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William J. Donovan Papers,

Buffalo History Museum

1 Museum Court
Buffalo, NY 14216
Phone: 716-873-9644 ext. 306
Fax: 716-873-8754

Donovan, William J. (William Joseph), 1883-1959

3 boxes

(1.5 linear feet)


The correspondence and printed material relating to Captain (later Colonel) William J. Donovan's military service, his legal career in Buffalo with O' Brian, Hamlin, Donovan & Goodyear, and his involvement with the American Legion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association.

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Collection Details

William J. Donovan was raised in Buffalo, educated at Miss Nardin's Private School and St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute; he attended Niagara University for two years before transferring to Columbia, where he earned his A.B. in 1905 and LL.B. in 1907.

Donovan began his legal career in Buffalo with Love & Keating. In 1912, he formed a partnership that was to become the firm of O'Brian, Hamlin, Donovan & Goodyear (dissolved 1920).

Concurrently he actively pursued a military career, becoming one of the founders of Troop I, 1st Cavalry of the New York National Guard, elected as captain in 1912. In 1915, he visited Europe for the War Relief Commission; he returned to serve on the Mexican border with Troop I, then underwent training in a number of military camps, convinced that the United States' entry into World War I was inevitable. He sailed for Europe with the Rainbow Division, one of the first to mobilize, and soon became a battalion major in the "Fighting 69th" New York Infantry (known in France as 165th). Donovan was rapidly promoted to lt. colonel, then colonel.

During World War I, he was highly decorated for his leadership and heroism, receiving the Croix de Guerre, Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Honor medal and the Italian War Cross. After being discharged in May 1919, he sailed for Asia to investigate the White Russian government of Aleksandr Kolchak in Siberia, who was then struggling against the Bolsheviks.

In 1922, Donovan ran unsuccessfully for lt. governor of New York; in 1932 he was defeated in his bid for New York's governorship. President Harding appointed him U.S. attorney for the western district of New York in 1922; he met with considerable success prosecuting major crime rings until 1924.

Donovan resumed his law practice in Buffalo until special duties during World War II forced him to abandon it. Franklin Roosevelt assigned him to coordinate information for the Joint Chiefs, and promoted him to brigadier general and later to major general.

Donovan was also instrumental in helping to establish the Office of Strategic Services, later the Central Intelligence Agency.

Correspondence and printed material relating to Captain (later Colonel) Donovan's military service with the 1st Cavalry, New York National Guard, and then with the "Fighting 69th" New York Infantry in World War I; his legal career in Buffalo with O'Brian, Hamlin, Donovan & Goodyear; and his involvement with the American Legion, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association, and Columbia University, circa 1915-1920. Correspondents include Douglas MacArthur.

This collection is arranged in ten series:
I. Correspondence
II. Siberia Trip
III. Post World War I: Europe and Asia
IV. Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association
V. Columbia University Alumni Activities
VI. Purchases
VII. Cards and Announcements
VIII. American Legion
IX. Printed Material
X. Miscellaneous Manuscripts

Collection Access & Use

The William J. Donovan Papers, 1913-1920, are open for research.

Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the Buffalo History Museum before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.

[Description and dates], Box/folder number, Mss. B86-6, William J. Donovan Papers, 1913-1920, Research Library, Buffalo History Museum.

Collection Subjects & Formats

Download Container List:

Series I.: Correspondence,

Subseries I.A.: Legal,

Box-folder: 1.1


Box-folder: 1.2


Subseries I.B.: Personal,

Box-folder: 1.3

Date: 1913-1914

Box-folder: 1.4

Date: January-August 1915

Box-folder: 1.5

Date: September-December 1915

Box-folder: 1.6

Date: January-February 1916

Box-folder: 1.7

Date: March-December 1916

Box-folder: 1.8

Date: January-December 1917

Box-folder: 1.9

Date: 1918

Box-folder: 1.10

Date: February-May 1919

Box-folder: 1.11

Date: June-September 1919

Box-folder: 2.1-2.2

Date: October 1919

Box-folder: 2.3

Date: November 1919

Box-folder: 2.4

Date: January-May 1920

Box-folder: 2.5

Date: June 1920

Box-folder: 2.6

Date: July-October 1920

Subseries I.C.: Military,

Inclusive Date: 1917-1920

Box-folder: 2.7

Date: 1917

Box-folder: 2.8

Date: 1919

Box-folder: 2.9

Date: 1920

Subseries I.D.: Telegrams,

Box-folder: 3.1

Date: 1915-1916

Series II.: Siberia trip,

Box-folder: 3.2

Date: 1919

Series III.: Post World War I: Europe and Asia ,

Box-folder: 3.3

Post World War I: Europe and Asia, 1919

Series IV.: Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association,

Box-folder: 3.4

Date: 1919-1920

Series V.: Columbia University Alumni Activities,

Box-folder: 3.5

Date: undated

Series VI.: Purchases,

Box-folder: 3.6

Date: 1915-1919

Box-folder: 3.7

Date: 1915

Series VII.: Cards and Announcements,

Box-folder: 3.8

Date: undated

Series VIII.: American Legion,

Box-folder: 3.9

Date: 1919-1920

Series IX.: Printed Material,

Box-folder: 3.10-3.11

Date: undated

Series X.: Miscellaneous Manuscripts,

Box-folder: 3.12

Date: undated