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The Lloyd C Douglas Papers at the Bentley Historical Library

by Ronald R Johnson (

After Lloyd Douglas died, his daughters donated 6 boxes of his private papers to the Bentley Historical Library on the campus of the University of Michigan. Douglas had spent several happy years as senior minister of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, a church which includes within its edifice a chapel in his honor; so the University of Michigan seemed like a logical place for his papers to be kept in archive.

My own exploration of those papers began with Boxes 5 and 6, which contain his scrapbooks. Here is the cover of the earliest scrapbook in the collection. He originally used it for notes he took during his “Liturgies” course while in seminary but then turned it into a scrapbook.

Douglas’s scrapbooks are a wealth of information. They contain mostly newspaper clippings of his sermons, and these are very detailed, giving us the next best thing to the sermon transcript itself. They also contain letters, programs, newsletters, newspaper accounts of wedding ceremonies and funerals at which he officiated and speeches he gave at high school graduations and Veterans events; and he even pasted in the articles he published in various periodicals. There is one page of train tickets, giving just a sample of the many trips he took for speaking engagements. (See the left page of the following two-page spread):

We also have the letters of “call” he received from each of his congregations, including the salary and other compensation offered. Obviously, these scrapbooks are rich in information.

Boxes 1 through 2 contain his extensive correspondence with his daughters and with his editor at Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company. Here is a letter he sent his oldest daughter Betty from a hotel in Chicago in 1926:

These files mostly cover the years after Douglas became a bestselling author, from the early 1930s to the end of his life in 1951. In some respects they are more insightful than the scrapbooks, since they give us his unguarded thoughts conveyed to people he trusted. But they also don’t give us the context quite as nicely as the scrapbooks do, and we often have to infer what is happening from the clues within the letters themselves.

Box 3 contains sermons and speeches. Even though his scrapbooks give us detailed newspaper reports of his sermons, Box 3 includes actual sermons. Douglas always typed out his sermons on Saturday afternoon, then delivered them extemporaneously on Sunday. Here’s an example of a sermon he preached in Boston in 1931. At this point in his career, he used little pages that would fit in his hand, but the punch holes show that he kept them in a small three-ring binder.

Box 4 has files pertaining to his most famous novel, The Robe, as well as miscellaneous items, including day planners and small notebooks.

Here are the chapter summaries he had in mind for a travel book he never wrote:

I’ve spent years studying these boxes (my first visit was in 2005), and I still have a lot more to see. But now that I’ve given you the overview, in future blog posts I can share with you some of the things that I have learned from these sources.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below: