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Josef Berger papers

Identifier: Coll 058

Scope and Contents note

The Josef Berger Papers illustrate the diversity of Berger's writing talents. In addition to family and business correspondence, the collection includes manuscripts of books, short stories, poems, song lyrics, speeches, and teleplays. The collection is divided into five series: Correspondence; Diaries; Manuscripts; Printed Material; and Allied Reparations Commission Material. Fourteen bound volumes are included in the collection, as well as reviews and sketches.

Although the correspondence dates from 1918-1982, the majority of it begins in 1927. Before 1950, it consists almost solely of letters between Berger and his family members. After 1950, the correspondence includes communication with fans, agents, and publishers such as Monica McCall, Inc.; Barta Press; Simon and Schuster; and Little, Brown, and Company.

The second series, Manuscripts, is divided into four subseries: Books, Articles, and Short Stories; Poetry and Lyrics; Speeches; and Teleplays. The first subseries includes over 100 manuscripts, among which are the major book titles Diary of America, Discoveries of the New World, First Love, Poppo, and Small Voices. Also included are several manuscripts authored by Berger's wife Dorothy Berger and their daughter Elwynne Berger. The second subseries consists of 202 manuscripts of poems and song lyrics, including collaborations with folk singers such as Alan Arkin and Lee Hays. The third subseries includes speeches written for Francis Biddle, Henry Wallace, and Basil O'Connor, the president of the National Foundation March of Dimes. The fourth subseries consists of two teleplays.

Printed material contains published articles, letters to the editor, and book reviews. Of special interest is a 1924 essay entitled "Laughter" which won first prize in an Atlantic Monthly contest. The bulk of the articles date from 1960-1962, when Berger wrote for The New York Times Magazine, McCall's, and others.

The collection includes 45 photographic prints, primarily of Berger and family from the 1940s, many of them by a Life magazine photographer.


  • 1918-1982


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Josef Berger was born on May 12, 1903 to Adolph and Sonya Berger in Denver, Colorado. He graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1924. During the same year, while he was still attending the university, he won the McAnally Prize for Literary Composition and first place in an Atlantic Monthly essay contest. Berger proceeded to work for newspapers in Kansas City and then moved to New York, where he was a reporter and editor from 1924-1934. In 1928, Berger began writing juvenile books; his first, Captain Bib, was published in 1929. He published a total of twenty books, in addition to writing short stories and articles for publications such as Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Esquire, Reader's Digest, McCall's, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

In 1937 Berger authored Cape Cod Pilot under the sponsorship of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers Project. In 1938, he received his first Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which he used to write In Great Waters, a history of the Portuguese in New England. He received another Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946. Berger went to Washington, D.C. in 1940 to become the editor of reports for the U.S. House of Representative Select Committee to Investigate Interstate Migration of Destitute Citizens. In 1941 he worked in the same capacity for the U.S. Senate Committee on Wartime Health and Education, followed by the position of chief speechwriter for U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle in 1942.

From 1944-1947, as chief speechwriter for the Democratic National Committee, Berger prepared speeches for Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Robert E. Hannegan, Tom Clark, Henry Wallace, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn and Estes Kefauver. The single speech he wrote for Roosevelt was scheduled to be delivered at a Jefferson Day dinner on April 13, 1945. Although Roosevelt died on April 12, the speech was subsequently published and widely quoted. Berger also served as chief of press relations for the Allied Commission on Reparations in London, Paris, Berlin, Pottsdam, and Moscow during 1945. From 1955-1968, he was the chief speechwriter for the National Foundation March of Dimes.

In an interview with Thomas Benson, a professor of Speech Communication at State University of New York in Buffalo, Benson said, "As I see it, the objective of a speechwriter should be to make his principal compose as much of the speech as he can possibly get out of him. You do that by sitting across the table from him and asking him questions, as you ask me, and taking down the notes and actually making the speech his, not yours. This is good speech writing-or good ghostwriting, rather."

In 1957, Berger and his wife, Dorothy Berger, co-authored Diary of America, an anthology of diaries from colonial times to the present. Two other anthologies followed, Small Voices (1967) and First Love (1986). Poppo, a true story written in 1962, received critical acclaim and was reprinted in Reader's Digest and featured in a photo layout in Life. Berger also wrote poems and song lyrics, including a record called The Babysitters with Alan Arkin and Lee Hays.

At the age of sixty-seven, Josef Berger died suddenly of an aneurysm on November 11, 1971 in New York City.


20 linear feet (41 containers)

Language of Materials



Josef Berger (1903-1971) was a children's book author, political speechwriter, poet, and lyricist. The collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, speeches, and published articles, relating to Berger's interest in American history, politics, and culture.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series: Series I: CorrespondenceSeries II: DiariesSeries III: ManuscriptsSeries IV: Printed materialSeries V: Allied Reparations CommissionSeries VI: MiscellaneousSeries VII: Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Gift of Phyllis Berger in 1980.

Processing Information

Collection processed by staff.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

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Language of description note
Finding aid is in English
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA