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Mary Field Parton-Clarence Darrow Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Parton

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, mainly sixty-one letters (some with transcriptions) from Clarence Darrow to Mary Field Parton, and a few other letters to and from Darrow, including two from miner J. Hanrahan and the L.A. County Socialist Party, supportive of Darrow during his trial for bribery in 1912. Also, a small collection of Margaret Parton Hussey's letters concerning her mother's papers and a sketch of her mother's relationship with Darrow, plus some transcripts from Mary Parton's journal which refer to Darrow. Also, clippings, playbills for Henry Fonda playing Darrow, a few photographs of Darrow, five works presumably by Darrow (some unsigned).


  • Creation: 1909-1975



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Mary Field Parton-Clarence Darrow Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum (Priority II).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Mary Field Parton-Clarence Darrow Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biographies of Mary Field Parton and Clarence Darrow

This collection, preserved and annotated by Mary Field Parton's daughter, Margaret Parton Hussey, concerns the relationship between Mary Field and Clarence Darrow. Darrow, the great Chicago labor and criminal defense lawyer, met Mary Field, social worker and journalist, in 1908 in Chicago at a rally for a Russian revolutionist. They immediately became friends and remained so until Darrow's death in 1938.

Darrow had been practicing in Ohio as a corporation lawyer, when he arrived in Chicago in 1887. There he became associated with Judge (later governor) John P. Altgeld, and under his influence turned to labor law. Within a few years Darrow defended, among others, Eugene V. Debs who was charged with contempt in the 1894 Pullman strike, and William D. Haywood, accused of conspiracy to assassinate the former governor of Idaho. In 1911, Darrow went to California to defend John J. and James B. McNamara, labor leaders charged with dynamiting the L.A. Times Building. Though they were found guilty, Darrow saved them from a death sentence. This trial essentially ended his support from labor groups and he never got another major labor case.

Returning to Chicago, Darrow began to specialize in criminal cases, of which his most spectacular was his defense of the young murderers, Leopold and Loeb. Again, though they pleaded guilty, Darrow saved them from the death penalty. Then in 1925 he attracted national attention as the defense at the trial of John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee. Though Scopes was found guilty of teaching the theory of evolution, the agnostic Darrow dramatically and effectively outsmarted the fundamentalist Williams Jennings Bryan in the courtroom.

Clarence Darrow had a pessimistic, even gloomy, attitude toward life, but it did not deter him from taking on the defense of many poor and powerless clients throughout his life. Renowned for his spell-binding courtroom addresses and for the acid wit he displayed in his popular public debates and lectures on many subjects, Darrow enjoyed the limelight. As well as speaking, he wrote eight books and many essays and stories, on a wide range of literary, social and economic topics that interested him, such as his opposition to capital punishment, his fervent patriotism during World War I, his religious and philosophical skepticisms, his belief in the civil rights of Negroes, and so on.

Darrow was married first to Jessie Ohl, with whom he had his only child, Paul, in 1883. They divorced in 1897 and in 1903 he married Ruby Hammerstrom. Though apparently he had many women friends throughout his life, they remained a couple until his death in Chicago in 1938.

Mary Field was born in Kentucky in 1878. The family later moved to Detroit and after graduating from the University of Michigan, she worked in Chicago in several slum settlement houses. Through her interest in and reporting on the labor movement, she met Clarence Darrow, whom she immediately and enthusiastically deemed a great man, and to whom she became an intimate and devoted friend.

Mary Field, by 1912 celebrated as a tough-minded reporter for articles she wrote for Organized Labor, sometimes would investigate prospective jurors for Darrow's trials. She was with Darrow when he was being tried and eventually acquitted of bribing a juror in the McNamara brothers case.

Mary Field had moved from Chicago to New York in 1909, but Darrow remained her friend and also her benefactor, sending her money from time to time. She was a talented writer, and Darrow introduced her to Theodore Dreiser, who was at that time editor of The Deliniator, a popular women's magazine. The assignments Dreiser gave her got her started in new directions, and soon she was writing for America Magazine as well and enjoying literary and social success in New York.

In 1913 she married Lemuel Parton, a San Francisco newspaperman. They had one daughter, Margaret, who also became a journalist. After Lem died in 1943, Mary Field Parton lessened her reporting activities, though according to her obituary she did research for the planned parenthood movement, wrote book reviews and edited a book on the life of Mother Jones, the famous labor organizer. She died in 1969.


0.6 Linear Feet (2 boxes)


Material relating to the friendship between Clarence Darrow and journalist Mary Field Parton, which includes sixty-one of his letters to her, several other letters, short articles by Darrow, clippings, and photographs. Included are numerous transcripts of Darrow's letters, a biographical sketch of Parton, and excerpts from her journal that refer to Darrow, all done by Parton's daughter Margaret Parton (Hussey).


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Correspondence, 1909-1975
Folders 1-20
Series 2: Miscellaneous Material, 1913-1974
Folders 21-24
Series 3: Works, 1916-1938, undated
Folders 25-31

Collection Stack Location

1 27 2


Gift of Margaret Parton Hussey, 1981.

Related Material

Four scrapbooks were kept by Darrow's first wife, Jessie Ohl Darrow, and his son Paul. See Midwest MS Darrow.

Processed by

Virginia H. Smith, 2003

Inventory of the Mary Field Parton-Clarence Darrow Papers, 1909-1975
Virginia H. Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States