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Richard Charles Lee papers

Call Number: MS 318
Scope and Contents

The Richard C. Lee Papers document the public years of one of the best known mayors in the United States. The bulk of the papers cover the period 1954-1969, when Lee was mayor of New Haven, although the papers span the dates 1934-1983.

The papers are divided into seven series. The largest and most important series, MAYORAL FILES, comes first. It fills 106 boxes and consists of general administrative office files, arranged chronologically by year and alphabetically by subject, kept during Lee's eight terms as New Haven mayor. Series I contains an extensive amount of material documenting Lee's skills as an urban politician in a city dominated by ethnic groups. MAYORAL FILES also have information on his public relations activities, his relationship with his constituents, his leadership in urban renewal, New Haven's pioneer efforts in the war on poverty, his civil rights record, town-gown relations, and his interaction with prominent local and state Democratic politicians.

Mayor Richard C. Lee was a superb urban politician who was skilled in the nuts and bolts practices of ethnic politics. Material on this subject permeates the Lee Papers and researchers who examine the collection carefully will find massive evidence to support the view that the mayor was a master urban politician who excelled in the practices of local ethnic politics, was always aware of the necessity of favorable publicity, and was acutely sensitive to constituent needs and desires. For information on Lee's ethnic political concerns, see, by way of example, his 1958 journey to Ireland, Italy, and Israel, Boxes 19-20, folders 466-474; the files for George W. Crawford and John M. Golden; and Series IV, APPOINTMENT BOOKS, Boxes 131-39, which show the importance Lee attached to attending wakes. Since few of Lee's major policy initiatives were favorably received by the conservative Republican Jackson newspapers, theRegisterandJournal-Courier, the mayor was concerned with generating the maximum favorable publicity for himself and his administration. For examples of this concern, see Box 16, folder 406; Box 37, folder 796, and Box 39, folder 840. The mayor particularly stressed good constituent relations. He was genuinely interested in aiding constituents facing difficulties with government and they in turn seemed to view him as an ombudsman, someone to turn to as a last resort for help in solving problems and in coping with the city bureaucracy. The papers contains hundreds of letters from ordinary citizens asking for assistance in obtaining better housing, expressing concern about traffic safety, asking for welfare assistance, offering advice, and thanking him for his aid in resolving problems. See, for example, Box 24, folder 531; Box 25, folder 533; Box 43, folders 893 and 895; and Box 47, folder 973.

The Lee Papers also contain ample material that delineate the mayor's personal and political relationships with such important New Haven and Connecticut politicians as John M. Bailey, Arthur T. Barbieri, William Benton, Chester Bowles, John N. Dempsey, Thomas J. Dodd, Robert N. Giaimo, John M. Golden, Edward L. Marcus, and Abraham A. Ribicoff, but little to document the close relationship between Lee and President John F. Kennedy. See the files for these men in Series I and Series II. Likewise, although one can find a good deal of information in correspondence in 1957-1958, 1962, and 1969-1970 concerning Lee's ambition to seek a U.S. Senate seat, a convincing explanation for the mayor's failure to seek higher office is not given.

The major substantive thrust of Lee's administrations was in the area of urban renewal. The mayor's leadership in this area won him a well-deserved national reputation as a progressive and spokesman for redevelopment. Those interested in studying this critically important aspect of Lee's incumbency should examine several different files in Series I, the most important being Citizens Action Commission; City Plan; Connecticut, State of: Highway Department; Housing; Redevelopment; and Traffic and Parking, Department of.

Many well known city planners played significant roles in the redevelopment process. Among the best known are Maurice Rotival, an internationally known urban planner; H. Gordon Sweet, Executive Director of the Citizens Action Commission from 1954 to 1959 and later Assistant Director of the New Haven Redevelopment Agency; Edward J. Logue, Development Administrator 1955-1961; H. Ralph Taylor, Executive Director, New Haven Redevelopment Agency 1955-1959; L. Thomas Appleby, Executive Director, New Haven Redevelopment Agency 1959-1961 and Development Administrator 1961-1965; Melvin J. Adams, Executive Director of the Redevelopment Agency from December 1962 to February 1965 and Development Administrator 1965-1969; Norris C. Andrews, City Planning Director 1954-1962; and Robert T. Wolfe, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the City of New Haven. Material on these men and their careers in New Haven can be found under the agencies in which they served; the subjects of Citizens Action Commission, City Plan, and Redevelopment; and under their names.

New Haven's city planners focused on efforts to revive the commercial base of a decaying central city and to upgrade the quality of city housing. The difficulties caused by the condemnation and destruction of older buildings for both businesses and poor families are detailed. The files for Housing are particularly useful for the information they contain on the relocation problems of the poor, elderly, and disabled.

