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Collection Overview

Wirtz, Willard (1912-2010)
W. Willard Wirtz Collection on Adlai Stevenson
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
1938-2002 (mostly 1938-1966)
10 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-10


W. Willard (Bill) Wirtz was a lawyer, an arbitrator, a law professor, and served as undersecretary and secretary of labor under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He was a speechwriter for, and close advisor to, Adlai Stevenson from 1952 to 1960. The W. Willard Wirtz Collection on Adlai Stevenson documents Stevenson's campaigns for president in 1952 and 1956, as well as Stevenson's political activities in 1960 and in between campaigns. Because Wirtz was a speechwriter in 1952, in charge of speech content in 1956, and a close advisor and occasional speechwriter at other times, this collection most strongly documents the campaign activities of drafting speeches and fine-tuning campaign policy.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The W. Willard Wirtz Collection on Adlai Stevenson documents Stevenson's 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns, as well as Stevenson's other political activities through 1960. Because Wirtz was a speechwriter in 1952, in charge of speech content in 1956, and a close advisor and occasional speechwriter at other times, this collection documents most strongly the campaign activities of drafting speeches and fine-tuning policy statements.

Speeches and drafts form the bulk of the collection, although campaign memoranda, correspondence, and reports may also be found here. In addition, Wirtz collected correspondence, clippings, and programs covering Stevenson's death and legacy, including the establishment and administration of the Adlai Stevenson Institute. A miscellaneous folder of Wirtz's wife Mary Jane's personal correspondence (unrelated to Stevenson) has been placed at the very end of the collection.

When Wirtz donated his collection to Mudd Library, he wrote a lengthy memorandum detailing the contents of this collection and, in many cases, the historical context as he remembered it. This is recommended reading for any researchers studying Stevenson's campaign and this collection in particular. It is located in box 1, folder 1.


The collection has been arranged roughly chronologically, following Wirtz's own organization. Folders within each campaign (1952, 1956, and 1960) are arranged alphabetically. Documents within folders are arranged chronologically.

Collection Creator Biography:


W. Willard (Bill) Wirtz was a lawyer, an arbitrator, a law professor, and served as undersecretary and secretary of labor under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He was a speechwriter for and close advisor to Adlai Stevenson from 1952 to 1960. He was born on March 14, 1912 and raised in Illinois.

After Stevenson's election as governor of Illinois in 1948, he appointed Wirtz a member of the state's Liquor Control Commission. Wirtz had earned a law degree from Harvard and was a law professor at Northwestern University. He had also served on the War Labor Board and had been chairman of the National Wage Stabilization Board. When Stevenson was drafted by the Democratic Party to run for president in 1952, Wirtz became one of a dozen or so of Stevenson's speechwriters. The illustrious group also included Truman staffer David Bell, journalist John B. Martin, economists John Kenneth Galbraith and Robert Tufts, and history professor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Wirtz and his colleagues called themselves the Elks Club Group after the building in which they worked in Springfield, Illinois.

John Martin, later wrote a biography of Stevenson that describes Wirtz as "a big, crew-cut man from Winnetka" who was "tense, abstemious, almost painfully loyal to Stevenson, and he kept to himself more than other members of the Elks Club Group." Wirtz was the labor expert amongst the speechwriters, but like his colleagues, contributed speech drafts and edits on every subject. Stevenson did not like the idea that he wrote few of his speeches himself, and he rarely interacted directly with (or even acknowledged the existence of) his speechwriters during his first presidential campaign. Most communication between the candidate and his speechwriters occurred through Carl McGowan, Stevenson's campaign manager.

In the late summer of 1955, when Stevenson was preparing a second run for the presidency, he convened a meeting of a dozen or so close advisors, including Wirtz. Tom Finletter, a former secretary of the air force, and Wirtz were assigned to run the campaign's research section. Wirtz was in charge of approving speech content, performing a role that McGowan had assumed in the first campaign. Martin, in his Stevenson biography, described the 1956 speechwriting operation as "less happy-go-lucky, less brilliant, but far more solid than the Elks Club of 1952." Unlike 1952, Wirtz had Stevenson's ear in 1956 and quickly became one of Stevenson's top two or three advisors. Martin remarks that "Wirtz found it harder than McGowan to say no to Stevenson."

