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MC 318

Matthews, Burnita Shelton, 1894-1988. Papers of Burnita Shelton Matthews, 1926-1981: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

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Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 318
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Burnita Shelton Matthews, 1894-1988
Title: Papers of Burnita Shelton Matthews, 1926-1981
Date(s): 1926-1981
Quantity: 2.29 linear feet (5+1/2 file boxes) plus 11 oversize volumes, 1 folio+ photograph folder, 1 oversize photograph folder, 1 supersize photograph folder, 1 reel microfilm (M-73)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Scrapbooks, correspondence, photographs, etc., of Burnita (Shelton) Matthews, suffragist and first woman to serve as a federal district judge.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 77-M199, 78-M12, 78-M75, 78-M83, 78-M100, 78-M140, 78-M148, 78-M189, 78-M207, 79-M11, 79-M65, 79-M79, 79-M81, 79-M204, 79-M269, 81-M39
The papers of Burnita Shelton Matthews were given to the Schlesinger Library by Burnita Shelton Matthews beginning in 1977.

Processing Information:

Processed: November 1981
By: Sheryl Kujawa,Eric Nils Lindquist

Conditions Governing Access:

Access. Unrestricted, with the exception of folders 1vo-10vo, which are closed; use microfilm M-73.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Burnita Shelton Matthews is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Burnita Shelton Matthews Papers, 1926-1981; item description, dates. MC 318, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

BIOGRAPHY

Burnita Shelton was born on December 28, 1894, in Copiah County, Mississippi. She married lawyer Percy Matthews on April 28, 1917; the couple had no children, and Percy Matthews died on January 8, 1969. In her teens, Matthews studied piano and voice at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, from which she graduated, and later taught music. In 1918 she began working at the Veterans' Administration in Washington, D.C., and enrolled in evening classes at the National University Law School (subsequently merged with George Washington University); she earned the LL.B. degree in 1919 and LL.M. and M.P.L. degrees in 1920. She was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia in 1920 and to the Bars of Mississippi and the United States Supreme Court in 1924.
Matthews became the first woman to serve as a federal district judge when she received a recess appointment from President Truman as United States District Judge for the District of Columbia on October 21, 1949. She received a permanent appointment on April 7, 1950, and took senior judge status on March 1, 1968. In 1969 and 1970 she served in the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and since 1970 has served on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Among the cases she has heard and considers the most noteworthy are Monroe v. United States (1956); Kyne v. Leedom (1958); United States v. Wise (1962); and United States v. McSurely (1972).
Judge Matthews was an active participant in the suffrage movement and has been a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment since its inception in 1923. She has also served as counsel to the National Woman's Party and was active in drafting legislation to secure equal rights for women, including a law allowing women to serve on juries, laws eliminating preferences for males in inheritance, laws requiring equal pay for teachers regardless of sex, and, in 1931 and 1934, amendments to the nationality laws of the United States extending to women citizenship rights previously accorded only to men.
Active with many civic and professional organizations, including the American Bar Association, the Women's Bar Association, the Legal Research Committee of the Inter-American Commission of Women, the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the National Association of Women Lawyers, the Women's City Club of Washington, and the National Woman's Party, Judge Matthews has received numerous awards and honors, among them honorary LL.D. degrees from National University Law School and American University. She has also served as an officer of the National Board of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (now the Medical College of Pennsylvania) and as a member of the National Committee for Development of the American University.

SCOPE AND CONTENT

The collection is divided into two series. Series I, Biographical material and organizational papers, contains scrapbooks; biographical sketches; photographs; awards; correspondence; speeches and addresses; papers pertaining to the numerous organizations, especially legal and women's groups, in which Matthews has been active; and material on women's legal issues. Except for the biographical material, each of these groups of papers is arranged chronologically. The scrapbooks contain clippings, photographs, articles and memorabilia pertaining to Matthews' career; the first ten are available on microfilm (M-73). Series II, Opinions, consists of the slip opinions of Matthews' cases as decided in the United States Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, and her decisions printed in the Federal Reporter.

CONTAINER LIST

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Citizenship
Decisions
Equal rights amendments
Judges
Lawyers
Washington (D.C.)--Politics and government
Women--Legal status, laws, etc.
Women--Suffrage
Women's rights
Allen, Florence Ellinwood, 1884-1966
American Bar Association
American University (Washington, D.C.)
Anthony, Susan B. (Susan Brownell), 1820-1906
Bacon, Sylvia
Bethune, Mary McLeod, 1875-1955
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader
Inter-American Commission of Women
International Labour Office
Kappa Beta Pi Legal Sorority
McGuire, Matthew F.
Medical College of Pennsylvania
National Association of Women Lawyers
National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs
National University
National Woman's Party
Paul, Alice, 1885-1977
Pilot Club (Washington, D.C.)
Washington Bar Association of the District of Columbia
Washington Club, Washington, D.C.
Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia
Women's City Club of Washington, D.C.

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