Archives and Manuscripts

The Chicago History Museum’s Archive and Manuscript holdings document significant aspects of life in the city, suburbs, region, and state from 1683 to the present. Totaling more than 20,000 linear feet of holdings, the Archives and Manuscripts collection also includes material related to American history that document the nation’s development from the 1770s to the 1870s, encompassing the founding of the nation, the struggle over slavery, and the Civil War.

The Archives and Manuscripts materials consist of unpublished materials including correspondence, diaries, business and financial records, meeting minutes and agendas, membership lists, research notes, scrapbooks, scripts, sermons, speeches, and more.

The collection is particularly informative about the Chicago area’s early history, social conditions, twentieth-century neighborhood life, community organizations, African American history, ethnic history, women’s history, civil liberties and civil rights, politics, religious-centered social action, labor unions, environmental concerns, educators, and school reformers.

Sound recordings include the Studs Terkel WFMT Oral History Archives along with a limited number of oral histories and other audio materials.

Some of the most frequently requested Archives and Manuscript materials include:

  • Claude A. Barnett papers (director of the Associated Negro Press), 1918–67
  • Board of Lady Managers of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition records
  • Chicago Division of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters records, 1925–69
  • Chicago Police Department, Red Squad selected records, 1930s–86. (Please note: Special access procedures apply to this collection. Learn about accessing the Red Squad collection.)
  • Chicago Women’s Liberation Union records, 1967–78
  • Illinois Manufacturers’ Association records, 1893–86
  • Marshall Field & Company records, 1862–2003
  • District 31 of the United Steelworkers of America records, 1934–79
  • Mary McDowell Settlement records, 1894–1968
  • Wieboldt Stores, Inc., and Mandel Brothers records, 1892–1958
  • Young Men’s Christian Association of Chicago records, 1853–1978
  • Burr Tillstrom papers, 1939–85

Research Inquiries and Collection Access

Researching Archives and Manuscripts

The Museum makes the majority of the Archives and Manuscripts materials in its collection available to the public for research through its Abakanowicz Research Center (ARC). The collections listed above represent only a fraction of the collection. To search for additional holdings, consult ARCHIE, the ARC’s online catalog. To learn more about how to arrange a research visit, see the ARC page. 

Rights and Reproductions Requests

Images do not exist for all of the items in the Archives and Manuscripts holdings. Requests for new photography may occasionally be accommodated for an additional fee; however, the Museum reserves the right to limit new photography based on an item’s condition, storage location, size, and other factors. For information about obtaining copies or high-quality digital image reproductions of collection materials, see the Rights and Reproductions page. Note that the Museum’s ability to reproduce requested materials may be limited by US copyright law.

Donate to the Collection

The vast majority of our Archives and Manuscripts holdings were donated to the Museum. If you would like to donate historical papers, records, or other documents related to Chicago history or American history (through the Civil War), please fill out and submit the Online Collection Donation Form.

Support the Collection

The Museum requires ongoing resources to maintain its collection of more than 23 million objects and documents. This work includes cataloging, storing, and preserving the collections – and the specialized activity necessary to make this unique resource available for use in exhibitions, publications, public programs, scholarly research, and loans to other institutions. We encourage you to consider making a financial contribution to help support this important work.

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