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COLLECTION Identifier: HOLLIS 601627

Osmond Kessler Fraenkel papers


Papers contain Fraenkel's diaries for 1912-1980 (94 vols.), his correspondence with Selma M. Breitenbach, and the manuscript draft of his autobiography (5 notebooks). This collection is closed until May 2033 per the terms of the Deed of Gift.


  • 1912 - 1983

Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library. This collection is open (except closed folders and paige boxes) to the public, but is housed off-site at Harvard Depository and requires 2 business-day advance notice for retrieval. Consult the Special Collections staff for further information. .

Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library in general and the Manuscript Division in particular. Access to the seventy-six diary-notebooks and the thirty-nine folders of correspondence with Selma M. Breitenbach is closed until fifty years from Osmond K. Fraenkel's death, 16 May 2033.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Law School Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Special Collections staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Harvard Law School Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.


1300 items

The 1300 items in the papers of Osmond K. Fraenkel (1888-1983), lawyer, civil libertarian, author, span the years 1912 to 1983, with his autobiographical reminiscences including his child hood, college and law school years (1888- 1911). The collection consists of letters received and the originals of letters sent; telegrams; post cards; drafts; notebooks and loose notes; lists; and diaries.

The collection falls into three distinct groups: (a) The draft of an autobiography, (b) Fraenkel's correspondence with Selma M. Breitenbach, and (c) his diaries.

The holograph draft of the manuscript of Osmond K. Fraenkel's autobiography is contained in five small-size notebooks, and the period covered is 1888 to 1953. The draft was written essentially between 1954 and 1956, with a few last entries dated 1962. Volume 1 contains a one-page Introduction about how Fraenkel came to draft this autobiography. He states that he was challenged and inspired by Arthur Meyer to whom he had sent parts of his diaries. He drew on his diaries and on letters to write this manuscript. He began in the summer of 1954 with vol. 3 (1913-1927), wrote vol. 4 in the fall of 1954, vol. 1 in 1955, vol. 2 in December 1956, and vol. 5 sporadically over the years 1954, 1955, 1956, and 1962. Fraenkel says that, in addition to drawing on his diaries, the autobiography fills in gaps in his diaries. The "autobiography" has not been published.

The correspondence of Osmond K. Fraenkel with Thelma M. Breitenbach spans the years 1933 to 1983, with the bulk of the correspondence falling into the period 1933 to 1965. Letters and notes are mainly those of Fraenkel addressed to his friend Selma Breitenbach, with a smaller number of letters by her. They relate to Fraenkel's day-to-day personal and professional activities; to their families and friends, e.g. Alfred A. Knopf who introduced Fraenkel to the pleasure and satisfaction of collecting first editions of books; to the world of the theater, music, art and literature; and to observations on nature and on travel. In part the letters of Fraenkel reflect his life-long concern with violation of the civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights: as co counsel to the New York Civil Liberties Union (1934-1955) and later general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (1955-1977) he handled great numbers of their cases, arguing several of them before the Supreme Court of the United States. Letters also discuss some of his writing commitments.

Osmond K. Fraenkel's diary-notebooks span the years 1912 to 1980; there are seventy-six of these volumes. Essentially, entries were made by him on a daily basis; however, an occasional span of two months or more is summed up in a resume. The entries document in detail Fraenkel's professional activities, including comments on cases argued and on court decisions; his civil liberties activities including accounts of meetings of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union; his social life; and his travels. In addition, there are a few loose items in these diary volumes, e.g. an exchange between Fraenkel and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, 3 and 15 February 1961, and a holograph letter of Fraenkel to Roger Baldwin, 20 April 1964.

Major correspondents in these papers are Fraenkel himself, and Selma M. Breitenbach.

Biographical Note

Fraenkel, Osmond Kessler, lawyer, civil libertarian, author.

b. 17 October 1888, New York, New York

s. Joseph E. and Emily (Kessler) Fraenkel

A.B. magna cum laude, Harvard University, '1908

A.M., Harvard University, 1908

LL.B., Columbia University, 1911

m. Helene Esberg, 11 December 1913; children: Nancy (Mrs. James A. Wechsler), Carol (Mrs. Mack Lipkin), George K.

Admitted to New York State bar, 1910

Attorney and partner, Goldsmith and Fraenkel, 1916-1928; Goldsmith, Jackson and Brock, 1928-1942; Fraenkel, Jackson and Levitt, 1942-1945

Counsel to Hays, St. John, Abramson and Schulman, later Hays, St. John, Abramson and Heilbron, 1945-1981; Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky and Lieberman, P.C., 1982-1983

Co-counsel to New York Civil Liberties Union, 1934-1955

General counsel to American Civil Liberties Union, 1955-1977

Recipient, Florina Lasker Award, New York Civil Liberties Union, 1973

Member, Association of the Bar of the City of New York; member of its Law Reform Committee Member, National Lawyers Guild; American Arbitration Association

d. 16 May 1983


  1. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case, 1931
  2. Our Civil Liberties, 1945
  3. The Supreme Court and Civil Liberties [Revised to end of 1961 term of the Court], 1966
  4. Also articles in legal journals and general magazines.

Series List

Manuscript Boxes:

  1. Series I. Manuscript of an Autobiography
  2. Series II. Correspondence of Osmond K. Fraenkel with Selma M. Breitenbach

Paige Boxes:

  1. Series III. Diaries of Osmond K. Fraenkel

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers of Osmond K. Fraenkel (1888-1983) were presented to the Harvard Law School Library as a gift by his daughter, Nancy F. Wechsler, in November 1984. An additional gift of 179 letters and notes of Fraenkel addressed to Selma M. Breitenbach (1965, 1966, 1975, 1981-1983) was received as a gift from Selma M. Breitenbach on 4 April 1985.

Processing Information

June, 1985

Fraenkel, Osmond Kessler. Papers, 1912-1983 Finding Aid.
Harvard Law School Library, Cambridge, MA 02138
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections Repository

Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections (HSC) collects, preserves, and makes available research materials for the study of the law and legal history. HSC holds over 8,000 linear feet of manuscripts, over 100,000 rare books, and more than 70,000 visual images.

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