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MC 856; T-388; Vt-211

Durr, Virginia Foster. Papers of Virginia Foster Durr, 1919-2007: A Finding Aid

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


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

The collection was processed with funds provided by The Ford Foundation.

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 856; T-388; Vt-211
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Virginia Foster Durr
Title: Papers of Virginia Foster Durr, 1919-2007
Date(s): 1919-2007
Quantity: 7.21 linear feet (15 file boxes, 1 folio box) plus 2 folio+ folders, 12 folders of photographs, 23 audiotapes, 7 videotapes)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Biographical materials, correspondence, clippings, photographs, etc., of Virginia Foster Durr, civil rights activist.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 74-301, 75-13, 75-20, 75-39, 75-60, 75-74, 75-124, 76-336, 77-M60, 78-M135, 79-M18, 79-M21, 79-M130, 79-M220, 80-M7, 80-M46, 80-M65, 80-M82, 80-M132, 80-M136, 80-M143, 81-M110, 81-M147, 81-M217, 82-M86, 82-M94, 82-M102, 82-M188, 84-M40, 84-M99, 84-M103, 84-M112, 84-M153, 84-M222, 85-M56, 85-M94, 85-M237, 86-M184, 87-M9, 87-M77, 87-M173, 88-M80, 88-M141, 88-M158, 88-M186, 88-M196, 89-M36, 89-M83, 89-M158, 89-M198, 89-M201, 90-M54, 90-M82, 90-M88, 91-M47, 91-M151, 92-M172. Accession numbers 93-M127, 93-M152, 94-M45, 94-M125; 2000-M10, 2001-M44, 2002-M64, 2004-M12, 2004-M55; 2006-M32, 2006-M136, 2008-M161 were added to the collection in February 2016.
These papers of Virginia Foster Durr were given to the Schlesinger Library by Virginia Foster Durr from November 1974 through September 1994; by James Dombrowski in January 1975; by Patricia Lee Murphy, Corliss Lamont, and C.G. Gomillion in February 1975; by Thomas Eliot and Lois Eliot in May 1975 and June 1984; by Otto Nathan and M. Curtis MacDougall in February 1979; by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in April 1980; by Ava Helen Pauling in September 1981; by Susan Sherwin and Mrs. Moreland G. Smith in May 1982; by Marie Stokes Jemison in August 1993; by Eva Moseley in September 1993; by Shelagh Foreman in January 2000; by Mildred Kramer in March 2001; by John Salmond in May 2002; by Robert Ellis Smith in February 2004; by Ann Durr Lyon, Durr's daughter in May 2004, September 2008, and March 2011; by Lucy Durr Hackney, Durr's daughter, in February 2006; by Frances Goldscheider in 2009; and by Mary Berwick in October 2009.

Processing Information:

Preliminary inventory: April 1993
By: Susan von Salis
Updated and additional materials added: February 2016
By: Mark Vassar


Access. Collection is open for research. Publication of names of non-public figures appearing in folders #295-296 (Robert Ellis) requires the written permission of the Schlesinger Library.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Virginia Foster Durr, Clark Foreman, Corliss Lamont, and Ava Helen Pauling 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. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures. Documents in folders #295-296 (Robert Ellis) may not be copied.

Preferred Citation:

Virginia Foster Durr. Papers, 1919-2007; item description, dates. MC 856, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Accession numbers: 93-M127, 93-M152, 94-M45, 94-M125; 2000-M10, 2001-M44, 2002-M64, 2004-M12, 2004-M55; 2006-M32, 2006-M136, 2008-M161.
Processed by: Mark Vassar
The following items have been removed from the collection and transferred to the Schlesinger Library Printed Materials division:


Born August 6, 1903, and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Virginia Foster Durr was the youngest child of Ann (Patterson) and Sterling Johnson Foster. She attended Wellesley College from 1921 to 1923, when she was forced to withdraw due to lack of funds. In 1926 she married Clifford Judkins Durr. In 1933, when Clifford Judkins Durr was appointed to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Durrs moved to Seminary Hill, Virginia; Clifford Judkins Durr later worked for the Federal Communications Commission.
During the years the Durrs lived in Virginia, Virginia Foster Durr led an active social life. Her circle included government officials she knew through Clifford Judkins Durr and through her sister, Josephine, and brother-in-law, Hugo Black, Sr., who was appointed to the United States Supreme Court in 1937. She also devoted time to liberal causes. From 1938 to 1948 Virginia Foster Durr was active in the Southern Conference in Human Welfare, primarily fighting the poll tax. She campaigned for progressive Democrats in 1942 and for the Progressive Party, supporting Henry A. Wallace's 1948 presidential bid. She also endorsed the American Peace Crusade in 1951.
In 1951, after a brief period in Denver, the Durrs returned to Alabama, where Clifford Judkins Durr opened a private law practice in Montgomery, and Virginia Foster Durr worked as his secretary. In 1954 Virginia Foster Durr and others were accused of being Communists and were called before the Senate Internal Security Sub-Committee, chaired by Senator James Eastland of Mississippi. Although Clifford Judkins Durr did not serve as Virginia Foster Durr's attorney, he did a great deal of work on the case, collecting information about the informants and providing legal advice to Virginia Foster Durr and her co-defendants. The accusations were ultimately proven to be false.
In 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, Clifford Judkins Durr was called in as her attorney and arranged for her release on bail. This incident sparked the "Montgomery Bus Boycott," during which African Americans refused to ride on public transportation in the city for over a year. Thus began a second period of civil rights activism for Virginia Foster Durr.
Virginia Foster Durr's political activities, and Clifford Judkins Durr's activities with the National Lawyers' Guild and his public attacks on loyalty oaths and the FBI, led to surveillance by the Bureau.
The Durrs had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood: Ann Durr Lyon, Lucy Durr Hackney, Virginia ("Tilla") Foster Durr, and Lulah Durr Colan. After the death of Clifford Judkins Durr in 1975, Virginia Foster Durr lived in Wetumpka, Alabama, spending summers on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Her autobiography, Outside the Magic Circle, was published in 1985. She continued to be politically active until a few years before her death. She died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1999, at the age of 95.


