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Finding Aid for the William J. Donovan Papers, 1913-1920

Mss. B86-6

Buffalo History Museum. Research Library

1 Museum Court
Buffalo, NY 14216
Phone: 716-873-9644 ext. 306
Fax: 716-873-8754
Email: library@buffalohistory.org
URI: http://www.buffalohistory.org

Finding aid prepared by Buffalo History Museum staff.
Finding aid encoded in EAD by Kuniko Simon, April 2008.
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid prepared using local best practices.

Funding for the initial encoding was provided through the Regional Bibliographic Databases Program administered by the Western New York Library Resources Council.

Please use the following URL when citing this document:

© 2010. Buffalo History Museum. All rights reserved.

Collection Overview

Title: William J. Donovan Papers, 1913-1920
Creator: Donovan, William J. (William Joseph), 1883-1959
Extent: 3 boxes (1.5 linear feet)
Language of Material: Collection material in English.
Repository: Buffalo History MuseumResearch Library
Abstract: The correspondence and printed material relating to Captain (later Colonel) William J. Donovan's military service, his legal career in Buffalo with O' Brian, Hamlin, Donovan & Goodyear, and his involvement with the American Legion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Description and dates], Box/folder number, Mss. B86-6, William J. Donovan Papers, 1913-1920, Research Library, Buffalo History Museum.

Acquisition Information

Smyton, James W.; gift; 1984/12/05; unknown

Terms of Access

The William J. Donovan Papers, 1913-1920, are open for research.


Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the Buffalo History Museum before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.

Processing Information

Collection was reprocessed and retroconverted by Peter Nelson, 23 December 1991.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Biographical Note

William J. Donovan was raised in Buffalo, educated at Miss Nardin's Private School and St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute; he attended Niagara University for two years before transferring to Columbia, where he earned his A.B. in 1905 and LL.B. in 1907.

Donovan began his legal career in Buffalo with Love & Keating. In 1912, he formed a partnership that was to become the firm of O'Brian, Hamlin, Donovan & Goodyear (dissolved 1920).

Concurrently he actively pursued a military career, becoming one of the founders of Troop I, 1st Cavalry of the New York National Guard, elected as captain in 1912. In 1915, he visited Europe for the War Relief Commission; he returned to serve on the Mexican border with Troop I, then underwent training in a number of military camps, convinced that the United States' entry into World War I was inevitable. He sailed for Europe with the Rainbow Division, one of the first to mobilize, and soon became a battalion major in the "Fighting 69th" New York Infantry (known in France as 165th). Donovan was rapidly promoted to lt. colonel, then colonel.

During World War I, he was highly decorated for his leadership and heroism, receiving the Croix de Guerre, Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Honor medal and the Italian War Cross. After being discharged in May 1919, he sailed for Asia to investigate the White Russian government of Aleksandr Kolchak in Siberia, who was then struggling against the Bolsheviks.

In 1922, Donovan ran unsuccessfully for lt. governor of New York; in 1932 he was defeated in his bid for New York's governorship. President Harding appointed him U.S. attorney for the western district of New York in 1922; he met with considerable success prosecuting major crime rings until 1924.

Donovan resumed his law practice in Buffalo until special duties during World War II forced him to abandon it. Franklin Roosevelt assigned him to coordinate information for the Joint Chiefs, and promoted him to brigadier general and later to major general.

Donovan was also instrumental in helping to establish the Office of Strategic Services, later the Central Intelligence Agency.

Scope and Content Note

Correspondence and printed material relating to Captain (later Colonel) Donovan's military service with the 1st Cavalry, New York National Guard, and then with the "Fighting 69th" New York Infantry in World War I; his legal career in Buffalo with O'Brian, Hamlin, Donovan & Goodyear; and his involvement with the American Legion, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association, and Columbia University, circa 1915-1920. Correspondents include Douglas MacArthur.

Container List

I.A.    Legal, 1914-1915
Box-folder Contents
I.B.    Personal, 1913-1920
Box-folder Contents
January-August 1915
September-December 1915
January-February 1916
March-December 1916
January-December 1917
February-May 1919
June-September 1919
October 1919
November 1919
January-May 1920
June 1920
July-October 1920
I.C.    Military,
Box-folder Contents
I.D.    Telegrams, 1915-1920
Box-folder Contents
1915-1916, 1919-1920
Box-folder Contents
3.2 Siberia Trip, 1919
Box-folder Contents
3.3 Post World War I: Europe and Asia, 1919
Box-folder Contents
3.4 Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association, 1919-1920
Box-folder Contents
3.5 Columbia University Alumni Activities, undated
Box-folder Contents
3.6 General, 1915-1919
3.7 Books, 1915, 1919-1920
Box-folder Contents
3.8 Cards and Announcements, undated
Box-folder Contents
3.9 American Legion, 1919-1920, undated
Box-folder Contents
3.10-3.11 Printed Material, undated
Box-folder Contents
3.12 Miscellaneous Manuscripts, undated

Search Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Library's online catalog.


Buffalo History Museum
MacArthur, Douglas, 1880-1964
O'Brian, Hamlin, Donovan & Goodyear (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Roosevelt Memorial Association

Subject Terms

Columbia University--Alumni and alumnae
Law offices--New York (State)--Buffalo
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919
Siberia--History--Revolution, 1917-1921
United States. Army. New York Infantry Regiment, 69th (1861-1865)
World War, 1914-1918--Campaigns

Genre Terms