Guide to the Nathan William MacChesney Papers

Collection Title: Nathan William MacChesney Papers
Dates: 1915-1952
Identification: 1/10
Creator: MacChesney, Nathan William, 1878-1954
Extent: 4 Boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: Most of the material in the collection is concerned with university business, and consequently sheds little light on MacChesney's private life or his military and civic activities. The collection's value lies primarily in its reflection of many of the varied activities undertaken by Northwestern's central administration during the university's emergence as a major American educational institution.
Acquisition Information: The Nathan William MacChesney Papers were donated to the University Archives by his son Professor Brunson MacChesney of the Northwestern University Law School in 1975.
Processing Information: James Sanders and Michael Sedlak.
Separated Materials: Several serial publications and other materials were removed and placed in serial publications and general files.
Conditions Governing Access: None.
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Nathan W. MacChesney, Chicago lawyer and Northwestern University trustee, was born in Chicago on June 2, 1878, the son of Alfred Brunson and Henrietta (Milsom) MacChesney. He was a senior partner in the film of MacChesney and Becker in Chicago and a founder of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.

MacChesney received his bachelor's degree from the College of the Pacific in 1898 and attended Stanford University on several occasions as a special student between 1896 and 1899. Although he attended the Northwestern University Law School for one year, 1899-1900, MacChesney received his LL.B. from the University of Michigan in 1902 and was admitted to the Illinois Bar later that year.

For the next five decades MacChesney maintained an active legal practice, as senior partner in the firm of MacChesney and Becker in Chicago. He served as the special assistant attorney general of the United States in 1911, and as the special state's attorney for Illinois after 1912. He was awarded an LL.M. from the Northwestern University Law School in 1922. Interested primarily in property and corporation management law, MacChesney served as general counsel for the National Association of Real Estate Boards during the 1920s.

MacChesney's longstanding interest in social issues was reflected throughout his legal career. He prepared cases on the constitutionality of child labor legislation which were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, and was one of the founders of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. As a young lawyer, MacChesney worked in social centers, served as an advisor to the Salvation Army, as a trustee of Emerson House and the Olivet Institute, and directed the United Charities of Chicago.

MacChesney combined a wide-ranging legal career with service in behalf of several universities. Between 1908 and 1916, he was a lecturer at the University of Illinois. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Northwestern University from 1913 to 1948, and as a Life Trustee from 1948 until his death in 1954. He also served as president of the General Alumni Association from 1922 to 1924. His lengthy tenure as a university trustee involved MacChesney in many of Northwestern's central activities. He devoted more than a decade to the founding and developing of the university's Chicago Campus. MacChesney was also intimately involved in the abortive merger with the University of Chicago in the early 1930s. He served as a consultant on the development of the Law School curriculum, played an important role in the selection of the new university president in 1939, and placed his legal expertise at the service of the university on countless occasions. He was also a major benefactor of the university who frequently contributed substantial amounts in connection with various financial campaigns.

MacChesney also had a distinguished military career, serving in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. In recognition of his military service, his colleagues and friends addressed him as General MacChesney throughout his life .

Scope and Content

Most of the material in the collection is concerned with university business, and consequently sheds little light on MacChesney's private life or his military and civic activities. The collection's value lies primarily in its reflection of many of the varied activities undertaken by Northwestern's central administration during the university's emergence as a major American educational institution.

The material in Box 1 is primarily related to the activities of Northwestern's Board of Trustees between 1920 and 1950. The correspondence, committee reports, and minutes included in the box includes exchanges between MacChesney and Presidents Walter Dill Scott and Franklyn Bliss Snyder, Business Managers William A. Dyche and Harry L. Wells, and President of the Board of Trustees Kenneth Burgess, which illuminate many activities that engaged the university's governing officials. Of particular interest are the materials relating to the establishment of the Department of Public Relations and the work of the Committee on Development, activities which reflect the administration's efforts to broaden the university's base of financial support.

Records generated by the Trustees' Committee on Educational Policy comprise two folders which include correspondence and reports concerned with the College of Engineering, the initial proposal to consolidate the Armour Institute of Technology with Northwestern in 1925, and faculty leave policies during World War II.

Four folders in Box 2 include materials pertaining to the origins, acquisition, and development of Northwestern's Chicago Campus which served to illuminate MacChesney's efforts to solidify and improve the university's stature in the Chicago area. In addition to materials produced during the effort to persuade the university to consolidate its professional schools in one location on Chicago's near north side, the collection contains correspondence documenting MacChesney's central role in the entire project.

The two folders pertaining to the Law School include relatively routine correspondence relating almost exclusively to personnel matters, including the search for a dean in 1947. There are also some materials pertaining to the Law Library.

MacChesney's files also contain official internal reports from various committees and consultants on the technical and legal aspects of the proposed Northwestern-University of Chicago merger. The files also include clippings reflecting student reaction to the proposed merger.