The collection is arranged in four series:


The bulk of these papers consist of correspondence and other material documenting the civil rights work of Virginia Foster Durr and Clifford Judkins Durr. Additional material (accession numbers 93-M127--2008-M161) was added to the collection in March 2016. This material is located in Series III (#264-328) and Series IV (#T-388.1 - T-388.23, Vt-211.1 - Vt-211.7).
Series I, Biographical, family, and writings and speeches, 1919-1993 (#1-88), includes a transcript of an oral history interview of Virginia Foster Durr and Clifford Judkins Durr, the Durrs' FBI files, clippings about and photographs of Virginia Foster Durr and her family, and materials about Virginia Foster Durr's education. There are also Clifford Judkins Durr's files on the Eastland hearings; research notes and drafts of Outside the Magic Circle and other writings; speech notes; and materials collected by Virginia Foster Durr, mostly writings by others.
Series II, Correspondence, 1929-1992 (#89-263), makes up the bulk of the collection. It includes correspondence with family and friends, mostly letters to Virginia Foster Durr; notable exceptions are the many letters from Virginia Foster Durr to the Eliots and Foremans. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically, with unsigned letters or those with illegible signatures filed at the end of the alphabet. The letters are about friends, social life, United States politics, civil rights, McCarthyism, socialism, pacifism, and the South. There are a few letters from or to Clifford Durr or other family and friends; many of the latter were sent as enclosures in letters to Virginia Foster Durr. The collection includes letters from Jessica Mitford; Virginia Foster Durr's letters to Jessica Mitford are housed with Jessica Mitford's papers at the Ohio State University, Rare Books and Manuscripts. The Papers of Clifford Judkins Durr and other papers of Virginia Foster Durr are at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, as well as the University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center.
Series III, Addenda, 1940-2006 (#264-328) includes correspondence, clippings, biographical material, photographs, etc. The bulk of this series is comprised of correspondence, the majority of it being letters to Durr's daughter, Ann Durr Lyon. These letters document Durr's civil rights activities (1950s-1970s) and discuss Rosa Parks; Martin Luther King, Jr.; E. D. Nixon; black voter registration in Alabama; integration; the Ku Klux Klan; the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and northern students staying with the Durrs while working on voter registration; the Selma, Alabama, march; Governor George Wallace; McCarthyism; the Kennedy assasination; student riots; the Vietnam War; etc. Also documented in these letters is news of births, deaths, and marriages in the family; Clifford J. Durr's health issues; Ann Durr's wedding plans; courtship experiences of Durr's daughter, Virginia ("Tilla") Foster Durr; etc. Other correspondence includes letters of condolence on the death of Durr and a small amount of correspondence with friends and acquaintances including economist Charles Kramer and his wife Mildred; Brian and Mary Berwick, George and Ida (Sledge) Engeman (a Wellesley College classmate); Allen and Frances (Wheeler) Sayer; Robert Ellis Smith, attorney, author, and journalist; Muriel MacAvoy-Weissman (civil rights activist); etc. Other material in this series includes clippings re: Durr and her book Outside the Magic Circle; correspondence, invitations, speeches, etc., from Durr's 75th, 85th, and 90th birthday celebrations; awards, honors, and planning material for a memorial plaque for the Durr's home in Montgomery, Alabama; genealogical notes; memorial scrapbooks created after Durr's death; and photographs of Durr with family and friends, including Rosa Parks and Lady Bird Johnson, and receiving awards, etc. A small amount of correspondence consists of letters received by Ann Durr Lyon and Lucy Durr Hackney (much of it after the death of their mother) and relates to various publications and film projects re: the Durrs and reminiscences of their mother. Folder titles were created by the processor. The series is arranged alphabetically.
Series IV, Audiovisual, 1975-2007 (#T-388.1 - T-388.23, Vt-211.1 - Vt-211.7), includes audio- and video tapes of a number of radio and oral history interviews about both Durr's and her husband's lives and her book Outside the Magic Circle. Durr appeared at a number of conferences and before college classes speaking about civil rights and audio recordings of some of these talks are included here. Audio recordings of a number of conversations between Durr, family, and friends including Morey and Vivian Williams, Bill and Dee Dee Honey, Tex (Arthur) Goldschmidt, Elizabeth "Wickie" Wickendon Goldschmidt, Zecozy Williams, etc., are also included. Durr herself also interviewed Karen Hoffman and Neil McKetrick?, and Annie May Turner, other individuals who were involved in the civil rights movement in the south. Other audio and video recordings include Clifford Durr's eulogy (1975) and the first three annual Clifford Durr Lectures at Auburn University at Montgomery which focused on First Amendment rights in honor of Clifford Durr's work with civil rights. Researchers may also be interested in audiotape #T-118.4 which is a recording of Virginia Durr's lecture as a part of the Schlesinger Library Luncheon Series. The series arranged by format and thence chronologically.


