James Russell Wiggins Papers
Scope and Content Note
The files are somewhat indiscriminate in their contents, containing such diverse items as thank you notes, letters to politicians and newspaper editors, poems, schedule arrangements, issue discussions with U.S. Supreme Court judges and lobbyists, family correspondence, and inter-office memoranda. The majority of correspondence is issue-related, but the alphabetical files of in-coming correspondence contain clippings, postcards, invitations, brochures, membership materials, informational material, job applications and the responses, copies of speeches, schedules, magazines, “letters to the editor,” and diatribes from genuine cranks. Every response he wrote, from declining an invitation to a three-page lecture on American foreign policy, Wiggins’ style was exceedingly formal and polite.
The collection provides a first-hand look at American political history from the early years of the Great Depression, through social and agricultural reform, through isolationism and developing support for the Allies in World War II, through post-war restructuring and the business boom, through the cold war with communism, through the civil rights movement, and the emergence of Washington, D.C. as an international capital city. James Russell Wiggins was an integral part in all of this, not as a politician, but as a man capable of molding the minds of others. He was especially interested in economic theory (O.R. Strackbein, Eugene Rostow, Milton Eisenhower) and military intelligence (Harold E. Cross, Brockway McMillan, Harry Tudor) In the second part of his life, as a country gentleman, his papers continue to reflect a self-determined role in the politics and decision-making of the state of Maine, and a continuing voice on national issues.
During the four years (1942-1946) Wiggins spent in the U.S. Army-Air Force Intelligence Service he not only saved all his training notes, manuals and maps, but also his tests. He retained his notes as well as his correspondence during the years in Europe.
In the Washington years, Wiggins wrote about national and international politics in his editorials (McCarthyism, the Soviet Union, European redevelopment, the United Nations), but his book reviews and special articles concerned American history (the Bill of Rights, Thomas Jefferson), ethical issues (treason, honest government), and a major interest in freedom of the press and access to information. He knew and corresponded with the editors of many of the country’s leading newspapers and he was very active in professional journalism societies. (See the box list and folder listings, as well as the index, for individual correspondents, organizations, and subject headings from 1936 through 1984.)
From 1969 to 1994, Wiggins’ correspondence reflects a concentration on rural issues and his life as a gentleman farmer. Correspondence and background material from the 1970’s is dominated by the state lottery debate, a series of environmental issues, and the profound question of reparations and/or land for the Indian tribes of Maine. Wiggins also became embroiled in local (Ellsworth) union politics and was sued by the teamsters. He corresponded with every Maine governor and university president, as well as attorneys general, agriculture secretaries, natural resources department heads, and many people familiar with Indian affairs, especially Ronald Banks. Wiggins wrote editorials about everything from black flies to license plates, geese to garbage collection, and of course, taxes. There are amusing short notes from local friends, including E.B. White, Roy Barrette, Bill Caldwell, Brooks Hamilton, and Winthrop Libby. His personal correspondence included poems, newspaper clippings and reading advice to such friends as Walter Cronkite, Warren Burger, Al Haakenson, Robert Estabrook, and Fletcher Knebel. He also maintained a keen interest in United States military and foreign policies, strongly supported the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) and developed late-in-life friendships with Casper Weinberger and Zbigniew Brezinski. Summertime correspondence includes references to the Pot and Kettle Club, and sailing on his beloved Amity.
Though Wiggins lived until 2000, the collection of his papers abruptly ends in 1994. There is no record that Wiggins made any arrangements for the disposition of his papers from the last six years of his life. His library was partially sold, but an appraiser’s inventory remains, as well as thousands of inventory cards for his books. Three major universities, as well as the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library at the University of Texas, asked Wiggins for his collected papers – the universities of Minnesota, Maryland, and Wisconsin. His daughter and granddaughter, Patricia Schroth and Jennifer Schroth, have added photographs and other memorabilia from his study to the collection.
