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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 856: T-388: Vt-211: MP-93

Papers of Virginia Foster Durr, ca.1910-2007


Biographical materials, correspondence, clippings, photographs, and other materials documenting the life of civil rights activist Virginia Foster Durr.


  • ca.1910-2007


Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Virginia Foster Durr, Clark Foreman, Corliss Lamont, and Ava Helen Pauling 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. Ppapers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


7.71 linear feet ((18+1/2 file boxes, 1 folio box) plus 2 folio folders, 2 folio+ folders, 17 folders of photographs, 23 audiotapes, 7 videotapes, 2 motion pictures)

The bulk of these papers consist of correspondence and other material documenting the civil rights work of Virginia Foster Durr and Clifford Judkins Durr.

Series I, Biographical, family, and writings and speeches, 1919-1993 (#1-88), includes a transcript of an oral history interview of Virginia Foster Durr and Clifford Judkins Durr, the Durrs' FBI files, clippings about and photographs of Virginia Foster Durr and her family, and materials about Virginia Foster Durr's education. There are also Clifford Judkins Durr's files on the Eastland hearings; research notes and drafts of Outside the Magic Circle and other writings; speech notes; and materials collected by Virginia Foster Durr, mostly writings by others.

Series II, Correspondence, 1929-1992 (#89-263), makes up the bulk of the collection. It includes correspondence with family and friends, mostly letters to Virginia Foster Durr; notable exceptions are the many letters from Virginia Foster Durr to the Eliots and Foremans. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically, with unsigned letters or those with illegible signatures filed at the end of the alphabet. The letters are about friends, social life, United States politics, civil rights, McCarthyism, socialism, pacifism, and the South. There are a few letters from or to Clifford Durr or other family and friends; many of the latter were sent as enclosures in letters to Virginia Foster Durr. The collection includes letters from Jessica Mitford; Virginia Foster Durr's letters to Jessica Mitford are housed with Jessica Mitford's papers at the Ohio State University, Rare Books and Manuscripts. The Papers of Clifford Judkins Durr and other papers of Virginia Foster Durr are at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, as well as the University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center.

Series III, Addenda, ca.1910-2006 (#264-363) includes correspondence, clippings, biographical material, photographs, and other material. The bulk of this series is comprised of correspondence, much of it being letters to Durr's daughter, Ann Durr Lyon. These letters document Durr's civil rights activities (1950s-1970s) and discuss Rosa Parks; Martin Luther King, Jr.; E. D. Nixon; black voter registration in Alabama; integration; the Ku Klux Klan; the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and northern students staying with the Durrs while working on voter registration; the Selma, Alabama, march; Governor George Wallace; McCarthyism; the Kennedy assasination; student riots; the Vietnam War; etc. Also documented in these letters is news of births, deaths, and marriages in the family; Clifford J. Durr's health issues; Ann Durr's wedding plans; courtship experiences of Durr's daughter, Virginia ("Tilla") Foster Durr; etc. Other correspondence includes letters of condolence on the death of Durr and correspondence with friends and acquaintances including economist Charles Kramer and his wife Mildred; Brian and Mary Berwick, George and Ida (Sledge) Engeman (a Wellesley College classmate); Allen and Frances (Wheeler) Sayer; Robert Ellis Smith, attorney, author, and journalist; Muriel MacAvoy-Weissman (civil rights activist); etc. Other material in this series includes clippings re: Durr and her book Outside the Magic Circle; correspondence, invitations, speeches, etc., from Durr's 75th, 85th, and 90th birthday celebrations; awards, honors, and planning material for a memorial plaque for the Durr's home in Montgomery, Alabama; genealogical notes; memorial scrapbooks created after Durr's death; and photographs of Durr with family and friends, including Rosa Parks and Lady Bird Johnson, and receiving awards, etc. A small amount of correspondence consists of letters received by Ann Durr Lyon and Lucy Durr Hackney (much of it after the death of their mother) and relates to various publications and film projects re: the Durrs and reminiscences of their mother. Folder titles were created by the archivists. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, Audiovisual, 1975-2007 (#T-388.1 - T-388.23, Vt-211.1 - Vt-211.7, MP-93.1 - MP-93.2), includes audio and video recordings of a number of radio and oral history interviews about both Durr's and her husband's lives and her book Outside the Magic Circle. Durr appeared at a number of conferences and before college classes speaking about civil rights and audio recordings of some of these talks are included here. Audio recordings of a number of conversations between Durr, family, and friends including Morey and Vivian Williams, Bill and Dee Dee Honey, Tex (Arthur) Goldschmidt, Elizabeth "Wickie" Wickendon Goldschmidt, Zecozy Williams, etc., are also included. Durr herself also interviewed Karen Hoffman and Neil McKetrick?, and Annie May Turner, other individuals who were involved in the civil rights movement in the south. Other audio and video recordings include Clifford Durr's eulogy (1975) and the first three annual Clifford Durr Lectures at Auburn University at Montgomery which focused on First Amendment rights in honor of Clifford Durr's work with civil rights. Researchers may also be interested in audiotape #T-118.4 which is a recording of Virginia Durr's lecture as a part of the Schlesinger Library Luncheon Series. The series arranged by format and thence chronologically.


