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last updated: 7/8/2013

The Art of Leadership

Birch Bayh's papers document a generation

The Vietnam War.
Title IX.
Civil Rights.
The Equal Rights Amendment.

The issues of an era are contained in 1,296 boxes. 

As part of the Lilly Library's impressive collections of Indiana politicians, the papers of Birch Bayh, U.S. Senator from 1962 through 1981, offer keen insight to a pivotal time in American history.
From his office in Washington, D.C., Bayh modestly deflects their importance. "I had some difficulty understanding if anyone would be interested in the darn things," he says, referring to the 1.2 million items of correspondence, reports, memos, and campaign speeches contained within the collection. "But there's a lot of life there, especially in the papers of some very bright and energetic staff members."


Bayh sells himself short.  He is decidedly more grateful for the opportunity to serve than he is proud of his accomplishments. "I spent 18 years doing just exactly what I wanted to do," he says. "It was not always easy, and sometimes downright difficult on occasion.  I felt the people of Indiana gave me a blessing, and I did my best to fulfill it."


He certainly did.  Bayh, who was a Democratic member of the Indiana House of Representatives prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, served in Washington from 1962 through 1980.  He was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and chair of the Judiciary Committee on the Constitution.


Bayh sponsored two constitutional amendments, the only lawmaker since the Founding Fathers to do so. "There aren't too many constitutional amendments floating around," he says. The 25th amendment deals with presidential succession ("to shore up weakness in the executive branch") and the 26th lowers the voting age from 21 to 18 (to right "an egregious injustice.") 


"Here we had kids dying in Vietnam," he says, "and beyond that a lot who were starting families or working and paying taxes." It just seemed right, he says today, that they be allowed to vote.


It was also right, he says, to pass Title IX,  the law he sponsored that prohibits institutions that receive federal funding from practicing gender discrimination in educational programs or activities.  Bayh is still pleased with its effect. "It has worked unbelievably well," he says, "but has gotten a lot of heat." Created at a time when women could be denied admission to a university if they were married, the regulation has come under attack recently by those who believe it has forced institutions to cut athletic programs needlessly. "A lot of male chauvinists out there still don't think girls should do the same things as boys."


Many such  insights are revealed in the written record, an incredibly valuable tool for a researcher. "Learning more about [politicians] through their own files is a real gift to a scholar," says Marjorie Randon Hershey, professor of Political Science. "We have access to elected officials' voting records and public statements, which can be very helpful in understanding a politician's public behavior.  Other materials, such as correspondence, can flesh out the politician's motives, concerns, self-presentation, and many other aspects of his or her less public behavior."

Bayh himself is a graduate of both Purdue and Indiana Universities, and his loyalties were split when choosing a home for his papers. But, he says, "I thought that the Lilly Library was a an exceptional place, a presence I'm happy to be a very small part of."

last updated: 7/8/2013