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Guide to the James Carson Needham Papers, 1893-1936
Special Collections M069  
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: James Carson Needham Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1893-1936
    Collection number: Special Collections M069
    Creator: Needham, James Carson
    Extent: 5 linear ft.
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions:


    Publication Rights:

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.


    Gift of Mrs. J. C. Needham

    Preferred Citation:

    [Identification of item] James Carson Needham Papers, M069, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    James Carson Needham was born on September 17, 1864, in an emigrant wagon along the Carson River in Nevada. His parents were on their way to California. He spent his early life on a farm and in Santa Clara where he attended the public schools. In 1886, Needham graduated from the University of the Pacific, and in 1889, from the Law Department of the University of Michigan. He took a year away from law school, from September 1887 to September 1888, to work as a clerk in the Adjutant General's office of the War Department in Washington, D. C.
    Needham was admitted to the bar in 1889 and practiced in Modesto, California. The following year he was an unsuccessful candidate for the California Senate. In 1894, he married Dora Deetta Parsons. In 1899, he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives and remained in that body until he was defeated for re-election in 1913. His Congressional career was not particularly outstanding; he was one of a majority whose names were known to colleagues and local constituents, but not nationally. Needham served on the Public Lands Committee and, in his campaign, was given credit for securing National Irrigation legislation. He also served on the Committee for Insular Possessions. One correspondent writes that Needham obtained the new Federal Building for Fresno "almost as easily as the people buy postage stamps in the building after it is finished."
    After being defeated for the Congress in 1913, he resumed the practice of law in San Diego until 1916. In 1919 he was appointed judge of the Superior Court in Modesto and held this position until 1935. From 1922-1928, he also served as president of the Newman Oil Company.
    For the Diamond Jubilee of September 9, 1925, Judge Needham and Justice Elijah Carson Hart organized a search for Californians who had been born in covered wagons. (Hart was born in a covered wagon somewhere along the Carson River in Nevada just two days after Needham). The found 75 names (not all Californians) and formed the Covered Wagon Babies Club which met each year in a different California town on September 9. Needham died in Modesto in 1942.


    The James Carson Needham papers cover a span of years from 1893 to 1936, the bulk of the material being between 1898 and 1908, in the 1920s and early 1930s. The subject matter contains very little of any personal nature.
    The Congressional correspondence reflects his committee work and his interest in conservation, forestry and irrigation. There also seems to be quite a number of letters regarding California Indians and reservations. Campaign lists, election returns, political advice and requests for patronage are frequent. The correspondence also reveals the groups that opposed him, particularly the Catholics, the "Whiskey vote" and the veterans.
    There are some papers relating to his law practice and judgeship, but these are very sparse. The Newman Oil Company seems to figure quite prominently, and legal papers as well as business correspondence are contained in this material.
    The Covered Wagon Babies and their Club are probably the second most important group in the Needham papers. There are clippings and photographs as well as correspondence, and the letters describe experiences and quote from diaries. Needham is probably best known as a founder of this organization.


    Many of the folders contain handwritten lists of correspondents and descriptive notes on the contents of the letters.