Between campaigns, Wirtz taught law, worked on the occasional Stevenson speech, and arbitrated cases. After the 1956 campaign, Wirtz, Stevenson, and a few others formed a law firm that strictly abstained from politics.

By 1960, Wirtz was a trusted and close advisor to Stevenson. Unlike the early days, Stevenson would often send memorandums directly to Wirtz, who would promptly respond back. By the 1960 Democratic Convention, Stevenson was frustrated that the media and other politicians kept hounding him to declare whether or not he was running for president. On the plane trip to the convention in Los Angeles, he dashed out a terse, peevish statement that he intended to read at the airport. He handed it to Wirtz to look over. When Stevenson later asked him about the statement, Wirtz replied that he must have "lost" it. Stevenson smiled, and delivered his previously planned speech. Wirtz continued to advise and write speeches for Stevenson as he campaigned across the country that fall for John F. Kenendy, the eventual Democratic nominee.

When Kennedy assumed office, he appointed Wirtz undersecretary of labor. In 1962, Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg was selected to be a United States Supreme Court justice. Wirtz was promoted to secretary of labor, a position in which he served through the end of Lyndon Johnson's presidency. He earned the respect of liberals for staunchly valuing "human interests" over economic interests, and for his principled objections to the Vietnam War. Though Wirtz and Stevenson continued to correspond periodically until Stevenson's death, Wirtz no longer directly advised Stevenson on policy issues or contributed to Stevenson's speeches.

After Stevenson's death in July 1965, Wirtz was asked by President Johnson and many of Stevenson's family, friends, and associates to participate in the establishment of various memorial funds, programs, and institutes. Through the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Wirtz has continued to comment on Stevenson's life and legacy, including at a conference on Stevenson at Princeton University in 2000.

Collection History


The collection was donated by Willard Wirtz in February 2002 (acquisition number ML 2002-3).


Appraisal criteria for acquiring this collection include the Library's ongoing efforts to strengthen its public policy papers collection and its Adlai Stevenson holdings.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Matt Reeder in June 2005. Finding aid written by Matt Reeder in June 2005.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

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, any copyright vested in the donor has passed to The Trustees of Princeton University and researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of donor-created materials within the collection. For materials in the collection not created by the donor, or where the material is not an original, the copyright is likely not held by the University. In these instances, 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. 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 a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting 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:

W. Willard Wirtz Collection on Adlai Stevenson; 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 1-10

Find More

Related Materials

Princeton University's Mudd Manuscript Library holds a number of collections documenting the life and career of Adlai Stevenson, particularly the Adlai Stevenson Papers. Other collections include the Carol Evans Files on Adlai Stevenson, the Walter Johnson Papers on Adlai Stevenson, the John Bartlow Martin Files on Adlai Stevenson, and the John J. B. Shea Papers on Adlai Stevenson.

The John F. Kennedy Library holds the David E. Bell Papers, which includes some correspondence regarding Stevenson's campaigns for president.


The following sources were consulted during the preparation of the biographical note: Martin, John Bartlow. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois and Adlai Stevenson and the World (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976 and 1977).

Subject Terms:
Elections--United States--1952.
Elections--United States--1956.
Elections--United States--1960.
Political Oratory.
Presidential Candidates--United States--20th Century.
Statesmen--United States--Biography.
Statesmen--United States--Correspondence.
Genre Terms:
Democratic Party U.S.
Bell, David
Galbraith, John Kenneth, 1908-2006.
Martin, John Bartlow, 1915-1987
McGowan, Carl (1911-1987)
Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. (Arthur Meier), 1917-2010
Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing) (1900-1965)
Tufts, Robert W., 1915-
Wirtz, Willard (1912-2010)
United States--Politics And Government.