Skip to main content

James Franklin Oates, Jr. (1899-1982) Papers

Identifier: 1/12

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The James F. Oates, Jr. Papers, comprising thirty boxes and fifty-one bound volumes spanning the years 1924-1981, consist primarily of correspondence, reports, income tax forms, speeches, bound legal briefs, and office desk diaries that illuminate Oates' varied and distinguished career. The bulk of the papers cover the years after Oates retired from the Equitable Life Assurance Society in 1969. There is little documentation relating to Oates' tenure as chief executive officer of Peoples Gas, Light, and Coke Company or as chief executive officer of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.  The final three boxes of the series comprise the addition.

The papers are arranged in nine subseries: general files, educational institutions files, club files, Presidential Committee on Jobs for Veterans files, speeches, daily desk diaries, vacation files, legal briefs, and miscellaneous volumes.

General Files: The general files, comprising six and one half boxes spanning the years 1946-1978, are preceded by three folders of biographical material, clippings, and reprints of Oates' articles. The general files include Oates' general and topical correspondence and related material pertaining to a wide range of subjects such as investments, corporate directorships, charities, tax returns, and personal affairs.

The bulk of the general files document Oates' transition from an active corporate executive to a retired but still very active and influential private citizen. The materials in the general files indicate that Oates' retirement encompassed a series of stages that occurred over several years. Upon leaving Equitable he returned to Chicago where he became a counsel to his old law firm, Sidley and Austin. In addition, he continued to play an active advisory role at Equitable and sit as a member of numerous other corporate boards. Only after five years of retirement did Oates begin to seriously curtail his complex and interrelated series of commitments.

Oates' correspondence, tax materials, and subject files reflect his continued post-retirement charitable and philanthropic activities. Among the best documented such endeavors are his work on behalf of the YMCA, Planned Parenthood, and the National Council on Alcoholism.

The general files do not include significant documentation on Oates' career with either Peoples Gas, Light and Coke Company or the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. Moreover, they include virtually no information relating to Oates' war service with the Army Ordnance Department or his early legal career.

Sixteen folders of correspondence, spanning the period 1958-1978, include information on a broad spectrum of business, civic, philanthropic, and private matters. The remainder of the folders pertain to specific topics, such as Oates' continuing association with Equitable, other corporate boards on which he sat, personal investments, personal insurance, and tax returns.

Educational Institutions Files: The educational institutions files, comprising six boxes, span the years 1947-1979. The files consist of correspondence, reports, and honorary degree citations that reflect Oates' service on the Boards of Trustees of Princeton, Northwestern, and George Williams College, his philanthropic contributions to several institutions of higher learning, and his receipt of honorary degrees awarded by seven institutions.

The files document both Oates' interest in higher education and the substantial amount of time he devoted in connection with his interest. The bulk of the files pertain to Oates' work on behalf of higher education following his retirement from Equitable. As a member of Northwestern's Board of Trustees Oates sat on the Board's Real Estate Committee and, at the same time as counsel to the University's law firm, Sidley and Austin, he was able to oversee legal opinions on university-related real estate matters. As chairman of Princeton's $53 Million Fund Drive he was frequently able to call on the expertise and resources of his business contacts.

The files also document Oates' work on behalf of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, of which his brother Whitney was one of the founders. Oates served on the Foundation's Board of Directors and after his brother's death in 1974 as its chairman.

Club Files: The club files, comprising two boxes, span the years 1963-1979. They include announcements of events, letters of recommendation for prospective members, records of club business matters, and correspondence between Oates and fellow club members. Much of the correspondence is relatively routine. It reflects a decline in Oates' club activity following his return to Chicago.

Presidential Committee on Jobs for Veterans Files: The Presidential Committee on Jobs for Veterans files, comprising two boxes, span the years 1970-1974. The files consist of correspondence, much of it with well known politicians and businessmen, drafts and published versions of the Committee's report, promotional material, and committee publications.

The files illuminate Oates' major undertaking during his initial retirement years. Appointed Chairman of the Committee by President Nixon in 1970, he served until 1974 when the Committee's report was issued and responsibility for implementing its recommendations was passed to the National Alliance for Business.

The files consist of three chronologically arranged folders of correspondence, the bulk of which consists of letters to Oates from prominent individuals congratulating him on the work of the Committee, followed by various publications and promotional materials and a copy of the Committee's final report to the President. Apparently the actual working files of the Committee were transferred to Washington, D.C. when the Committee disbanded in 1974.

Speeches: Oates' speeches fill three and one half boxes spanning the years 1957-1976. The speech files consist of twelve paper bound volumes, three folders of miscellaneous speeches, and one folder of speech notes. Included are over two hundred fifty speeches given between 1957 and 1969 while Oates' headed Equitable, as well as nearly one hundred speeches given between 1970 and 1974, while he was Chairman of the Jobs for Veterans Committee.

The speeches offer the best source of information in the Oates Papers concerning his career as chief executive officer of Equitable. Speeches were delivered before stockholders meetings, business groups, college commencements and convocations, church groups, charity groups, and the general public. They provide an excellent record of Oates' public positions on such subjects as government regulation, inflation, unemployment, and the role of insurance in a capitalist economy. They also cover such topics as leadership, religious faith, morality, and social responsibility.

Each volume includes speeches for one or two years. It has a table of contents listing speech title, date delivered, and before whom it was delivered. The miscellaneous speeches are arranged chronologically but lack a table of contents.

