Thomas L. Cotton Papers, 1891-1964

Immigration History Research Center
University of Minnesota

Abstract | Provenance/Processing | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content | Subject InventoryContainer List


IHRC 46
Cotton, Thomas L.
Papers, ca. 1925-1937
0.5 linear feet

Abstract

A public relations specialist and community leader with an interest in adult education, Cotton was born in Cumberland, IA.  He began work with the YMCA while attending Dartmouth College, later worked with the Boston Naval YMCA, and in 1917 went to Russia to organize YMCA activities among the armies of the eastern front.  Upon his return to the United States, he worked for the New York YMCA (Foreign Born Division), the International Community Center, the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce, the Foreign Language Information Service, the Folk Festival Council, the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, and the Works Projects Administration.  In 1948, he founded Thomas L. Cotton Associates, a public relations firm, and later served on the New York State Citizens Council.

Cotton's papers include biographical information, personal correspondence, organizational reports, writings, and materials pertaining to educational organizations, adult education, Lithuanian Americans, Polish Americans, and miscellaneous published material.  Correspondents include Eleanor Roosevelt and Anna Roosevelt Dall.  Other materials pertain to Cotton's YMCA work, the International Community Center, the Foreign Language Information Service, the Folk Festival Council, the Croatian Fraternal Union, Dania, and ethnic events in the Chicago and New York areas.  In English.  Inventory available.

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Provenance/Processing

The Thomas L. Cotton papers were deposited in the archives of the Immigration History Research Center in March, 1976. They were acquired from Mrs. Deborah Leighton of Glastonbury, Connecticut, and Mr. John B. Cotton of San Pedro, California, through efforts of Dr. Rudolph Vecoli, Director of the Immigration History Research Center. The collection consists of 0.5 linear feet of papers and correspondence, as well as materials included in an oversize portfolio. It was processed during 1978-1979 with an inventory prepared by Marla Sorenson.  Inventory prepared for the Internet by Student Assistant Jessica Roskoski and Assistant Curator Heather Muir in 2001.

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Biographical Sketch

Thomas Cotton was born on December 1, 1891, in Cumberland, Iowa, the son of a farmer. Through a YMCA worker, he received a scholarship to Mt. Herman School for Boys, which he attended from 1910-1913. From there, Cotton went to Dartmouth, graduating in the Class of 1917. While at Dartmouth, Cotton was president of the campus YMCA. Cotton began work with the Boston Naval YMCA in April, 1917, and in September, 1917, he went to Russia to organize Y activities among the armies on the Eastern front. When foreign nationals were expelled, he worked with Allied troops in Archangelsk during the abortive attempts to aid White forces.

Cotton returned to the United States in 1919 and married Bessie Boyes, a YMCA worker whom he had met in Russia. In 1920, he became Secretary of the Foreign Born Division of the New York YMCA, a position which he held until 1925. In June, 1925, Cotton became the managing director of the International Community Center, an agency which served 50 different ethnic organizations. From 1926 to 1927, he was Executive Secretary of the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce.

Cotton joined the Foreign Language Information Service in October, 1927, as Chief of the Division of Foreign Language Organizations, with duties to contact, study, and stimulate 300 organizations of foreign-born people to promote adult education. In his capacity as director of the Foreign Language Information Service, Cotton organized adult education programs, folk arts activities, recreation and lecture groups. In June, 1931, he organized the Folk Festival Council, which included forty different groups. The Folk Festival Council produced three festival programs, involving 24 ethnic groups.

With the coming of the Depression, Cotton joined the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) as a field representative, and in November, 1935, he joined the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In August, 1936, Cotton became regional director of the White Plains Works Progress Administration, and was later promoted to the position of special assistant to the head of the employment division of the Metropolitan Works Progress Administration.

Cotton founded Thomas L. Cotton Associates, his own public relations firm in New York City in 1948, and later served as president of the New York State Citizens Council, and specialized in banking and loan company relations accounts. Cotton died on May 24, 1964. Throughout his career, Cotton retained special interest in adult education and collaborative efforts to attain community goals.

