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Photo collage of books, a periodical and a pamphlet in the Debs Collection

Debs Collection


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Through the intercession of Bernard Brommel, then a professor of communications, Marguerite Debs Cooper's initial gift of letters in her possession established the Debs Collection in 1967. The daughter of Theodore Debs, Eugene V. Debs's brother, Marguerite was initially hesitant of sharing the materials because of the way in which her uncle had been persecuted for his social views and frequently prosecuted for his actions. The Debs Collection has grown over several decades and contains a wide array of documents and publications concerning Eugene V. Debs, who lived from 1855-1926, his family and circle, socialism, and dissident sociopolitical movements.

The role of Theodore, Gene's brother, cannot be overemphasized. Theodore acted as Gene's assistant, transcribing and often answering his politically active brother's correspondence and orchestrating his activities. Today, however, coverage of the collection reaches back into early family papers and forward into the Vietnam war era and beyond.

The original gift from Gene Debs's niece contained the letters, telegrams, typescripts, and manuscripts of nearly 1,710 individuals and groups, including Gene and his brother. These materials include 5,259 items. (A microfilm edition of the correspondence includes items held by other institutional collections.) In addition to these primary documents, the collection contains photocopies of Debs' speeches and published articles. Letters and other materials are occasionally acquired for the collection through donation or purchase. These additions are integrated into the collection and abstracts prepared and added to pre-existing web pages or databases.

In addition to the already mentioned primary and published materials, the collection contains memorabilia, including several family scrapbooks. Other items include newspaper clippings, encapsulated news articles, political cartoons, and similar graphic items. In the early 1980s, Ohio resident Oscar Edelman donated thousands of scarce pamphlets, scattered periodical materials, and news clippings, adding depth to and increasing the range of the collection. As part of a plan to preserve materials and to increase accessibility, the Eugene V. Debs Foundation transferred scores of snapshots, portraits, and other photographs to the collection in the late 1980s. In 1991, J. Robert Constantine, a history faculty member focusing on Debs, donated his working notes from several published works, including his three-volume collection of letters. Another fascinating set of papers donated by Dr. Constantine are copies of U. S. government surveillance documents about Eugene V. Debs indicating that the government was concerned about Debs even before 1900 (see below).

Rounding out the collection are over 1,500 monographs--many scarce--by Eugene V. Debs, members of his circle, or scholars discussing relevant political issues. Works of literature inspired by socialist issues have also found their way into the holdings. Included in these holdings are unpublished doctoral dissertations which touch on Debs or American socialism. An intriguing sub-collection is a set of Little Blue Books, numbering more than 2,000 individual booklets, consisting of original works by important socialists and reprints of works deemed appropriate for the edification or entertainment of working people. Many of the scarcest books came from the Debs family home or as part of several hundred volumes received from the Marguerite Debs Cooper estate in late 1987 and early 1988. In 2000, the entire output of Viet Nam Generation, Inc. & Burning Cities Press was added to the holdings.

Paper-copy and microfilm serial holdings include scattered issues of numerous socialist periodicals, plus long runs of such journals as Progressive Thought, Appeal to Reason, Locomotive Firemen's Magazine (title varies), and the Terre Haute Advocate. Sets of microfilm purchased to enhance research in American socialism are kept in the of Microforms storage cabinets on the second floor of the library. These microform sets include The Socialist Party of America Papers; Socialist Collections in the Tamiment Library; U. S. Military Intelligence Reports: Surveillance of Radicals in the United States, 1917-1941; The Strike Files of the U. S. Department of Justice; Terence Vincent Powderly Papers; John William Hayes Papers; American Federation of Labor Records, Part 1: Strikes and Agreements File, 1898-1953; The Railway Times; Terre Haute Times; The Toiler (Terre Haute, Ind); Victor L. Berger Papers; and Henry Demarest Lloyd Papers.

Additional source material includes J. Robert Constantine's The Papers of Eugene V. Debs, 1834-1945, a 21-reel microfilm set which appeared in 1983. In 1991, Constantine's three-volume The Correspondence of Eugene V. Debs, a selection of 1,500 letters, many from the Debs Collection, was published.

Special Collections wants to acknowledge the Debs Foundation and its longtime secretary and newsletter editor Charles King. The organization donates funds on a regular basis and directs scholars to our web site and holdings. Under King's guidance, various materials, including books, photographs, posters, and similar materials have been transferred to the Debs Collection from the Eugene V. Debs Home and Museum to facilitate their use by researchers and to ensure their preservation. Special Collections is most appreciative to the organization and its leadership.

Access to the Debs Collection is constantly being improved. Monographic and pamphlet holdings in the Debs Collection are accessible through Fusion, the on-line database of the library's holdings. A keyword search in the advanced module on "debs pamphlets" as a phrase will generate a list of Debs pamphlets arranged by date of publication, with the most recent imprints listed first. Additionally, all of the more than 2,800 cataloged Debs pamphlets have been extracted from Fusion and listed in a separate bibliography. Machine-readable abstracts have been prepared of the more than 6,000 holograph and photocopied letters held in the department. Similarly, a database of nearly 300 Debs photographs, including Debs and his circle, has been prepared. The abstracts have been posted to the World Wide Web, and the photographs are steadily being digitized and mounted selectively for viewing.

In 2002, the Library received a LSTA grant, which allowed the department to digitize pamphlets in the PDF format. A first pass through the pamphlet holdings was completed in 2003, resulting in over 500 pamphlets, primarily published before 1923, in this format. These PDF titles may be clicked on for downloading in various HTML catalogs of the Debs pamphlets. These holdings may be selected from records in LUIS, the online catalog, for downloading or viewing. A database prepared from the NARA about Debs mentioned previously provides brief descriptions of these materials at the document level.

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