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Records of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia

Identifier: MSS-85-2

Scope and Contents

These files are divided into four major categories: administrative, topical, case, and project.

Administrative files contain documents regarding the business and membership of the national and state organization, as well as some local chapters.

Topical files contain information about issues such as abortion, students' rights, reapportionment, and mental health. These were often interfiled with administrative papers.

The unrestricted case files contain either information -- correspondence, records, and briefs -- about cases the Virginia ACLU was handling, or what the office called "research case material," i.e., usually records and briefs of ACLU cases in other areas of the country.

Finally, the project files (similar to the topical files but more extensive) consist of organization, research, and publicity material regarding issues of long-term concern to the Virginia ACLU. Major projects for the period 1967-1979 focus on the rights of women, prisoners in Virginia's penitentiaries, and migrant farmworkers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. A significant percentage of the prison project files are restricted, except for very limited types of research. For more information ask for the access information sheet for the restricted prison files.

The following table indicates the types of files in each accession, and the number of boxes in each which are open to research.

Acc. Number No. of boxes Year recieved Types of files and years covered

9690 10 1971 Administrative, primarily re national organization, 1967-69

9690-a 12 1973 Administrative, topical, and small number of case files, 1968-71

9690-b 4 1973 Administrative and topical files, 1969-73

9690-c 17 1975 Case, topical, prison and women's rights project, and administrative files, 1968-74

9690-d 2 1976 Topical and a few case files, 1969-73

9690-e 4 1976 Administrative, topical and prison project files, 1969-73

9690-f 2 1977 Administrative and case files, 1954-74

9690-g 17 1979 Administrative and topical files, 1965-77

9690-h 12 1981 Administrative, case and migrant workers' project files, 1974-79

Use of finding aid This finding aid is comprised of a container list, an index of selected subjects, and an index of cases. The container list provides box number, dates, and content description for every folder in each accession of files, in the order in which they were originally processed. The subject index is based upon the topical folder headings; since only about half of the case folder headings have descriptors, the cases were not included in the subject index. The subject and case indexes will provide the easiest and quickest access to the issues found in these papers. The administrative files are not indexed, however, and in addition to containing detailed information about the administration of the ACLU at the local, state, and national levels, some of these files are also concerned with issues and cases. Consequently, a careful reading of the container list is recommended for a thorough sense of the scope of the collection.


  • Creation: 1954-1979


Biographical / Historical

The ACLU of Virginia was begun in 1967, and by early 1968 had 1700 members. In that year, the National Development Council of the ACLU approved a grant proposal from the Virginia affiliate for funds to hire permanent staff. While there have been occasional financial difficulties, the Virginia affiliate has maintained a staffed office in Richmond since 1968. The executive directorship has been held consecutively by Lauren Selden, Shalom Dubow, Betsy Brinson, and Chan Kendrick.

Over the years, the ACLU of Virginia has supported the rights of children, the intellectually disabled, students, women, homosexuals, and racial minorities. It has funded projects to effect improvements in the treatment and living conditions of patients in the state's mental institutions, and migrant farmworkers on the Eastern Shore. It has opposed religion in public schools, illegal police searches, and the imposition of dress or hair length codes in schools or the work place. In the General Assembly, the Virginia affiliate has fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, the right to abortion, reapportionment, and certain court reforms and changes in the juvenile code. The organization has been an active advocate for academic freedom and for the protection of individuals' privacy. It has pushed for reform of drug laws and called for the end of capital punishment. The most extensive and visible project for Virginia's ACLU in the 1970's and early 1980's was the prison project, a movement to insure adequate legal protection of inmates, as well as to improve their living conditions and treatment.

The papers of the ACLU of Virginia began coming to the University of Virginia in 1971. Since that time, nine installments of papers have been transferred. In 1985, the collection was moved from the Manuscripts Department at Alderman Library to the Law Library. For the protection of ACLU clients' privacy, the entire collection has been closed to research since the mid-seventies. In 1988 every folder was reviewed, and those containing confidential information were removed to restricted storage for at least 25 years. The remaining files (80 boxes, 35 linear feet) are open to research with the permission of the ACLU's Access Committee (see p. 6); the folders are grouped and arranged as they were when first received at the University. The initial gift was accessioned #9690, and succeeding ones were numbered #9690-a, -b, etc. These voluminous files dating from 1967-1979 were kept by a number of different executive directors and secretaries and later processed by several different archivists. Consequently, folder headings varied over time, as has the archival arrangement.


120 Cubic Feet (254 archival boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection of 254 archival boxes, contains administrative and topical files that relate to civil liberties issues as academic freedom, due process, the rights of children, members of the military, and students; racial and sexual discrimination; the draft; religion in public schools; and state reapportionment. There is case material for the ACLU of Virginia; project files for long-term concerns such as the rights of women, the mentally handicapped; prisoners and migrant farmworkers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These files were a gift of the ACLU of Virginia to Alderman Library, Special Collections between 1971 and 1981. They were transferred to the Law Library with permission of Executive Director, Chan Kendrick, in 1985.

Materials Specific Details

Access terms Upon approval of the ACLU's Access Committee, the files listed in this inventory are available to scholars. Those wishing to do research in these files should submit to the archivist a written request for access, addressed to the ACLU Access Committee, along with a description of the research project and anticipated use of the research findings. Members of the Access Committee will review requests and either grant or deny access.

All the ACLU files containing confidential information are closed to research until at least 2013. The confidential prison project files are open only to specific types of research with permission of the Access Committee.

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Repository Details

Part of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections Repository

Arthur J. Morris Law Library
580 Massie Road
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22903 United States