Born August 6, 1903, and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Virginia Foster Durr was the youngest child of Ann (Patterson) and Sterling Johnson Foster. She attended Wellesley College from 1921 to 1923, when she was forced to withdraw due to lack of funds. In 1926 she married Clifford Judkins Durr. In 1933, when Clifford Judkins Durr was appointed to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Durrs moved to Seminary Hill, Virginia; Clifford Judkins Durr later worked for the Federal Communications Commission.

During the years the Durrs lived in Virginia, Virginia Foster Durr led an active social life. Her circle included government officials she knew through Clifford Judkins Durr and through her sister, Josephine, and brother-in-law, Hugo Black, Sr., who was appointed to the United States Supreme Court in 1937. She also devoted time to liberal causes. From 1938 to 1948 Virginia Foster Durr was active in the Southern Conference in Human Welfare, primarily fighting the poll tax. She campaigned for progressive Democrats in 1942 and for the Progressive Party, supporting Henry A. Wallace's 1948 presidential bid. She also endorsed the American Peace Crusade in 1951.

In 1951, after a brief period in Denver, the Durrs returned to Alabama, where Clifford Judkins Durr opened a private law practice in Montgomery, and Virginia Foster Durr worked as his secretary. In 1954 Virginia Foster Durr and others were accused of being Communists and were called before the Senate Internal Security Sub-Committee, chaired by Senator James Eastland of Mississippi. Although Clifford Judkins Durr did not serve as Virginia Foster Durr's attorney, he did a great deal of work on the case, collecting information about the informants and providing legal advice to Virginia Foster Durr and her co-defendants. The accusations were ultimately proven to be false.

In 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, Clifford Judkins Durr was called in as her attorney and arranged for her release on bail. This incident sparked the "Montgomery Bus Boycott," during which African Americans refused to ride on public transportation in the city for over a year. Thus began a second period of civil rights activism for Virginia Foster Durr.

Virginia Foster Durr's political activities, and Clifford Judkins Durr's activities with the National Lawyers' Guild and his public attacks on loyalty oaths and the FBI, led to surveillance by the Bureau.

