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John Sylvester Fischer papers

Call Number: MS 850
Scope and Contents
Most of the John Fischer Papers were given to the Yale University Library by his wife, Elizabeth Wilson Fischer, between 1978 and 1981. These papers consist of the files in Fischer's possession at the time of his death and contain materials relating to friends, family, and subject interests rather than office files relating to his government work or business files from Harper's. (There is a large collection of Harper's files at the Library of Congress.) The papers also contain copies of Fischer's articles and working papers for his books. Mrs. Fischer also contributed letters of condolence and memorial tributes.

While Fischer was a fellow of the Institute for Social and Policy Studies at Yale he had an office on campus. The files from this office came into the possession of the Social Science Library which donated them to Manuscripts and Archives in August 1981, after the Fischer Papers had already been processed.

During his lifetime Fischer gave some of his personal papers to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. An inventory of Wisconsin's holdings is appended to this register as Appendix A. Refer to finding aid in repository for Appendix A. Consult Reference Archivist for assistance.

The papers are arranged in six series:
The bulk of the material donated by the Social Science Library is in Series VI.

GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE is the largest series in the papers. It spans Fischer's entire adult life and contains letters concerning all facets of Fischer's career and varied interests. Editing, writing, and journalism stand out prominently as the subjects of many letters. There are numerous exchanges with prospective Harper's contributors. The series also contains numerous letters from readers of Fischer's columns and books, many of which he took time to answer personally.

There is voluminous correspondence with Harper associates Bernard (and Avis) DeVoto, Cass Canfield, Sr., Frederick Lewis Allen, and John Cowles, Jr. The business and personal friendships Fischer developed with writers is exemplified in the correspondence with Peter Drucker and Joyce Cary. (Included with the Cary correspondence is a manuscript in draft. The correspondence with Cass Canfield, Sr., Alex Haley, Archibald MacLeish, and Kermit Roosevelt also contains drafts.) Fischer corresponded with Richard Neuberger, the journalist, before Neuberger became a U.S. senator, and contributed to his first senatorial campaign. Other prominent writers, editors, and publishers represented in the series include John Dickens Carr, Bruce Catton, Norman Cousins, Headley Donovan, Ralph Ellison, Malcom Foster, John Kenneth Galbraith, John Gardner, Brendan Gill, Walter Kerr, Irving Kristol, Henry Luce, Willie Morris, Reinhold Niebuhr, Joseph Pena, Milo Perkins, Bertrand Russell, Arthur Schlesinger, Barbara Tuchman, Edward Weeks, Eudora Welty, Rebecca West, Tom Wolfe, and C. Vann Woodward.

For Fischer's correspondence concerning his own writing see the files for the University of Illinois Press, publishers of Six in the Easy Chair, and for Corona Machmer, at Harper & Row, concerning Vital Signs, U.S.A. and From the High Plains. Letters from Marshall MacDuffie, chief of the UNRRA mission to the Ukraine, contain his numerous reasons for urging that Why They Behave Like Russians not be published.

Fischer's interest in liberal politics is evident in his earliest correspondence. While in England Fischer corresponded with John Cripps, a Labour Party activist, and maintained a correspondence with other members of the Cripps family through the 1960s. On returning to the United States in 1935, Fischer began receiving news of Texans attempting to take over the Young Democrats Club at the University of Texas; students and former students of Dr. Robert Montgomery were attempting to build a party called the Progressive Democrats of Texas and to run for the Texas legislature. Letters from Clay Cochran, an Amarillo friend, are full of details of political infighting and of the efforts to establish a paper to appeal to farmers and laborers. One of Montgomery's proteges was Maury Maverick, the Texas liberal whom Fischer would get to know better while working on the Stevenson campaign trail.

No letters in the series explain how Fischer became a speech writer and campaigner for Stevenson. Letters concerning the Stevenson campaign can be found in correspondence with Maverick, Ellen Davis, William Blair, Newton Minnow, and Willard Wirtz. Walter Prescott Webb sent some of his own suggestions for Stevenson's speeches. While there are only about five letters from Stevenson in the correspondence, several others are among the papers given to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

The correspondence concerning Fischer's involvement with the Kennedy campaign is equally sparse. For the best information on this topic see the files for the Kennedy Writers Bureau and Theodore Sorenson. Other politicians with whom Fischer corresponded include Dean Acheson, Carl Albert, Chester Bowles, McGeorge Bundy, Frank Church, J. William Fulbright, Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, Jacob Javits, Lyndon Johnson, Joseph Montoya, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Edmund Muskie, Nelson Rockefeller, Dean Rusk, and Harry Truman.

