- Collection Overview
- Collection Description & Creator Information
- Access & Use
- Collection History
- Find Related Materials
- McGovern, George S. (George Stanley), 1922-2012
- Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
- George S. McGovern Papers
- Public Policy Papers
- Permanent URL:
- 1939-1984, bulk 1968/1979
- 835 boxes, 1 folder, and 22 items
- Storage Note:
Mudd Library collections are unavailable until further notice due to a renovation. See our webpage for the most current information.
George Stanley McGovern was a Congressman (1957-1961), a U.S. Senator (1963-1981), and a Democratic presidential nominee known for his strong liberal stance, particularly during the Vietnam War. This collection contains legislation files, campaign materials, correspondence, speech texts, schedules and invitations, travel files, patronage files, subject files, photographs, and audiovisual materials documenting McGovern's activities in the House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, as well as his time as Director of Food for Peace.
Collection Description & Creator Information
The George McGovern papers are composed of George McGovern's office files and document his activities in the House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, as well as his time as director of the Food for Peace Program. The collection contains legislation files; campaign materials; correspondence; speech texts; schedules and invitations; travel files; patronage files; subject files; photographs; and audiovisual materials. It does not include the personal papers of George McGovern; files labeled "personal" identify files maintained by McGovern rather than his staff.
The collection is especially noteworthy for its comprehensive documentation of George McGovern's work on food and nutrition issues. It includes files from McGovern's appointment as the director of the Food for Peace Program (1961-1962) as well as his activities as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (1969-1970, 1973-1977) and its successor, the Subcommittee on Nutrition of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (1978-1980). Of related interest are files documenting McGovern's activities as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs (1967-1972). Campaign files included in this collection cover McGovern's first bid for the Senate in 1960, his subsequent campaigns in 1962, 1968, and 1974, and his final, unsuccessful reelection campaign in 1980. In addition, the campaign files also include McGovern's 1968 candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination and his 1972 presidential campaign. With the exception of audiovisual records found in the Audiovisual Materials series, no documentation of McGovern's activities after 1981 exists in the collection.
The collection is organized into the following series:
- Collection Creator Biography:
George Stanley McGovern (1922-2012) was a United States American senator and Democratic presidential nominee known for his strong liberal stance. The second of four children, he was born in Avon, South Dakota, in 1922 to Joseph C. McGovern, a Wesleyan Methodist pastor, and Frances McGovern (née McLean). George McGovern enrolled at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., in 1940. While at Dakota Wesleyan, he joined the Dakota Wesleyan Varsity Debate Squad, winning the South Dakota Intercollegiate Oratory Contest in 1941 and the Red River Valley Tournament in 1943.
McGovern earned a pilot's license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program and enlisted in the Air Force following the attacks on Pearl Harbor. He began training in February, 1943, and was deployed in the fall of 1944 to an airbase near Cerignola in Northern Italy. In the following ten months preceeding his discharge in July 1945, he flew 35 bomber missions with B-24 Liberators over targets in Europe, including Linz, Vienna, and Munich, as well as a number of food relief flights following the surrender of Germany. In honor of his wife Eleanor, he named any plane he piloted the "Dakota Queen," a practice he later extended to his campaign planes. McGovern was awarded the Air Medal for heroism in battle.
Returning to Dakota Wesleyan in 1945 to finish his studies under the G.I. Bill, McGovern earned his B.A. in 1946 and went on to study divinity at the Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Dissatisfied with the ministry, he enrolled at Northwestern University, earning his M.A. in History in 1949. He returned to Dakota Wesleyan as a professor of history and political science while also continuing his studies with Arthur S. Link at Northwestern. In 1953, he received his Ph.D. in history with his dissertation, "The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-1914".
Though raised a Republican, McGovern became a supporter of Henry Wallace, serving as a delegate from Illinois for the Progressive Party Convention in Philadelphia in 1948. In 1952, Adlai Stevenson's acceptance speech following his nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate moved McGovern to register as a Democrat. He left Dakota Wesleyan the following year to become the executive secretary of the Democratic Party in South Dakota and spent the following years revitalizing the party's presence in the traditionally conservative state.
