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John Finerty papers

Identifier: Ax 525

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the working files of John F. Finerty, a practicing civil liberties lawyer for 53 years before his death in 1967.

The material has been arranged to prominently feature the major cases that Finerty worked on during his career, as well as the organizations to which he belonged. The collection also contains a small book of poetry that Finerty wrote himself, with an attached letter from his wife regarding the manuscript.

Series 1 contains the major and general cases Finerty was associated with. These cases include the notable trials of Thomas J. Mooney, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Samuel Tito Williams, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. This series contains different forms of media and legal files such as bound books, correspondence, and newspaper clippings.

Series 2 contains the files related to the organizations with which Finery was associated. The bulk of this series contains correspondence, membership papers, and representation of the ACLU. Other organizations included in this series are the US Equestrian Team, The New York Railroad Club, and the Philosophers Club.

Series 3 contains a single book of poetry written by Finerty. The folder also contains a letter from his wife with an anecdote regarding the title of the book “Finerty’s Fragments.”


  • Creation: 1910-1961

Conditions Governing Access

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

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

John F. Finerty was born in Chicago in 1885. He received his law degree from Northwestern University and practiced railroad law, serving as general counsel for the Great Northern Railway and the United States Railroad Administration. He had private practices in Washington and New York City and was involved in many controversial cases.

Beginning in the 1920s, Finerty pivoted to civil liberties law. In the 1920s he argued the last writ of habeas corpus for Sacco and Vanzetti. In the 1930s he counseled in the appeal of Thomas J. Mooney. He served as special counsel to the Commission of Inquiry into the Moscow Trials and took testimony from Leon Trotsky. He was also involved as a friend of the court after the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Finerty was involved in civil liberties organizations such as: the American Civil Liberties Union; the Workers Defense League, where he was awarded the Clendenin Award for distinguished service; the Tresca Memorial Committee; the NAACP; the Keep America Out of War Congress; and the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training.

John F. Finerty was married to Catherine Palmer Finerty nee Mitchell and they had several children. Finerty was involved in various personal organizations pertaining to hunting and yachting, and enjoyed writing poetry, some of which was published. He died on June 4, 1967 and is buried at the Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont, California.


25.3125 linear feet : 15 record storage boxes, 3 flat boxes, 4 manuscript boxes, 4 half manuscript boxes

Language of Materials



John Finerty (1885-1967) was an attorney who worked for railroad companies before becoming involved with civil rights cases. The collection consists of case files, general files, and personal records.


Original order was maintained where identified. Based on the bulk of the content associated with the ACLU and Workers' Defense League files, processors made the decision to consolidate this material into Series 2: Organizations, rather than Series 1: Case Files. There are some files related to cases Finerty worked on for these organizations included in Series 2.

Series 1: Case Files

Series 2: Organizations

Series 3: Personal Files

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Catherine Finerty, 1969.

Related Materials

Related materials are found in the following collections:

John Frederick Finerty Irish Papers, University of Michigan Special Collections Research Center

John F. Finerty papers, MS#0420, Columbia University Libraries Archival Collections

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Maggie Dobson and Bryanna Hensley May 2023.

Guide to the John Finerty Papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by University of Oregon Libraries, Archivists' Toolkit Project Team and Tanya Parlet.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Funding for production of this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Revision Statements

  • 2023-05-17: Arrangement and description was updated as part of OHC Fellowship.

Repository Details

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

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA