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Sherman Kent papers

Call Number: MS 854
Scope and Contents

The Sherman Kent Papers consist of correspondence, writings, subject files, and personal papers, which document the personal life and professional career of Sherman Kent. The papers span his undergraduate years at Yale, his years teaching at Yale, his service in the United States Office of Strategic Services, his work as the Central Intelligence Agency's chief of the Office of National Estimates, and his retirement. The papers highlight Kent's continuing research in the field of French history as well as his key role in the post-World War II intelligence debate. The papers also contain a significant amount of Kent family correspondence and supplement family material available in the William Kent Family Papers. While the earliest item in the paper is an autograph from 1763, the bulk of the material dates from 1918-1980.

Sherman Kent donated his papers to the Yale University Library between 1949 and 1981. Sherman T. Kent, Kent's son, retains all literary and property rights to these papers. Following his death these rights will become the property of Yale University. Mrs. Throop M. Wilder donated additional letters of Kent to William Kipp to the papers in 1986. The 25.25 linear feet of papers are arranged in four series:


II. WRITINGS, 1930-1976, n.d.



Series I and II each comprise a third of the papers, with Series III and IV together comprising the other third. Oversized material from each of the series is arranged at the end of the papers.

As a highly placed member of O.S.S. and the C.I.A. Kent dealt on a daily basis with classified material. Kent was scrupulous in removing from his papers any files that were classified for security reasons. In processing the papers the staff of the Manuscripts and Archives Department removed occasional documents which bore security markings. These were removed from the papers pending a declassification review. As documents are declassified and returned, they will be added to the appropriate folder in the papers.

Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, includes all incoming and outgoing letters in the papers, though the incoming letters predominate. Only occasionally do the files include Kent's handwritten drafts of responses or carbon copies of outgoing letters. Though the earliest letters in the series date from Kent's student days, the majority of the correspondence is from the 1940s or from the 1960s and 1970s. In giving his papers to Yale Kent noted that many of his files from the 1950s had been lost.

Kent's correspondents include Yale faculty members, scholars in the field of French history, former students, colleagues from O.S.S. and C.I.A. days, and publishers of Kent's writings, as well as personal friends and family members. Additional correspondents are financial and legal advisors. Those who knew Kent well addressed their letters to "Shermo," "Buffalo," or "Buff."

The files containing the most numerous letters and also the most continuous are those for Kent family members. There are many letters from Elizabeth Thacher Kent, Kent's mother, which chronicle the family through the depression and World War II. Letters from Kent's father, William Kent, are fewer in number and concern his feelings as a parent for his son away at school. The letters from Sherman Kent's brother Roger are a full representation of his career, first in legal practice and then as chairman of the California Democratic State Central Committee. Roger, who signs himself "Eg" or "Egbert" also discusses his early political ambitions, Kent family financial investments, and the fortunes of his many children. The file for another brother William, contains letters of Sherman Kent, which describe his travels in France in the 1930s and his teaching at Yale. The letters from Kent's wife Elizabeth Gregory Kent date from Kent's many absences from home. These are full of family and local news. Correspondence with Anson Thacher, the headmaster of Thacher School, concerns the fortunes of Kent's preparatory school, which was founded by his mother's brothers. Other family correspondence is included in files for other Kents and various Arnolds, Howards, Bathricks, Bossanges, and Schardts.

In personal correspondence Kent would occasionally mention the general nature of his current projects, but these letters reveal little specific information about his career. The files of personal correspondence demonstrate Kent's sense of humor and reflect the network of his acquaintances. Numerous files include correspondence from Kent's Yale classmates such as John W. Bowman, Robert P. Joyce, William S. Stewart, and Charles Willard. The files for letters of William Kip are particularly extensive. There is also a fuller file for Kent's friend and one time neighbor James C. Cooley.

After his service in O.S.S. Kent maintained contact with several of his wartime associates, many of whom had returned to the academic world. Correspondence with Charlotte Bowman, Kent's wartime secretary, Calvin Hoover, Donald McKay, William Langer, Len Wilson, Rudolph Winnacker, and Robert Lee Wolff reflects the enduring bond that this experience fostered. These and other acquaintances formed an academic "old boy" network, giving and receiving references for wartime colleagues. The files also reflect enduring friendships formed with career military personnel such as M. P. Evenson, Alfred Gruenther, and H. W. Hill.

Many of Kent's Yale colleagues had also had experiences with some form of intelligence work, and letters in the files of William Huse Dunham, Archibald Foord, A. Whitney Griswold, Samuel B. Hemingway, Leonard Labaree, Charles Seymour, and Arnold Wolfers reflect this perspective and a sense of comraderie. Unfortunately letters of Wilmarth S. Lewis and Herman Liebert, with whom Kent shared similar experiences, are too few to be significant in this regard. Files for the Yale Library include material on Kent's involvement with the Yale Collection of War Literature.

Kent's role in postwar intelligence is less clearly demonstrated in correspondence than in other series in the papers. Official letters concerning terms of employment and salary are included in some of the United States files under office name. Bernard Brodie's letters give substantive comment on Kent's important work Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. Other writers on intelligence subjects include John E. Sawyer, Allan Evans, and Richard Helms.

