Papers of Lawyer and Civil Liberties Advocate Morris L. Ernst Now Cataloged

April 12, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — The papers of lawyer Morris Leopold Ernst (1888–1976) are now cataloged and open for research at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin. A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities supported a two-year, $392,213 project to arrange, describe and preserve the collection, and an online inventory is now available.

Morris L. Ernst (left, holding book) was one of the most active attorneys for the anti-censorship cause during the interwar years. In this 1935 photograph, from the New York Journal American, Ernst defends the Gustavo Flaubert's November
Morris L. Ernst (left, holding book) was one of the most active attorneys for the anti-censorship cause during the interwar years. In this 1935 photograph, from the New York Journal American, Ernst defends Gustave Flaubert's "November."

Ernst practiced law in New York for more than 60 years and was one of the leading advocates of civil liberties in 20th-century America. As counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and later director emeritus, Ernst defended individual rights and freedoms in numerous landmark federal cases on privacy, libel, slander, obscenity, censorship, birth control, labor rights and monopolies.

The Ernst papers arrived at the Ransom Center in multiple accessions, mostly during the 1960s and 1970s. Prior to this cataloging project, the collection had been open for research, though there was no archival inventory for the collection.

Dating from 1904 to 2000, the Ernst papers comprise almost 600 boxes and include manuscripts for his books and articles, as well as legal research and case files. Extensive correspondence files document Ernst's professional and personal communications with numerous politicians, jurists, artists and business leaders, including Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, judges Felix Frankfurter and Learned Hand, government officials J. Edgar Hoover and Harold L. Ickes, writers Edna Ferber and James Joyce, journalists Edward R. Murrow and Walter Winchell, publishers Henry Luce and Arthur Hays Sulzberger, lawyers Arthur Garfield Hays and Jerome Frank, journalist Heywood Broun, early birth control advocates and founding members of the ACLU.

Because of Ernst's work on literary censorship cases and his personal and professional relationships with notable cultural figures, one of the strengths of the collection is literary history. Ernst played a key role in the American publication of one of the most significant English-language novels of the 20th century, James Joyce's "Ulysses." He also defended Radclyffe Hall's "The Well of Loneliness" and Arthur Schnitzler's "Casanova's Homecoming."

Ernst worked as counsel for the American Newspaper Guild, the Authors League of America, the United States War Production Board and the Dramatists Guild. He also was a personal representative for Roosevelt on missions abroad during World War II, a member of Truman's Civil Rights Commission and the United States Post Office Advisory Board and a labor arbitrator for New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

Ernst's professional and personal relationships with literary, artistic and entertainment figures are evident in files of correspondence with Huntington Cairns, George Gershwin, Fannie Hurst, Sinclair Lewis, Compton Mackenzie, Archibald MacLeish, Groucho Marx, H.L. Mencken, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Cornelia Otis Skinner, James Thurber and E.B. White.

High-resolution press images relating to the Ernst papers are available.

For more information, contact: Alicia Dietrich, Harry Huntt Ransom Humanities Research Center, 512 232 3667;  Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Huntt Ransom Humanities Research Center, 512-471-8949.