Scope and arrangement
The records of NCF span the years 1894-1949 and include the records, 1894-1901, of the Civic Federation of Chicago, which was the model for the National Civic Federation. The bulk of the collection documents the turbulent years 1894-c.1930, and is an indispensable resource for the study of conservative-nationalist ideology and its application to wide-scale reform and political activism in the United States. NCF's core activities were centered on gathering, condensing, analyzing, and interpreting data on social and industrial welfare conditions; making recommendations to employers for improving working conditions; and organizing support for protective legislation. In the process NCF generated massive quantities of correspondence and documentation.
Many critical social, economic, and political questions of the twentieth century are reflected in the records of NCF. Among them are the effects on American society of rapid industrial development, capitalist expansion and America's rise as an industrial power; the feasibility of workmen's compensation and old age pensions; the need for a conservative labor leadership to counteract growing labor militancy; the dangers of subversive activities; the growth of socialism abroad and the fear of it at home; problems linked to mass immigration particularly from China and eastern and southern Europe; the problems created by the inequitable distribution of the wealth generated by industrial production; the social welfare problems associated with the increase in the number of women in the work force; the social and economic effects in the United States of World War I and the political upheavals and economic depression that followed in its wake; the alleged activities of communists during the Depression; and the emergence of the Soviet Union, and the events of the 1920s and 1930s leading up to a second world-wide conflict and concluding in the so-called Cold War between former allies, the United States and the Soviet Union.
The general correspondence, 1900-1949, is essential for tracking the evolution of NCF's reform ideology and the gradual reduction in the range of its involvement in reform and political activism. The general correspondence contains communications of officers, leaders and members of NCF with actuaries, businessmen, labor officials, clergymen, social workers, economists, politicians, academics, farmers, government bureaus, ex-socialists, government officials, statisticians, and others involved in NCF's complex mix of reform and political activism.
Among the most informative departmental materials are the files of the Industrial Economics Department and its 1914 progress survey committees; the exchange of letters between Ralph Easley and the anti-socialist political activist, Martha Moore Avery; the correspondence and papers relating to the survey in 1914 of the effects in the U.S. of the war in Europe; and the correspondence and miscellaneous papers of the Regulation of Industrial Corporations Department dealing with NCF's 1907 conference on trusts and combinations and its proposed amendments to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Of exceptional interest are the files of the Immigration Department, particularly the records relating to the victimization of Chinese and other immigrants; the complete files of the Industrial Welfare Department, especially the correspondence of Gertrude Beeks Easley, the director of the department, with the lawyer, P. Tecumseh Sherman and the actuary, Edmund S. Cogswell, related to the important old age dependency survey; and the completed field survey questionnaires and other papers related to the subject of old age dependency and pensions.
Other records of special interest include the personal correspondence and papers of Ralph Easley and Gertrude Beeks Easley which contain candid statements relating to the Easleys' political positions on various subjects, and chronicle their deteriorating relationship with former allies in the business world. The collection also contains very interesting interviews (in Subjects Files, Box 420, Folder 7, The Negro) by Charles Mowbry White with W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Frederick Moore, Chandler Owens, and A. Philip Randolph; and correspondence and papers generated by affiliated organizations such as the [U.S.] Council of National Defense, the Civic Federation of Chicago, and the League of National Unity.
Ralph and Gertrude Beeks Easley were the linchpins in the work of NCF. Among other significant figures were August Belmont, Jr., William Baldwin, Nicholas Murray Butler, Andrew Carnegie, Edmund S. Cogswell, John R. Commons, Richard T. Ely, Roland P. Falkner, John H. Finley, Samuel Gompers, Jennie Dewey Heath, Jeremiah W. Jenks, Seth Low, V. Everit Macy, Ogden L. Mills, John Mitchell, Martha Moore Avery, Anne Morgan, William J. Pape, Alton B. Parker, George W. Perkins, Hayes Robbins, Edwin R. A. Seligman, Elihu Root, Warren S. Stone, Charles R. Towson, Lolita Van Rensselaer (Mrs. Coffin Van Rensselaer), Maude Wetmore, and Talcott Williams.
The National Civic Federation records are arranged in fifteen series:
The general correspondence traces the wide-ranging administrative concerns, changes, and development of NCF. This series reveals an organization designed to act as a conservative sounding-board on political, economic, and social issues, and to study and report on the problems created by phenomena such as industrial competition, industrial combinations, the rise of a militant labor movement, the growing threat of socialism, radical subversion of American institutions, World War I, the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik coup d'état, the rise of fascism and nazism, economic depression, and other significant social, economic, and political questions. The general correspondence also documents NCF's role as an agent of patriotic conservatism.
The majority of outgoing letters were written by Ralph Easley as chairman of the Executive Council and as NCF's chief spokesman and general advisor. There are also letters by key members of NCF including Gertrude Beeks Easley, August Belmont, Jeremiah Jenks, Seth Low, John Mitchell, Samuel Gompers, and others, with conservative and patriotic organizations, welfare reformers, labor leaders, businessmen, industrialists, statisticians, actuaries, politicians and others engaged in reform, political activism, or patriotic activities.
The letters of the historian John R. Commons to Easley analyzing the anthracite strike of 1902 are notable, as are the letters of John Mitchell, the leader of the mine workers, and the recommendations of Conrad Reno for the settlement of the textile workers' strike in the mills of Fall River, Massachusetts in 1904. Some other prominent correspondents are Henry Carter Adams, James Atkinson, John Barrett, Marriott Brosius, Clara Bell Brown, Charles G. Dawes, James Dill, Richard T. Ely, Lyman Gage, August E. Gans, Elbert H. Gary, Marcus A. Hanna, Samuel Insull, Seth Low, Frank O. Lowden, Robert La Follette, and U.D. Underwood.
The Executive Council was the governing body of NCF. Chaired by Ralph Easley, it consisted of the current president of NCF as presiding officer, two vice presidents, and chairmen of departments. The members of the council, such as Vincent Astor, Gertrude Beeks Easley, Marshall Fields, Jeremiah Jenks, Samuel Gompers, Seth Low, George W. Perkins, Maude Wetmore, and Talcott Williams, determined the social, economic, and political issues NCF would study and the patriotic causes it would support. The indefatigable and persuasive Ralph Easley was an active chairman, drawing on his skills as a journalist in writing the bulk of the council's (and, by and large, the Federation's) general correspondence and memoranda, and serving as an informed advisor to department and committee chairmen. Easley was a catalyst, and as a rule the work of the Executive Council has his stamp on it, even when it was presided over by others, including such commanding figures as Seth Low, Andrew Carnegie, Elihu Root, Jeremiah Jenks, Talcott Williams, and Samuel Gompers.
The meetings of the Executive Council during the period 1916-1919 were dominated by the war in Europe. Among the subjects discussed were the adjustments that would have to be made to economic and industrial arrangements if the United States entered the war; which of the measures devised by the government pertaining to labor and capital should be retained after the war; what mandatory changes in immigration laws could be expected as a result of the war; and the problems linked to the demobilization of the armed forces and the conversion of industries back to pre-war production. One issue that caused great concern in the council during the war was the rise in the United States of a movement of pacifists, socialists, Irish revolutionaries, and German spies which, in the council's opinion, comprised an international conspiracy committed to putting an end to colonialism and nationalism. The unstable economy of the 1920s and 1930s, and the fear of revolution, focused the Council's attention on the Soviet Union and communist agitation in the United States. This anti-communism set the tone for much of NCF's post-World War I activities right up to the beginning of the Cold War.
The chronologically arranged correspondence relates to meetings and consists chiefly of form-letter invitations to members of the Executive Council and its subordinate Executive Committee and guest speakers, and responses. Some of the correspondents are Carrie Chapman Catt, Coleman du Pont, and Samuel Gompers. Also in the records are miscellaneous papers including minutes of meetings (both the stenographer's official version and excerpts), shorthand notes, speeches, remarks, lists of names, and statistics.
The records of the meetings of the Executive Council and the Executive Committee have been integrated into one chronological sequence -- the council records for a particular year preceding the committee records for that year. It is sometimes difficult to identify which records were created by the Executive Council and which by the Executive Committee. Whenever unclear, the records were arranged on the basis of the sense of the texts. The duties of the Executive Committee included hosting dinner-conferences focussing on different questions. The members were divided into three sections representing the public, the employers, and labor, and included Nicholas M. Butler, Louis Coolidge, George Cortelyou, Samuel Gompers, Timothy Healy, Franklin MacVeagh, Ogden Mills, Warren S. Stone, and William H. Taft. The correspondence consists almost completely of invitations to attend meetings.
The records of the fourteen permanent administrative departments and their research special committees span forty years and are rich in content. Appointed by the Executive Council to investigate and report on the prominent social, political, and economic issues of the period 1901-1941, the departments generated records that are indispensable for the study of conservative political activism and reform.
The departments studied industrialism as an organizing agent, investigated socialism as a subversive force, examined the problems tied to immigration from China and southern Europe, considered the need to protect American interests in the Pacific, and explored the development in both the theory and the practice of profit-sharing in the United States. The departments also designed surveys on the question of social, political, and economic progress in the United States since the 1870s, and on specific social welfare issues such as old age dependency. The first progress survey, begun in 1912, was carried out by the Industrial Economics Department, and the second in 1923 by the Current Economic and Political Movements Department. In 1914 the Industrial Economics Department surveyed the socio-economic effects in the United States of the war in Europe. In 1925 the problem of old-age dependency was examined by Gertrude Beeks Easley and the Industrial Welfare Department. In the same year the Industrial Relations Department studied the key social and economic differences between the anthracite and bituminous coal industries, the former monopolistic in nature, and the latter critically over-productive.
Among the heads of departments were Vincent Astor (Astor Trust Company), William Baldwin (Otis Elevator Company), Gertrude Beeks Easley, Samuel Gompers (American Federation of Labor), the financier and industrial organizer George W. Perkins, the civic worker, Maude Wetmore, and the economist Edwin R. A. Seligman.
Correspondence and miscellaneous papers of thirty-two special committees appointed by the Executive Council after World War I to study particular social, economic, and political issues such as the deterioration of social and economic conditions in Europe, reactions to Bolshevism, and the threat posed by strikes. Among the committees are the Advisory Council on Polish Affairs, 1918, 1919; After-the-War Industrial Reconstruction Committee, 1918; Bolshevism Committee, 1919; Committee of 100 on American Civil and Property Rights, 1938; the National Committee on Economic Recovery, 1933; and the Uniform Legislation Committee, 1909. For a complete list of the committees see the Organization Note.
During a particularly eventful period, NCF's Executive Council arranged twenty-seven dinner meetings where representatives of capital, labor, and the public were addressed by notable conservatives such as August Belmont, Joseph H. Choate, Jr., Charles Wesley Dunn, Samuel Gompers, and Joseph P. Ryan. The representatives also discussed current political, social, and economic questions such as the welfare of industrial and municipal workers, health insurance, government by injunction, savings bank systems, old age pensions, mandatory resolution of industrial conflicts, and the meaning of the recent increase in intrusions by government in business affairs. NCF also reported on the previous year's reform and political activities, and updated information on current and upcoming projects.
The files consist of correspondence, the bulk made up of letters inviting businessmen, labor leaders, lawyers, welfare workers, politicians, and others, to attend and participate in these meetings arranged to study and discuss current issues. There is also correspondence with mayors, governors, and organizations, regarding the appointment of delegates to attend the meetings. The rest of the files are composed of lists of participants, minutes of meetings, press releases, printed ephemera, publicity handouts, reports, resolutions, seating charts, and speeches.
