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COLLECTION Identifier: HOLLIS 9899163

Alger Hiss prison correspondence


Letters from Alger Hiss to his family written during his 1951-1954 prison sentence, and letters written to Hiss from his family and others.


  • 1951-1954

Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library. This collection is open 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 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.


12 boxes

This collection consists of correspondence written to and from Alger Hiss during his 1951-1954 prison sentence for perjury. Nearly all the correspondence was written while Hiss was in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, though a few of the earliest letters in the collection are dated from Federal Detention Headquarters, New York City. Correspondents include members of Hiss's family: primarily his wife, Priscilla, and son, Anthony, but also his stepson, Timothy Hobson, brother, Donald Hiss, and brother-in-law, Tom Fansler. Many of the letters from Tony Hiss include drawings in pencil or crayon and some are formatted as a mock-newspaper, which Tony titled "The Family Eagle."

Other correspondents include Reverend Duane Wevill, Chester T. Lane, Sally Flanders, Robert J. Benjamin, John E. Magers, John Balfe, and Ken McCormick.

Historical/Biographical Information

Alger Hiss was born in Baltimore in 1904, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1929, where he was a protege of Felix Frankfurter. He worked in several departments of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal administration before joining the Department of State in 1936. He accompanied Roosevelt to the conference at Yalta and served as the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in 1945. Hiss left the State Department in 1946 to become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (where he served until 1949).

In 1948, Whittaker Chambers appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and alleged that both he and Hiss had been members of the Communist party during the 1930s and that they had both served as spies for the Soviet Union. Though Hiss denied the charges, he became a part of a complicated series of legal battles and was eventually convicted on two counts of perjury. Hiss served a sentence of 44 months, from March 1951 to November 1954, in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Until his death in 1996, Alger Hiss maintained his innocence and worked to clear his name.

Series List

  1. Series I: Correspondence from Alger Hiss, March 1951-November 1954. March 1951-November 1954.
  2. Series II: Correspondence received by Alger Hiss, March 1951-November 1954. March 1951-November 1954.

Within each series and/or subseries individual items or folders are identified by box and folder number. For example, the number 5-12 corresponds to box 5, folder 12.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Tony Hiss, November 2004.

Processing Information

Processed by Rebecca Fenning, March 2006

Hiss, Alger. Prison Correspondence, 1951-1954: 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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