Papers of pioneering feminist attorney Sylvia Roberts now available to researchers at the Newcomb Archives
By: Chloe Raub, Newcomb College Institute of Tulane University
The Newcomb Archives, part of Newcomb College Institute of Tulane University, is thrilled to announce the acquisition of the Sylvia Roberts papers. The collection is now available for research and spans her almost sixty-year legal career, throughout which Roberts dedicated her life to furthering the rights of women and other marginalized groups.
In addition to the Weeks v. Southern Bell records, the collection covers the Sharon Johnson v. University of Pittsburg trial, during which Roberts defended Dr. Johnson in her case against the University for wrongful termination and denial of tenure. Other bodies of records, organized as archival “series,” include the legal defense of those wrongfully committed to hospitals for the criminally insane in Louisiana, domestic violence prevention, and education and early legal practice, among others.
Many of these records suffered pest infestations, humidity and water damage after years in storage in Louisiana’s tropical climate. The Archives staff have worked to preserve them, removing rusting stables, decomposing rubber bands and other debris, placing all documents into acid-free folders and boxes, and inventorying all records in a finding aid that researchers may use as a guide to the collection. The finding aid is searchable in Tulane’s online database.
The Archives also worked to develop ethical use guidelines for the collection. Because the practice of law in the United States is not limited to analyses of the decisions of the courts, and because the work of lawyers is present in nearly all aspects of American life, the Newcomb Archives believes the personal and professional papers of lawyers are vital to a holistic understanding of American history (see Covitz, 2001). However, some of these records contain sensitive information and require careful attention to their use. Should a researcher wish to publish any information where a client is identifiable, they must obtain permission from the client, or, if the client is deceased, a legal representative of the client. Out of respect for the confidentiality privileges of those advised by Roberts in her capacity as their attorney, personal identifiers have been redacted from the online finding aid for all cases for which the last inclusive date of legal materials is less than fifty years from present.
Newcomb College Institute is honored to be the custodian of these important papers, which form a cornerstone among our collections documenting the history of women and gender in the Gulf South. Sylvia Roberts’s unwavering commitment to equal rights and social justice is evident in her papers, and the Newcomb Archives is excited to make her life’s work available to researchers.
Lorena Weeks with typewriter, Sylvia Roberts papers, Newcomb Archives collection NA-28
Sylvia Roberts and founding members of National Organization for Women, Sylvia Roberts papers, Newcomb Archives collection NA-282