The Newberry has been acquiring manuscripts and archives relating to the history and culture of Chicago and the Midwest for over seventy years. In 1942, Librarian Stanley Pargellis initiated a program to assemble unpublished primary sources to complement the Library’s excellent print holdings about the Midwestern region. Dating from settlement to the present and comprising over 600 discrete collections, the Midwest Manuscript Collection is particularly strong in the areas of literature, music, dance, theater, the arts, journalism, social action, politics, the Civil War, the family, women, business, and clubs and organizations.
Of particular note are collections documenting:
- Chicago’s late 19th and early 20th century literary and artistic ferment known as the Chicago Literary Renaissance.
- Social and political movements of the first half of the 20th century, including the papers of settlement house founders, a reform mayor, labor organizations, a socialist publishing house, leftist activists, and freethinking social clubs.
- Chicago newspaper journalism, particularly relating to the renowned Chicago Daily News, is represented in the papers of publishers, editors, reporters, foreign correspondents, cartoonists, critics, and columnists of that paper and the Chicago Record, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, and other local publications.
- Midwestern families, reflecting the diverse population of the region and illustrating the remarkable geographical movement of Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The collections document relationships; religious and political beliefs; the world of work and business; local, national and international events; educational attainments; and philanthropic and leisure activities. They are a particularly fertile source for the study of women and children.
- Chicago-based railroad companies, including massive corporate archives of firms headquartered in Chicago – Pullman Company, Illinois Central Railroad Company, and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company.
- Chicago music, especially classical music and opera, including the records of the Ravinia Festival Association, papers of early Chicago Symphony Orchestra conductors, as well as composers, musicologists, performers, and critics. There are also extensive collections of musical programs, photographs, and the records of choral groups, musical appreciation and support organizations, and booking agencies. Also a few popular music collections.