University News

Libraries Professor Jeff Hancks reviews some of the papers contained in the 587 boxes of the Tom Railsback Collection (Photo by the WIU Visual Production Center).
[Download Print-Quality Image]

Pictured in this Archives photo with Tom Railsback, left, is Gordana Rezab and former Library Director Pearce Grove.
[Download Print-Quality Image]

WIU Houses Political Paper Collection of the Late Tom Railsback

February 4, 2020


Share |
Printer friendly version

MACOMB, MOLINE, IL – In the basement of the Leslie F. Malpass Library at Western Illinois University sit 587 archival boxes full of documents making up the legislative history of former Congressman Tom Railsback, who passed away in late January in Arizona.

The eight-term Republican Illinois Congressman announced the donation of his papers to the University in 1977 while he was still in office. The bulk of the collection was then transferred to WIU after he left office in 1983. At the time, the papers, covering issues from Watergate to the Vietnam War, were the only ones from an in-office congressman to be housed at an Illinois university. The papers also include his time as an Illinois legislator.

Railsback was a Moline, IL, native and a member of the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee during the time the impeachment of former President Richard Nixon was being recommended. With the ongoing impeachment trial of current President Donald J. Trump, there has been renewed interest in the Railsback Collection and the documentation of history it contains.

WIU Professor of Libraries Jeff Hancks said the collection contains all of Railsback's correspondence during his time in office, everything ranging from letters from constituents to his personal diary, which was not to be made public until after his death.

Because the collection is so extensive, archivists at the University's Libraries continue to catalog the collection.

"They have to go through every folder in every box and check to see if redaction is needed," Hancks said. "Then they re-folder everything in acid-free folders and create an index of each folder's contents. It's a slow process - lots of hands-on work."

The Watergate portion of the documents was processed by WIU alumna and Professor Emerita Sheila Nollen, who later headed the government documents portion of the WIU Library.

The initial donation, while Railsback was still in office, was 186 boxes. Hancks said the National Records Center transferred the balance of the collection to WIU within three months of Railsback leaving office.

"It's so cool, because there is a little bit of everything in there," said Hancks. "It's not just about western Illinois. The whole world can really be found in this collection."

The papers came to WIU under the direction of former Director of Libraries Pearce S. Grove and the collection was sought out by former WIU History Professor Gil Belles, who first contacted Railsback about the donation.

Hancks said he talked with Railsback a number of times in recent years, when the former legislator called to talk about the materials in the collection. Railsback also referred people to the collection for more information.

In recent years, historian and NYU Professor Timothy Naftali spent several days reviewing portions of the collection for research on his part of the book "Impeachment: An American History," which was released in 2018. Naftali wrote about Nixon's exit from office and used portions of the collection as background.

"Over the years there has been a lot of interest and we are so proud the materials are here," said Hancks. "Once they're archived, they're here forever."

The WIU Archives and Special Collections section of the University Libraries also has the political paper collection of Lane Evans, who succeeded Railsback in office. The two donations make up the largest two collections in University Archives.

For more information about the Railsback Collection, visit bit.ly/312ojCL.


Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (JK-Pospeschil@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations