Braille Monitor                                                                    October 2006

(back)(contents)(next)

The Story of the tenBroek Papers

by Lou Ann Blake

From the Editor: Lou Ann Blake is a research specialist at the Jacobus tenBroek Library. She is cataloging the tenBroek papers. Here is her second report on what she is finding.

The centerpiece of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Library is the vast collection of papers and memorabilia collected and filed largely by Mrs. tenBroek. At the moment most of these are resident in the file cabinets pictured here.

In 1938 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, founder of the National Federation of the Blind, began to collect the print documents he produced and acquired in his lifetime as a leader in the blind civil rights and social welfare reform movements, as a university professor, as a family man, and as a friend. At the time he was a third-year law student at the University of California at Berkeley. After Dr. tenBroek's death in 1968, Mrs. Hazel tenBroek continued to add to the collection, known as the "tenBroek papers" or the "tenBroek files," through the early 1990's. Today, as part of the collection of the Jacobus tenBroek Library at the National Center for the Blind, the tenBroek papers are a significant source of information about the early history of and the people behind the development and growth of the National Federation of the Blind and the blind civil rights movement in the United States, as well as the evolution of social welfare. This article will describe how the NFB acquired possession of the tenBroek papers, provide a general overview of the most common types of documents included in the files, describe in greater detail some of the files' most significant and interesting contents, and discuss current and possible future plans for the papers.

Journey to the Jacobus tenBroek Library

The journey of the tenBroek papers from Mrs. tenBroek's home in California to the Jacobus tenBroek Library in Baltimore began in the mid-1970's. At that time Mrs. tenBroek was contemplating retirement from her position as associate editor of the Braille Monitor, and she and then NFB President Kenneth Jernigan began discussing the disposition of the papers. Mary Ellen Jernigan visited the tenBroek home in 1976, and again in 1984 with Dr. Jernigan, to look at the papers and make a general determination of what types of documents were included. They decided during the 1984 visit that all of the documents would eventually be shipped to Baltimore. Nothing further happened until 1994, when officials at the University of California at Berkeley began expressing a strong interest in acquiring the tenBroek papers for the university. Finally, in February 1998 the ill health of both Dr. Jernigan and Mrs. tenBroek prompted them to renew discussions about the final home for the tenBroek papers. With the NFB set to begin construction of the Jacobus tenBroek Library as part of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, now the Jernigan Institute, Mrs. tenBroek decided that the proper place for the papers was the tenBroek Library and not the University of California. Later that spring the collection was transported by truck from her home in California to the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore.

Where Are the Papers Now and What Are We Doing with Them?

Currently the tenBroek papers are housed on the first floor of the Barney Street wing of the National Center for the Blind. The print documents are still stored in the thirty-five four-drawer and four two-drawer file cabinets and numerous boxes in which they were originally stored at the tenBroek home. As discussed later in this article, at some point the more important documents will be archived in a special temperature- and humidity-controlled room in the Jernigan Institute.

In September 2005 we began the reviewing and recording the contents of the tenBroek files. The first step was to create an index spreadsheet that will enable library staff to search the tenBroek papers by topic, as well as to locate a specific folder within the files. Next, starting with drawer number one of four-drawer file cabinet number one, the title of each folder was entered on the spreadsheet and the contents of the folder reviewed. A note about any important documents that a folder may contain was also included in the spreadsheet. By June 2006 the recording of folder titles and review of folder contents of four-drawer file cabinets number one through number twenty-two had been completed.

Any member of the general public researching a topic covered by the tenBroek papers may make an appointment with the Jacobus tenBroek Library to use the papers as long as the documents are not protected by attorney-client privilege or privacy laws. When an inquiry is made, we use the index spreadsheet to search for and locate folders that contain documents pertaining to the specific topic that the researcher is interested in. Recently the library hosted someone researching Raymond Henderson, the first executive director of the NFB, in preparation for writing a book, and a doctoral student researching documents relating to Dr. Isabelle Grant and organizations of the blind in India for his thesis.

What Is in the tenBroek Files?

The documents in the tenBroek files provide an insight into Dr. tenBroek's personal and professional life, as well as historical documentation of the growth of the NFB and of the blind civil rights and social welfare reform movements from the 1940's through the 1960's. The personal papers include hundreds of birthday and holiday greeting cards, postcards sent by vacationing family and friends, and personal correspondence. Letters written by Dr. tenBroek to his son Dutch and sister Lillian recount the daily activities of the tenBroek family, as well as Dr. tenBroek's work for the University of California and the NFB. An envelope found in the files contains letters written by Dr. tenBroek's friends and colleagues to Ralph Edwards, host of the television show This Is Your Life, encouraging an episode about Dr. tenBroek.

Many documents in the files pertain to the work and research performed by Dr. tenBroek as a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Examples include departmental and administration correspondence, student exams and grades, and class schedules. In addition the files contain documents that Dr. tenBroek used for writing law review articles and books in the areas of social welfare reform and constitutional law (including statutes from the colonial and civil war periods); Department of Health, Education, and Welfare publications from the 1950's and 1960's on federal policy and programs of public assistance; and documents on California's Aid to Needy Children program.

Researchers interested in the history of the National Federation of the Blind will find documents in the tenBroek files relating to the NFB's legal organization, administration, and legislative programs. The organizational documents include the 1949 NFB articles of incorporation, its April 1946 tax exemption certificate, and constitutions from 1946 through 1966.

