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Finding Aid for the Ben B. Lindsey papers, 1893-1965
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Ben B. Lindsey papers
    Date (inclusive): 1893-1965
    Collection number: 832
    Creator: Lindsey, Ben B. (Ben Barr), 1869-1943.
    Extent: 28 document boxes (14 linear feet) 1 oversize flat box.
    Abstract: Ben B. Lindsey (1869-1943) is recognized as the founder of the U.S. juvenile court system, having served as the first juvenile judge of Denver, Colorado from 1907-1927. The collection spans his judgeship in Colorado as well as his service on the California Superior Court in Los Angeles from 1934-1943. An outspoken public figure on the progressive issues of his time, the judge advocated rights for children, laborers, and women. The collection reflects his varied personal interests and public service as a judge, author of children's legislation, foreign representative, and New Deal appointee.
    Language: Finding aid is written in English.
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Henrietta Brevoort Lindsey, circa 1965.

    Processing Note

    Processed by Joanna Steele, with assistance from Kelley Wolfe Bachli, in the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT), June 2008.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Ben B. Lindsey papers (Collection 832). Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 4233312 


    Ben B. (Ben Barr) Lindsey (1869-1943), recognized as the founder of the U.S. juvenile court system, was born in Jackson, Tennessee on November 25, 1869. The eldest of four children, he grew up on a plantation owned by his grandfather until his father, Landy Tunstall Lindsey, moved the family to Denver for a job as a telegraph operator when Ben Lindsey was 11. He first attended Catholic school in Denver but returned to Jackson to enroll in a Baptist preparatory school when his father lost his job and the two eldest Lindsey boys were sent to live with their grandfather. When Lindsey turned 18, his life underwent great upheaval when his father committed suicide, leaving the burden of the family on his shoulders. He juggled several jobs simultaneously, including day work as an office boy for a local attorney and evenings as a janitor. Lindsey struggled under the intense pressure and responsibility nearly being overwhelmed by a sense of failure and hopelessness that led him to attempt to take his own life. He held a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger, but miraculously the gun misfired. In that instant, Lindsey gained the determination to fight his circumstances, an overarching attitude that shaped his path as a lifelong social reformer and advocate for youth.
    Ben Lindsey eventually took on more responsibilities as a law clerk and began studying law with a group of other like-minded young men. He was admitted to the bar in 1894 and practiced law for several years until he was appointed Denver county court judge at the age of 31. Noted for his ability to empathize and defend, Lindsey took on the issue of juvenile justice, penning legislation in 1899 that would establish the first Juvenile and Family Court of Denver. He advocated for laws that recognized juveniles differently from adults, not as criminals but as misguided youth in need of education and reform. He also wrote legislation that held parents accountable for juvenile delinquency. Lindsey served as Denver's juvenile court judge from 1907 to 1927, when he was ousted from the bench in a fierce political battle with the Ku Klux Klan.
    Judge Lindsey married Henrietta Brevoort of Detroit in 1914, and the two worked closely and traveled together. In 1915, they joined Henry Ford's Peace Mission on a tour of the European front. The couple eventually adopted a daughter whom they named Benetta, a combination of their first names.
    An outspoken champion for justice and social reform, the judge stirred up controversy wherever he went and gained national recognition in the press. Lindsey made public statements, wrote articles and books, and gave speeches on progressive issues of his time as a proponent of women's suffrage, modern marriage, birth control, sex education, charity, conservation of natural resources, labor rights, and freedom from censorship in motion pictures. A complex character, he attracted many loyal friends, among them Teddy Roosevelt, and countless enemies. His opponents continuously sought out opportunities to ruin his reputation and career. In 1929, they succeeded and he was disbarred by the Colorado Supreme Court for receiving compensation for legal services rendered while serving as a judge. He was later reinstated by the Colorado State Bar Association in 1935 after a long persistent court appeal.
    The judge and his family moved to Los Angeles, California in 1931 followed by a cloud of controversy. Despite continued opposition in his new home town, Lindsey ran for California Superior Court judge in 1934 and won in a huge landslide. He continued his advocacy for juvenile justice, writing legislation to establish the California Children's Court of Conciliation, on which he served as founding judge until his death. Ben Lindsey died on March 26, 1943 of a heart attack at the age of 73.
    Though imperfect and at times overly dramatic, Lindsey undeniably poured his soul into making great strides as an individual and through his public contribution to protect children and to entitle them to a childhood, an education, and a more promising future.

    Scope and Content

    This manuscripts collection focuses predominantly on Ben Lindsey's judicial career in Colorado (1900-1927) and later in California (1934-1943) with no substantial personal items. Series 7 covers Lindsey's appointment to the National Recovery Administration as a Labor Compliance Officer in 1934. Series 8, Research Files, reflects the judge's wide-ranging interests in the current issues of his time, particularly the topic of marriage and family, which was being challenged and expanded. This series also contains a draft of a few chapters from Margaret Sanger's What Every Girl Should Know. Sanger was a colleague and friend of Judge Lindsey, who was a fellow outspoken advocate for birth control. A large portion of Series 2, Lindsey's Writings, is devoted to the judge's thoughts on companionate marriage, an idea he defined as modern legal marriage that does not necessitate the married couple having children but includes access to birth control; public education of youth on love, sex, and life; and the right to divorce by mutual consent.
    The collection also contains several items dated after Lindsey's death in 1943 contributed by his wife, Henrietta B. Lindsey, including newspaper and magazine clippings and letters. A newspaper article titled "The Kind of People Who Become Our Criminals" bears the following handwritten notation along the top margin: "Taken from Judge Lindsey's briefcase -Mar-26-'43[the day of Lindsey's passing]" (Box 28, Folder 11).

    Organization and Arrangement

    The collection is arranged into 10 series, three of which have additional sub-series. Five of the series, Series 1, 3, 7, 9, and 10, are arranged chronologically. The remaining series are organized by document type and then chronologically within each folder, with the exception of Series 8, Research Files, which is arranged alphabetically by topic and chronologically within each folder. Undated items have been filed at the back of each folder.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Lindsey, Ben B. (Ben Barr), 1869-1943 --Archives.
    Judges --United States --Archival resources.

    Related Material

    The Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress houses an extensive collection of the Papers of Ben B. Lindsey donated by Henrietta Lindsey consisting of 354 containers (142 linear feet).