The collection indices reveal the extent and duration of Wiggins’ correspondence with friends, colleagues, employees, business associates, relatives, and government officials. The first index includes names of individuals, organizations, and subjects. The second index is a grid listing the years and numbers of letters with names of correspondents. There is multiple correspondence addressed to:
- Ronald Banks, historian and authority on Indian issues
- Julian Boyd, editor of the Thomas Jefferson Papers
- Benjamin Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post
- Warren Burger, U.S. Supreme Court justice
- Clifford Case, U.S. Senator from New Jersey
- William Cohen, U.S. Senator from Maine
- Walter Cronkite; CBS news editor, historian and personal friend
- John Foster Dulles, U.S. Secretary of State
- Robert H. Estabrook, journalist (Lakeville Journal) and friend
- Alfred Friendly, managing editor of the Washington Post
- Katherine Meyer Graham, owner and publisher of the Washington Post
- Philip Graham, owner and publisher of the Washington Post
- Albert Haakenson, lifelong friend from Minnesota
- Brooks Hamilton, journalism professor at University of Maine
- Sir Dennis Hamilton, editor of the London Times
- Brooks Hays, humorist and politician from Arkansas
- John S. Hayes, manager of WTOP, Washington Post radio station
- Orton (Tubby) Jackson, Washington and Maine friend
- Hilton Jayne, intelligence officer and friend from WWII
- Fletcher Knebel, historian and author
- Winthrop Libby, President of University of Maine and journalist
- Brockway McMillan, military intelligence officer, author, retired local friend
- Eugene Meyer, owner and publisher of the Washington Post
- Marcus McCorison, president of the American Antiquarian Society
- Chalmers Roberts, chief diplomatic correspondent for Washington Post
- Eugene Rostow, economist and director of U.S. Arms Control Commission
- Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State
- Gordon Scott, lawyer and advisor in Portland, Maine
- Howard Simons, managing ed. of the Washington Post, curator of Nieman Foundation, Harvard University
- Arthur Schlesinger, author and presidential advisor
- Stephen Spingarn, WWII intelligence service friend and government attorney
- O.R. Strackbein, economist and advisor to President Eisenhower
- Lawrence Stedman, journalist (St. Paul Dispatch) and longtime friend
- John W. Sweeterman, publisher of Washington Post, 1961-69
- James A. Wechsler, editor of the New York Post
- Lawrence Winship, editor of the Boston Globe
Maine journalists from the Ellsworth American and University of Maine School of Journalism:
- Hugh Bowden
- Kathryn Olmstead
- Robert Steele
- Alan Miller
- Brooks Hamilton
- Arthur Guesma
- Esther Wood
- Katherine Heidinger
- Steve Rappaport
- Creation: 1908-2000
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1942-1994
- Wiggins, James Russell, 1903-2000 (Person)
Restrictions on Access
Kept at Fogler Library's offsite storage facility. One week's notice required for retrieval.
Information on literary rights available in the Library.
James Russell Wiggins was born in 1903, and grew up in the rural Midwest, in southern Minnesota near the South Dakota border. His agricultural roots and the circumstances of the national economy affected his entire life. High school dramatics, the school newspaper and debating society also set his path. He took as his role model Rudyard Kipling, the talented and well-spoken Englishman who started his journalistic career at the age of seventeen and went on to become an important writer as well as an influence on British political history. [High school term paper, 1918]
As a reporter and editor of a rural newspaper during the depression years Wiggins developed a keen interest in the pressures placed upon politicians in setting economic policies. He witnessed the debates and disturbances caused by expanding influences of trade unions, and he vigorously supported the agricultural reconstruction programs of the 1930’s. He wrote editorials, a daily column, and “occasional verse,” and he began his life-long habit of reading a book every day. He went to Washington, D.C. as a correspondent for the St. Paul newspapers in 1933, and landed in the center of the very controversies he wrote about. He made friends and contacts, and he developed a new and passionate love for American history.
Five years later he returned to St. Paul as the managing editor of the Dispatch and the Press. He renewed his vigorous quest for honest and open government and developed uncompromising standards for his reporters. He wrote and spoke on behalf of Allied resistance to Hitler, and became an active supporter of American aid to the Allies. A month after Pearl Harbor he asked to be drafted, and at the age of 39 was given a commission in the Army-Air Force Intelligence Service. Wiggins served for four years in Washington, North Africa, Florence and England, and returned to St. Paul in 1946. He had made a new circle of influential friends and had developed a deep distrust of the Soviet Union.