Daily Desk Diaries: The Daily Desk Diaries consist of thirty four bound volumes spanning the period 1945-1978. They represent the only portion of the Oates Papers documenting his career as chief executive officer of Peoples Gas, Light and Coke.

The diaries (one volume per year) record Oates' meetings, business travel, vacations, and social engagements. Many entries detail routine topics, such as weather conditions and family illnesses. Some entries dealing with business matters are briefly annotated, usually indicating the need for further action or recording an impression of the success of a meeting.

Vacation Files: The vacation files comprising four boxes span the years 1954-1981. They include correspondence and related material regarding travel and accommodations, itineraries, letters of introduction, and a small amount of personal correspondence. The files reveal Oates' love of sport fishing and his extensive worldwide travel.

Legal Briefs: Bound in thirty six volumes, the legal briefs span the years 1925-1946. The first nineteen volumes comprise a complete set of briefs prepared by Oates as a member, and after 1931 as a partner, in the firm of Cutting, Moore & Sidley (now Sidley & Austin). Seventeen additional volumes include the complete record of two cases that Oates directed as head of the firm's trial division, as well as a volume of miscellaneous briefs. Fourteen volumes comprise the record of a bankruptcy decree appeal on behalf of the Deep Rock Oil Company, while two volumes document an appeal, directed by Oates before the Supreme Court, of a Federal Trade Commission ruling.

For the first nineteen volumes there is a loose-leaf index.

Miscellaneous Volumes: The miscellaneous volumes consist of fifteen volumes spanning the years 1924-1970. They include two books authored by Oates, his college annual, three supplements to the annual issued at fifteen year intervals, a report on purchase policy for the Army Ordnance Department written by Oates in WW II, and the reports of several committees on which Oates served.

Addition, Boxes 28-30

The addition, comprising three boxes (boxes 28-30), represents Oates' active files for approximately the last three years of his life. They are arranged alphabetically be folder title. Most of the topics included have corresponding files in the main body of the Papers. The files in the addition include mainly routine correspondence, announcements, and notes. The bulk of the addition documents Oates' continued interest in Northwestern, Princeton, and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Fund. Also included is one folder of biographical information.

Of special interest are the transcripts of several oral history interviews of Mr. and Mrs. Oates conducted by George Roeder of the Northwestern History Department during 1981 (Box 28 Folder 2). The audiocassettes of the interviews were donated to the Archives by Professor Roeder and are in the Archives Audio Cassette Collection.


  • 1924-1981


Conditions Governing Access

The nine folders containing tax returns (Box 6 Folders 6-9 and Box 7 Folders 1-5) are restricted; consultation with University Archivist required prior to use. This collection is stored off-site and requires two business days advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.


31.00 Boxes

Language of Materials



The James F. Oates, Jr. Papers consist primarily of correspondence, reports, income tax forms, speeches, bound legal briefs, and office desk diaries that illuminate Oates' varied and distinguished career. The bulk of the papers cover the years after Oates retired from the Equitable Life Assurance Society in 1969. There is little documentation relating to Oates' tenure as chief executive officer of Peoples Gas, Light, and Coke Company or as chief executive officer of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.


The papers are arranged in nine subseries: general files (arranged alphabetically by folder titles); educational institutions files (arranged alphabetically by institution; folders for Northwestern and Princeton Universities are sub-arranged alphabetically by title; arrangement within folders is chronological); club files (arranged alphabetically by club name and chronologically within folders); Presidential Committee on Jobs for Veterans files (arranged by date); speeches (arranged by date); daily desk diaries (arranged by date); vacation files (arranged by date); legal briefs (arranged by volume number); and miscellaneous volumes. This arrangement is a modified version of the filing system employed in Oates' Chicago office, except that sub-series of general files, education institutions files, club files, and Presidential Committee on Jobs for Veterans files were separated from a single office file.

Method of Acquisition

The James Franklin Oates, Jr. Papers were donated to the Northwestern University Archives by Mr. Oates on May 6, 1981 as Accession #81-100.  The addition was donated to the University Archives by Rosalind Oates on February 9, 1983 as Accession #83-9.

Related Materials

Audiocassettes AC#57-59, Interview with Mr. and Mrs. James M. Oates, 5/28/81, in the University Archives tape collection.

Separated Materials

Three letters to James F. Oates, Jr. from Richard Nixon and on letter to Oates from Gerald Ford exist in the papers (Box 6 Folder 2) as photocopies. The originals have been removed to the Archives autograph file. Approximately 100 photographs were removed and placed in the University Archives photograph files, along with some negatives.

Separations from the addition: One oversize folder of certificates, plaques and memorabilia was incorporated into the existing separations for the series. One 5" reel of audiotape of the citations for honorary degrees at the Princeton University commencement, July 15, 1965 and one 7" reel of Adlai Stevenson's last public speech on July 9, 1965 were separated to the Audio-tape Collection. One 16 mm motion picture film of Oates' retirement "festivities" was separated to the Film Collection.

Processing Information

Thomas Dorst, Thawivann Lamouth and Margaret Faverty, November, 1981.  Addition processed by Thomas J. Dorst, March 9, 1984.

Guide to the James Franklin Oates, Jr. (1899-1982) Papers
Thomas Dorst, Thawivann Lamouth and Margaret Faverty
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US