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Felix S. Cohen papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1325

Scope and Contents

The Felix S. Cohen papers document the legal, academic, and scholarly career of Felix S. Cohen. The collection documents Cohen’s work as a legislative draftsman and solicitor for the Department of the Interior, including the drafting of the Wheeler-Howard Act (also called the Indian Reorganization Act) of 1934 and the Indians Claims Commission Act and the conduct of an Indian law survey that eventually became The Federal Handbook of Indian Law. Also included are records from Cohen’s time as a private attorney, when he won several significant pro bono cases establishing the civil rights of Native Americans, including Trujillo vs. Garley and Harrison vs. Laveen. Cohen’s manuscript notes for the oral arguments of Trujillo vs. Garley, of which no printed record exists, are present. Also present are papers documenting Cohen’s teaching career at Yale University and City College of New York, as well as his writing projects, notably Ethical Systems and Legal Ideals. Additional papers document Cohen’s work with several political and legal organizations, including the Socialist Party and the Institute of Living Law. Finally, the collection includes personal and family papers.


  • 1904 - 1992
  • Majority of material found within 1925 - 1953


Language of Materials

In English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Boxes 59, 102-104 (student records): Restricted until 2028. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Box 105, folders 1694-1695: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. Consult Access Services for further information.

Box 168 (audiotape reels) and Box 170 (dictaphone records): Restricted fragile. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Felix S. Cohen Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The majority of the collection was the gift of Lucy M. Kramer Cohen in 1989 and 1991. "Statutory Compilation of the Indian Law Survey: A Compendium of Federal Laws and Treaties Relating to Indians" (Box 13) and Series VI (Boxes 97-99) were the gift of Arthur Lazarus of the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Kampelman. The 2007 addition was the gift of Gene Cohen Tweraser and Karen Cohen Holmes, 2007.

August 2022 acquisition: Gift of Gene Cohen Tweraser and Karen Cohen Holmes, 2022.


Organized into eleven groupings: I. Legal Career, 1931-1953. II. Teaching Career, 1946-1953. III. Writing Projects, 1916-1953. IV. Organizational Affiliations, 1935-1953. V. Personal Papers, 1933-1992. VI. Arthur Lazarus Addition, 1928-1954. VII. Oversize Papers, 1930-1950. VIII. Restricted Papers. IX. Restricted Fragile Papers, 1947-1953. X. 2007 Addition, 1927-1960. XI. August 2022 Acquisition, 1926, undated.

Related Materials

Several boxes of Felix S. Cohen's papers, including professional and personal correspondence, can be found in the Lucy Kramer Cohen papers (WA MSS S-2635), particularly in Series II. Writings and Series V. Personal and Family Papers.


82.07 Linear Feet (222 boxes + 7 broadside)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers document Felix S. Cohen's professional career as a civil servant, private attorney, law professor, and author. From 1933-1957, Cohen drafted legislation for the Department of Interior, most notably the Wheeler-Howard Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In 1939 he headed the Indian Law Survey, which compiled all federal laws regarding Native Americans. He edited the summary of that survey, known as The Handbook of Federal Indian Law, which remains a milestone in the evolution of Indian law. Cohen continued to work for Indian and minority interests in private practice in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Felix S. Cohen (1907-1953)

Felix Solomon Cohen (1907-1953) was a lawyer with special interest in natural resources, statehood and economic development for American territories, Indian affairs, immigration, and human rights. He received a B.A. from The City College of New York, an M.A. in philosophy from Harvard in 1927, a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1929, and a J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1931. From 1933 through 1947 he served in the Solicitor's Office of the Interior Department as an assistant solicitor, associate solicitor, and acting solicitor. Cohen drafted the Wheeler-Howard Act (also known as the Indian Reorganization Act) of 1934 and was named chief of the Indian Law Survey in 1939. He edited The Handbook of Federal Indian Law (1941), which remains a milestone in the evolution of Indian law. Cohen reentered private law practice in 1948, and handled several important pro bono cases, including lawsuits which established Native Americans' rights to vote and receive Social Security benefits in states that denied them these rights. Cohen taught at Yale University, The City College of New York, The New School for School Research and the University of Newark (later Rutgers University). He married Lucy M. Kramer in 1931, and they had two daughters. He was an active member of several political and legal organizations, including the Institute of Living Law, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Socialist Party. He died in Washington, D.C. in 1953.

Processing Information

The 2007 addition was first processed in 2007-2008. It initially received a separate finding aid with the call number WA MSS S-2602. The two collections (WA MSS S-1325 and WA MSS S-2602) were reprocessed and combined in 2019, retaining the earlier call number. Box 170, folders 2333-2335 are unused. Original audiotape reels are housed in box 168. Restricted fragile material.

Processing Information

Original folder titles have been maintained. Supplied titles and additional title information are indicated by square brackets.

Guide to the Felix S. Cohen Papers
by Susie R. Bock, Lucy M. Kramer, George Miles, Jennifer Meehan, Stephanie Bredbenner, Tina Evans
1991, 2019, 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.