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The Grace Tully Collection: Fully Digitized 

Grace Tully was the last personal secretary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She first started working for Roosevelt during the 1928 New York State Governor campaign, and remained on his staff until his death in 1945. Her primary duties included dictation, typing of speech drafts, the President’s mail, and oversight of the President’s speech files. 

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Photograph showing Grace Tully at work at her desk in the White HouseIn 1941, Tully assumed the role of principal personal secretary to the President. Prior to his death, the President appointed Tully to a three person committee to act as steward over his personal papers in preparation for their opening to researchers. This committee was disbanded in 1947 after the papers were deemed to be the property of the National Archives. 

In 1980, Tully gave an interview to the New York Times in which she mentioned that she had several dozen handwritten notes of FDR’s. The then-director of the Roosevelt Library, William R. Emerson immediately wrote to Tully asking her to consider donating these materials to the Library. She declined, but stated that the Library would “undoubtedly get them” after her death. When Tully died in 1984, Mr. Emerson reached out to her heirs, without success. The Tully collection then disappeared until 2000 when Library director Cynthia Koch saw portions on display at an auction house in New York and suspected that the scope of the collection was far more extensive than anyone previously believed. In 2002, the Tully Archive was purchased by Lord Conrad Black, CEO of Hollinger International Corporation, for $8 million. Lord Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (2003).  

In August 2004, the Library was notified that Hollinger and its successor Sun Times Media Group had placed the collection up for auction at Christie’s in New York, where it was to be broken up and sold in lots. Christie’s allowed a team from the Library and National Archives to survey the collection. The collection amounted to over 5,000 documents and memorabilia items, including personal letters, speech drafts, and notes or “chits” written by FDR giving instructions or directions to his staff and administration officials.

It was determined that portions of the collection were clearly presidential materials that should have passed to the FDR Library in accordance with President Roosevelt’s directions prior to his death. In 2005, general counsel for the National Archives halted the auction and asserted a claim over a portion of the Tully Archive.  

Thus began five years of negotiation with Sun Times Media. By agreement of the parties, in July 2005, the Library boxed and sealed the entire collection and removed it from Christie’s to Hyde Park for safekeeping pending the outcome of the negotiations or any litigation. Over the course of the ensuing years, negotiations slowly pushed through to a successful resolution despite many ups and downs, including the bankruptcy of Sun Times Media. 

An important part of that resolution was literally an Act of Congress. In February 2010 of President Barack Obama signed into law SB 692, sponsored in the Senate by Charles Schumer (D-NY) and in the House by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), facilitating the donation of the Tully Archive in its entirety. The law provided for the waiver of the government’s claims to the papers provided that the owner made a gift of the entire collection to the National Archives and Records Administration.

During this time, the Library also never lost sight of a much smaller, but no less important, collection—the FDR letters of Margaret Suckley. This collection of approximately 39 handwritten letters from FDR to his distant cousin and confidante were purchased by Black and displayed in the offices of Hollinger/Sun Times. When the corporation was forced to vacate its offices in 2007, the Roosevelt Library was asked to hold them for safekeeping. 

In June 2010, the United States Bankrupcty Court approved the donation of both the Tully Archive and the FDR-Suckley Letters—in their entirety—to the National Archives and Records Administration and the Roosevelt Library. The Deeds of Gift were signed on June 30, 2010, the 69th anniversary of the dedication of the Roosevelt Library.