From the Archives: Wofford national service papers

Angela White poses with boxes in the IUPUI archivesView print quality image
Philanthropic studies archivist Angela White poses near the almost 40 boxes of former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford's national service records. Once processed, IUPUI researchers will be able to study them. Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

Harris Wofford's legacy can be found in many of the United States' most prominent philanthropic initiatives.

The former United States senator co-founded the Peace Corps. He served as chief executive officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps and other volunteer domestic programs. He attained these posts and accomplishments after serving as an advisor to President John F. Kennedy and marching alongside Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama.

Just months before his Jan. 21 death, Wofford met with IUPUI philanthropic studies archivist Angela White concerning his 40-plus boxes of materials, memos and transcripts of his seven decades of national service work. There were only a few degrees of separation between Indiana University and the longtime politician and activist from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. After some meetings, the Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives at IUPUI, which supports the work of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, among other clients, were deemed a suitable home for the materials, which were rescued from soot-filled storage spaces and a guest bathroom's shower stall.

"It's surprising how many boxes you can get into a shower stall," White recalled while surveying some of the boxes shelved in the archives below University Library.

A look inside some of the files in the boxes obtained from Harris Wofford reveals, from top, a copy of his remarks at the 1967 Peace Corps Volunteer Forum, a memo to then-President Bill Clinton and an edited speech from 2005. Photos by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

In early March, White returned from Wofford's funeral service in Washington, D.C., with more boxes of records, photos and copies of articles scheduled to arrive soon. 

Most of Wofford's surviving civil rights and political career records can be found in the Bryn Mawr College archives, but national service was a significant part of Wofford's career and drive. 

"He served as co-chairman of America's Promise," White said. "There's a little bit of stuff related to his time in the Senate around national service."

White spent three days sorting receipts, grocery lists and personal letters from the national service materials. Still, it will take her and her staff at least a year to fully process the materials. Only then will they be opened to IUPUI students to study. 

"We really had to go piece by piece, which is not something I have to do with most collections when I'm packing them up," White explained. "There's a lot more sorting that needs to happen."

Over the past few weeks, White dove into a few boxes and found some interesting artifacts: a color photograph of Wofford with Sen. Ted Kennedy; a copy of a May 1, 1964, Peace Corps Ethiopia News publication; and a memo to then-President Bill Clinton regarding a discussion they had about national service while on Air Force One. 

With a small fraction of the materials analyzed, White has found treasures among the mundane. Still, all items will be made available in time -- they must be logged and organized first. About 70 years' worth of national service materials demands careful attention.

"The thing about Harris Wofford is he's the most important person whose name you don't really know," White said. "Some people say, 'He was always in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing.' 

"He doesn't have the name recognition of a Kennedy, but his fingerprints are all over -- the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, civil rights."