Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Von Briesen, Arthur, 1843-
Arthur von Briesen Papers
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
1895-1929 (mostly 1905-1920)
12 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-12
English German


The papers housed in the Arthur von Briesen Papers document the later years of Arthur von Briesen (1843-1920), a New York City lawyer and philanthropist. Von Briesen, a German-American patent lawyer, served as President of the Legal Aid Society of New York (1889-1916), and as president of the Alliance of Legal Aid Societies of America. Aside from emphasizing his work with the Legal Aid Society, the papers also highlight a variety of other areas--professional, political, and philanthropic--actively pursued by von Briesen. The papers illuminate the passionate side of von Briesen in the private correspondence with his family and others, as well as his cultural interests and engagement within the German-American community of New York City.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the papers are dedicated to Arthur von Briesen's general interest and work in philanthropy and politics, both within and beyond the municipal realm of New York City. The files of the Legal Aid Society, of which von Briesen was President for over twenty-five years, make up more than half of this collection and are for the most part complete. As Legal Aid Society President, von Briesen participated in all aspects of the organization--administration, finance, publicity, the activities of its six branches, and individual case work. The collection therefore holds the Legal Aid financial files, much of its case work, and extensive correspondence between von Briesen and the Society's various directors and attorneys. The rest of the collection consists of files from his own law firm as well as from the various professional, charitable, and cultural organizations in which he took part, including the National Roosevelt League (he served as president), the Merchants' Association of New York City, Germanistic Society of America (von Briesen was a charter member), and Civil War veterans organizations. Also found are papers, printed material, and correspondence regarding German-American activities before, during, and after the First World War. Nearly half of the Arthur von Briesen Papers appear in German with only a few documents translated. The hand-written correspondence is at times difficult to read as some of it is in old German script ("Kurrent").

Collection Creator Biography:

Von Briesen, Arthur, 1843-

Arthur von Briesen, born into German aristocracy in 1843, came to the United States after completing his early education in northern Germany in 1858. He is said to have lived through bouts of extreme poverty while his family struggled to settle in their adoptive country. After responding to President Lincoln's call for troops and fighting with the First New York Volunteer Engineers, von Briesen returned to New York City and worked for Scientific American. A highly resourceful and ambitious man, von Briesen simultaneously studied law at New York University and was admitted to the Bar in 1868. By 1874 von Briesen ran his own firm, practicing patent law primarily. Sixteen years after his immigration, Arthur von Briesen had established himself as a distinguished lawyer.

As a German immigrant, von Briesen took great interest in the German-American community in New York City as well as in other areas of the United States. He was active in a number of organizations and publications meant to speak to and on the behalf of immigrated Germans. Such organizations included the Deutscher Gesellig-wissenschaftlicher Verein, Deutsches Hospital, Liederkranz, and Deutsche Gesellschaft. His interests and philanthropic energies, however, were not exclusively German. As a leading member of the Good Government Club, von Briesen carried an influential voice in municipal as well as state legislation. Von Briesen was president of the Legal Aid Society (1890), president of the Political and Citizens Union (1896), chairman of the Ellis Island Investigating Committee (1903), president of the New York Roosevelt League (1904), and a delegate to the Universal Congress of Lawyers and Jurists in St. Louis (1904). He also served on various committees and was a member of a number of charity organizations in New York City. For the services rendered to the French and German citizens of New York in connection with the Legal Aid Society, von Briesen received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French government in 1905, and the Order of the Crown of Prussia from Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1906.

Arthur von Briesen's greatest deed and gift to New York City was indeed his dedication and impassioned involvement as President of the Legal Aid Society. As stated in the organization's constitution of 1908, its purpose was, "to render legal aid, gratuitously if necessary, to all who appear worthy thereof, and who are unable to procure assistance elsewhere and to promote measures for their protection." The Society's aim was to avoid litigation through negotiation, saving the client both time and money. The Legal Aid Society was originally founded as the Der Deutsche Rechts-Schutz-Verein in 1876 by a group of German citizens concerned with the abuses and hardships of newly arrived (German) immigrants in New York. Arthur von Briesen's rise to the Society's presidency in 1889 marked the beginnings of a larger movement in legal aid around the country. In the immediate decades thereafter, branches of the Legal Aid Society appeared in other larger cities around the country.

Arthur von Briesen resigned as president of the Legal Aid Society in 1916 due to his views on the World War, then in progress. Not entirely convinced that Germany was to blame for the war, von Briesen did not want his views to threaten the future of the Legal Aid Society. Although not present in this collection, von Briesen is said to have published a number of pro-German articles (or at least calls for American neutrality--references to these are made in Series 6 of this collection) in 1914, and in 1915/6 his name was associated with the pro-German activities of George Viereck. Von Briesen became active in a number of organizations engaged in relieving the hardships wrought by war in Europe--medical aid and food shipments, primarily. And as the war worsened and exchanges with his family in Germany grew dimmer and disheartening, von Briesen too became disheartened. He died shortly after the War's close, in May 1920.

Collection History


The Arthur von Briesen Papers were purchased from the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana in 1947 by the Princeton University Library (Accession Number: AM13411). These papers are known to be incomplete as Mr. Warshaw--on a tip from a house wrecking concern--was unable to salvage all the records.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Marta A. Hanewald in June 1993. Finding aid written by Marta A. Hanewald in June 1993.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Arthur von Briesen Papers; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-12