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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 1031

Joshua Prager Collection on Norma McCorvey and Roe v. Wade, 1926-2018 (inclusive), 1989-2007 (bulk)

Overview

Collection includes original material belonging to Norma McCorvey, as well as Joshua Prager's material (such as articles, correspondence, court documents, etc.) compiled during the course of his research for a book about Roe v. Wade.

Dates

  • 1926-2018
  • Majority of material found within 1989-2007

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Most of the collection is open for research.

Folder #11.10 is closed until January 1, 2050, as specified in the agreement between Joshua Prager and the Schlesinger Library.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Joshua Prager is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Extent

4.8 linear feet ((11 file boxes, 1 half file box) plus 9 photograph folders.)
1 Megabytes (1 file)
The Joshua Prager Collection on Norma McCorvey and Roe v. Wade includes both original and photocopied documents compiled by the journalist Joshua Prager in the course of his research for a book about Roe v. Wade. The collection includes correspondence, photographs, printed material, speeches, articles, financial records, journal entries and notes, pro-life poems and songs, notebooks and journal entries, speeches, court documents and depositions, prayer cards, contact lists, and travel itineraries. This material documents the personal and professional life of Norma McCorvey, as well as the history and the aftermath of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Joshua Prager received much of this original material in 2011 from McCorvey's former partner, Consuela "Connie" Gonzales. In 2014, McCorvey granted Prager ownership of the papers he had received from Gonzales. Prager collected some of the other Roe v. Wade research material found in this collection by contacting people from McCorvey's past.

The collection arrived at the Schlesinger Library housed in 13 redwell accordion folders. The material was removed from the accordion folders, and was placed into acid-free folders. Prager's original folder headings were maintained; titles in brackets were created by the archivist. The collection was mostly arranged by Joshua Prager into two sections, McCorvey's original documents and material gathered for his research. The archivist followed this arrangement when possible; there is overlap within the two series. During the course of his research, Prager added post-it notes and annotations to many documents; these were left in place by the archivist. Electronic records were received on two CDs. Selected data has been converted to PDF/A for preservation and delivery.

Series I, NORMA MCCORVEY PAPERS, 1938-2007, undated (#1.1-8.2, E.1), includes articles, photographs, correspondence, financial records, notebooks and date books, school records, pro-life poetry and songs, journal entries, speeches, court documents and depositions, prayer cards, contact lists, and travel itineraries.

The material in this series documents Norma McCorvey's pro-abortion work during the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as her later work for the pro-life movement during the late 1990s and 2000s. This collection includes material related to McCorvey's 2000 deposition for The Justice Foundation, speeches urging lawmakers to restrict legal abortion, both in the United States and around the world, and travel related to her Roe No More Ministry. These papers also document her baptism as an evangelical Christian, and her later conversion to Catholicism.

The majority of letters in this collection are incoming correspondence; McCorvey only kept her outgoing letters occasionally. Much of the incoming letters are from people who had read her two books. Women share their pregnancy and abortion stories with McCorvey, as well as their joy in hearing of her baptisms. Men also write to congratulate her in finding religion, as well as to comment on her books. Other topics include converting to Catholicism, sin, donations, abortion, the March for Life, and McCorvey's sexuality. McCorvey often noted the date of her response on the envelope.

This series also includes material related to McCorvey's Roe No More Ministry and Crossing Over Ministry. These documents include financial records, travel arrangements for her speaking engagements, as well as incoming and outgoing correspondence. Also found in this series is a screen play written by Alison Cross, titled "An American Story," which became the 1989 made-for-television movie, Roe v. Wade.

Schlesinger Library generally does not retain duplicate material and financial records with little research value. In keeping with this, the following material was returned to Joshua Prager: canceled checks and checkbooks, receipts and invoices not annotated, envelopes that were found empty, duplicate photographs, notebooks belonging to McCorvey's brother Jimmy Nelson, and other material that had been infested with mold.

This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, ROE V. WADE RESEARCH MATERIAL, 1926-2018, undated (#8.3-12.6), includes correspondence, family histories, court documents, articles, interviews, biographical material, and other material related to research conducted by Joshua Prager. The material in this series documents McCorvey's childhood, early marriage, and her attempt to abort her third pregnancy.

Other material found in this series includes documents related to Dr. Curtis Boyd; lawyers Linda Coffee, Gloria Allred, Sarah Weddington, and Henry McCluskey, Jr.; and Dr. Mildred Jefferson. These include articles, printed material, speeches, Roe v. Wade court documents, and the National Right to Life Committee.

Most folders contain a mix of original documents and photocopies. Folders that are entirely photocopies are noted as such.

