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Alger Hiss collection

Identifier: MS 2504


This collection contains mainly court proceedings, government publications, and correspondence related to Alger Hiss (1904-1996), who was publicly accused of belonging to the Communist Party and of participating in Soviet espionage activities.


  • 1934-1979


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical / Historical

Alger Hiss was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1904. He attended Baltimore City College and graduated with honors from Johns Hopkins University in 1926. By 1929, he had received his law degree from Harvard Law School and embarked on an illustrious legal career. Upon graduation from Harvard, he was selected by Professor Frankfurter to serve as a law clerk to Justice Holmes. In December 1929, he married Priscilla Hobson and as soon as his term as law clerk ended, the couple moved to Boston where Alger was employed by the firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart. After two years with Choate, Hall & Stewart, Hiss moved to New York and became associated with the law firm of Cotton & Franklin.

In 1933, Alger Hiss and Lee Pressman were appointed as assistants to Judge Jerome Frank, acting counsel for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). The following year, at the request of Senator Nye, Hiss was temporarily relieved of his duties with the AAA so that he could serve as counsel to the Nye Committee which was investigating the munitions industry. By the late 1930s, Hiss had transferred to the State Department and spent much of his time with the Far Eastern Division. Moreover, he performed, with Leo Pasvolsky, much of the preparatory work for the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, which laid the groundwork for the United Nations. In addition, Hiss accompanied Secretary of State Edward Stettinus to the Yalta Conference and assumed the responsibility of discussing the United State's position on the United Nations Organization. In February 1947, Johns Hopkins University conferred an honorary degree on Hiss in recognition of his work on the United Nations Organization. By this time, John Foster Dulles appointed Hiss the Presidency of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace.

It was while serving as President of the Carnegie Foundation that Hiss was accused by Whittaker Chambers of belonging to the Communist Party and of participating in Soviet espionage activities. The charges were made before the House Un-American Activities Committee and were repeated in public on Meet the Press. Following these statements, Hiss, in August 1948, filed a libel suit against Chambers and asked his friend, William Marbury, to represent him. As a consequence of the evidence found in the “Baltimore Documents” and the “Pumpkin Papers,” Hiss was forced to testify before the Grand Jury and was subsequently indicted for perjury. The first jury was discharged in December 1948 after having been unable to reach a verdict. In January 1950, a second jury returned a verdict of guilty which was affirmed in the December 1950 ruling of the United States Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court denied Hiss the writ of certiorari, i.e., the right to review the case. From March 1951 to November 1954, Hiss served a three year prison term for the perjury charges.

Beginning in 1975 Alger Hiss repeatedly petitioned for the writ of error coram nobis as well as requesting, under the amended Freedom of Information Act, to see the relevant files from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., and the C.I.A.


3.3 Linear Feet (8 boxes )

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of William L. Marbury.

Scope and Contents

Essentially the collection contains three types of papers, namely, court proceedings, government publications, and correspondence.

Court Proceedings

Within this first group, there exists the records of the quasi-judicial Committee on Un-American Activities. These papers not only illustrate the role that the young Congressman Richard Nixon played in the proceedings but depict the nature of investigatory legislative committees.

Moreover, the collection contains the transcripts, memorandums, and abstracts for the Alger Hiss v. Whittaker Chambers case as well as the 1950 U.S. v. Alger Hiss appeal.

Government Publications

This second group of materials is comprised of three publications of the Committee on Un-American Activities regarding espionage and Communist activity within the United States government.


Contains incoming and outgoing correspondence of William Marbury, Alger Hiss's friend and attorney for the libel suit. Content is focused on the Hiss case and includes letters written at the time of the trial as well as correspondence with individuals doing research on the case several years later.

In addition to Marbury's correspondence, there is included the correspondence of two of his firm's partners, namely, John T. Webb and Franklin G. Allen.

Guide to the Alger Hiss collection
Under Revision
Janice E. Ruth, updated by Iris A. Bierlein
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Revision Statements

  • 2020-02-25: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Sandra Glascock

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States