National Federation of the Blind administrative documents contained in the tenBroek files range from invoices and personnel files to maintenance contracts and minutes of executive committee meetings. Correspondence between Dr. tenBroek and other NFB leaders, including Raymond Henderson, John Nagle, Perry Sundquist, Kenneth Jernigan, and Russell Kletzing, as well as many speeches by these early leaders, are also included in the files. In addition many documents relating to the NFB civil war in the late 1950's and early 1960's can also be found. Finally, folders containing resolutions, motions, ballot sheets, correspondence, photographs, and meeting minutes for NFB annual conventions from 1940 through 1979 are also included in the tenBroek files.

Draft legislation, testimony before the United States Congress, correspondence with members of Congress and the executive branch, and legislative bulletins are examples of the types of documents found in the tenBroek files that were generated as part of the NFB legislative program. The issues addressed in many of these documents include the old age pension and disability insurance provided under the Social Security Act, the establishment of a minimum wage for workers in sheltered workshops, discrimination against blind individuals by the United States Civil Service Commission, the right of the blind to organize, and the establishment of vending stands by blind people in federal buildings. Finally, the NFB model White Cane Law, which was distributed to state affiliates for passage by state legislatures, can also be found in the tenBroek files.

Many file documents also relate to NFB advocacy for the blind in administrative hearings and state and federal courts. Dr. tenBroek frequently corresponded with plaintiffs and their lawyers regarding legal strategy, precedent cases, and preparation of briefs. The files also contain amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs prepared by the NFB and submitted to the United States Supreme Court in support of plaintiffs who were challenging state laws that required a period of residency in order to receive public assistance and made relatives responsible for the debts of a family member who received public assistance.

In addition to NFB-related documents, many documents in the tenBroek files are related to organizations of and for the blind around the world. The folders for the International Federation of the Blind and World Council for the Welfare of the Blind include pamphlets describing the services provided to the blind and organizations of the blind in Europe, South and Central America, and Asia. There are also many documents concerning the California Council of the Blind (now the NFB of California), the American Foundation for the Blind, the Blinded Veterans Association, the Jewish Braille Institute, and many other such organizations.

Gems of the tenBroek Papers

Two of Dr. tenBroek’s grade cards from the California School for the Blind

Among the many tens of thousands of documents that comprise the tenBroek papers, a number of documents stand out because of their historic, literary, and human interest value. One of the historic gems is a July 2, 1951, letter to Dr. tenBroek from Kenneth Jernigan, then president of the Tennessee Association for the Blind, to introduce himself to Dr. tenBroek and discuss plans for the 1952 NFB annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee. An amusing exchange is the series of letters pertaining to the "American Express Wars," in which Dr. Jernigan gleefully uses military terminology and rhetorical language to reproach American Express for its inept administration.

Some of the oldest documents in the tenBroek files are Dr. tenBroek's school records from the California School for the Blind for the years 1927, 1928, and 1930. The record dated May 26, 1927, cryptically notes that Jacobus was a "good" student who was "somewhat self-centered and opinionated." Also included in the files are grade cards from 1932 and 1933, when Dr. tenBroek was an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. During that period he received fifteen A's and four B's.

A 1964 letter from Chief Justice Earl Warren to Dr. tenBroek

Among the thousands of letters in the tenBroek files are several from notable politicians, jurists, and authors. California Governor Edmund G. Brown always started his letters to Dr. tenBroek with "My Dear Doctor." There is also correspondence in the files between Dr. tenBroek and United States Supreme Court chief justice and former California governor Earl Warren regarding Dr. tenBroek's book Anti-Slavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, Dr. tenBroek corresponded with Nobel Prize laureate Pearl S. Buck, author of The Good Earth, regarding the vision loss experienced by Ms. Buck's husband.

Perhaps the most poignant gems in the tenBroek papers are the hundreds of cards, letters, and telegrams sent to the tenBroek family after his death on March 27, 1968. Neighbors, friends, colleagues, students, political figures, NFB members, and individuals and organizations around the world sent expressions of sympathy. Many of the letters describe how Dr. tenBroek had touched the writers' lives. They will be the subject of a future Braille Monitor article.

The Future of the tenBroek Papers

In addition to continuing to make the tenBroek papers available for research purposes, we intend to archive the most historically significant documents. Archiving these will involve placing the documents in acid-free file folders and then storing them in acid-free storage cartons. The storage cartons will then be placed on metal shelves in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room on the second floor of the Jernigan Institute.

Future plans also include posting the index spreadsheet to the tenBroek Library Web site as well as scanning some of them for Web site posting. In addition we plan to create a tactile exhibit about Dr. tenBroek for the tenBroek Library. Documents for such an exhibit might be a recording of a tenBroek speech, photographs and written documents with recorded descriptions, as well as items that may be touched.

The Centerpiece of the Jacobus tenBroek Library

Many of the people and events from the 1940's through the 1960's that paved the way to a better life today for blind and poor Americans are chronicled in the documents that comprise the tenBroek papers. In addition the wide variety of document types contained in the tenBroek files is ample evidence of the many facets of his life and personality. Because they are an important record of the early history of the blind civil rights and social welfare reform movements, as well as Dr. tenBroek's adult life, his papers are the centerpiece of the Jacobus tenBroek Library. All Federationists can benefit from the tenBroek papers as a source of pride in past accomplishment and as inspiration for establishing future goals.

(back)(contents)(next)