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Scope and Content

The Thomas L. Cotton Collection has been organized into the following general categories:
I. Biographical Information (folder 1)
II. Personal Correspondence and Clippings about Cotton (folder 2)
III. Organizations Reports (folders 3-5)
IV. Cotton’s writings (folders 6-9)
V.  Ethnic Organizations (folders 10-12)
VI.  Miscellaneous Published Material (folder 13)
Oversized folder
Section I.
This section contains a list of Cotton’s employment history from 1901-1937, and a list of Cotton’s professional activities in the field of writing and public speaking from 1920-1928. Clippings of Cotton’s obituaries are also enclosed.

Section II.
In this section, both incoming and outgoing correspondence from 1915-1936 are included, which deal mainly with Cotton’s desire to become the Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island. Correspondence from Eleanor Roosevelt is also included. Clippings from 1917 to 1937 in this section deal mainly with Cotton’s YMCA work, especially his Russian war work.

Section III.
The materials in this section deal with the International Community Center and the Foreign Language Information Service. The materials include a “History of the International Community Center” and the first annual report of the International Community Center. Also included are the 1930 report of the Foreign Language Information Service and the outline for this report, which deals with adult education and the foreign born. Cotton participated in the writing of all of the above in his capacity as the head of each agency.

Section IV.
This section is comprised of several published and unpublished articles by Cotton. Outlines, research reports and typed chapters for proposed books by Cotton on “American Education and the Foreign Born,” “Foreign Language Organizations as a Social Factor in American Life,” and a book on Dania are also contained in this section.

Section V.
This section contains materials on the Folk Festival Council’s first two scheduled performances. The transcribed texts of interviews with several individuals concerning the foreign born are included. Descriptions of the activities of various ethnic organizations are also contained in this section.

Section VI.
This section includes miscellaneous published materials such as programs from Folk Festival Council performances, a 1931 “General Work of Fraternal Benefit Societies” pamphlet published by The National Fraternal Congress of America, a July 13, 1932 Zajednicar article dealing with the resolutions of the Croatian Fraternal Union and several miscellaneous articles dealing with Polish and Italian Americans.

Oversize Folder
The oversize folio contains scrapbook pages of newspaper clippings and programs from American ethnic, social and cultural events in New York and Chicago during 1932 and 1933. Many of these clippings concern Folk Festival Council sponsored events. A few photos of groups in national dress and several posters are also included.

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Subject Inventory

The following is a guide, not a complete index, to certain persons, subjects, and associations prominent in the collection.

Adult Education
     Folders 5-6, 11

Dall, Anna Roosevelt
     Folder 2

Dania
     Folder 8

Ethnic Groups- Social Life and Customs
     Folders 9-10, 13, oversize

Fold Festival Council
     Folders 9-10, 13, oversize

The Foreign Born
     Folders 6-7, 11, 12, oversize

Foreign Language Information Service
     Folders 4-5

Foreign Language Organizations
     Folders 3, 5-7, 9, 11

International Community Center
     Folders 3

Lithuanian Americans
     Folders 9-10, 12

Polish Americans
     Folders 5-6, 9, 11

Roosevelt, Eleanor
     Folder 2

Social Service Agencies
     Folders 3, 12

Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)
     Folders 2-3, oversize

