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Guide to the Carey McWilliams Papers, 1921-1980
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Carey McWilliams Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1921-1980
    Collection Number: BANC MSS C-H 46
    Creator: McWilliams, Carey, 1905-
    Extent: Number of containers: 27 cartons, 1 oversize box, and 1 volume Linear feet: 35
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Carey McWilliams papers, BANC MSS C-H 46, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collections

    Title: Honorable in All Things: The Memoirs of Carey McWilliams [oral history transcript],
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 82/109 c
    Title: Carey McWilliams. Papers relating to the Western Writers Congress, 1936-1937,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 81/100 c
    Title: Carey McWilliams miscellaneous correspondence, 1969-1977,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 95/101 z
    Title: California. Governor (1939-1943: Olson). Letters to Fulmer Mood: Sacramento, Calif.: 1941 June 18 and July 24,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS C-Z 13
    Title: Rowe, Frank A. The Levering oath: a memoir of McCarthyism: 1978,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 78/157 c
    Title: Carey McWilliams Papers (Collection 1319). Department of Special Collections, University Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
    Title: Carey McWilliams Papers (Collection 1243). Department of Special Collections, University Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
    Title: A collection of material about Carey McWilliams, 1925-1948 (Collection 2023). Department of Special Collections, University Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Printed materials, other than McWilliams' extensive pamphlet collection, have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.
    • Microfilm has been transferred to the Microforms Collection of The Bancroft Library.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Carey McWilliams Papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Carey McWilliams in December 1975, with additions made by his wife, Iris Dornfield McWilliams in December 1982.


    Carey McWilliams was born December 13, 1905, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to Jeremiah Newby and Harriet Casley McWilliams. Jeremiah McWilliams was elected to the State Legislature in 1910, and the family moved to Denver. Carey was enrolled in Wolfe Hall Military Academy, and graduated from there in 1921, three months after the death of his father.
    McWilliams arrived in California to join his mother and brother in the spring of 1922. He received his J.D. from the University of Southern California in 1927. He passed the California bar and joined the law firm of Black and Hammack, which became Black, Hammack and McWilliams before his departure.
    In 1930, McWilliams married Dorothy Hedrick, daughter of an eminent mathematician and UCLA administrator. Their son, Wilson Carey McWilliams, is a professor of political science. In 1941, they were divorced, and he married Iris Dornfield, the author. Their son, Jerry is an authority on the technology of recording equipment.
    In 1938, McWilliams was appointed California's Commissioner of Immigration and Housing by Governor Cuthbert Olson. Stunned by the living conditions of migrant workers and by their treatment when they tried to organize labor unions, he became an enemy of the Associated Farmers, the greatest single power bloc in California politics at the time. When Earl Warren was elected governor in 1942, with support of the Associated Farmers, McWilliams was dismissed as Commissioner.
    After leaving state government, McWilliams dedicated himself to social and political causes. Although primarily a writer and journalist, he applied his legal skills where he felt them to be appropriate. During the Zoot Suit riots of 1942 and 1943 in Los Angeles, he participated in the fight to free convicted teenagers in the Sleepy Lagoon case. He was also active with the Committee for the Foreign-Born to protect the rights of aliens during World War II.
    McWilliams met Freda Kirchwey, editor of The Nation, in 1945. She appointed him contributing editor in 1948 and in 1951 asked him to come to New York to edit a special issue on civil liberties: he never left. After a year as associate editor and three years as editorial director, McWilliams became editor of the magazine in 1955 and retained that post until his retirement in 1975.
    Author of more than 20 books, Carey McWilliams wrote in detail on the plight of migrant workers in California, Japanese-American internment during World War II, anti-Semitism and the status regarding several minority groups in America. He often mentioned that writing was his occupation, injustice his preoccupation. In his retirement, McWilliams continued to write and speak out against injustice. He died at University Hospital in Manhattan on June 27, 1980.

    Scope and Content

    The Carey McWilliams Papers, 1921-1980, provide a selective view of the writing and research gathering process of a prolific journalist and author of non-fiction works concerning racial minorities and migrant farm workers in the U.S., particularly in California and the West. The collection consists of manuscripts, notes, outlines, and related correspondence for a variety of McWilliams' books and other writings, along with extensive background research materials, including pamphlets, printed material, and clippings.
    McWilliams' manuscripts for Brothers Under the Skin and Factories in the Field are included, along with several other titles. Other writings include articles, speeches, and contributions written before and after (but not during) his tenure as editor of The Nation, from 1955-1975. The bulk of materials date from the 1940s and early 1950s. The original manuscript for McWilliams' last article, "Los Angeles: A Very Special City," is also contained in the collection.
    A significant number and variety of pamphlets were retained in McWilliams' Subject Files, which also include notes, correspondence, other printed materials, and clippings. Collected over a period of many years, these files illustrate his search for an understanding of issues from multiple perspectives and his need to re-evaluate and update his themes throughout his career. Many of these materials have been heavily annotated.
    Finally, the collection also contains a small amount of correspondence and memorabilia from the 1970s. Researchers should be aware of the significant holdings of papers by and about Carey McWilliams at the University of California, Los Angeles.