Aldino Felicani Collection: Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Records, 1915-1977 | Boston Public Library Archival and Manuscript Finding Aid Database
Associations, institutions, etc. -- Accounting.
Debs, Eugene V. (Eugene Victor), 1855-1926.
Demonstrations -- United States -- 20th century.
Dos Passos, John, 1896-1970.
Eastman, Max, 1883-1969.
Evans, Elizabeth Glendower, 1856-1937.
Felicani, Aldino, 1891-1967.
Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley.
Frankfurter, Felix, 1882-1965.
Fuller, Alvan T. (Alvan Tufts), 1878-1958.
Immigrants' writings, American.
Massachusetts. Supreme Judicial Court.
Millay, Edna St. Vincent, 1892-1950.
Propaganda -- United States -- 20th century.
Radicalism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Sacco, Nicola, 1891-1927.
Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee. Records and correspondence.
Thayer, Webster, 1857-1933.
Tresca, Carlo, 1879-1943.
Trials (Murder) -- Massachusetts -- 20th century.
Upton, Sinclair, 1878-1968.
Vanzetti, Bartolomeo, 1888-1927.
The records of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee span the years 1914-1967, with the bulk dating from 1920-1927. The collection documents the efforts and activities of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee to free Nicola Sacco (1891-1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888-1927) from prison for the murders of Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli, which were committed on April 15, 1920 in Braintree, Massachusetts. In particular, the collection documents the committee's propaganda campaign, Frederick Moore's investigation and defense strategies, post-trial proceedings, and the execution of the two men. The efforts, financial and otherwise, made by labor unions, defense organizations, and individuals on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti are also documented. In addition, Sacco and Vanzetti’s thoughts regarding the guilty verdict and their impending execution are included.
Both Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti wrote more than 200 letters, many of which share common themes, particurarly their innocence, the emotional and physical effects of long term imprisonment, and the injustice of the legal system. The letters the two men exchanged between themselves contain news about friends and family, their loyalty to their comrades, and words of support and encouragement to one another. Each man also wrote several letters to members and friends of the Committee, many of which extend their gratitude for the work that was being done on their behalf, several of which speak directly to the historical significance of their fight, and others that call for mass protests and demonstrations.
Throughout his correspondence, Sacco focuses primarily on the visits from his wife Rosina and children Dante and Ines, and how they rejuvenated his spirits. In his letters to Mrs. Jack Cerise, Elizabeth Glendower Evans, and Aldino Felicani, Sacco explains the reasons for his hunger strike, his distrust of Frederick Moore, and his conviction that his death will help create a better future for the working class. Other letters detail his thoughts about the articles written by John Dos Passos and Felix Frankfurter, and his feelings and impressions of the Bible, Mahatma Ghandi, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Why Men Fight by Bertrand Russell.
Vanzetti corresponded with a number of people including Aldino Felicani, Elizabeth Glendower Evans, his sister Luigia, the Brini family, Alice Stone Blackwell, Roger N. Baldwin, and Eugene and Theodore Debs. The majority of the letters are reflections on the social, political, and religious literature he read while in prison. Other letters document his account of both the Dedham and Braintree trials and the post-trial procedures, the role he played in his defense, such as writing articles and editorials, and his criticism of Judge Thayer.
While in prison, Vanzetti wrote 54 essays, articles, autobiographical pieces, and editorials which articulated his ideas about justice, freedom, the bias of the press, and the life experiences that influenced his decision to become an anarchist. Among these writings are “The Story of a Proletarian Life”, and “Memories of My Mother’s Life”. Some essays document Vanzetti’s arguments for the necessity of a new trial include “What I Would Say to the Jurors in My Defense”, “What I would Have Said to Thayer, Had He Given Me the Chance”, and his petition to Governor Alvan Fuller.
The correspondence of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee documents the efforts and activities generated by the Committee, particularly in the areas of fundraising, disseminating propaganda, publicity, and organizing meetings and demonstrations . In addition, the Committee’s relationship with the legal defense team, especially Frederick Moore and William Thompson, is documented. The participation of labor unions and civil rights organizations, such as the United Mine Workers, the International Labor Defense, the Sons of Italy, and the American Civil Liberties Union is included. Letters written by Mary Donovan, Selma Maximon, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn report on the organizing that was being done in cities throughout the country, while correspondence from Eugene V. Debs, Eugene Lyons, and Roger Baldwin provide insight into the case from a few of the American radicals who were sympathetic to Sacco and Vanzetti. The letters from Italian anarchists Carlo Tresca and Felice Guadagni are among those that refute the guilty verdict on the basis of political discrimination. Moreover, the efforts of several committees that were established while the men were in jail and after the execution, such as the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Committee (which was made up of members of the Defense Committee), the Committee for the Vindication of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the Citizens National Committee for Sacco and Vanzetti, are also documented.