Container List

Additional Index Terms

African Americans--Civil rights
Anti-communist movements--United States
Birmingham (Ala.)--Social life and customs--20th century
Black nationalism--United States
Civil rights movements--United States
Civil rights workers--Southern States
Feminism--United States
Friendship--United States
Internal security--United States--History--20th century
Montgomery (Ala.)--Race relations
Peace movements--United States
Poll tax--Southern States
Radicals--United States
Southern States--Politics and government--20th century
United States--Politics and government--20th century
Wetumpka (Ala.)--Social life and customs--20th century
Women civil rights workers--United States
Women--Southern states
Abt, John J.
American Peace Crusade
Aronson, James
Baez, Joan, Sr., 1913-2013
Beecher, John, 1904-1980
Belfrage, Cedric, 1904-1990
Black, Elizabeth (Elizabeth Seay)
Black, Hugo LaFayette, 1886-1971
Bond, Horace Mann, 1904-1972
Bond, Julian, 1940-2015
Boudin, Kathy
Boudin, Leonard, 1912-1989
Braden, Ann, 1924-2006
Brecher, Jeremy
Bredsdorff, Elias
Buchwald, Art
Clark, Septima Poinsette, 1898-1987
Cohen, Wilbur J. (Wilbur Joseph), 1913-1987
Colan, Lulah Durr, 1947-
Crouch, Paul
Doar, John, 1921-2014
Dobbs, Mattiwilda
Dombrowski, James A. (James Anderson), 1897-1983
Durr, Clifford J. (Clifford Judkins), 1899-1975
Durr, Virginia Foster, 1939-
Eastland, James O. (James Oliver), 1904-1986
Eliot, Lois
Eliot, Thomas H. (Thomas Hopkinson), 1907-1991
Emergency Civil Liberties Committee
Emerson, Ruth
Emerson, Thomas I. (Thomas Irwin), 1907-1991
Faulk, John Henry
Foreman, Clark, 1902-1977
Foreman, Mairi
Forman, James, 1928-2005
Franklin, John Hope, 1915-2009
Frazier, Edward Franklin
Galbraith, John Kenneth, 1908-2006
Garwood, St. John
Geismar, Maxwell, 1909-1979
Gomillion, Charles G. (Charles Goode), 1900-1995
Hackney, Lucy D.
Hackney, Sheldon
Highlander Folk School (Monteagle, Tenn.)
Hiss, Alger
Holt, Wythe, 1942-
Horton, Myles, 1905-1990
Jarrell, Randall, 1914-1965
Jemison, Marie Stokes
Jennings, Perry
Johnson, Lady Bird, 1912-2007
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
Jones, Lewis Wade, 1910-1979
Kindleberger, Charles Poor, 1910-2003
King, Coretta Scott, 1927-2006
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
Lamb, Helen Boyden
Lamont, Corliss, 1902-1995
Lester of Herne Hill, Anthony Paul Lester, Baron, 1936-
Luscomb, Florence, 1887-1985
Lyon, Ann Durr, 1927-2013
MacDougall, Curtis Daniel, 1903-1985
McFeely, Mary Drake
McFeely, William S.
Mitford, Jessica, 1917-1996
Montgomery Improvement Association
Murphy, Patricia Lee
Nathan, Otto, 1893-1987
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Nixon, Edgar Daniel
Parks, Rosa, 1913-2005
Pauling, Ava Helen
Pauling, Linus, 1901-1994
Pepper, Claude, 1900-1989
Progressive Party (U.S. : 1948)
Roberts, A. (Andrew)
Roemer, Ruth, 1916-2005
Romilly, Constantia
Romilly, Esmond
Rosenberg, John S.
Rosengarten, Theodore
Salmond, John A.
Simkins, Modjeska
Smith, Robert Ellis
Southern Conference Educational Fund
Southern Conference on Human Welfare.
Stone, I. F. (Isidor Feinstein), 1907-1989
Styron, William, 1925-2006
Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008
Thrasher, Sue
United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws
Wallace, George C. (George Corley), 1919-1998
Wallace, Henry A. (Henry Agard), 1888-1965
Wellesley College--Students
Williams, Aubrey Willis, 1890-1965
Winston, William Alexander, 1862-1937
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
Woodward, C. Vann (Comer Vann), 1908-1999