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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 982; T-554; Vt-318; CD-118; DVD-146

Papers of Ann C. Williams, 1940-2019


Awards, biographical papers, judicial documents, speeches, scrapbooks, photographs, audiovisual material, etc., of Judge Ann Claire Williams (retired).


  • Creation: 1940-2019


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. The bulk of the collection is open for research.

Folder #4.9 is closed until 2040. Judicial nomination forms containing background checks and financial disclosures have been redacted; originals are closed for 70 years from the date of creation. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Ann C. Williams 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.


24.31 linear feet ((56 file boxes, 1 folio box) plus 1 roll box, 1 folio folder, 2 folio+ folders, 1 supersize folder, 18 photograph folders, 1 folio+ photograph folder, 1 audiotape, 4 videotapes, 1 CD, 7 DVDs)

The papers of Ann C. Williams document the personal life, judicial career, and other professional activities of Judge Ann Claire Williams (retired). The collection's research value includes the history of African Americans in the federal judiciary, the accomplishments and challenges of women judges and lawyers, issues associated with judicial oversight, and the far reaching impact of educational and judicial programs which Williams formed or participated in. The collection includes awards, honorary degrees, and certificates; biographical sketches and resumes; and calendars, diaries, and personal correspondence from family and friends. Employment forms and related correspondence highlight Williams' mentorship of law clerks, interns, and externs (former interns). The collection also contains material related to Williams' judicial confirmations in 1985 and 1999, including letters of recommendation and other documents. Federal Bureau of Investigation forms for Williams' 1999 nomination contain personal information which has been redacted. The originals are closed for 70 years from the date of creation. Newsletters and publications including articles by or about Williams were either photocopied or transferred to the periodicals department pending review of the curator; consult the library's catalog for holdings. A series of scrapbooks, which Williams or her staff maintained, contain personal and professional papers, some with annotated notes, and overlap with material found elsewhere in the collection. Williams was a highly sought after speaker and the collection also contains numerous speeches presented at bar associations, universities and colleges, educational forums, seminars and symposiums. Transcripts of court proceedings offer insight into how Williams conducted her courtroom. The collection also includes congressional transcripts, which underscore her involvement with judicial oversight, intellectual property, and the Judicial Reform Act. Williams' early career as an Assistant United States Attorney; her role on advisory boards and committees; and participation in conferences, forums and seminars at annual membership meetings for the American Bar Association, and the Cook County Law Association are equally well documented. Areas of special interest include a speech presented to the National Summit of Black Women Lawyers on the topic of African Women lawyers and the glass ceiling (#34.4), Williams' oral history, transcripts of interviews and conversations facilitated by Williams with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayer, Sandra Day O'Connor and other judicial colleagues, and the international scope of judicial training in Africa and Europe. The archivist created folder titles, consolidated loose material, and created the arrangement for all series.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1940-2018, undated (#1.1-31.3, 57FB.1m-57FB.2m, FD.1, F+D.1, SD.1), includes brochures, commencement speeches, programs and promotional material related to alumni events; and awards, honorary degrees, and certificates of appreciation from academic institutions, which include the Notre Dame Legal Aid and Defender Association, University of Notre Dame Alumni Association, Colby College, and Harvard University. Related memorabilia include decorative sashes worn at commencement ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame. (#57FB.1m-57FB.2m). Recognition from colleagues in the legal and judicial professions include the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award (#2.2-2.4) and the Spirit of Excellence Award (#2.4), both from by the American Bar Association; the National Women Lawyers Association (#2.11); and the Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award from the American Judicature Society (#2.7-2.8). This series also includes biographical profiles and resumes; diaries, which contain personal and professional entries; papers related to her education and family. See also Series IV for family photographs and Series V for audiovisual items related to family events and travel. Also included are memorials and tributes for family friends, and colleagues; personal correspondence, which includes artwork by children, greeting cards, clippings, invitations, thank you notes, etc., from family and friends; passports and print material related to overseas travel; and poetry and songs. The bulk of the series consists of scrapbooks, which range in date from the 1970s through 2016. These scrapbooks, compiled under the direction of Judge Williams, include children's artwork; greeting cards and invitations, clippings; photographs of family members, friends, and colleagues in the judiciary; newsletters, and other publications. The scrapbooks have been disassembled, refoldered, and arranged chronologically. Folders are arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder. Folder titles were created by the archivist.