Meeting minutes of the Executive Committee date from 1924-1927 and provide a rare glimpse into how the Committee operated. The majority the entries are comprised of interactions between Defense Committee and the New Trial League, its response to Sacco and Vanzetti’s feelings about who should be in handling their defense, and reports from field organizers, publicity arrangements, and fundraising matters.
One of the primary responsibilities of the Committee was to keep the names of Sacco and Vanzetti from slipping into the back pages. They did this by constantly publishing and disseminating the facts of the crime, the trial, and subsequent post-trial proceedings. Some of the subjects covered in the publications are the trial and guilty verdict, the failure of judicial process, the inequality of law in Massachusetts, and Judge William Thayer’s ability to conduct a fair trial. Elizabeth Glendower Evans, John Dos Passos, Eugene Lyons, and Upton Sinclair were among the contributing writers for the press releases, the official Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Bulletin, and the “News Service” bulletins. Many untitled and unpublished articles by John Nicholas Beffel, Eugene Lyons, and Sinclair Lewis are also included.
The other important function of the Committee was fundraising. Among the several expenses that were incurred over the years were attorney and court fees, the costs of the pre-trial investigation, and the contributions made to Sacco’s family. Other expenses, such as daily operating expenses, salaries of office workers, and fees for expert witness testimonies were paid for by contributions made by union members, individuals, and groups from all over the country. For seven years, the Committee sent out circular letters requesting donations, sold publications, held mass meetings where hats were passed, and received loans from the American Fund for Public Service, International Labor Defense Office, and the Workers Defense Union. The unsolicited letters written by the general public to the Committee, many of which included monetary contributions.
Frederick Moore’s correspondence from the leaders of the labor movement, radicals, and the progressive press chronicles the steps he took in transforming the trial from a local matter to an international cause. In addition, it documents his defense strategies, his relationship with Sacco and Vanzetti and the Committee, and his resignation. Some of the topics discussed throughout Moore’s correspondence are meeting arrangements, the activities unions and defense organizations were doing on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the relationships between the New York and Boston Sacco-Vanzetti defense committees.
Moore’s correspondence also includes the in-depth investigation Eugene Lyons (Morris Gebelow) undertook in Italy to find the Italian consulate employee Sacco said he had spoken with on the afternoon the crime occurred, the active role Elizabeth Gurley Flynn had in making decisions for the Committee and for providing the perspective of the American Civil Liberties Union on the case, and Sacco and Vanzetti’s active monitoring of the status of the case. The letters from the field staff, particularly Selma Maximon and Matilda Robbins, document their efforts to organize support with groups in New York and with other sympathizers throughout the United States.
From the beginning of his position as defense counsel to the time he resigned, Moore compiled twelve notebooks containing material he gathered from his investigation of the murder and robbery. The notebooks contain the results of his investigations and those of his investigative team, such as personal histories of Frank Silva, Jacob Luban, and other known criminals, and further questioning of several witnesses, among them Anna De Falco and Ruth Johnson. Also documented is the history of the get-away car, Vanzetti’s account of his treatment during his years in prison, and the cause of Frederick Parmenter and Alexander Berardelli’s deaths. In addition, testimonies from eyewitnesses, police, and character witnesses, the backgrounds and work histories of Sacco and Vanzetti, and an analysis of witness testimonies in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Bartolomeo Vanzetti trial are recorded.
Other investigative material was subsequently added on by the rest of the defense team. Subjects covered include the history of the black Buick, fire arms and ballistics, robberies committed in Boston and Rhode Island, criminal histories, the DeFalco case, the “Paris Affair”, and Judge Webster Thayer's competence. This material, together with Moore’s analysis of the evidence, provides further insight into his defense strategies. Moreover, the trial transcripts of the cases Moore argued for the International Workers of the World also help illustrate some of the methods and legal arguments he employed to defend Sacco and Vanzetti.
After Moore’s resignation in late 1924, William Thompson was named chief counsel. Consequently, the majority of the defense attorney’s correspondence, which dates from 1921-1956, is Thompson’s. The correspondence reflects the state of the case prior to Judge Thayer’s denial of the motions for a new trial in October 1921, the strategies Thompson wanted to implement as the options for a new trial became fewer, and the question of James McArney’s representation of Nicola Sacco. Also included are summaries of his conversations with Vanzetti, the procedures necessary to bring the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and the dynamics between Thompson and the Committee.