The files are arranged chronologically, and include correspondence, chiefly invitations, and miscellaneous papers. The thirty special meetings most often took the form of ad hoc luncheons convened to deal with NCF's more urgent concerns, such as arranging a homecoming welcome in April of 1919 for Samuel Gompers and the AFL labor mission to Europe; Seth Low's bill to amend the Sherman Anti-trust Act; the arbitration of industrial disputes; and the question of how union membership could affect a civil servant's relationship to the government. Some of these meetings also demonstrate NCF's methodical approach to events and issues, proceeding from low-level miscellaneous meeting to departmental study to full-scale corrective project, such as the report on old age dependency published by the Industrial Welfare Department. For a complete list of these meetings, see the Container List for Boxes 410 and 411.
This series of files was originated by NCF. Among the most interesting and representative files are those on the National Security League, the Panama Canal, the Nobel Peace Prize Commission, 1907-1910, Zionism, and speeches and writings of Samuel Gompers, 1907-1924. The Lease and Rent Arrears correspondence, 1931-1939, with NCF's landlord, the General Electric Realty Corporation, reflects the Easleys struggle to keep NCF alive. Also included is a file on the Erdman Act (for additional material relating to NCF's efforts to revise the Erdman Act see Industrial Mediation Department, Box 201, and Committee files, Proposed Changes in the Erdman Act, Box 359, folder 5). There is also a file on the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion containing a copy of the anti-Semitic document, and correspondence and miscellaneous papers recording the efforts of Ralph Easley and Oscar Straus to invalidate the Protocols' credibility. Correspondence of Warren S. Stone of the International Brotherhood of Railroad Engineers concerns the minimum wage. For a complete listing of the subjects see the entries for Boxes 412-434 in the Container List.
The files are arranged alphabetically by personal name or subject. The bulk of the series deals with communist subversion in the 1920s and 1930s. The files comprise a wealth of material, from as early as 1907, documenting the Easleys' preoccupation with the real and imagined subversive activities of anarchists, socialists, communists, German agents, and Irish Fenians operating in the United States. Their campaign did not end until Gertrude Beeks Easley's death in 1950. Many of the documents paint a bizarre picture of Ralph Easley - acting out of his element, but in a role he clearly relished - as a single-minded and credulous eccentric playing a serious and risky game of cloak and dagger. Among the more interesting papers in the collection are the interviews Easley had with one of his undercover agents, Gaston Means, and Means' diaries. The so-called "Means Affair" ended for Easley in public scandal and disgrace when trunkloads of evidence of communist subversion, for which Easley paid Means $25,000 (donated by the philanthropist Helen Gould Shepard), turned out to be forgeries. Matters got worse when it was discovered that Easley had been paying for his anti-communist crusade with money earmarked by NCF for other purposes.
There is also considerable material relating to the activities of AMTORG (American Trading Corporation), a trading group founded by the Soviet Union in 1924, and which managed Soviet commercial affairs in the United States until 1935. According to Easley, the OGPU (the Soviet secret police during the period 1922-1934), used AMTORG's New York office as a center of operations for espionage in the United States. There are also correspondence and papers documenting the role played by the Chase National Bank, the Soviet Union's fiscal agent in the United States (see also "Clark" -- a false identity - in box 439, folder 5, for Easley's statement concerning the bank; and extensive correspondence relating to a declaration against the recognition of Soviet Russia). Other files of special interest include: The American League Against War and Fascism; American Literature Against German Propaganda; Anarchists; correspondence, 1907-1909, and anti-socialist writings of Martha Moore Avery (for additional correspondence by Avery see Industrial Economics Department, Box 186); Roger Baldwin; Katherine Breshkovsky; Sen.William E. Borah of Kansas (one of several senators who allegedly were paid to help the Bolshevik government gain legitimacy in the United States); communism and communist; Eugene V. Debs; German anti-Semitism; Hamilton Fish, Jr.; J. Edgar Hoover; Otto Kiep (German Consul in New York); German Sabotage; Recognition of Soviet Russia; Maude Wetmore; Archibald Stevenson; and Matthew Woll. (Note that the following printed material has not been microfilmed as part of the NCF Records: Communist Publications, comprised of Programme of the Communist International. 1st edition, December 1929; and The Communist, May, October-December 1931, and February, May 1932). For a complete listing of names and subjects see the Container List for Boxes 435-458.
