New York Bureau of Legal Advice Records

Date Range: 19171919
Survey Conducted: Tue, 2011-04-26
Creator: New York Bureau of Legal Advice

History: Originating as the New York Bureau of Legal First aid and lead by attorney Charles Recht and feminist Frances M. Witherspoon, the organization was started with a grant from the Women’s Peace Party in 1917. Along with individuals, organizations like the People’s Council, the Socialist Party, the Civil Liberties Bureau and the Workmen’s Council all provided sponsorship (although the People’s Council and the Civil Liberties Bureau soon withdrew support). Responding to the need created by conflict with new laws related to World War I, the New York Bureau of Legal First Aid was the first organization to provide free legal advice and counsel to draft resisters, conscientious objectors, deserters and others who suffered infringements of their First Amendment Rights.

It was assisting more than 5,000 clients in 1918 when the name was changed to the New York Bureau of Legal Advice (NYBLA). The NYBLA endured raiding by the Bureau of Investigation and continued until after the signing of the Armistice. Accomplishments include successfully lobbying, which helped bring an end to the practice of manacling conscientious objectors, and actively working with other radical groups in campaigns defending free speech and opposing the deportation of immigrant radicals.

Sources: The Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. “Guide to the New York Bureau of Legal Advice Survey.” Accessed February 4, 2015.

Summary: Of the records in the collection, about half consist of case histories related to war-related conflicts such as selective service exemption, draft evasion, conscientious objection, military imprisonment, military discharge, desertion, amnesty, civil liberties and deportation. Office files, administrative reports and correspondence make up about a third of the records. The remaining records consist of press releases and newspaper clippings. The collection is ordered in six series: I) Office Files; II) Correspondence; III) Case Files-Immigrants, Deportations, Individuals; IV) Case Files-Conscientious Objectors; V) Case Files-Draft Boards, Immigrants, Dependents; and VI) Press Releases and Newspaper Clippings. Especially relevant are documents in Series III (Box 5) of a Chinatown labor organization called the Chinese United Association in a folder of ‘Chinese Deportation Cases. Note: This collection has been microfilmed, and researchers must use microfilm copy (R-7006).

Total Size: 6.5 linear feet
APA-related Size: 0.05 linear feet
Languages of materials: English
Arrangement: other
Location: Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University
Bibliographic Control: finding aid
Finding Aid Link:
Conditions Governing Access: Researchers must use microfilm copy.
Preservation Note: Microfilmed

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