Series II, JUDICIAL ACTIVITIES, 1980-2019, undated (#31.4-46.7, 58RB.1m-58RB.2m), mainly documents Williams' judicial career. Included are articles and clippings; general correspondence and named correspondence files; commemorative programs, conference papers; interviews, and speeches; and employment folders pertaining to the hiring and mentorship of interns, externs, and law clerks. This series also contains formal papers related to Williams' 1985 appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, including nomination forms and investigative questionnaires. Her subsequent appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1999 is documented more extensively, offering important insights into the confirmation process. Included are letters of nomination, surveys, an oath of office, and her speech presented at the induction and investiture ceremonies. Judicial nomination forms containing background checks and financial disclosures have been redacted; the originals are closed for 70 years from the date of creation. Several newsletters have been retained in this series: Courtwatchers Newsletter, an informal publication containing the observations of court buffs (#39.7-39.8); and The Third Branch, (#40.1-40.2), published by the federal courts to highlight the issues relevant to the judiciary. The latter contains William's writings on court administration and management, inadequate salaries, and the lack of diversity within the judiciary. Williams' long-standing friendships and the talents of members with the judiciary are also highlighted in this series: Songbook for the Eighth Annual Judges' Supper, (#40.9) and A Habeas Chorus (#40.10), a non-official song sheet for the 10th Circuit conference, which includes songs composed by Williams, and sung by Williams, Judge Ilana Rovner, and others. The bulk of this series consists of speaking engagements arranged by organization type and/or topic and chronologically thereunder. Included are presentations to bar associations, law schools and related organizations; Black history month events; commencement addresses, diversity within the judiciary, home-going ceremonies (memorials), naturalization ceremonies, tributes and testimonials, wedding ceremonies, and talks on women and gender. Additional speeches are included in Series I, awards and Series III, membership organizations. Transcripts of court proceedings, and Williams' statements before the United States House on intellectual property and judicial administration (1995), the Judicial Reform Act (1997), and courthouse construction (1998), are also included. Folders are arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder. Folder titles were created by the archivist.

Series III, OTHER PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES, 1976-2017, undated (#46.8-56.9, F+D.2), includes papers related to William's participation on various advisory boards, committees, and member organizations. Included are papers related to the boards of the University of Notre Dame, University of Chicago Laboratory School, and the Federal Judges Association. In addition to being a recipient of the Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award, Williams also served on its committee, which was organized by the American Judicature Society. This series also includes articles published by legal magazines and newspapers detailing Williams' numerous accomplishments; memoranda and reports that document Williams' early career as an Assistant United States Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois (1976-1985); and her extensive involvement in the formation of legal education programs, including Minority Legal Education Resources (#47.9-48.1) and Just A Beginning-A Pipeline Organization (#48.2-48.6). Williams also taught a a wide range of legal topics, including trial techniques for opening statements, closing arguments, expert witness, and mock jury trials at universities, public interest organizations, corporate forums, and annual luncheons for students and practicing attorneys. Williams' success with various international judicial training programs organized and funded by the United States Department of State, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, Kenyan and Liberian judiciary, Lawyers Without Borders, and the Cornell University Avon Global Center for Women and Justice is also documented. Included are agendas and brochures; annual reports and debriefing summaries; clippings from international newspapers; correspondence; newsletters; speeches; and research related to women's advocacy, human rights violations, sexual offense; trafficking; and wildlife protection. Papers related to Williams' participation in annual colloquiums for Kenyan Judges, Appellate Advocacy Training for International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, established by resolutions of the United Nations Security Counsel, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands, a permanent international institution, are also included. Folders are arranged alphabetically and chronologically thereunder. Folder titles were created by the archivist.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1944-2016 (#PD.1-PD.18, E.1-E2), includes personal photographs of the Williams family, including Ann C. Williams and her siblings; her parents, Joshua and Dorothy Williams; her husband David Stewart; and their children, Jonathan and Claire. Williams' judicial activities include her swearing-in ceremony as a United States district court judge for the seventh circuit; receiving awards; her role as an organizer and participant in judicial conferences, educational programs in the United States, and judicial training activities in Africa and Europe. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online. This series is arranged chronologically. Folder titles were created by the archivist.