Correspondence concerning Kent's continuing interest in French history and his return to scholarly publication is included in files for Thomas Beck, David Pinkney, and for French archives. Files for Madeline Gleason and Harvard University Press concern the progress of The French Election of 1827 through its printing in 1975. On the publication of Kent's stories for children, A Boy and a Pig, but Mostly Horses, see the files of Dodd, Mead & Company.

Series II, WRITINGS, is composed of material relating to Kent's books, articles, speeches, lectures, and book reviews. For any particular writing the file may contain notes, outlines, drafts, typescripts, and printed copies. The series does not include background material or research notes, nor does it contain any correspondence about this research or publication of the writings. Kent's work on his memoirs is not organized as part of the WRITINGS but may be found in Series IV, PERSONAL PAPERS.

All of Kent's published and unpublished books are represented in this series. These include the scholarly works on French history, works of fiction, a manual on the puzzle Kent designed, Buffalo Blocks, and the work for which Kent received the most attention, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy.

The series also includes material on Kent's book reviews, articles, speeches, and lectures. Articles are primarily on Yale topics, intelligence, or French history. Material for speeches includes both formally written presentations and notes or outlines for more informal talks. Again the subjects of French history and intelligence prevail, but there are more general remarks to various school classes or humorous remarks on the occasion of staff retirements. Speeches also include presentations made to various training programs, such as the National War College and the Defense Intelligence School.

Series III, SUBJECT FILES, includes many types of records organized by topic. There are letters, financial records and copyright information in the files "Buffalo Blocks," a geometric puzzle "for the puzzled high powered executive," which Kent planned to market. Kent's research notes on French voting patterns and the Villèle diary are filed under the topic French history. Poor quality xerox copies of materials found by Kent in French archives have been removed from the papers. Other materials microfilmed by Kent have been added to the Miscellaneous microfilm collection stored in the Manuscripts and Archives Department.

Material for the topics "Intelligence" and "National War College" is more extensive. Under "Intelligence" are filed Kent's notes relating to his role in the Paris summit in 1960 and the Cuban missle crisis of 1962. There is also material relating to Allen Dulles, notes on work done for the Research and Analysis Branch of O.S.S., and much printed material concerning the ongoing debate over the organization of intelligence gathering. The National War College files reflect Kent's involvement in the development of the curriculum for the college in 1946 and 1947 when Kent was a member of the faculty. Materials include proposals for courses and critiques, reading lists, schedules, and biographical information on students and staff.

A few folders in this series are all that remain from Kent's New Haven aldermanic campaign in 1949. These contain campaign literature, voter lists and background material. Far more extensive files at the end of the series document Kent's teaching career at Yale. These include course outlines and notes for undergraduate and graduate courses in history, as well as student papers. These materials are arranged by course number.

PERSONAL PAPERS, Series IV, includes many types of records relating to Kent's student days, travel, hobbies, and family. The series also includes biographical data, awards, photographs, and personal memorabilia. The earliest material in the papers is in this series in the form of autographs collected by Kent. Kent's student diaries are in this series as are his student papers from courses taken at Yale. Travel memorabilia from trips to Africa, the Far East, Europe, and Latin America dates from work with O.S.S. through retirement and includes notes on research trips to France.

The series also contains material documenting Kent's project to write his memoirs. Kent recorded his thoughts on tape and then had them transcribed so that he could edit these, presumably for publication. While he did not give the tapes with his papers, Kent did include the transcripts and the drafts he had made for the memoirs. Though he never completed the editing of these drafts, the memoirs chronicle Kent's entire life. They begin with Kent's family origins and describe life in Washington, at Thacher School, and undergraduate years at Yale. They continue through his decision to pursue a career in French history and give the details of his invitation to come to Washington to join the O.S.S. Kent goes into detail about people and policies, and the memoirs are the only place in the papers where one can find Kent's explanation of his side in decisions concerning the organization of intelligence gathering in the United States. The memoirs also explain how Kent saw his work for the Office of National Estimates.

Conditions Governing Access

Gradebooks in box 47 are restricted until 2035.

Classified documents in box 60 have been removed, replaced with separation forms, and sent to the National Archives and Records Administration for declassification review.

Conditions Governing Use

The literary and other property rights are retained by Sherman T. Kent (son of Sherman Kent) during his lifetime, following which these rights will become the property of Yale University Library. Permission to publish must be obtained from Sherman T. Kent. 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 Sherman Kent, 1949-1981; Mrs. Throop M. Wilder, Jr., 1986; Mrs. Sherman Kent, 1991-1992; and Mr. Thomas Beck, 2014.


Arranged in four series and two additions: I. Correspondence, 1920-1980. II. Writings, 1930-1976. III. Subject Files, 1928-1974. IV. Personal Papers, 1763-1978. 1997 Addition, 1917-1991.

Associated Materials

Sherman Kent Collection (FILM MISC 616), (Microform Reference, Yale University Library.)

Majority of material found within 1918 - 1986
31.75 Linear Feet (68 boxes)
Related Names
Kent, Sherman
Language of Materials