The Durrs had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood: Ann Durr Lyon, Lucy Durr Hackney, Virginia ("Tilla") Foster Durr, and Lulah Durr Colan. After the death of Clifford Judkins Durr in 1975, Virginia Foster Durr lived in Wetumpka, Alabama, spending summers on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Her autobiography, Outside the Magic Circle, was published in 1985. She continued to be politically active until a few years before her death. She died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1999, at the age of 95.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical, family, and writings and speeches, 1919-1993 (#1-88)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1929-1992 (#89-263)
  3. Series III. Addenda, ca.1910-2006 (#264-363)
  4. Series IV. Audiovisual, 1975-2007 (#T-388.1 - T-388.23, Vt-211.1 - Vt-211.7, MP-93.1 - MP-93.2)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 74-301, 75-13, 75-20, 75-39, 75-60, 75-74, 75-124, 76-336, 77-M60, 78-M135, 79-M18, 79-M21, 79-M130, 79-M220, 80-M7, 80-M46, 80-M65, 80-M82, 80-M132, 80-M136, 80-M143, 81-M110, 81-M147, 81-M217, 82-M86, 82-M94, 82-M102, 82-M188, 84-M40, 84-M99, 84-M103, 84-M112, 84-M153, 84-M222, 85-M56, 85-M94, 85-M237, 86-M184, 87-M9, 87-M77, 87-M173, 88-M80, 88-M141, 88-M158, 88-M186, 88-M196, 89-M36, 89-M83, 89-M158, 89-M198, 89-M201, 90-M54, 90-M82, 90-M88, 91-M47, 91-M151, 92-M172. Accession numbers 93-M127, 93-M152, 94-M45, 94-M125; 2000-M10, 2001-M44, 2002-M64, 2004-M12, 2004-M55; 2006-M32, 2006-M136, 2008-M161 were added to the collection in February 2016. Accession number 2023-M26 was added to the collection in December 2023.

These papers of Virginia Foster Durr were given to the Schlesinger Library by Virginia Foster Durr from November 1974 through September 1994; by James Dombrowski in January 1975; by Patricia Lee Murphy, Corliss Lamont, and C.G. Gomillion in February 1975; by Thomas Eliot and Lois Eliot in May 1975 and June 1984; by Otto Nathan and M. Curtis MacDougall in February 1979; by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in April 1980; by Ava Helen Pauling in September 1981; by Susan Sherwin and Mrs. Moreland G. Smith in May 1982; by Marie Stokes Jemison in August 1993; by Eva Moseley in September 1993; by Shelagh Foreman in January 2000; by Mildred Kramer in March 2001; by John Salmond in May 2002; by Robert Ellis Smith in February 2004; by Ann Durr Lyon, Durr's daughter in May 2004, September 2008, and March 2011; by Lucy Durr Hackney, Durr's daughter, in February 2006; by Frances Goldscheider in 2009; by Mary Berwick in October 2009; and by Alabama Public Television in February 2023.

Related Materials


Accession numbers: 93-M127, 93-M152, 94-M45, 94-M125; 2000-M10, 2001-M44, 2002-M64, 2004-M12, 2004-M55; 2006-M32, 2006-M136, 2008-M161.

Processed by: Mark Vassar

The following items have been removed from the collection and transferred to the Schlesinger Library Printed Materials division:

  1. A Collection of Biographies of Women Who Made a Difference in Alabama, 1995


  1. Box 1: 1-10, 17-21, 23-29
  2. Box 2: 30-46, 48-57
  3. Box 3: 58-85
  4. Box 4: 86-111
  5. Box 5: 112-135
  6. Box 6: 136-158
  7. Box 7: 159-189
  8. Box 8: 190-208
  9. Box 9: 209-233
  10. Box 10: 234-260
  11. Box 11: 261-262, 264-273
  12. Box 12: 274-283
  13. Box 13: 284-296
  14. Box 14: 297-299, 301-304, 306-310
  15. Box 15: 311-314, 316-319, 323-326, 328
  16. Folio Box 16: 315fbm
  17. Box 17: 329-336
  18. Box 18: 337-344
  19. Box 19: 345-354
  20. Box 20: 355, 362-363

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: April 1993

By: Susan von Salis

Updated and additional materials added: February 2016

By: Mark Vassar

Additional material (accession numbers 93-M127--2008-M161) was added to the collection in February 2016. This material is located in Series III (#264-328) and Series IV (#T-388.1 - T-388.23, Vt-211.1 - Vt-211.7).

Updated and additional materials added: December 2023

By: Johanna Carll

Additional material (accession number 2023-M26) was added to the collection in December 2023. This material is located in Series III (#329-363) and Series IV.

Durr, Virginia Foster. Papers of Virginia Foster Durr, ca.1910-2007: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
The collection was processed with funds provided by The Ford Foundation.

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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