Series V, AUDIOVISUAL, 1993-2017 (#T-5541, CD-118.1, DVD-146.1-DVD-146.7, Vt-318.1-318.4), contains audiotapes, videotapes, CDs, and DVDs that document Williams's personal and professional activities. Included are award ceremonies; home movies of family celebrations and travel; and a speech given at the memorial of a judicial colleague. Also included are educational training programs held at law schools and bar associations and seminars organized to introduce high school students to basic aspects of the law. This series also includes conferences organized by Just The Beginning Foundation, which she co-founded, and a successful judicial training programs in Kenya, developed through her collaborative partnership with Lawyers Without Borders. Interviews in this series include Williams discussing the challenges of her career, and the interview she conducted with former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A formal ceremony of her induction and investiture as a Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeal is also included. This series is arranged by format and chronologically thereunder. Folder titles and dates were taken verbatim from the carrier or provided by the donor.


Ann Claire Williams was born in Detroit, Michigan, on August 16, 1949. She attended local public schools and graduated from Girls Catholic Central High School. Her parents, Dorothy and Joshua Williams, were strong role models who stressed the value of education despite the racial biases that prevented them from working in their chosen fields. Dorothy Williams majored in education, but was unable to secure work as a full-time public school teacher. Joshua Williams, an Army veteran, held degrees in political science and psychology, but worked as a bus driver for twenty years. He eventually obtained a degree in Elementary Education at Wayne State University, and taught school for 13 years before retiring. Williams attended Wayne State University at approximately the same time as her father and graduated in 1970 with a BS in Elementary Education. In 1972, she earned an MA in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Michigan and secured a position as a music and third grade home room teacher in Detroit's inner city public schools. She subsequently decided to pursue a law degree and was awarded a three year scholarship from the University of Notre Dame Law School. She earned a JD in 1976 and began her career as law clerk for Judge Robert A. Sprecher of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She was one of only two African Americans to hold the position. Upon completing her clerkship, Williams was hired as an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago. Initially she worked in the Public Protection Division handling consumer protection and civil rights cases. By 1978 she was working in the criminal division trying major felony cases. In 1979 she married David J. Stewart, a senior vice president in the Government and Union Services Division of the Amalgamated Bank of Chicago. The couple have two children, Claire and Jonathan.

In 1980, Williams was promoted to Deputy Chief of the Criminal Receiving and Appellate Division; a position she held until 1983 when she was appointed Chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force for the North Central Region. Responsible for organizing joint federal and state agency investigations and prosecutorial activities, Williams directed the dismantling of major drug trafficking operations in Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. In 1985 she was appointed by former President Ronald Regan to an Article III Federal judgeship within the Northern District of Illinois. At 35 years old, she was one of the youngest, and the first African American woman to serve in that capacity. During her tenure, Williams earned the reputation of being a fair and impartial judge. She served on committees that provided oversight of the federal judiciary, including the Court Administration and Case Management Committee for the Judicial Conference of the United States (1990-1997). In 1993, she was appointed Chair of the Committee by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, which enabled her to address a broad range of case management issues for appellate and district courts, including governance issues, juries, court reporters and interpreters, and attorney admissions.

In addition to her judicial responsibilities, Williams maintained a strong commitment to legal education and judicial training, public interest law, and promoting the legacy of African Americans in the judiciary. In 1977, she co-founded Minority Legal Education Resources, Inc. with Professor Ronald Kennedy to enhance the legal education and post-graduate experience of students of color. In collaboration with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy she taught trial advocacy and case management skills to newly appointed federal judges at the Federal Judicial Center. Williams eventually broadened her activities to include judicial training programs for court personnel in Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Between 2002-2003, she assisted in the development of exchange programs and study tours under the auspices of the United States Department of Justice, and hosted visiting judges from Kenya and Ghana. Williams also collaborated with non-government organizations, including Lawyers Without Borders, Fordham Law School, and the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, to provide training on judicial ethics, case management and alternative approaches to dispute resolutions. She participated in annual symposiums held in Kenya where she addressed topics of gender violence, human rights violations, sexual offenses and trafficking. She was also a member of the delegation sent to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, held in Arusha, Tanzania, where she taught trial advocacy skills to prosecutors of persons accused of genocide and human rights violations. She also participated in tribunals held in former Yugoslavia, and at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Williams' concern for public interest law dates back to her years at the University of Notre Dame. During the early 1970s, she was a member of the Notre Dame Legal Aid and Defender Association and was later promoted to Associate Director (1974-1975). Her responsibilities included collecting books for prisoners and teaching legal writing at Indiana State Prison. Over the course of her career, she found ways to continue her support of public interest law. One example involved a long-term anti-trust case (Re Folding Carton, 1991 WL 32867 N.D. Ill. 1991). She decided the case by directing disputed funds to be donated to the National Association for Public Interest Law, a national fellowship program headquartered in Washington, DC. The Association, which later changed its name to Equal Justice Works, provides post-graduate fellowships and support for public interest agencies. Williams' commitment to preserving and promoting the history of African Americans in the judiciary was actualized in 1992 when she, along with judges and lawyers from various parts of the United States, gathered in Chicago to celebrate the contributions of Judge James Benton Parsons, the first African American to become a United States District Judge by presidential appointment. Just a Beginning-A Pipeline Organization was formed at this gathering, and over several decades, expanded its objectives through annual conferences and the formation of a foundation to fund educational programs for law students and aspiring youth, which include Robes in Schools, summer institutes for high school students, and other educational initiatives.

