Skip to main content
Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI provides access to John H. Chafeeís senatorial papers

Media Contact:

Universityís political papers document R.I leaders of 20th Century

KINGSTON, R.I -- March 9, 2005 -- On March 15 at 10:30 a.m., Virginia Chafee, widow of the late U. S. Senator John Chafee, will type in a few key strokes on a computer in the University of Rhode Island Libraryís Special Collections Reading Room, linking the index of her husbandís senatorial papers to the world wide web. The index or register will make it possible for scholars, students, historians, and average citizens to learn more about the senatorís remarkable career and achievements.

URIís Special Collections Unit has just completed processing and describing his senatorial papers, which are housed in 1,642 archival boxes and exceed 1,025 linear feet of library shelf space. The Library already houses and has processed Chafeeís papers from his service as governor of Rhode Island and as Secretary of the Navy, which amounts to another 125 linear feet of materials.

URIís Political Papers Archive houses the records of Rhode Islandís congressional and gubernatorial political leaders of the 20th century. Included are the records of former Rhode Island governors, Frank Licht, Philip Noel, J. Joseph Garrahy, Bruce Sundlun, and Lincoln Almond. The records of Gov. William Vanderbilt, 1939-41, are mostly constituent correspondence. In addition, URIís Special Collections houses the political papers of former U.S. Representatives Robert Tiernan, Claudine Schneider, Robert Weygand and U.S. Senator Clairborne Pell.

Chafee served 22 years in the U.S. Senate. Elected to that legislative body in 1976, he was re-elected in 1982, 1988, and 1994. He died in office in 1999, two days after his 77th birthday.

In addition to the paper records, URIís Special Collections Unit has processed the historical audio and visual news footage of the senator, including reel-to-reel, cassette audiotapes, 16-millimeter motion pictures and news films and photographs. The staff will now begin the process of determining preservation and reformatting requirements. Selected records will be digitized for access on the web.

Chafeeís and other political leadersí primary source materials represent 60 years of non-partisan social, economic, and political aspirations of Rhode Islandís leaders. Sen. Chafee served 22 years and Sen. Pell served 35 years in the Senate and achieved influential rank, becoming leaders in legislation and committee assignments on issues such as educational reform, protective environmental policy, medical programs, labor management, transportation initiatives, arts and humanities funding, energy concerns, and foreign policy.

In its 2000 report The Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress recommended that all states centralize the collecting of political papers in one institution. URI initiated this type of program in 1976. The University, and equally the state of Rhode Island, is now in the unique position of being one of the seven states in the country to have in one institution, much of the political documentation of its leaders of the 20th century.

However, many of these important papers have not been processed due to lack of funding. This means that some records are currently not available for research. Registers of collections that are processed are available on the Special Collections website, www.uri.edu/Library/Special_Collections.

The processing of the Chafee senatorial records was made possible by a $68,000 donation from the Chafee Memorial Fund. The donation represents the remaining funds from a fundraising drive among family, friends, former staff members and colleagues of the late senator who wanted to honor the senatorís memory and his environmental accomplishments. The result was a bronze statue of the senator, which was erected in Colt State Park in Bristol, on land that Chafee saved from development while he was governor.

URI contributed $25,000 in matching funds to pay an archivist to complete the work.