The NCF Review disseminated information regarding the organization's efforts to advance progressive social welfare work in industry, to promote industrial peace, and to defend American institutions against socialism and the radicalization of the labor movement. Ralph Easley invited businessmen, labor leaders, public servants statisticians, actuaries, social welfare workers, and others interested in social, political, and economic questions to submit articles on their work to the Review.
The files consist of general correspondence, 1903-1908, including requests for complimentary back issues of the Review, and requests for the Review sent in exchange for the periodicals of other organizations. There is also subscriptions correspondence, 1904-1912, and miscellaneous papers relating to industrial arbitration systems in Australia and New Zealand, lists of contributors to the Review, a plan devised by the Industrial Economics Department to circulate articles and pamphlets defending American institutions, and a memorandum of a visit to Ellis Island. There are also articles submitted for publication in the Review. Of particular interest is Upton Sinclair's lengthy apologia, My Cause, of 1903 (see box 461, folder 3, P-W).
The bulk of the records consists of receipts for cash, contributions and subscriptions; cash receipts and expenditures; ledgers; voucher registers; expense account vouchers, 1900-1908 (note that only the summaries of the vouchers have been microfilmed); treasurer's accounts; financial statements and accounts, 1910-1934; and miscellaneous financial transactions including anti-socialist fund receipts; bank deposit slips, checkbooks, Christmas Fund records, and Ralph Easley's accounts with August Belmont.
The bulk of the 3" x 5" cards contain the names of businesses and their executive officers. There are also cards that give substantial information on the funding (especially by Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Institute) of NCF's general industrial welfare work and its various research projects; and others that deal significantly with alleged communist subversion, particularly the activities of the Soviet spy network operating out of the American Trading Corporation (AMTORG). In addition, there are cards possibly connected to the Easleys' anti-communist campaign. They contain personal names or titles and page numbers that appear to refer to a report, though it is unclear exactly how they were used. This material has not been microfilmed.
The clippings were cut from newspapers and magazines such as the Daily Worker, The New York Times, New York Daily News, and others, and are concerned with the historical issues and events of the Depression Era, including the rise in the United States of communism as a perceived and tangible political and social threat, the radicalization of the unions, hunger strikes, confrontations with the police, and the emergence of the Communist Party U.S.A. The clippings are very fragile. This material has not been microfilmed.
The personal papers consist of: Ralph Easley's personal correspondence, 1876-1938 and undated; his correspondence, 1890-1938 and undated, with Gertrude Beeks Easley; correspondence on woman suffrage, 1909-1910; letters of congratulation on his marriage to Gertrude Beeks in 1917; miscellaneous papers relating to his early years, life, and death, including biographical data, clippings, and obituaries; and genealogical papers relating to the Easley, Beeks, and Berry families.
Gertrude Beeks Easley's personal correspondence, 1898-1949, and correspondence with Helen Gould Shepard, 1920-1933; 1940 and undated, including exceptionally interesting and informative exchanges relating to the roles the two women played in the Easleys' anti-communist campaign of the 1930s. (For additional material relating to Helen Gould Shepard see: Subversive Activities Files, Gaston Means Affair, Box 444, and boxes 445-448.) The files also include biographical data about Gertrude Beeks Easley, miscellaneous writings, personal miscellany, clippings, and related material.
There also are photographs of Ralph Easley and Gertrude Beeks Easley spanning their entire lives, and of their relatives, friends, and colleagues.