This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1989-2002, undated (#PD.1-PD.9), includes photographs removed from throughout the collection. Images include McCorvey being baptized by Philip "Flip" Benham and McCorvey attending pro-choice marches in Washington, DC. The photographs are arranged to mirror the series above.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.

NORMA MCCORVEY BIOGRAPHY

Norma Leah Nelson was born in Simmesport, Louisiana, on September 22, 1947, to Olin and Mildred "Mary" Nelson. Norma Nelson spent several years at the Gainesville State School for Girls in Gainesville, Texas, a juvenile correctional facility.

In 1964, Norma Nelson married Ellwood "Woody" McCorvey; they later divorced before the birth of their daughter Melissa in 1965. Sometime after Melissa's birth, McCorvey's mother, Mildred "Mary" Nelson Sandefur, formally adopted Melissa with her second husband Raymond Sandefur. In 1967, Norma McCorvey gave birth to a second daughter. The girl's biological father, who was given full custody by McCorvey, raised the child without any contact from McCorvey.

In 1969, McCorvey became pregnant for the third time. Seeking an abortion, which was not legal in Texas unless the mother's life was in danger, McCorvey was put in touch with Henry Jones McCluskey, Jr., an adoption lawyer. Eventually, McCluskey introduced Norma McCorvey to lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were looking for clients in search of a legal abortion in the state of Texas. Coffee and Weddington, who had attended the University of Texas at Austin School of Law together, were working separately; Coffee at the bankruptcy firm Palmer and Palmer Law Firm in Dallas, Texas, and Weddington for law school professor John Sutton on an American Bar Association Special Committee on Reevaluation of Ethical Standards project.

In 1970, Norma McCorvey became the anonymous plaintiff, known as "Jane Roe" in Coffee and Weddington's class action suit challenging Texas abortion laws. The suit led to the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, Roe v. Wade. Norma McCorvey gave birth to her third child, known as the "Roe Baby," in 1970 before her case reached the Supreme Court; the child was given up for adoption immediately after her birth.

McCorvey remained anonymous to the public for her role in the case until the 1980s, when she began taking a larger role in the pro-choice movement, counseling women and attending pro-choice rallies. In 1989, McCorvey helped found the Jane Roe Foundation and Jane Roe Women's Center. The Jane Roe Women's Center functioned both as a national information clearinghouse, and as a multi-purpose center for low-income women. Its offices in Dallas and San Francisco offered legal and medical services, childcare, peer-counseling, referral services, and workshops.

In 1995, McCorvey was baptized by Philip "Flip" Benham, an evangelical minister and director of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group which was founded in 1986 by Randall Terry. Operation Rescue had opened an office in the same building as the women's clinic McCorvey was working in. McCorvey and Benham became friends after the 1994 publication of her book I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice (written with Andy Meisler).

After her baptism, McCorvey joined the pro-life movement and founded the Roe No More Ministry with her long-time romantic and business partner Consuela "Connie" Gonzales. Roe No More Ministry's mission was "to promote the sanctity of life through educational activities, and to support Christian principles and the Christian faith." McCorvey used the Ministry as a speaker's bureau, and traveled around the country lecturing about her life story. In 2004, McCorvey renamed her ministry the Crossing Over Ministry.

In 1997, she published Won by Love: Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe Of Roe V. Wade, Speaks Out for the Unborn as She Shares Her New Conviction for Life (written with Gary Thomas); McCorvey converted to Catholicism a year later.

In 2000, McCorvey co-founded Operation Outcry with The Justice Foundation in Dallas, Texas; through it she collected thousands of testimonies written by women who had undergone an abortion, and later felt remorse. The Justice Foundation also represented McCorvey in her unsuccessful attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2000.

Norma McCorvey died of heart failure in Katy, Texas, on February 18, 2017.

ARRANGEMENT

The collection is arranged in three series:
  1. Series I. Norma McCorvey papers, 1938-2007, undated (#1.1-8.2, E.1)
  2. Series II. Roe v. Wade research material, 1926-2018, undated (#8.3-12.6)
  3. Series III. Photographs, 1989-2002, undated (#PD.1-PD.9)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2018-M77, 2019-M100

The Joshua Prager Collection on Norma McCorvey and Roe v. Wade was acquired by the Schlesinger Library from Joshua Prager in May 2018 and June 2019.

Related Materials

There is related material about Mildred Jefferson at the Schlesinger Library; see the Mildred Jefferson Papers (MC 696).

Processing Information

Processed: March 2020

By: Cat Lea Holbrook, with assistance from Sarah DeRupo.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.
Link to catalog
Author
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Sponsor
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Zetlin Sisters Fund and the Jane Rainie Opel '50 Fund.
EAD ID
sch01725

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future.

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