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William S. Cohen Papers | Scope, Content, and Arrangement of the Papers

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Scope and Content Note


The William S. Cohen congressional papers consist of the records created by Cohen and his staff in the course of Cohen's duties as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1978 and as a U.S. Senator from 1979 to 1997. They include correspondence, memos, reports, press releases, appointment calendars, speeches, voting records, photographs, videos, and memorabilia. These files document Cohen's legislative and committee-related work, the attention and services he offered to his constituents, his public relations and press activities, and the administrative activities of his office in Washington D.C. and in the six state offices in Maine. The Department of Defense documents, primarily in electronic format, include trip reports, public statements, correspondence, photographs, and videotapes from 1997-2001. Cohen's private papers, the bulk of which consist of the manuscripts for the nine books he has written, are also included.
Private Papers, 1956-1996, 33 boxes

The bulk of Cohen's private papers consist of records related to writing, Cohen's major avocation. Drafts of his poetry and manuscripts from the nine books he has written are included here, and they attest to Cohen's avid interest in writing poetry, fiction, and accounts of his own experience in Congress. The papers also document several aspects of Cohen's life and career before he entered the U.S. Congress in 1973. They include his yearbooks from Bowdoin College, where he received his A.B. cum laude in Latin in 1962, correspondence with his colleagues in the American Trial Lawyer Association, and material related to the JFK Institute of Politics where Cohen was a fellow in 1972.
U.S. House of Representatives Papers, 1972-1980, 211 .5 cu. ft. boxes

This record group consists of the files that were created by Cohen and his staff in the course of Cohen's duties as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1979. They document the five major functional areas of a congressional office: a) personal/political/official, b) constituent services, c) legislative, d) press/media activities, and e) office administration. Each of these five functional areas contain records which form a series.

The personal/political/official records document Cohen's personal activities, and they consist of biographical information, scheduling records, Cohen's personal correspondence, and records from the four campaigns he conducted while he was in the House. These campaign records include brochures, voting records, position papers and newsclippings. Audiovisual campaign materials may be found with the audiovisual materials (record group 4).

The legislative records document the legislative process, and the bulk of the files contained in this series consist of Cohen's correspondence with his constituents about specific legislative issues. Also included are records related to Cohen's service on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee from 1973-1979. As a freshman member of that committee in 1974, Cohen participated in the Nixon impeachment inquiry, commonly known as the Watergate crisis. Draft articles of impeachment, Cohen's correspondence with other Judiciary Committee members, and other records which document the decision he made to vote in favor of Nixon's impeachment may be found in this series.

A number of Cohen's aides worked on legislative issues such as health, aging, the environment, and the fishing industry. Files received on these and other legislative subjects were few in number, so they have been filed with Cohen's Senate legislative papers, under the appropriate subject headings. This also includes files related to long-term Maine issues such as the controversy over the Dickey-Lincoln power plant and the Indian land claims settlement of 1980.

The constituent service records document the representative function of the Cohen office. This involves activities such as managing casework and coordinating service academy appointments. Due to the confidential nature of case work files, they were removed from the collection before it was transferred to the University of Maine. The records in this series consists of two boxes of service academy applications and screening committee records, which are arranged alphabetically according to the last name of each applicant.

Press/media records reflect the efforts of Cohen's staff to communicate with the public about Cohen, and they consist of newspaper clippings, press releases, speeches, and special mailings. Office administrative records include staff memos, general correspondence, and applications for internships in Cohen's office.
U.S. Senate Papers, 1973-1996, 1161 boxes

These records were created by Cohen and his staff in the course of Cohen's duties as a U.S. Senator from 1979 to 1996. Some of the legislative papers from Cohen's time in the House of Representatives are also included. The records in this category document the five major functional areas of a congressional office, which are the same as they are in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The personal/political/official records include Cohen's personal correspondence with Presidents Bush, Reagan, and Carter as well as other political and public figures. Records from his two Senate campaigns, the first in 1984 and the second in 1990, are also found in this series, and they consist of Cohen's voting records, position papers, and newsclippings.

The bulk of the legislative records were created by Cohen's legislative aides, who were responsible for drafting bills, and providing him with up-to-date information about pending legislation and advice on possible legislative strategies. Each aide was usually assigned to several subject areas, such as agriculture, defense, education, transportation, and the environment, and the records are organized according to these subject areas. They contain memos from aides to Cohen, copies of bills, transcripts of hearings, briefing books, and staff project files. The legislative records also reflect Cohen's service on various committees, such as the Committee on Aging, which he was a member of from 1977-1997, and the Senate committee formed to investigate the Iran-contra affair in 1987. Cohen's Iran-contra files include drafts of the questions he asked of witnesses who participated in the public hearings, advisory memos from legislative aides, and drafts of speeches and floor statements.

The constituent service records consist largely of correspondence which was handled by a Correspondence Management System (CMS), used to produce responses to individual letters from constituents. The care with which this correspondence was handled documents the priority status that constituent service was given in the Cohen office. The correspondence for each year that Cohen was in the Senate (with the exception of 1996) was microfilmed, and the microfilm copies and masters of this correspondence are included with the audio-visual materials.

