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Holmes, Oliver Wendell. The John G. Palfrey (1875-1945) collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Papers, 1715-1938: Finding Aid.

Harvard Law School Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard Law School

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Harvard Depository
Call No.: HOLLIS13193511
Repository: Harvard Law School Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: John G. Palfrey
Creator: Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Title: The John G. Palfrey (1875-1945) collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. papers
Date(s): 1715-1938.
Quantity: 1 collection
Quantity: 1 collection
Quantity: 38 linear ft.
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Chiefly correspondence, biographical and family papers, together with drafts of writings, diaries, autographs, clippings, and memorabilia. The bulk of the collection is dated 1861-1935.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

The John G. Palfrey (1875-1945) Collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Papers, 1715-1938, was donated to the President and Fellows of Harvard University on May 20, 1948 by Methyl Palfrey.

Processing Information:

In 2011 the collection known as the Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935), Papers 1637-1967, was reprocessed by Margaret Peachy. Five new collections were created from this one collection:
  • The John G. Palfrey (1875-1945)Collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Papers, 1715-1938;
  • The Mark DeWolfe Howe Research Materials On Oliver WendellHolmes, Jr., 1858-1968;
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,Addenda, 1818-1978;
  • The Edward J. Holmes Collection ofOliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Materials, 1853-1944;
  • Letters from Holmes to Lady Castleton Small ManuscriptCollection.
  • The decision to reprocess the original Holmes papers was based primarily on two factors. First, the original Holmes donation (i.e. the material gathered by his executor John G. Palfrey) had been corrupted by the inclusion of additional material over many years from various sources, which combined to create a collection that misrepresented the original donation. Second, this practice of adding to the original collection resulted in a complex and difficult to use finding aid.

    Conditions Governing Access:

    Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library. This collection is open to the public, but is housed off-site at Harvard Depository and requires 2 business-day advance notice for retrieval. Consult the Special Collections staff for further information.

    Conditions Governing Use:

    The Harvard Law School Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Special Collections staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Harvard Law School Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.

    Existence and Location of Copies:

    The entirety of the John G. Palfrey (1875-1945) Collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Papers, 1715-1938 has been digitized. To access individual folders, please click the appropriate link in the container list below. This collection also comprises part of the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Digital Suite , which brings together all of the digitized holdings of the Harvard Law School Library by or about Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

    Historical/Biographical Information


    • March 8, 1841,
      • b. Boston, Mass. to Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, poet and essayist (1809-1894) and Amelia Lee (Jackson) Holmes.
    • 1861
      • A.B., Harvard
    • 1861-1864
      • Served 3 years with 20th Mass. Volunteers, lt. to lt. col.; mustered out July 17, 1864 with rank of captain.
    • 1866
      • LL.B., Harvard
    • 1867
      • Admitted to Massachusetts bar
    • June 17, 1872
      • m. Fanny Bowditch Dixwell (died 1929)
    • 1886
      • LL.D., Yale
    • 1870-1871
      • Instructor in Constitutional law, Harvard College
    • 1870-1873
      • Editor, American Law Review
    • 1873-1882
      • Member, law firm of Shattuck, Holmes and Munroe
    • 1880
      • Lecturer on Common law, Lowell Institute
    • 1882
      • Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
    • 1882-1899
      • Associate Justice, Mass. Supreme Judicial Court
    • 1895
      • LL.D., Harvard
    • 1899-1902
      • Chief Justice, Mass. Supreme Judicial Court
    • December 4, 1902-January 12, 1932
      • Associate Justice, Supreme Court of U.S.
    • 1909
      • D.C.L., Oxford
    • 1910
      • LL.D., Univ. of Berlin
    • 1912
      • LL.D., Williams
    • March 6, 1935
      • Died


    Editor: Kent's Commentaries (12th ed.), 1873

    Series List/ Description

    Scope and Contents

    The John G. Palfrey (1875-1945) collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Papers, 1715-1938 contains the papers belonging to Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. that were handled by Palfrey, Holmes' executor, after his death. The majority of the documents fall between 1861 and 1935, though there are a few family records that date back to the seventeenth century.
    The collection consists mainly of correspondence between Holmes and his family and friends. The six primary correspondents are Lewis Einstein, Felix Frankfurter, John Chipman and Nina Gray, Harold Laski, and Frederick Pollock. Holmes also had less frequent correspondence with hundreds more friends and acquaintances, and the collection contains most of the letters received by Holmes in these cases. There is also significant correspondence between Holmes and his family, as well as his wife Fanny's family, the Dixwells. Of note is the cache of letters Holmes sent home documenting his experiences in the Civil War along with other war-time records such as his diary.
    In addition to correspondence, Holmes held on to some of his docket books from his time on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the United States Supreme Court. The collection also contains a significant amount of financial documents such as bank statements and receipts.
    In the description of the material, the following should be noted:

    Container List