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Container List

 
Box Folder Contents
1 1 Biographical Information, 1937-1964
Comprised of a list of Cotton’s professional activities in the field of writing and public address, a list of Cotton’s employment history, obituary notices, and a eulogy.
  2 Personal Correspondence and Clippings, 1917-1937
Most of the correspondence in this folder deal with Cotton’s application for the Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island. Included are copies of letters from Anna Roosevelt Dall, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ida Tarbell and Sol Bloom, as well as a memo from Cotton to the Director of the Chicago World’s Fair. Clippings concern Cotton’s Y MCA work and his later work with TERA.
  3 International Community Center, 1925-1926
A typescript of the “History and Development of the International Community Center,” an article by Cotton concerning the International Community Center’s process, and a copy of the “First Year’s Work of the International Community Center” are included in this folder.
  4 Foreign Language Information Service, Department of Foreign Language Organizations, Outline, 1930
This folder contains an outline of the 1930 report of the Department of Foreign Language Organizations of the Foreign Language Information Service. It consists of four articles: “Adult Education and Foreign Born People” (missing), “What Has Democracy to Do With Culture?,” “Community Organizations,” and “Bridging the Gap.”
  5 Adult Education and Foreign Language Organizations, 1930-1931
This folder contains a 1930 report of the Foreign Language Information Service concerning the development of its Adult Education and Foreign Language Organizations project. It also contains a 1931 report of work with foreign language organizations.
  6 Adult Education and the Foreign Born, ca. 1929-1932
This folder contains typed and handwritten notes for Cotton’s book. Also included are typed and handwritten copies of chapters 1 and 5. Typescript and handwritten rough drafts of questionnaires and some mimeographed copies of questionnaires are included in this folder. The preliminary notes are arranged in chronological order and the chapters are arranged by chapter order. 
  7 Foreign Language Organizations as Social Factors in American
Life, ca. 1931-1945
This folder contains and outline for the book, typewritten and handwritten notes, and typed and handwritten copies of chapters 3 (incomplete), 4 (partial), 5, 7, 8, and 9. The preliminary notes are arranged in chronological order and the chapters are arranged by chapter order.
  8 Organization Data for Book on Dania, 1932
A handwritten copy of an article from the October 8, 1932 Den Damke Pioneer entitled “How Long Will Our Danish Organizations Survive?” and a handwritten copy of Cotton’s organizational notes entitled “A Book About ‘Dania’” are included in this folder.
  9 Articles by Thomas Cotton, 1931-1946
This folder contains manuscripts of the following articles by Cotton: “Creative Activities and Music in Foreign Language Organizations,” a typescript; “A Five Year Plan for Cultural Integration in New York City”; an untitled carbon typescript of an article dealing with “two hundred years of destitution in New York City”; “Social Work and Public Relations Pioneering”; and “Cultural Groups in America.” Two published articles by Cotton: “We Must Do This Again” from the Junior Red Cross Journal, Vol. IX, No. 5, January, 1933, and “Gifts to American Life” from The Girl Scout Leader, Vol. X, No. 3, March 1933, are also included in this folder.
  10 Fold Festival Council, 1931-1932
This folder contains handwritten and typescript notes which deal with the philosophy underlying the development of the Folk Festival Council. A typescript description of the first Folk Festival performance and a typescript of the second Fold Festival performance are also included in this folder.
  11 Organizations of the Foreign Born, 1929-1930s
This folder contains materials dealing with foreign born organizations. It contains a typescript of the 1931-1933 “Suggested Educational Program for the Polish National Alliance,” a carbon typescript of a history of the United German Societies of New York, submitted by Judge Charles Oberwager, and typescript and handwritten notes describing the membership, wealth and programs of several foreign born organizations, such as the Polish Falcons and the German Turner Bund.
  12 Interviews Concerning the Foreign Born, n.d.
This folder contains a typescript of a set of interviews with six people on American social agencies. A typescript with handwritten notes and a carbon typescript (incomplete) of a second set of interviews with six people on American social service agencies is also contained in this folder. Also included are typescript copies of interviews with three individuals (Mr. K. Jurgela, Mr. E. Swenson and Mary Chase Cole) and a list of persons to be seen who work with the foreign born. The individual interview with Mr. E. Swenson is an expanded version of Swenson’s answers which were outlined in the first interview set. The individual interview with Mary Chase Cole is also an expanded version of some of her answers which were outlined in the second interview set.
  13 Published Materials, 1930-1946
This folder contains programs from the performances which were sponsored by the Folk Festival Council, a 1931 report on “General Welfare Work of Fraternal Benefit Societies” by The National Fraternal Congress of America, an issue of Casa Italiana, ca. 1932, and a June, 1932 article entitled “Increasing the Melting Pot’s Assets,” by M. Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz.
Oversize   The oversize folio contains scrapbook pages of newspaper clippings and programs from American ethnic, social and cultural events in New York and Chicago during 1932 and 1933. Many of these clippings concern Folk Festival Council sponsored events. A few photos of groups in national dress and several posters are also included. 

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