A whole series of major redevelopment projects was undertaken, beginning with the construction of the Oak Street Connector, then with the Church Street, Wooster Square, Long Wharf, and University Towers projects, followed by still others. Mayor Lee was interested, however, not only in the physical reconstruction of the city, but also with the architectural quality of the buildings being erected. Many well known architects designed structures that were at least in part intended to make New Haven an architectural showpiece in America. See the Redevelopment files. The centerpiece for redevelopment was intended to be a new government center whose construction would require the removal of the library, court house, city hall, and post office, an undertaking that would transform the character of the entire region around the New Haven Green. Preservationists rallied in opposition to this plan in 1966 and the development was never built, primarily because the General Services Administration failed to endorse the plans of architect I.M. Pei and chose, according to Lee, an undistinguished local firm that specialized in political contacts. Please see Box 83, folder 1514; Box 84, folder 1520; and Box 85, folder 1542.

New Haven was also in the forefront of the war on poverty. In 1962 Community Progress, Inc., established with a $2,500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, became one of the first anti-poverty agencies formed in the United States. Its purpose was to improve educational, employment, recreational, and housing opportunities for residents of the declining areas of the city. Headed by Mitchell Sviridoff, CPI began to attack the problems of unemployment and poor inner city education with job training and "head start" programs. See the files for Community Progress, Inc. and Ford Foundation for information on this important subject.

Mayor Lee was also concerned with civil rights and race relations. As soon, as he took office in 1954, he ordered the destruction of all personnel forms asking the question whether a person was "white or colored." (Box 2, folder 35). He also appointed George W. Crawford as corporation counsel, the first black to ever hold a high appointed or elected office in New Haven. For additional information on civil rights and race relations in New Haven, see the files fo NAACP 1954-64; Human Relations Council 1955-1962, 1969; Human Relations Advisor 1957-1962; CORE 1962; and Human Relations Committee 1963. In Series II, SUBJECT FILES, see also NAACP, Negro Participation, and Sit-Outs. It was widely believed that New Haven, because of its reputation as a model city, would be immune from the racial tensions and street violence that spread through American cities during the late 1960's. The shock, therefore, was all the greater when racial violence broke out in August 1967. On these events, see the files for Curfew proclamations 1967; Disturbance 1967; Police; Urban Violence 1968 and 1969; and Series II Riots, racial matters.

Another important subject treated in the Lee Papers is that of town-gown relations. The Yale University files and many subject files contain information in the close, and generally warm, relationship between Lee and Yale. Because of his years at the Yale News Bureau and his friendship with President A. Whitney Griswold, Lee was able to tap the considerable resources of the University in support of urban renewal, charter reform, and civil rights. Among those who served New Haven in official and unofficial capacities in addition to Griswold were Eugene V. Rostow, Ira V. Hiscock, Myres S. McDougal, C.-E.A. Winslow, Louis H. Pollack, Reuben A. Holden, and Sidney Lovett.

Those interested in many other aspects of New Haven life between 1954 and 1968 can find a great deal of useful information through examination of the appropriate files over a period of years. Those wishing to study the New Haven airport, education, the highway program, the importance of parks and recreation, patronage and welfare problems can follow these subjects in Series I of the Richard C. Lee Papers.

Conditions Governing Access

Series V. Photographs, 1947-1969, Series VII. Scrapbooks, Accession 1984-M-003, and Accession 1985-M-076 are open to research. To access all other material in the papers until January 1, 2070, researchers must sign the Access Agreement for the Richard C. Lee Papers, which states "I agree not to use the names or in any way reveal the identity of private citizens, who were neither affiliated with the Lee administration nor otherwise engaged in public business, who wrote as constituents to Mayor Lee for assistance and in which the disclosure of such names might constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy. I understand that failure to comply with this agreement may result in legal proceedings being initiated against me. In such a case, I agree to hold harmless and to indemnify Yale University, its officers, agents, or employees, for any loss or damage to them, including any associated legal fees."

Box 151 is closed until 2045.

Accessions 2001-M-010 and 2001-M-017 are unprocessed and may contain sensitive information or be in a physical state that would prohibit use. Researchers wishing to request access should email requesting specific box numbers in order to initiate the review process, which may take several weeks.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Richard Charles Lee was transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

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 Richard C. Lee, 1983-1990, 2000; gift of Noel A. Cazenave, 1993; and gift of Mrs. Charles Parker, 2011.


Arranged in seven series and seventeen additions: I. Mayoral Files, 1943-1969. II. Subject Files, 1934-1969. III. Campaign Files, 1945-1973. IV. Appointment Books, 1944-1976. V. Photographs, 1947-1969. VI. Post-Mayoral Files, 1970-1983. VII. Scrapbooks, 1947-1968.

Related Materials

Related material: Edward Joseph Logue Papers (MS 959).

148.24 Linear Feet (258 boxes)
Related Names
Lee, Richard C. (Richard Charles), 1916-2003
Language of Materials