After returning to his position as managing editor for the St. Paul Dispatch, Wiggins was fervent in his quest for access to public meetings and total freedom of the press. “I believe that what God permits to happen we have an obligation to print.” [Letter to Alan McIntosh, 1946.] B.H. Ridder, owner and publisher of the Dispatch and wartime isolationist, did not agree with such a forceful declaration and fired him. Arthur Ochs Sulzburger, owner and publisher of the New York Times immediately hired him, but the position reported to Sulzburger and provided no personal forum for Wiggins’ ideas. Within a year Phillip Graham asked Wiggins to accept an editorial position at the Washington Post.
For the next twenty years Wiggins made connections and influenced public policy in Washington, D.C. Through both his management style and voracious appetite for information he used the Post as a forum for his opinions and transformed an ordinary newspaper into an important force on the national scene. He was an authoritarian and uncompromising boss who made demands on his employee’s work schedules and personal habits. He insisted on complete honesty and accuracy. (In later years Wiggins would say that even though the information was essential for the public good, because the papers were stolen, he would not have published the Watergate Papers as his successor Ben Bradlee had.) He took a lead in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, and never bowed to political pressure to compromise the news. In 1959 Wiggins became president of the Association of Newspaper Editors (A.S.N.E.). He also belonged to and served as president of the Gridiron Club, served on the board of the National Press Club, and belonged to several private social clubs in Washington. He was instrumental in obtaining passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966, and was honored by receiving both the Zenger and Lovejoy journalism awards.
Wiggins remained a life-long cold war warrior - he was a friend and supporter of President Johnson and the administration’s Viet Nam policy. As Wiggins was about to retire from the Post in 1968, Johnson named him Ambassador to the United Nations for the remaining four months of the term.
Wiggins received many honors and awards, including ten honorary college degrees. He was president of the American Antiquarian Society from 1970 until 1977, and beginning in 1983, sponsored an annual lecture at the Society in his name, the “Lecture in the History of the Book in American Culture.” He was a Freemason, a member of the Boston Athenaeum, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and several Maine historical societies.
The last thirty years of his life were dedicated to “quality of life” issues for the state of Maine, and particularly for the coastal downeast area. During these years he turned an ordinary weekly, the Ellsworth American, into an award-winning newspaper. He maintained rigorous control over everything from editorial content to advertising accounts, and he was formidable in his pursuit of local government accountability. Unfortunately, the two issues that consumed years of his life, Indian land claims and the state lottery, were enacted despite his intense opposition.
In his retirement years (perhaps after his eightieth birthday) Wiggins continued to rage against the lottery and gambling. He corresponded with old friends from the Antiquarian Society about his belief in the Jefferson of the “old school” (no Sally Hemings affair), fought a vigorous battle with Maine government officials over expungement laws, began a new interest in ecological issues, and continued to respond to virtually all of his mail with politeness and directness. He thoroughly enjoyed friendships with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He corresponded with them, gave advice and occasional financial support.
Throughout his life Wiggins remained in close contact with his Minnesota family, friends and journalist colleagues. Mabel Wiggins was the genealogist, but J.R. Wiggins also placed great importance on “roots.” In 1979 the Ellsworth American published Mrs. Wiggins’ Begats: A Chronicle of the McMillan, Preston, Wiggins and Binford Families. Her nine-page biography of her husband begins on page 316. The book is also useful for identifying many of Wiggins’ relatives and correspondents. Russell and Mabel Wiggins were married for seventy-three years and they had four children - William, Geraldine, John and Patricia. Mabel Wiggins died in 1990, Bill died in 1992, Gerry died in 1994, and Jack died in 1996. Patricia (Mrs. Thomas Schroth) survived her father.
On November 20, 2000, the Washington Post included three articles on Wiggins, an obituary by J.Y. Smith, a remembrance by Katharine Graham, and the lead editorial. Smith called him “an America primitive” who defined all issues as either right or wrong. Graham remembered him as a seven days-a-week “blood and guts” editor and “a thoughtful and sensitive hawk.” Senator William Cohen called him a man of the greatest intellectual curiosity, a man of civility with a gift for classical rhetoric. The Ellsworth American carried a special four-page supplement to his memory.
- Born to James Wiggins and Edith Binford Wiggins in Luverne, Minnesota.
- Reporter for the Rock County, Minnesota Star.
- Married Mabel Preston.
- Purchased the Star and became editor and publisher.
- Sold the Star, became editorial editor for the St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press.
- Washington correspondent for the St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press.