Aldino Felicani’s correspondence spans from 1914-1967 and documents his efforts to prove Sacco and Vanzetti’s innocence both while they were alive and after their deaths. The majority of his correspondence from 1914-1920 is in Italian and has not been translated; however, it contains letters from several anarchists, among them Tomaso Concordia, Norman Thomas di Giovaini, Carlo Tresca, and Erasmo S. Abate. Also included is correspondence from Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. After 1920, Felicani's correspondence reflects his position as treasurer of the Committee, his role in the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti, and his formation of the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Committee. Moreover, his efforts publish to two magazines, The Lantern and Countercurrents, are chronicled. Much of the later correspondence with former Committee members, particularly Mary Donovan and Hapgood Powers, Creighton Hill, and Jackson Gardner provide details into their personal lives and careers in later years. Other important correspondents include Vincenzia Vanzetti, who kept Felicani up with the news from Villafalletto and the efforts there to clear Vanzetti’s name, Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the authors of the books, television and movie scripts written about Sacco and Vanzetti. The letters and newspaper clippings in this series are not translated.
Interspersed with Felicani's correspondence are several documents which contribute to the history of the Committee and Felicani’s role in it. These documents include a piece Felicani wrote about Luigia Vanzetti after her death, which is the only documentation that exists in the collection specifically about her (in Italian), the history of Gutzon Borglum’s memorial sculpture, and the legal document giving Felicani power of attorney by Luigia Vanzetti, which gives explicit instructions concerning the dispersal of Bartolomeo’s ashes. Other notable papers are Felicani’s essays “In the Shadow of the Chair” and “Gardner Jackson: a Memoir of the Sacco-Vanzetti Days” because they chronicle the last hours of Sacco and Vanzetti and the ceremony at Forest Hills Cemetery.
The trial transcripts of the proceedings of Commonwealth of Massachusetts v Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts v Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, are also contained in the collection. Other legal records include the post-trial motions and supplementary motions, appeals, and responses to motions. Subjects cover the prosecution’s claim against Sacco and Vanzetti, the crime, Sacco and Vanzetti’s histories and characters, and the evidence. The legal records in this series are not complete. Included in the Manuscripts and Printed Material series are poems by Babbette Deutsch, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Carl Sandberg, and the majority of Upton Sinclair’s book, Boston. Because of their literary nature, these few pieces provide a different perspective of the case than what is contained in the rest of the collection. In addition, the series contains post-execution newspaper clippings from Italy, television scripts, and essays.
In Series 9, the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, their deaths, and funeral are documented through photographs, newspaper clippings and press releases, arm bands, and original art work. Also contained in the series are a number of broadsides from unions and Sacco- Vanzetti defense organizations in Europe and South America, which represent the international response to the plight of the two men. Among these groups are the Comité de Ágication Pro Libertad de Sacco y Vanzetti (Argentina), Le CalVarie de Sacco et de Vanzetti (France), Irish Labour Protest Meeting Against Judicial Murder (Ireland), and the Comitato Pro Ribilitazione di Bartolomeo Vanzetti (Italy). In addition, cartoons from the Daily Worker provide political commentary from the communist perspective, while those from the Boston Post report on the big moments of the trial. The series also contains three scrapbooks: two consisting of newspaper clippings and press releases and one of photographs. The newspaper scrapbooks document the entire history of the trial through the 1960s. The “Publicity” scrapbook includes both clippings from both the mainstream press and the Committee’s press. Among the subjects documented in the photograph scrapbook are the crime scene, Sacco and Vanzetti when they are first arrested, and Vanzetti’s fish cart. The loose photographs cover such events as the removal of Sacco and Vanzetti’s bodies from the Charlestown jail, the funeral procession through the North End and old Scollay Square, and visits to the jail by Rosina Sacco and her children, Mary Donovan, and Luigia Vanzetti.
Series 1: Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Correspondence and Writings, 1916-1928 (bulk 1920-1927)
Series 2: Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Records, 1914-1967 (bulk 1920-1927)
Series 3: New Trial League Records, 1924
Series 4: Frederick Moore Papers, 1919-1924
Series 5: Defense Attorneys' Correspondence, 1921-1956
Series 6: Aldino Felicani Correspondence and Related Material, n.d., 1914-1967
Series 7: Trial Transcripts, Motions, and Affidavits, 1921-1927
Series 8: Manuscripts and Printed Material, n.d., 1920-1963
Series 9: Memorabilia, Photographs and Posters, n.d., 1920-1959