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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Thesis Topics: Ready-Made



THE TWO OLD WOODEN BOXES and the one cardboard container from the locked area on level three contain a miscellany of material about Tom Mooney, the labor agitator who was convicted of participation in the bombing in 1916 at the San Francisco Preparedness Day parade. Ten persons died and forty were injured. Five persons including Mooney and Warren Billings were arrested for the crime, but only Mooney and Billings were convicted. Mooney was sentenced to hang and Billings to life imprisonment. For twenty-three years a struggle went on to free Mooney. In 1918 his sentence was changed to life imprisonment; in January 1939 he was pardoned. Billings was not officially pardoned until 1961 although he was freed by commutation of sentence in October 1939.

There were many issues in the case: the industrial and business interests involved; the manipulations of the so-called power structure; the way the judicial system worked; fears of an anarchist conspiracy. The events are sometimes compared to those of the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Mooney did attract world-wide attention, but he has not attracted such interest nor been the object of so much scholarly research as that case.

The boxes hold a variety of publications: small leaflets, congressional hearings, a bound book, organization letters, official publications of the state of California, and the like. A check indicated that the material in the boxes could be found cataloged under the title, Mooney Pamphlet Collection, Miscellaneous Material on Tom Mooney, and listed under three topics: Mooney, Thomas J .; Billings, Warren K.; and Labor and Laboring Classes-United States; but with no entries for individual items in the boxes. One other publication appeared in the catalog under Tom Mooney's name as subject: What Happened in the Mooney Case, published in 1932 by Emest J. Hopkins.1 But there is much more available for anyone wishing to investigate.

The article on Mooney in the Dictionary of American Biography 2provides essential facts, plus references. The Bulletin of Bibliography for June 1986 3 has a bibliography on the Mooney Case that includes both book and journal references. The latter date almost entirely from the period of greatest activity, from the beginning up through the 1930s. In 1969 an 'essay review' appeared in the Pacific Northwest Quarterly; 4 a more complete check would probably reveal other studies. Interestingly, the index America: History and Life lists several Russian-language references, one of which was published as recently as 1981. 5 Richard H. Frost's The Mooney Case , 6 missing for some time, has just been replaced.

The questions originally posed about the three boxes of Mooney material asked whether or not they should be transferred to storage and what to do about the delapidated containers. But something, as well, needed to be done bibliographically about the contents to make the individual items more accessible to users. Thanks to the Catalog Department this has been done and the most substantial of the publications have records in the Online Catalog; the contents of the collection are more fully described; and the subject approach has been improved. The Online Catalog greatly increases the access points to the collection. The boxes will remain in the third level locked area (Circ.-Locked).

In 1929 George W. Wickersham was appointed to head the National Commission on Law Observance and Law Enforcement. This commission is generally called the Wickersham Commission; it made its final report in 1931. Various of its publications appear in the catalog but the one that does not appear there is one on the Mooney case. It was suppressed and not issued as a government publication but was privately printed under the title The Mooney Billings Report: Suppressed by the Wickersham Commission . 7 This report is in the Mooney collection. There are congressional hearings as well; although these (and other congressional publications) can be found in our extensive collection of congressional publications available in both paper and microform, they enhance this specific group of materials. Students can consult the United States Reports issued by the United States Supreme Court, but not usually available are the briefs and other related publications. There are several of these in the Mooney material. For California there is representation as well; for example, . . . In the Matter of the Application of Thomas J. Mooney, for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Abstract of Record. Frank P. Walsh, John F. Finnerty, George T. Davis...Attorneys for Petitioner, published in 1932. 8 There are numerous leaflets issued by groups supporting Mooney, such as the Tom Mooney Molders Defense Committee. (When a youth of fifteen Mooney was apprenticed as an iron molder and belonged to their union.)

The San Francisco Chronicle is available on microfilm from 1894; recently the San Francisco Newspaper Index, 1904-1949, in microfiche was added. The Chronicle was not a pro-Mooney paper; there are other papers, though not Californian, which can be consulted to maintain balance. The Hearst papers were generally anti-Mooney. The Socialist Party of America Papers, 1897-1976, plus a paper guide, can be consulted in microfilm format. There are a number of references in the guide to Mooney. In some cases there might be autobiographies or biographies of individuals related in some way to the Mooney case. Such is a biography of Bourke Cockran, one of Mooney's attorneys. It is by James McGurrin and called Bourke Cockran, a Free Lance in American Politics.. 9

All told, the Mooney case seems to offer a number of facets from which a student might approach a study of it. Richard H. Frost, who wrote the Dictionary of American Biography article on Mooney (as well as the book) declares in it: `Mooney was unattractive in character. Vain, preoccupied with the burdens of his injustice, determined to run his own defense movement from prison, he alienated those who served him best.' 10 Even so, the persons involved, the times during which events occurred, and the issues all make the study of the Mooney case of interest. A reading of the reviews of Frost's book, those in such sources as the American Historical Review and Dissent or Science & Society, can be suggestively helpful.


1. (New York: Brewer, Warren & Putnam, 1932).

2. Supplement 3 (1973): 531-533.

3. Peter Chobanian,'The Mooney Case: A Bibliography.'Bulletin of Bibliography 43 (1986): 108-113.

4. Albert F. GuIlns,'The Mooney-Billings Case; An Essay Review,' Pacific Northwest Quarterly 60 (1969): 216-220.

5. V. L. Mal'kova.'Iz Arkhiva Toma Muni' ('The Tom Mooney Papers'), Amerikanskii Ezhegodnik (USSR) 1981: 259-278.

6. (Stanford: Sranford University Press, 1968).

7. (New York: Gotham House, Inc., [1932]).

8. Mooney, Thomas J., 1888-1942. petitioner, ...In the Matter of the Application...,(San Francisco: Pernau-Walsh Printing Co., [1932])

9. (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1948).

10. Ibid., p. 533.