- Managing editor of the St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press.
- U.S. Army-Air Force intelligence officer.
- Managing editor of St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press.
- Assistant to publisher of the New York Times.
- Managing editor of the Washington Post.
- Vice-President of the Washington Post.
- Lovejoy award and honorary Doctor of Laws from Colby College.
- Wrote Freedom or Secrecy, Oxford Press.
- Received Zenger award from University of Arizona School of Journalism.
- Editor and Executive Vice-President of the Washington Post.
- Retired from the Washington Post.
- Ambassador to the United Nations
- Purchased the Ellsworth American in Ellsworth, Maine.
- Sold the Ellsworth American, but remained executive editor.
- Mabel Preston Wiggins died.
- Died in Ellsworth, Maine, of congestive heart failure at 96 years.
98 linear feet (98 boxes)
Language of Materials
Papers of the Executive Editor and Vice President of the Washington Post. Most of the collection is related to the Washington Post with some personal papers. Other papers include Wiggins' appointment as ambassador to the United Nations, 1968-69, and files relating to his work at the Ellsworth American newspaper.
Series Outline and Description
For Series I, II, and III, each series and sub-series represents one alphabetical arrangement organized by subject or theme, as found. For Series IV, the material is arranged alphabetically within chronological years, as found. See the box list for the location of specific years. The folder titles remain as found.
SERIES I. Washington Post Files, 1941-1968.
Alphabetically arranged mixed correspondence and informational files from Wiggins’ years at the Washington Post. In the first ‘Q’ folder there is earlier (1941) correspondence. Most of the subjects involve government agencies and departments, military issues and personalities, freedom of information discussions and requests, District of Columbia politics, and agricultural issues. These are the Washington Post subject files for the editor, 1946-1968.
SERIES II. Washington Post Files, 1936-1969.
Sub-series 1. “A” correspondence to “Zorthian,” 1951-1967
Personal and business correspondence during Wiggins’ years as editor, including managerial problems, newspaper business concerns, and information files.
Sub-series 2. “Advertising” to “Zenger Award Congratulations,” 1948-1967.
Washington Post business concerns such as personnel, employment, directors, newspaper sections, reviews, business arrangements, office memoranda, “Postscript” articles, telephone notes, and reader files, 1963-1968.
SERIES III. Personal Files, 1908-1985.
Sub-series 1. First alphabetical series, 1927-1946.
Information and correspondence files from the years in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.
Sub-series 2. Family Business, 1946-1970.
Correspondence and information files concerning family business, children, schools, moving, properties, employment.
Sub-series 3. Family and Personal, 1945-1971.
Correspondence and information files concerning boats, cats, Christmas, medical problems, credit cards, gifts, E.B. White, writings, diaries, and publishers.
Sub-series 4. American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1947-1968.
Notes and correspondence regarding the American Society of Newspaper Editors and writing the Freedom of Information Act.
Sub-series 5. Grid Iron Club, 1930-1968.
Correspondence and information about the Grid Iron Club, including bulletins.
Sub-series 6. American Antiquarian Society, 1964-1973.
Correspondence and information about the American Antiquarian Society. (Wiggins was president from 1970-1977).
Sub-series 7. United Nations files, 1968-1969.
Correspondence and details regarding appointment as United States Ambassador to the United Nations, including speeches, invitations, issue papers, engagements, and personal files.
Sub-series 8. Chronological miscellaneous files, 1920-1982.
Mixed correspondence and information files containing speeches, notes, conference material, reports, invitations, etc.
Sub-series 9. Articles by J.R. Wiggins, 1933-1949.
Sub-series 10. Military memorabilia, lectures, notes, correspondence, 1942.
Sub-series 11. Correspondence, diaries and travel logs, 1951-1968.
Sub-series 12. Indian Land Claims Information Files, 1975-1980.
Sub-series 13. Personal biographical material and clippings, 1908-1984.
Family, high school, and college memorabilia, including essays and biographies; major conferences and symposia Wiggins attended; White House press conferences; important interviews; newspaper clippings, and the manuscript for Freedom or Secrecy.
Sub-series 14. Appointment books, 1938-1974; Reading Log, 1948-49.