Two folders in the collection contain correspondence primarily related to the search for a replacement for University President Walter Dill Scott in 1939. This correspondence focuses on prospective candidates and interviewing schedules. Interfiled with the presidential search correspondence are materials generated in the institutional review process that accompanied the change in administrations.

The collection also contains two folders of administrative correspondence related to various legal issues, such as the purchase of property for faculty housing in Wilmette, and three folders of correspondence pertaining to the technical and editorial operations of three professional journals published by the university: the Illinois Law Review, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, and the Journal of Air Law and Commerce.

The Wigmore Memorial file includes material which illuminates the career of John Wigmore, MacChesney's colleague and dean of the Law School. Several folders of material relating to the Northwestern Alumni Association reflect the scope of MacChesney's fund-raising activities in behalf of the university.

The last eight folders in the collection contain personal correspondence, arranged alphabetically. The most important correspondence is between MacChesney and University Presidents Walter Dill Scott and Franklyn Bliss Snyder.

Arrangement of Materials

Virtually all the arrangement of the collection reflects the broad range of MacChesney's involvement with Northwestern University. His files, whose original order has been retained, were organized according to either a particular subject or official body on which he served. Correspondence, clippings, and reports on specific issues were filed together.


Corporate Name

Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)--History

Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). School of Law--History

Personal Name

MacChesney, Nathan William, 1878-1954

McGaw, Foster G., 1897-

Scott, Walter Dill, 1869-1955

Snyder, Franklyn Bliss, 1884-1958

Container List / Contents

  • Nathan William MacChesney, Biographical InformationBox 1, Folder 1
  • Executive Committee, Board of Trustees, 1921-1922, 1924-1925, 1928-1929Box 1, Folder 2
  • Board of Trustees, General, 1921, 1923, 1927-1928, 1931, 1933-1935Box 1, Folder 3
  • Board of Trustees, General, 1936-1939Box 1, Folder 4
  • Board of Trustees, General, 1940-1944, 1946Box 1, Folder 5
  • Board of Trustees, General, 1947-1948Box 1, Folder 6
  • Board of Trustees, General, 1949-1951Box 1, Folder 7
  • Committee on Educational Policy, 1924-1929, 1939, 1941Box 1, Folder 8
  • Committee on Educational Policy, 1941Box 2, Folder 1
  • Committee on Educational Policy, 1942-1943Box 2, Folder 2
  • Committee on Educational Policy, n.d.Box 2, Folder 3
  • Chicago Campus, 1915-1917, 1919-1922Box 2, Folder 4
  • Chicago Campus, 1923-1925, 1929, 1933-1938, 1941, 1943, 1945-1947Box 2, Folder 5
  • Chicago Campus, 1951-1952, n.d.Box 2, Folder 6
  • Chicago Campus, Clippings, 1923, 1941, 1946, 1951Box 2, Folder 7
  • Law School, 1915, 1919, 1921, 1943, 1945-1947Box 2, Folder 8
  • Law School, 1948, n.d.Box 3, Folder 1
  • Merger with the University of Chicago, 1933Box 3, Folder 2
  • Merger with the University of Chicago, 1934, n.d.Box 3, Folder 3
  • Presidency of Northwestern, 1936-1937Box 3, Folder 4
  • Presidency of Northwestern, 1937-1939, 1947-1949Box 3, Folder 5
  • Committee on Statutes, By-laws, Parliamentary Procedure, 1937-1938Box 3, Folder 6
  • Northwestern Legal Opinions, 1937-1938, 1945-1946, n.d.Box 3, Folder 7
  • Illinois Law Review, 1942, 1944-1949, 1952Box 3, Folder 8
  • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 1943-1948, 1951-1952Box 3, Folder 9
  • Journal of Air Law and Commerce, 1948-1949Box 3, Folder 10
  • Alumni Association, 1917, 1923-1925, 1930-1931, 1933-1935, 1943, 1947Box 3, Folder 11
  • Wigmore Memorial, 1944Box 4, Folder 1
  • Gifts by / Awards presented to MacChesney, 1928, 1930-31, 1938, 1946-51, n.d.Box 4, Folder 2
  • Bronze Bust and Alumni Medal, 1943-1947Box 4, Folder 3
  • Correspondence Kenneth F. Burgess, 1942, 1944-1952Box 4, Folder 4
  • Correspondence: Leon Green, 1944-1947, 1949, 1951Box 4, Folder 5
  • Correspondence: Harold Havighurst, 1946-1952Box 4, Folder 6
  • Correspondence: James A. James, 1943, 1946-1947, 1949Box 4, Folder 7
  • Correspondence: Walter D. Scott, 1929, 1948Box 4, Folder 8
  • Correspondence: Franklyn B. Snyder, 1942-1950Box 4, Folder 9