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James Alport Donovan, Jr. papers

Call Number: MS 1249

Scope and Contents

The James Alport Donovan, Jr., Papers consist of correspondence, memos, photographs, printed material, miscellaneous files, and two additions. The papers document the professional career of James A. Donovan, Jr., who served as a translator and special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) from 1941-1946, and in several positions with the Department of State from 1946-1980. The collection spans the years 1891-1981, with bulk dates of 1944-1978.

Materials are arranged in the following three series. SERIES I contains material relating to Donovan's career as a translator and special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Correspondence files (folders 1-2) include letters pertaining to Donovan's application to the bureau, recommendations written by friends on his behalf, and routine correspondence and directives on field assignments issued under the signature of J. Edgar Hoover. Memos (folder 3) contains terse statements on foreign travel, including an unidentified trip to Germany in 1946. Notes (folder 4) contains summaries of training instructions received by Donovan.

Printed material (folders 6-13) includes an assortment of F.B.I. items. Apprehension order cancellations, bulletins, newspaper clippings, questionnaires, and wanted posters all from 1944-1946 are arranged here. German publications (folder 10) contain material which apparently relates to Donovan's work as a translator.

These F.B.I. files contain no personal observations about Donovan's work nor any information on specific cases. It is likely that this work, which included criminal and selective service investigations, interrogations of alien enemy internees across the United States, prisoner of war searches and interrogations in Maine, Massachusetts, and New York, counter-espionage work on the Major Case Squad in New York, and document analysis in Washington D.C. all demanded a level of security which precluded any personal documentation.

SERIES II contains files relating to Donovan's employment with the Department of State. He held numerous positions in the department from 1946 to 1980. Donovan served in security and intelligence from 1946-1949, a period for which there is no material in the collection. The remainder of Donovan's service is documented: his work of the IEP (Divison of Exchange of Persons), the IES (International Education Exchange Service), the CU (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) and its divisions, and the USICA (United States International Communications Agency).

From 1951-1960 Donovan was responsible for much of the state department's work in exchange programs, especially with Germany. The state department supported exchange programs as a method of promoting American policies while fostering increased understanding between nations. Donovan also oversaw several phases of the Foreign Leader and Specialist Program which brought prominent visitors to the United States.

Donovan next served as Staff Director of the CU/ACS (U.S. Advisory Commission on International Educational and Cultural Affairs) from 1960-1972. This commission served to advise the president and the secretary of state on cultural and educational matters and also made periodic reports to Congress.

Donovan's years of service and thorough knowledge of the CU made him an obvious choice to head the bureau's History Project in 1972. Donovan was then an appropriate choice as historian-archivist for the USICA, which was formally created by executive order in 1978 with the consolidation of the CU and the USIA (U.S. Information Agency).

SERIES II is arranged in two sections: "Correspondence and memos" and "Miscellaneous material." "Correspondence and memos" is divided into two sub-sections: General (folders 14-78) and Select (folders 79-108).

General files contain daily correspondence on such topics as Donovan's travel and speaking engagements, arrangements for foreign visitors in the U.S. and for American citizens travelling abroad, and on internal personnel matters. Additionally, these files contain correspondence from Donovan's work with the CU/ACS. These letters frequently deal with the location and subjects of commission meetings. All correspondence in this section is either designated "Unclassified - Official - Informal," or is personal in nature.

Select correspondence contains some of the more important correspondence and highlights aspects of Donovan's professional career while occasional personal letters in these files permit a glimpse of family life. IEP and IES files from 1951-1959 focus on Donovan's work with exchange programs (folders 79-85). This work necessitated correspondence with members of the academic community to garner support and elicit participants for exchange programs. Correspondence with other state department officials regarding the exchange programs and with national organizations such as the League of Women Voters and the National Conference of Christians and Jews to gain publicity and acceptance for these programs is also included.

Files for the CU and its components (folders 86-108) contain correspondence on important topics and individuals, the aforementioned U.S. Advisory Commission on International and Educational Affairs, on Special Projects, and for a History Project. These files provide an insight into Donovan's work in the 1960s and 1970s while also illuminating the evolution of the CU from its early years through the 1970s.

CU/ACS files contain correspondence, personnel evaluations, and material on a "Special Study" which surveyed individuals within the state department and the federal government on the role of the CU. As one of the many laudatory responses summarized the accomplishments of the CU, the bureau had contributed to "the development of an informed American citizenry on international affairs and a broader recognition of our people in cultural and educational contributions of other countries." Furthermore, educational exchange efforts had "... promoted in depth the further understanding of American cultural and educational life and its philosophies and institutions." The objectivity of the respondents and the accuracy of their statements must be left to historical analysis.

Another major tool of the CU for both self-analysis and publicity was the publication of its journalExchange. Academic and political figures responded to the journal with high praise (folder 89), and the magazine proved to be a most successful facet of CU activities. Marion L. Terrell served as editor forExchange, although it is clear that Donovan exerted substantial influence on the publication.

CU/SP (Special Projects) files (folders 92-93) consist of correspondence on two topics: NAFSA (National Association for Foreign Student Affairs) and STAGS (Short Term American Grantees). Donovan served as a consultant to the Advisory Committee on NAFSA Development from 1972-1973. Correspondence for STAGS includes lists of those individuals who applied for grants and those who were accepted as grantees. The concerns of funding this program are also a frequent topic.

CU/History Project files (folders 94-106) reveal a concern within the CU for the need to document the bureau's activities for internal as well as historical reasons. Correspondence files demonstrate that many records were lost, misplaced, and/or destroyed through neglect and misuse over the years. A most important component of the project became a series of oral history interviews which were conducted with long-time employees and associates.