Fischer's work in various government agencies can be traced in the folders of letters filed under the names of the agencies, e.g. "United States Government: Board of Economic Warfare." Although most of these letters are confined to business details about the terms of employment, several of Shannon McCune's chatty letters, while assigned to the office of the Foreign Economic Administration in Chunking, China, discuss the work of the administration and the members of the staff. The files for the National Educational Television and for the Public Broadcasting Laboratory contain minutes of meetings which concern the initial stages of public broadcasting. There is also a folder of correspondence concerning Fischer's work with the Appalachian Regional Commission.

There are a few folders of correspondence with longtime personal friends. See particularly the files for Margot Newlands, T. Andrew Nisenwaner and Charles Tant.

Interfiled in GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE are letters addressed to Mrs. Fischer by anyone other than Fischer or members of the family. Of interest are several moving, and often revealing, letters of condolence, particularly those from Cass Canfield, Harlan Cleveland, Peter Drucker, Joe Brandt, and T. Andrew Nisenwaner.

FAMILY CORRESPONDENCE includes many letters written by Fischer to his parents and his wife. These are particularly valuable for the insight they provide into Fischer's personal life and into the development of his views on politics, economics, and many other subjects. The series is arranged in chronological order.

There are a large number of letters during the early 1930s, the years Fischer was at the University of Oklahoma, and at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and in Germany and Spain. Especially interesting are the letters of 1934 Mar 9, 30; 1934 Apr 7; 1935 Mar 3; 1935 Jul 9, 21; in which Fischer discusses the policies of Roosevelt and the political and economic future of America, and the letters of 1933 Oct 22, 25; 1934 Jun 1; 1935 Aug 21; on the international situation. For Fischer's impressions of Germany see especially the letters of 1934 Jan 13, 20. Fischer was in Spain from June to October 1934 and from July to August 1935. His letter of 1934 Aug 4 is of special note. Letters from the period December 1934 to January 1935 detail Fischer's experiences covering the United Nations plebiscite in the Saar for the United Press.

In this series also are letters written by Fischer from India (July 1943 to June 1944), from the Ukraine in 1946, and on a campaign tour with Adlai Stevenson in September and October 1952. Less frequent letters in later years continue until the time of Fischer's death and offer glimpses of his relations with his family and of the personal side of his career as a noted editor and writer.

SUBJECT FILES contains a variety of materials such as clippings, office memoranda, and brochures organized under topical headings. Many of the subject files contain material collected by Fischer as background information for his "Easy Chair" columns and other writings; for example, the file "Colleges and universities" relates to his article "Survival U." Other material is grouped under headings reflecting Fischer's career and outside interests such as "United States Government: Farm Security Administration" and "President's National Committee on Rural Poverty." Some of these files contain copies of printed reports or brochures which Fischer probably helped produce.

WRITINGS includes drafts, printed copies, and working files for Fischer's articles, books, and speeches. The series is by no means a complete file of Fischer's publications and statements. For similar material the researcher should consult the inventory of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Appendix A) as well. Appended to this register as Appendix B is a partial list of articles by Fischer which appeared in Harper's, though not all of these are included in the papers. Refer to finding aid in repository for Appendices A & B. Consult Reference Archivist for assistance.

DIARIES AND OTHER MEMORABILIA contains an interesting set of journals kept by Fischer during his high school and college days and the first year of his stay in England (1933-1934). The series also includes travel journals kept during his New Delhi assignment (1943-1944) and the UNRRA mission to the Ukraine (1946). Most of the other memorabilia dates from high school and college years though the series does contain some juvenilia saved by his parents and some later photographs and biographical sketches.

YALE FILES contains those files kept by Fischer during his years as a visiting fellow in the Institute for Social and Policy Studies. While at Yale Fischer was researching innovations in government in metropolitan areas, rural poverty areas, and multi-state regions. Some of this research was used in teaching a seminar in political science; much of it came to be used in Fischer's own columns in Harper's and in his book Vital Signs, U.S.A.

The files, as now constituted, consist almost entirely of printed material organized by subject. At the beginning of the series and scattered through some files are notes made by Fischer and his research assistant Edie MacMullen; there is also one folder of student papers. Some subjects such as "Appalachia" appear in both Series III and VI, reflecting Fischer's continuing interest in these areas. Folder 56, "Urban Coalition," contains notes of an interview with John Gardner as well as copies of his speeches.

Newspaper clippings and other readily available serial publications, found in the original subject folders, have not been preserved. Correspondence has been added to Series I, GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE.
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright is retained by Elizabeth Wilson Fischer for the unpublished works authored or otherwise produced by John Sylvester Fischer. After her lifetime, copyright passes to Yale University. Copyright status for other 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 Elizabeth Wilson Fischer, 1978-1981.
Arranged in six series: I. General Correspondence. II. Family Correspondence. III. Subject Files. IV. Writings. V. Diaries and Other Memorabilia. VI. Yale Files.
25 Linear Feet (60 boxes, 1 folio)
Related Names
Fischer, John, 1910-1978
Language of Materials