The press/media records are made up of newsclippings, press releases, speeches, and documentation concerning the television show Washington Perspective which Cohen participated in with Sen. George Mitchell. Video and audiocassette tapes of Cohen on television talk shows and on the Senate floor can be found with the audiovisual materials.

The office administrative records include travel itineraries, an office policy manual, staff memos, and administrative reports.
Audiovisual Materials, 73 boxes and 63 reels

Records in this group encompass Cohen's career in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. Included here are over 600 videocassette recordings of Cohen's speeches, television interviews, his own radio and television broadcasts, and his statements from the floor of the House and the Senate. Audiocassette tapes, microfilm, reel-to-reel tapes and other audiovisual materials, created to communicate information about issues and events with which Cohen was involved, are also found in this series. Much of this material was generated for the four campaigns Cohen waged during his term in the House, as well as his Senate campaigns of 1984 and 1990.
Photographs and Memorabilia, 120 linear ft.

Photographs of Cohen with family members, constituents, and VIPs, as well as several hundred negatives which were taken by the Senate Photo Studio are found in this series, as well as plaques, framed photographs, trophies, honorary degrees, and other objects that were given to Cohen as tokens of esteem from constituents, universities, corporations, and other institutions.

Department of Defense, 1996-2001, 5 GB (16 CD-ROM disks) and 6 boxes of videotapes

Secretary Cohen's papers from the Office of the Secretary of Defense consist of files kept in the office for reference purposes; official federal records created by Cohen and the staff at the Pentagon are retained by the DOD and by the National Archives. Cohen's DOD papers are copies of unclassified documents. The records in this group are divided into five series: official correspondence, trips, public statements, conferences/hearings/special events, photographs, and news.

The official correspondence series consists of a variety of letters to and from congressional leaders, other cabinet offices, and heads of state as well as reports to Congress and the President; staff memos regarding scheduling and suggested talking points for meetings; and related reference material such as President Clinton's speeches and detailed Congressional committee reports on defense matters. This is the only series of material generally not available the public in other forms.

Trip materials include itineraries, points of contact, speeches, statement alternatives, background papers, talking points, and reference materials for the specific visits and meetings organized by country or location. Photographs of travel are in the photographs series.

Public statements include transcripts of speeches, interviews, press conferences, and congressional testimony; text of reports, announcements, and news articles; press advisories and correspondent memoranda; and copies of related correspondence. This material is duplicated in seven bound volumes provided by the Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The series titled conferences/hearings/special events covers activities of the Office of Secretary of Defense that were treated separately from other functions. Files generated by Cohen's congressional confirmation hearings for the Secretary's position, the 1997 Kassebaum Report on Gender Integrated Training and Related Issues in the military, preparation for hearings in the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees in Congress, and Y2K readiness are included.

The photographs, nearly 3,000 images, document diplomatic meetings with the Secretary hosting heads of state visiting this country, Secretary and Mrs. Cohen during foreign visits at ceremonies or visiting the troops, and Secretary Cohen with important public figures in this country, either at meetings or social events. These jpeg images taken by Department of Defense photographers are identified in most cases.

The news files are items prepared by the American Forces Information Service on behalf of DOD staff for daily information on world events. Contents are organized by date and by branch of service and topic within each date. Press releases from the Pentagon are included.

The records in this group are divided into five series: official correspondence, trips, public statements, conferences/hearings/special events, photographs, and news. Each series has a corresponding notebook with a hard copy of the Main Menu along with contents for each CD in the series. The photographs are JPEG images of official events including award ceremonies, meetings with dignitaries, and travel. The news files are primarily the research gathered on behalf of DoD staff for daily information on world events.

Organization of the Records

Organized into the following six record groups: Private Papers, 1956-1996; U.S. House of Representatives, 1972-1980; U.S. Senate, 1973-1996; Audiovisual materials, 1972-1997; Photos and memorabilia, 1955-1997; and Department of Defense, 1996-2001.
Arrangement of the Records

Original order maintained wherever possible, series and sub-series alphabetical by function or staff member and chronological within the sub-series. U.S. Senate and U.S. House record groups are each arranged into the following five series: Personal/Political/Official, Constituent Service, Legislative, Press/Media, and Office Administration. Audiovisual materials and photos and memorabilia cover Cohen's House and Senate years combined as they were interfiled in this manner by staff.

The papers are arranged in folders in 1/2 cubic foot boxes, except where format requires oversized boxes.

Index Terms

William S. Cohen.

United States. Congress - Ethics.
United States. Congress - House of Representatives.
United States. Congress - Senate.
United States. Department of Defense. Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Aging - United States.
International relations.
Iran-Contra Affair, 1985-1990.
National security - United States.
Political ethics - United States.
Watergate Affair, 1972-1974.
Watergate Trial, Washington, D.C., 1973.

United States - Military policy.

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Contact the Cohen Papers: 207.581.2665 | | Revised: 01/05/2015
5729 Fogler Library
University of Maine
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The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469