exceptions, exhibits, extracts, memoranda, notices of deposition, notes, opinions, petitions, reports, shorthand notes, syllabuses, and transcripts. It also includes cases heard by Taft during the same period, organized alphabetically.

Other series offer further insight into his time on the Sixth Circuit but might require a greater time investment since they are better described as legally adjacent to his appellate tenure rather than directly related. This includes the following series: Letterbooks; Speeches, Articles, and Messages; Law Lectures and Related Material; General Correspondence and Related Material; William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt Correspondence; Miscellaneous Legal Manuscripts; and Scrapbooks.

As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Taft presided over a largely conservative court which included Oliver Wendall Holmes and Benjamin Cardozo among others. Harvard Professor and future justice, Felix Frankfurter lamented, “Since 1920 the Court has invalidated more legislation than in fifty years preceding.” Taft issued 249 majority opinions and only dissented 20 times, drafting four dissents of his own. However, Taft’s greatest accomplishment might have been court reform as established in the 1925 Judges Bill “which gave the Supreme Court greater control over its docket. It took away almost all automatic rights of appeal to the court, which allowed the justices to focus on important constitutional questions,” notes Erick Trickey. Sandra Day O’Connor has also lauded his tenure on the court describing Taft as a “great Chief Justice…who deserves almost as much credit as [John] Marshall for the Court’s modern-day role but who does not often receive the recognition.” Taft also lobbied and convinced Congress to construct what is now the home of the Supreme Court. Researchers should consult the finding aid for documents pertaining to his Supreme Court tenure.

  1. Erick Trickey, "Chief Justice, Not President, Was William Howard Taft’s Dream Job External," Smithsonian Magazine, December 5, 2016. Back to text

The following collection title links to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. A link to the collection finding aid is included when available.