- Collection Overview
- Collection Description & Creator Information
- Access & Use
- Collection History
- Find Related Materials
- American civil liberties union
- American Civil Liberties Union Records
- Public Policy Papers
- Permanent URL:
- 1864-2011 (mostly 1917-1995)
- 4207.37 linear feet, 5727 boxes, 1886 Volumes, and 288 Reels
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the pre-eminent civil liberties organization in the United States, utilizing litigation, lobbying, and public education to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. These records document the administration and work of the ACLU's national office, regional offices, and legal projects, with particular emphasis on the areas of civil rights, children and women's rights, freedom of speech (and all First Amendment questions), and due process, among many others. The records include case files, correspondence, meeting minutes, research files, and files of staff members. Portions of the records (Subgroup 1; Subgroup 2, Series 2, 3, and 4; Subgroup 3, Subseries 5B) have been digitized and are available for members of the Princeton community to view here. To view the database from outside Princeton University, please see the Guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records.
Collection Description & Creator Information
These records document the administration and work of the ACLU's national office, regional offices, and legal projects, with particular emphasis on the areas of civil rights, children and women's rights, freedom of speech (and all First Amendment questions), and due process, among many others. The records include case files, correspondence, meeting minutes, research files, and files of staff members. A large portion of the records are related to the numerous cases that the ACLU was involved in on a wide range of civil liberties issues. Records are included from the national office, ACLU projects, notably the Arts Censorship Project, Capital Punishment Project, Children's Rights Project, Reproductive Freedom Project, and Women's Rights Project, and the Mountain States Regional Office, Southern Regional Office, and Washington Regional Office.
- Collection Creator Biography:
American civil liberties union
The ACLU is the preeminent civil liberties organization in the United States. The ACLU describes itself as "our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country." Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th century. This includes important work in the areas of civil rights, children and women's rights, freedom of speech (and all First Amendment questions), and due process, among many others.
For a more detailed history of the ACLU, please see the history in the finding aid for the processed portion of the records.
Materials are transferred from the ACLU annually.
Development records, personnel records, confidential legal records, and mold-damaged records were separated from the collection during processing.
Subgroups 2 and 3 of the ACLU records were processed with the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
- Processing Information
ACLU collections have been processed by Adriane Hanson in 2010-2012; in 2011-2013 by Maureen Callahan; by Paula Jabloner in 1994-1996 with the assistance of Daniel Linke. Finding aid written by Maureen Callahan in February 2013.
The last box number in all ACLU Subgroups is 5727 as of January 13, 2020.
Access & Use
- Conditions Governing Access
This agreement describes the limits on access to portions of the American Civil Liberties Union Records as provided by paragraph six of the agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Princeton University Library dated on March 1993. These restrictions may be revised from time to time at the initiation of either party.
Consistent with its support of freedom of information and informed public discourse on matters of public interest, the American Civil Liberties Union Records will be completely open to researchers. However, sections of the Records shall be closed for stated periods of time to protect privacy, confidentiality, and attorney-client privilege. The following categories of records shall be restricted as indicated below:
Personnel Records - Records which deal with personnel issues, whether in personnel files or in other files maintained by the ACLU shall be closed during the lifetime of the person to whom they apply. When scattered personnel records are present in open files, they shall be governed by this paragraph. This restriction shall not apply if the person or persons to whom the record applies have given their permission in writing to disclose said information.
Administrative Records - Records maintained by ACLU administrators (Board and Executive committee members, officers, executives, department heads, project directors, etc.) shall be closed for twenty years after the creation of the record or ten years after its deposit in the Princeton University Library, whichever is later, but in no case for more than 30 years after the creation of the record. Personnel records will continue to be closed as provided above.
Development Records - Records relating to financial support from foundations or other legal entities but not individuals or their family foundations shall be closed for the same period as administrative records. Records relating to financial support by individual donors or their family foundations shall be returned to the ACLU if other more substantive issues relating to policy are not raised by the correspondence. When other issues are relevant, these records shall be closed for the same period as administrative records. Where opened the portions relating to individuals or their family foundations shall be treated like personnel records as provided below.
Legal Case Records - Legal Case Files shall be segregated into four categories:
1) Open Records - publicly-available materials relating to the case (public court records such as briefs, transcripts, exhibits, and judgments as well as other records such as press releases and media coverage) shall be open immediately upon transfer to Princeton.
2) Work Product Privileged Records - correspondence, memoranda, drafts of briefs prepared in anticipation of litigation, written statements of witnesses, and notes of mental impressions or personal recollections prepared or formed by an attorney shall be open twenty years after the closure of the case.
3) Attorney-Client Privileged Records - any document reflecting an exchange with a client or a potential client (including but not limited to written correspondence, memoranda to the file, notes, or any other report of communication to or from a client or potential client) made for the purpose of furnishing or obtaining professional legal advice and assistance shall be closed for seventy-five years for all clients, except for children where the period of closure shall be one hundred years.
4) The access rules set forth above do not apply to the following materials: classified documents; documents that have been placed under seal by a court or are subject to a protective order; documents that identify by name or otherwise clients that have been represented anonymously or pseudonymously; the terms of any confidential settlement or agreement. All such documents shall remain permanently closed unless the records are declassified, unsealed, the protective order is modified, or the client or the client's legal representative waives the privilege in writing.
- Conditions Governing Use
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from the Mudd Library to move forward with their use.
- Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Materials in MC001.03.05 in Box 4506 have been treated for mold; however, materials may still be fragile and exhibit signs of damage. Researchers should exercise caution when handling these materials. Not all materials were salvaged.
- Credit this material:
American Civil Liberties Union Records; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library
- Permanent URL:
- Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library65 Olden StreetPrinceton, NJ 08540, USA(609) 258-6345
- Existence and Location of Copies
Portions of the ACLU Records have been digitized. To find out where to access digital content, please see the American Civil Liberties Union Records Guide.
American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 1, The Roger Baldwin Years is available in digital format at certain institutions, as well as on microfilm.
Public records of the ACLU from 1917 to 1989, from American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2, are available in digital format at certain institutions, as well as on microfilm. These records include minutes of the board of directors, mailings to the board of directors, biennial conference papers, policy guides, the national legal docket, organization manuals, constitution and bylaws, legal briefs, and publications.
American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 3, Regional Offices Files Series, Subseries 5B, Southern Regional Office, has been digitized and is also available to members of the Princeton community or through certain institutions.
- Other Finding Aids
The American Civil Liberties Union records have been divided into four subgroups, many of which have multiple finding aids. This finding aid can be used to search across all ACLU records; a list of finding aids is below:
For an overview of the entire ACLU collection, instructions on searching the collection and requesting materials, and other information, please see the Guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records.
Historical sketch based on In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU by Samuel Walker. See also Samuel Walker's The American Civil Liberties Union: An Annotated Bibliography.
- Subject Terms:
- Abortion -- Law and legislation -- United States -- 20th century.
African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century.
Capital Punishment -- United States.
Censorship -- United States -- 20th century.
Children's rights -- United States.
Civil rights -- United States -- 20th century.
Discrimination -- United States -- 20th century.
Indigenous peoples of North America -- Civil rights -- 20th century.
Law -- United States -- Cases -- 20th century.
Suffrage -- United States.
Women's rights -- United States -- 20th century.
- Genre Terms:
- American civil liberties union
American Civil Liberties Union. Washington Office