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Otto Kerner Family Papers

Identifier: MS-BC382

Scope and Contents

The Kerner Family Papers consist of 20 linear feet (18 archival boxes, 14 oversize manuscripts and 14 bound volumes) that include correspondence, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, awards, invitations, and items of legal, political, and governmental content. The Otto Kerner, Sr., File, 1925-1938 (Boxes 1-2) is a set of scrapbooks containing news clippings primarily related to his career as Illinois Attorney General. The scrapbooks are divided into clippings from Chicago papers, down state papers, and out of town papers. Many of the papers cover the same news stories. The Crime Commission’s investigation of Kerner and two other judges on the charges of maintaining an alliance between politics and crime and their subsequent exoneration is covered extensively. A copy of the final Crime Commission Report is included. There is coverage of some well known criminal cases over which Kerner officiated, such as the August Vogel case, where Kerner sentenced Vogel to death in the electric chair. Coverage of his campaign for Attorney General, other prominent and not so prominent Democrats, political debates, and the “abandonment” of Governor Horner by the Democratic Party in 1936 is included. Many stories about Kerner as Attorney General making statements on sales tax evaders, opposition to the gas rate increase, theatre prize night, lotteries, slot machines, bookie licenses, “quacks” and “psychics,” and lake pollution are covered. The newspapers cover his support of interstate cooperation in tracking and prosecuting criminals, recovering funds from closed banks, deporting aliens who do not become citizens, and his ruling that marriages outside Illinois are legal in Illinois. News stories laud him for drastically cutting administrative costs in his department. There are many articles written in Polish. Numerous articles tell of his speaking engagements, and there is coverage of his daughter Rose’s marriage. The Otto Kerner Jr., File, 1954-1976, (Boxes 2-6) is divided into scrapbooks of news clippings and correspondence. The news clippings cover his years as Cook County Judge and his beginning campaign for governor. The clippings mainly refer to board of election news, encouraging voter registration and turnout, asking for and selecting election judges, new voting machines, and election fraud. There are also many articles about areas requesting annexation or incorporation, or creating fire districts. Several stories about the “booming black market baby business” in Chicago are included. The 1960 election clippings cover not only Kerner’s campaign, but also Daley’s in Chicago, and the disputes between Daley and Governor Stratton. The correspondence includes letters from the Norris Brookens (Board of Regents, U of I) family, Diana Richmond of the Kent College of Law requesting he speak at the commencement, Arnold Newberger requesting he speak at the dedication of the Mount Sinai Hospital Martin Luther Health Center in North Lawndale, Illinois, Rev. Monsignor Driscoll of Loras College requesting his acceptance of the John F. Kennedy Award, and Howard Swibel regarding the choice of Weston, Illinois as a site for an atomic energy accelerator laboratory. There are letters from Kerner to poet Gwendolyn Brooks, several letters to and from Henry P. Chandler discussing the Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1970. There are many congratulatory letters on his appointment as judge. The majority of this correspondence is letters of support from the people of Illinois to Kerner throughout his trial and incarceration. Following his release there are letters of congratulation and requests for him to speak at Oak Park Temple, Chicago Public Library, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Public Offender Counselor Association. Letters from Roger Simons of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Public Television request interviews with Kerner to discuss prisons and prison reform. The Illinois State Medical Board requested that he act as moderator for a conference on “The Prisoner as Patient.” There are copies of letters of acceptance to the 1975 NAACP Salute to Otto Kerner. The letters and cards he received during his hospitalization in 1976 are included. The Subject File (Boxes 6-10) consists of letters, pamphlets, booklets, awards, memos, programs, lists, and requisitions pertaining to the subjects listed. The Trial Files (pink labels) (Boxes 10-13) include copies of legal, financial, and administrative papers related to the different businesses: loan agreements, legal trust agreement, deeds, financial statements, copies of checks, list of stockholders, minutes of the meetings of stockholders, payroll accounts, legal descriptions of the facilities and racing sites, and correspondence from lawyer, bankers, and the Illinois Harness Racing Commission. The Trial File (white labels) (boxes 13-15) hold the same types of material including handwritten and typed statements related to the trial. The Citizens for Otto Kerner File, 1973-1975 (Boxes 15-16) includes copies of letters sent to supporters asking for donations, thank you letters for support, paid bills, and correspondence. The Awards, Cards, Dinners, Programs files, 1928-1976 (Boxes 16-17) include many awards given to Otto Kerner, Jr., newspaper clippings related to these awards, and other aspects of his career and pamphlets, programs, and correspondence. This file also includes letters to Otto Kerner, Sr., written in his support while he was being investigated. There are letters and documents related to Kerner, Jr.'s service in the military. The Anton J. Cermak File, 1923-1933 (Box 17) includes some business-related and personal correspondence, many congratulatory telegrams, notes, and letters for his election as mayor, and the news clippings related to his election and time in office. Both the Helena Cermak Kenlay Kerner File, 1931-1973 and the Mary Alyce (Kerner) Christiansen File, 1942-1953 (Box 18) include personal correspondence, scrapbooks of news clippings, and cards. Helena Kerner’s includes telegrams and letters of condolences on the death of her father. The Mary Alyce Christiansen file includes some homework notebooks, including her handwritten tribute to General Douglas MacArthur, wedding and birth announcements and congratulations, and condolence letters on her death. There are oversize manuscripts for Otto Kerner, Jr. and Anton J. Cermak that include proclamations, resolutions, and memberships.


  • Created: 1922-1976
  • Other: Date acquired: 00/00/1992


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research


20.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Illinois political family (Democrat) with Kerner, Sr. serving as Attorney General of Illinois from 1932-1938, until appointment to the United States Court of Appeals on which he served until his death in 1952 and Kerner, Jr. serving as Governor of Illinois from 1960-1968. He also served as United States District Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 1947-1954 and County Judge of Cook County from 1955-1960. In 1968 he was appointed judge of the Federal Court of Appeals. He was married to Helena Cermak, the daughter of Anton J. Cermak, the mayor of Chicago from 1931-1933. Includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, awards, cards, programs, telegrams, condolence letters, degrees, membership cards, and certificates. Includes papers on the cases of ex-Governor Kerner, Illinois Racing Board, Illinois Harness Racing Commission, Kerner Commission, mental health, NAACP, National Alliance on Shaping Safer Cities, National Conference on Christians and Jews, elections, the 1970 Constitutional Convention, and documents subpoenaed for the trial of Otto Kerner, Jr.

Arrangement Note

Materials are arranged in six series: Series 1, Otto Kerner, Sr., papers; Series 2, Otto Kerner, Jr., papers; Series 3, Anton J. Cermak papers; Series 4, Helena Cermak Kenlay Kerner papers; Series 5, Mary Alyce (Kerner) Christiansen papers; and Series 6, Oversize Personal Papers. Series 2, the most extensive in the collection, is divided into seven sub-series, as follows: Sub-series 1, Newspaper Clippings in Scrapbooks; Sub-series 2, Correspondence; Sub-series 3, Subject File; Sub-series 4, Trial Files (pink labels); Sub-series 5, Trial Files (white labels), Sub-series 6, Citizens for Otto Kerner; and Sub-series 7, Awards, Cards, Dinners, Programs. Series 6, Oversize Personal Papers, is also divided into two sub-series: Sub-series 1 contains papers of Otto Kerner, Jr., and Sub-series 2 papers of Anton J. Cermak.
Archon Finding Aid Title
Pamela Scott, Connie Butts, Debbie Hamm, and Karl Janssen
Description rules
Other Unmapped
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collection Repository

112 North Sixth Street
Springfield IL 62701 US
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