Collection ID: Law Spec. Coll. 05

Collection context


O'Brian, John Lord, 1874-1973
Personal papers of John Lord O'Brian, prominent lawyer and public servant, including correspondence, speeches, notes, legal opinions and records, articles.
37 Linear Feet and 62 manuscript boxes, 12 oversize boxes
English .
Preferred citation:

[Specified item], Box/ Folder, Law Spec. Coll. 05, John Lord O'Brian Papers, 1892-1973, Charles B. Sears Law Library, The State University of New York at Buffalo.


Scope and Content:

John Lord O'Brian was a University at Buffalo Law School graduate, a distinguished lawyer, and a prominent public servant for whom the Law School building is named. Chronicling O'Brian's long and productive life from 1874 to 1973, the papers span the years of his legal career and public service activities. The papers include legal memoranda, opinion letters, personal notes, personal correspondence, published articles, photographs, honorary medals and other memorabilia. They are organized according to some of the major activities in which O'Brian was involved.

Also included are correspondence between O'Brian and other notable historical figures from the first seventy-five years of the twentieth century. The collection includes the two volumes, Reminiscences of John Lord O'Brian, an oral history conducted in 1952 as part of the Columbia University Oral History Project. In addition, there are three reels of microfilm that reproduce the collection of O'Brian papers in the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Biographical / Historical:

O'Brian was born in Buffalo, New York in 1874. He received the A.B. degree from Harvard College in 1896 and the L.L.B. degree from Buffalo Law School in 1898. In February 1909, O'Brian was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to serve as United States Attorney for the Western District of New York. He continued to serve in this position through the administrations of President Taft and President Wilson. During World War I, O'Brian served as Head of the War Emergency Division in the United States Dept. of Justice where he was responsible for prosecuting cases of espionage and sabotage. At the end of World War I, O'Brian returned to Buffalo to practice law. In 1929, President Hoover appointed O'Brian to serve as Assistant Attorney General of the Anti-Trust Division at the United States Department of Justice where he was responsible for arguing more than 15 cases before the United States Supreme Court. He was retained by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1935, eventually winning the case that challenged the creation of the Authority. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed O'Brian to serve as General Counsel of the War Production Board. From 1945 until his death, at age 98, O'Brian practiced law in Washington, D.C.

O'Brian's service to the University at Buffalo Law School began soon after his graduation in 1898. From 1907 through 1921, O'Brian was a volunteer instructor in Insurance Law. From 1931 and continuing for the next seventeen years, O'Brian served as member of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. O'Brian served the Law School in many capacities and was the principal speaker at the October 21, 1949 dedication of 77 West Eagle Street, a former home of the UB Law School. On May 6, 1963, O'Brian received the Law School's first Distinguished Alumnus Award for Public Service. At the formal dedication of O'Brian Hall in April 1974, a portrait of O'Brian, painted by Virginia Cuthbert, was presented to the Law School by Manly Fleischmann, a SUNY trustee and Mrs. Kellogg Mann, the eldest daughter of O'Brian. This portrait currently hangs on the second floor of the Law School Library.

As recognition of his public service and service to the Law School, the home of the U.B. Law School, "O'Brian Hall", was named in his honor in 1973 when it first opened on the Amherst campus.

Information excerpted from: Schaus, Robert and James Arnone, "University at Buffalo Law School, 100 Years 1887-1987, A History" John Lord

Acquisition information:
Materials were donated by Mr. O'Brian's family in 1973-74.
Processing information:

Processed by Louise Tucker in 1975; additional materials processed by Karen Spencer, November 2009.


The collection is arranged in thirteen series:

I. Correspondence

II. World War I

III. United States Department of Justice

IV. World War II

V. Harvard Divinity School

VI. Harvard University

VII. University at Buffalo

VIII. Other Activities

IX. Personal and Autobiographical

X. Autograph Letters and Documents

XI. Miscellaneous Materials

XII. Speeches, Articles and Tributes by O'Brian

XIII. Memorabilia

XIV. Oversize Materials

XV. Collection File

I is arranged alphabetically. Remaining series are mostly organized chronologically.


Additional books owned by John Lord O'Brian were received in November 2009 from the Harvard Divinity School originally donated by his granddaughter, Sally Lord. No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Rules or conventions:
Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard.



Materials can be examined by qualified researchers in the Law Library during hours of operation during which Law Reference Librarians are present. In order to insure access, researchers are advised to contact the Law Library in advance of visits.


Copyright for the materials in the collection does not reside with the Law Library. Therefore, patrons wishing to publish any item, or part of an item from this collection for any purpose, are responsible for securing requisite permissions. Copies may be made only by library personnel.


[Specified item], Box/ Folder, Law Spec. Coll. 05, John Lord O'Brian Papers, 1892-1973, Charles B. Sears Law Library, The State University of New York at Buffalo.

O'Brian Hall
North Campus
Buffalo, NY 14260, United States