Donovan interviewed Henry B. Ollendorf, founder and director of the Council for International Programs (CIP) in Cleveland, Ohio, on 26 February 1976. A transcript compiled by John J. Harter, who interviewed a prominent reporter; David Trask, state department historian; Jack Pfeiffer, C.I.A. historian; Roberta Greene, an expert in oral history, and Mack Thompson, executive director of the American Historical Association on the topic of post World War II diplomatic history in September 1979 is also included. These are the only two transcripts in the Donovan papers, although lists of other contributors are present (folder 103).

Donovan also compiled a group of "Notes on the History of the CU" (folder 102). These brief essays contain personal observations on many individuals and organizations involved in CU operations. It is unclear whether these remarks were written by Donovan, were acquired from others, or both. Nevertheless, they do provide an interesting perspective on the internal workings of the CU. A chronology of important dates and events relating to the U.S. Information Agency was also organized by Donovan (folder 106). This agency merged with the CU in April, 1978, to form the USICA. Correspondence files for the USICA (folders 107-108) detail the bureaucratic transfer of the CU History Office to the USICA and Donovan's appointment as historian-archivist for the new agency.

"Miscellaneous material" consists of topical files and personnel records not maintained by Donovan with his general or select correspondence. These files include information on the establishment of a consumer affairs post within the State Department (folder 110) as well as several resumes, evaluations, and personal copies of efficiency reports in Donovan's own personnel records (folder 114). Other files of interest contain correspondence from Leslie Frost Francis on the role of her grandfather, Robert Frost, as a State Department traveller and inquiries from Elizabeth Langhorne on William Faulkner's similar journey under State Department auspices. Donovan was also a member of the Society for History in the Federal Government (folder 117) and was active on behalf of his Yale class of 1937, in the preparation of the class book destined to celebrate that group's fiftieth anniversary (folder 119). A biographical sketch of Robert Heinl, a classmate, is included.

SERIES III contains three sections: "Photographs," "Printed material," and "Writings." "Photographs" (folder 120) shows Donovan at State Department ceremonies, including his acceptance of the thirty and thirty-five year employment awards. Meetings of the U.S. Advisory Commission on International Education and Cultural Affairs in 1969 show Donovan with commission members.

"Printed material" (folders 121-126) includes a group of certificates, clippings, pamphlets, press releases and reports on educational, cultural, and historical topics relating to Donovan's work. Pamphlets contain items published by the Department of State to promote its exchange programs and a 1955 report details the geographic breakdown of foreign grantees in the United States on state department programs.

"Writings" consists of articles, notes, and speeches of Donovan from 1953-1977 (folders 127-131). Two of Donovan's more important works are arranged here. "Evolving Machines and Evolving Society," as published in theMichigan Quarterly Review(Spring, 1965) examines the changing methods of federal employment and service (folder 128), "No Fool's Errand," examines in detail the Foreign Leader Program of the Department of State to prove that the visits of foreign leaders is "no fool's errand."

The original accesions of the James A. Donovan, Jr., papers were donated to Yale University by Mrs. Katherine Bang Donovan and Peter M. Donovan in 1981 and 1982. Mrs. Donovan examined her husband's papers in 1981 prior to their donation. She attached dated memos to many items as a means of identifying the individuals named. These memos have been left with the items.

The first addition consists of travel, subject, and correspondence files between the 1950s and 1970s.

The second addition includes daily journals, diaries, correspondence, course notes, and printed matter. Journals and calendars document Donovan's personal affairs, daily interactions with family and acquaintances, hobbies, and professional activities from the 1930s to the 1970s.


  • 1891-1981


Language of Materials

The materials are in English, German, Sanskrit, Hittite, Gothic, Greek, and Chinese.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Katherine B. Donovan and Peter M. Donovan, 1981, 1982; Peter M. Donovan, 1998; and Peter M. Donovan and Patrick J. Donovan, 2017.


Arranged in three series and two additions: I. Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.). II. Department of State. III. Photographs, Printed Material and Writings.


13.92 Linear Feet (27 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, memoranda, writings, printed matter, photographs, and personal material documenting Donovan's coursework in the Linguistics department at Yale (1937-1940), his career as a translator and special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (1941-1946), and in his various service positions in the Department of State (1946-1980). The bulk of the papers relates to his work for the State Department on various cultural exchange programs, particularly with Germany. As head of a project to write the history of the programs, Donovan arranged for oral history interviews with participants, and the papers include transcripts for interviews with Henry B. Ollendorf, David Trask, Jack Pfeiffer, Roberta Greene, and Mack Thompson. Also included are articles by Donovan (1953-1977), photographs showing him with State Department colleagues (1956-1971), and correspondence related to the Samuel Butler Newsletter (1978-1980). Daily journals and calendars document Donovan's personal affairs, interactions with family and acquaintances, hobbies, and professional activities from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Biographical / Historical

James A. Donovan, Jr., received his B.A. degree from Yale in 1937. He was a translator and special agent for the F.B.I. from 1941-1946. Donovan worked in the security office of the State Department from 1946-1949; with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, 1960-1972; as staff director of the Advisory Commission on Arts, 1960-1963; as staff director of the Government Advisory Commission on International Book and Library Programs, 1962-1971, and as director, special projects, 1972-1973; with the history project, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, 1973-1978; and as an archivist, International Communications Agency, 1978-1980.

Guide to the James Alport Donovan, Jr. Papers
Under Revision
compiled by William E. Brown, Jr.
June 1982
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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