In 1956, McGovern successfully ran for Congress and became the United States Representative for the First District of South Dakota, winning reelection against Joe Foss in 1958. During his four years in the House of Representatives, McGovern served on the Committee on Education and Labor and on the Committee on Agriculture, where he advocated strongly for rural development, food stamp legislation, and foreign food aid. These themes would characterize his subsequent political career.
McGovern challenged Karl Mundt for his Senate seat in 1960. Though the campaign focused on rural issues, McGovern's political ties to Robert and John F. Kennedy, whose Catholic background was unpopular in South Dakota, ultimately contributed to his defeat. In a phone call to his brother at the time, John F. Kennedy said "I think we just cost that nice guy a Senate seat," and subsequently offered McGovern a position in his administration as Special Assistant to the President.
In that function, McGovern served as the director of the Food for Peace Program from January 1961-July 1962. During that time, McGovern leveraged the agricultural surplus of the U.S., which had frequently been viewed as a problem since it lowered farm profits, to alleviate world hunger and improve foreign relations. When McGovern left office to run again for the Senate, Food for Peace was operating in twelve countries.
In 1962, McGovern won a Senate seat against Joseph Bottum, who had been appointed following Francis Case's unexpected death earlier that year. He was subsequently reelected in 1968 and 1974 and served in the Senate until 1981. When McGovern joined the 88th Congress in 1963, he joined the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry and the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and from the start developed a strong stance on farm prices, rural development, and food programs. After 1967, when he assumed the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, McGovern also became an outspoken advocate for the rights of Native Americans and for improving education and employment opportunities on the reservations. In addition, McGovern consistently challenged military and defense spending, a position that correlated with his opposition to the war in Vietnam and which became one of his central tenets. In 1969, McGovern became the chairman of the newly created Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs and, in 1978, of its successor, the Subcommittee on Nutrition. The committee played a major role in developing legislation for food stamp and school lunch programs, and explored the relationship between nutrition and health. In 1977, the Select Committee issued a seminal report, Dietary Goals for the United States (known as the "McGovern Report"), which advocated a decrease in the consumption of fats and refined sugars, and an increase in the consumption of complex carbohydrates and fiber. The report is the precursor of today's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
McGovern campaigned briefly for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 following the assassination of Robert Kennedy, announcing his candidacy on August 10 and losing the nomination to Hubert Humphrey during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago three weeks later. At the convention, a motion was passed to establish the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, of which McGovern became the chairman when it began work in 1969. The commission significantly strengthened the role of caucuses and primaries and set quotas for women, youth, and minority delegates.
In 1972, McGovern won his party's nomination and ran for president against Richard Nixon on a platform that emphasized withdrawal from Vietnam and more equitable social welfare programs. While McGovern had been able to attract an enthusiastic following during the primaries partly based on his perception as an idealistic, anti-establishment candidate, his campaign was damaged by the discovery that his vice-presidential candidate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, had a history of psychiatric illness. Eagleton's removal from the ticket was viewed by many voters as political opportunism, causing the campaign to lose substantial support. In addition, the campaign lost momentum when the Nixon administration reduced troop levels in Vietnam, thereby deflating one of McGovern's main campaign issues. In addition, McGovern represented the left wing of the Democratic Party and was unable to attract the support of moderates. Given these factors combined with the power of incumbency wielded by his opponent, McGovern lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon, carrying only the state of Massachusetts.
In 1980, McGovern lost his Senate reelection bid in the course of the "Reagan Revolution" that swept many Democrats from office. He subsequently ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 against (among others) Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale, and Gary Hart, who had been his campaign manager in 1972. He considered a renewed attempt for the nomination in 1992 but ultimately decided against it, deferring to the wishes of his family.
After electoral politics, McGovern continued to work to alleviate world hunger, serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and on the board of the Friends of the World Food Program. In 2001, he was appointed the United Nations Global Ambassador on World Hunger. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.
George McGovern was married to Eleanor Stegeberg McGovern (1921-2007). The couple had five children: Ann, Steven, Susan, Mary, and Terry (Teresa), who died 1994 from exposure related to alcohol addiction. Her death prompted George McGovern to author the book Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism and to help create the Teresa McGovern Center, a non-profit treatment facility for substance abuse patients.
George McGovern died on October 21, 2012 at age 90.
