Thomas Irwin Emerson papers
Scope and Contents
The papers provide a comprehensive view of many of the debates over civil liberties in the United States during the twentieth century. Material within the papers details American society's ongoing struggle to define the boundaries between an individual's rights and government sovereignty in the political, social, and intellectual arenas. Emerson's involvement in the Progressive Party, support of the Equal Rights Amendment, and work on Sweezy v. New Hampshire are well-documented civil liberties issues within the papers, but many others are present in the subject files in Series I. On a more personal note, the Federal Bureau of Investigation files in Series II show how the FBI conducted an investigation of a suspected member of the Communist Party, the scope of the investigation, and the effect it had on the person being investigated. Emerson was one of many people to be investigated in this way by government agencies after World War II.
The Thomas Irwin Emerson Papers were processed as part of a collaborative effort between Manuscripts and Archives and the Yale Law School to document the careers and accomplishments of law school faculty and alumni.
- Majority of material found within 1946 - 1976
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
42 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
Biographical / Historical
Throughout his life, Emerson was a passionate civil libertarian. His organizational activity demonstrated the importance he assigned to the protection of civil liberties. He was active in both the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Haven Civil Liberties Council, later called the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union. He served as an advisor to the Civil Liberties Educational Foundation and as a member of the national council for the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. He fought against repressive government legislation in the National Committee to Abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation and opposed the Federal Loyalty Program. Emerson also defended civil liberties in the courtroom. In 1957, he argued and won a case before the Supreme Court, Sweezy v. New Hampshire, that reinforced the right to academic freedom. In the 1960s, he contributed to the effort to secure the release of Morton Sobell, convicted in 1951 of espionage and detained in prison past the duration of his sentence. In recognition of his defense of civil liberties, he received the inaugural American Civil Liberties Union's Medal of Liberty in 1984.
In 1965, Emerson argued before the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut that the Connecticut state law forbidding the use of contraceptives was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor and, as part of the decision, recognized a right to privacy under the Constitution for the first time. Legal scholars consider the case the precursor to the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. He further demonstrated his commitment to women's rights as a member of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and the Connecticut Women's Educational and Legal Fund and by campaigning for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
Emerson's organizational affiliations and defense of civil liberties during the reactionary period in the United States after World War II resulted in government surveillance. Copies of records Emerson obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request document the Federal Bureau of Investigation's observance of him between 1941 and 1977. The investigation began as series of background checks for Emerson's various government positions and intensified as a result of his involvement in the National Lawyers Guild, an organization attacked as a Communist front during the 1940s, and his co-authoring of an article in 1948 criticizing the Federal Loyalty Program. The FBI's efforts to connect him with the Communist Party included trying to place him with a Communist cell in Seattle, Washington, a city Emerson had never visited. Emerson steadfastly denied Communist Party membership and the FBI failed in its attempts to prove otherwise.
Thomas Emerson and his first wife, Bertha Paret, had three children: Joan, Robert and Luther. Later, Emerson married Ruth Calvin. Thomas Emerson died June 19, 1991, in New Haven, Connecticut.
- Academic freedom
- Anti-communist movements -- United States
- Birth control -- Law and legislation
- Civil rights -- Connecticut
- Civil rights -- United States
- Emerson, Thomas I. (Thomas Irwin), 1907-1991
- Freedom of speech -- United States
- Harper, Fowler V. (Fowler Vincent), 1897-1965
- Internal security -- United States
- Law -- Study and teaching
- Political rights -- United States
- Progressive Party (U.S. : 1948)
- United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Women -- Legal status, laws, etc.
- Women's rights
- Yale Law School
- Guide to the Thomas Irwin Emerson Papers
- Under Revision
- compiled by Mike Strom
- October 2003
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository
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