SERIES IV. Maine and the Ellsworth American, 1974-1994
Arranged alphabetically within chronological years. Each year contains an alphabetical file series, a reader file, and several named or subject files. The alphabetical files are frequently inaccurate; for example, in 1976, a request from Harry Middleton at the LBJ Library is found under “L.” Letters to politicians are frequently addressed to their aides. (Ted O’Meara and Robert Tyrer worked for Senator William Cohen.) Speeches are sometimes found under “S,” and “I” is used as an “Information file.” (O’Meara is filed under “M” but O’Leary is under “O.”)
[NOTE: There have been no changes or rearrangement of the misfiled correspondence.]
The files are filled with many unexpected essays, lectures and personal notes. The following are only examples:
In 1980, there is an unsigned 4p. letter in shorthand. In 1981, Wiggins began to personally manage the delinquent account notices for the Ellsworth American. In 1982, there is a letter to Walter Cronkite on the art of grandparenting. In 1983, filed under “L” there is a 5p. manuscript on the history of newspapers in the United States. In 1984, in “C” there is an unpublished essay by Denis Carrigan on “Stuart Little’s Father at 85,” and in “E” an essay for the Washington Post entitled “The Real State of the Union.” In 1984, “B” - 3 copies of “Grassroots Editor,” and in “W” a birthday poem to his friend Virginia Whitney. In 1985, Roy Barrette (“B”) writes an 8p. missive to the Hon. J. Russwiggi on “Noctambulating,” and Ed Gonzales (“G) writes “On the Death of E.B. White.” In 1986, a nine page biography of Wiggins by Moline in “M,” and “The Secret Life of Stewart Menzies” in “C.” In 1987, a letter to Paul Nitze reminiscing about square dancing in “N,” and a hand written note to Warren Burger, in “B.” In file “T” there is an 1859 letter to “Friend Snow” from Winfield S. Greene, and in “W” a poem by Katherine White written as a memorial to her husband, E.B. White. In 1990 (”S”), Peter Samartino wrote music for one of Wiggins’ poems.
In 1992, Wiggins wrote to Richard Harwood, a reporter for the Washington Post,
“[News]papers are not being prepared by members of the lower class or read by members of the lower class. This seems to be a sure formula for losing a piece of the market, and it certainly diminishes the utility of the daily press as a medium for infusing the population with a core of social and moral values.” In the same year Wiggins also contributed to the Weinberger Defense Fund and recommended The End of History and The Road to Serfdom to his friends. In the “W” file there are two Teddy Roosevelt campaign cards sent to him from Esther Wood. Throughout the 1992 files there are poems, and an exchange of letters with the Reverend Rob McCall.
SERIES V. Photographs and Memorabilia
Items and images taken from the walls of Wiggins’ home office, added to the collection two years after his death. His library inventory and an appraiser’s list are also included. (Photographs found with correspondence remain in the appropriate folders.)
Series VI. Additions to the collection processed in 2009
Correspondence and subject files dating from the early 1970s through the late 1990s. Photographs, honorary degrees and videotapes are also included.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The papers of James Russell Wiggins were received from James Russell Wiggins in four sections, the majority in 1984, with three subsequent gifts. In 2002, Mr. Wiggins’ heirs added 18 photographs, 22 certificates and/or memorabilia, and the library inventory from his home office. One additional gift was added in 2009.
Note: Box numbers 76-84 were not used.
- “Victory” a song set to music by Leah May Stephens, published by Midwest Horizons, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1941.
- Freedom or Secrecy, Oxford University Press, New York, 1956, 1964.
- “The Press and the Courts”, a lecture to the Massachusetts Historical Society written with Archibald Cox and published in Civil Rights, the Constitution and the Courts, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1967.
- “Our Tradition of Optimism” Address to Sedgwick High School, 1968.
- DownEast Pictures and Poems, published by the Ellsworth American, 1978, 1993.
- Collected newspaper articles, book reviews and editorials.
Genre / Form
- Ambassadors -- American -- United Nations
- Freedom of information
- Freedom of the press
- Indians of North America -- Maine -- Claims
- Indians of North America -- Maine -- Land tenure
- Journalists -- United States
- Newspaper editors -- Maine -- Ellsworth
- Newspaper editors -- Washington (D.C.)
- United Nations -- Officials and employees
- Guide to the James Russell Wiggins Papers
- Box And Folder List Available
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for uncoded script
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.