George McGovern authored or co-authored numerous books, including the following selection:
War Against Want: America's Food for Peace Program (1964)
Agricultural Thought in the Twentieth Century (1966)
A Time of War--A Time of Peace (1968)
The Great Coalfield War (1972)
The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time (2002)
The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition (2004)
Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (2006)
Abraham Lincoln (2008)
The bulk of the papers were donated to the Princeton University Library in 1977, 1981, and 1987 .
Several smaller accruals were received in the 2000s as follows:
By the University of Mississippi in 2006 ([ML.2006.015]); by the Archives at the Alaska and Polar Regions Department, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in 2007 ([ML.2007.008]); by the United States Senate Historical Office in 2008 ([ML.2008.018]); and by David Gerber in 2009 ([ML.2009.010]).
A McGovern presidential campaign film was donated by Christopher Buchanan in 2013 ([ML.2014.020]). Two previously unprocessed boxes were discovered by the Mudd Library in 2014 and added to the collection ([ML.2014.034]).
- Archival Appraisal Information:
A total of 809 linear feet of materials were separated from the collection in 2009 as follows: 20 linear feet of books (sent to Firestone Library and the Special Collections for further processing); 123 linear feet of redundant constituent correspondence (a 6% sample of which was retained); 59 linear feet of secondary material available from other sources (destroyed); 144 linear feet of routine constituent correspondence (destroyed); 35 linear feet of routine office files (destroyed); 101 linear feet of duplicate correspondence carbons (destroyed); 106 linear feet of clippings available from other sources (destroyed); 50 linear feet of duplicates (destroyed); 53 linear feet of material, including card files and contribution envelopes, that duplicates information available elsewhere in the collection (destroyed); 103 linear feet of case files peripheral to policy research (destroyed); 4 linear feet of book drafts peripheral to policy research (destroyed); 9 linear feet of personal records peripheral to policy research (destroyed); and 2 linear feet of blank forms and folders of no research value (destroyed).
The George S. McGovern Papers were processed with the generous support of The John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Fund.
- Processing Information:
Processed by Regine Heberlein in 2009. Materials were re-housed in archival boxes and grouped to document McGovern's political campaigns, service in the House of Representatives, service as Director of Food for Peace, and service in the Senate.
Boxes 940-943 added by Rachel Van Unen in 2014.
Biography written by Jessica Marati, '08. Updated by Regine Heberlein and Rachel Van Unen.
Access & Use
- Access Restrictions:
The collection is open for research.
- Conditions for Reproduction and 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.
- Special Requirements for Access:
Access to audiovisual material in this collection follows the Mudd Manuscript Library policy for preservation and access to audiovisual materials.
- Other Finding Aids:
The Audiovisual Materials series, 1957-1984 (bulk 1968-1972) is described in a separate finding aid that includes an inventory: Audiovisual Materials.
- Credit this material:
George S. McGovern Papers; 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
- Publication Note:
Ambrose, Stephen. The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. Campaign '72: The Managers Speak. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973. Marano, Richard Michael. Vote Your Conscience: The Last Campaign of George McGovern. Westport, Conn. and London: Praeger, 2003. McGovern, George. Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern. New York: Random House, 1977. McGovern, George. An American Journey: The Presidential Campaign Speeches of George McGovern. New York: Random House, 1974. Miroff, Bruce. The Liberals' Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 2007. Stephen, Vittoria (writer/director). One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern (videorecording). 2005. Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. New York and Boston: Grand Central Publishing,  2006. Watson, Robert P., ed. George McGovern: A Political Life, a Political Legacy. Pierre, South Dakota: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2004.
- Subject Terms:
- Campaign literature, 1972 -- Democratic.
Campaign speeches, 1972 -- Democratic.
Campaign speeches, 1972 -- Democratic.
Elections -- United States -- 20th century.
Legislators -- United States -- Biography.
Liberalism -- United States.
Political campaigns -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Politicians -- United States.
Presidential candidates -- United States -- Biography.
Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1972.
United States. Congress. Senate.
presidential candidates -- United States.
- Genre Terms:
- Eagleton, Thomas F., 1929-2007
McGovern, Eleanor, 1921-2007
McGovern, George S. (George Stanley), 1922-2012
Nixon, Richard M. Richard Milhous 1913-1994
Shriver, Sargent, 1915-2011
- United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-