Throughout her career, Williams has played an active role on numerous advisory boards and committees, including the board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame, the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, which her children attended, the board of governors of the Chicago Bar Association, and the board of the Carnegie Corporation. She has been equally active in many fraternal, civic, and professional organizations, including the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Black Women Lawyers' Association, which she helped form in 1987, Cook County Bar Association, the Federal Bar, the Illinois Judicial Council, and the Women's Bar Association of Illinois. As a member of the Federal Judges Association, she has served as Treasurer (1995-1997), President-elect (1997-1999), and President (1999-2001), and was responsible for organizing several well-received conferences at the White House. Her work on the Judicial Branch Committee of the Judicial Conference (1999-2003) included testifying before Congress on judicial compensation and other matters of concern to the judiciary.

In recognition of her major contributions to the United States judicial system, in August, 1999, Williams was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit by former President William J. Clinton and confirmed on November 10th; the first African American appointee to the position. She has also been the recipient of numerous awards, honorary degrees, and certificates of appreciation, including the William H. Hastie Award and the Gertrude E. Rush Award presented by the National Bar Association; the Chicago Bar Association's Earl Burrus Dickerson Award (1997); the Woman with Vision Award from the Women's Bar Association of Illinois (1998); and Women Making History Award from the National Council of Negro Women. Williams was also the first African American woman to receive the Chicago Lawyer's Person of the Year award (2000), and the first, and only woman of color to receive the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award from the American Judicature Society (2010). In 2017, Williams retired from her position as Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and is currently in private practice with the law firm Jones Day, an international law firm with a long history of public service.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1940-2018, undated (#1.1-31.3, 57FB.1m-57FB.2, FD.1, F+D.1, SD.1)
  2. Series II. Judicial activities, 1980-2019, undated (#31.3-46.7, 58RB.1m-58RB.2m)
  3. Series III. Other professional activities, 1976-2017 (#46.8-56.9, F+D.2)
  4. Series IV. Photographs, 1944-2016 (#PD.1-PD.18, E.1-E2)
  5. Series V. Audiovisual, 1993-2017 (##T-5541, CD-118.1, DVD-146.1-DVD-146.7, Vt-318.1-318.4)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2017-M219, 2018-M72

The papers of Ann C. Williams were given to Schlesinger Library between December 2017 and May 2018.

Related material

There is related material in the HistoryMakers Video Oral History Collection; see the oral history of Honorable Ann Claire Williams, 57 Stories, interviewed June 20, 2000 by Julieanna L. Richardson at Chicago, Illinois, videographer Frank Hayes.


Donors: Ann C. Williams

Accession numbers: 2017-M219, 2018-M72

Processed by: Emilyn L. Brown

The following items have been removed from the collection:

Books and periodicals
  1. Black Domers: Seventy Years at Notre Dame, David M. Krashner, Don Wycliff, eds., 2014
  2. Black Domers: African American Students at Notre Dame in Their Own Words, David M. Krashner, Don Wycliff, eds., 2017
  3. Chicago Lawyer: A Publication of the Law Bulletin, December, 2000
  4. Perspectives: A Magazine for and about Women Lawyers

Processing Information

Processed: August 2019

By: Emilyn L. Brown with assistance from Henry Shull.

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.

General processing procedures in place at the Library include the following:  books (when not heavily annotated) by and about the collection's creator and on subjects which fall within the Library's collecting area are removed and cataloged separately with information about their provenance; other books and serials are not retained.  Other material not normally retained include:  clippings that are not by or about the collection's creator; research files; financial documents such as checkbooks, cancelled checks, bank statements, etc. (when there is financial documentation at a higher level); invoices, receipts, orders, airline tickets, etc.; and envelopes (when they do not contain additional information).

When samples of weeded documents are retained, it is indicated in the finding aid.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Archival Processing Fund, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Fund, and the Class of 1950 Fund.

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. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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