UT Libraries’ New Digital Collection Chronicles Life, Career of Estes Kefauver

UT Libraries has created an online digital archive of photographs from the collection of Estes Kefauver, a prominent and popular figure in national politics in the 1950s, whose name may be surprisingly unfamiliar to current generations.

Photos in the Estes Kefauver Image Collection chronicling Kefauver’s personal life and political career were selected from materials held by the UT Libraries in the Estes Kefauver Papers.

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Vice presidential nominee Estes Kefauver appears with his wife, Nancy, at the 1956 Democratic National Convention.

More than 300 photos show Kefauver relaxing with family, delivering speeches, conferring with congressional colleagues, and exhibiting the renowned self-effacing humor that made him the consummate campaigner. UT Libraries will continue to digitize photos from the Estes Kefauver Papers and add them to the online collection.

Kefauver, a Madisonville native, played football at UT while earning his bachelor’s degree. He graduated cum laude from Yale Law School and practiced law in Chattanooga for a dozen years before seeking public office.

Kefauver represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives for almost ten years (1939-1949), served in the U.S. Senate for almost fifteen years (1949-1963), and twice ran for president.

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Kefauver tosses a football with his children on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

Kefauver’s victory in the New Hampshire primary during the 1952 presidential campaign prompted then-sitting President Harry Truman to withdraw from the race. In 1956 Kefauver bested John F. Kennedy to become the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic Party ticket, alongside presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson.

Kefauver rose to national prominence as head of the 1950-51 Senate hearings on organized crime. His name became a household word as viewers watched the so-called Kefauver Committee grilling crime bosses on prime-time TV.

Other defining issues of Kefauver’s career were consumer protection and exposing uncompetitive concentration, and price gouging in U.S. industries. His Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee took on the pharmaceutical industry over deceptive advertising and excessive profits made at the expense of consumers. Kefauver’s signature legislative achievement, the Kefauver-Harris Drug Act, led to improved drug safety.

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This raccoon apparently supported Kefauver in his bid for the U.S. Senate.

For a Southern democrat of the time, Kefauver was liberal in his views, supporting organized labor and, in general, civil rights. He almost lost reelection to the Senate in 1954 for refusing to denounce the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education. He and Tennessee’s other senator, Albert Gore Sr., were the only Southern senators who refused to sign the pro-segregation Southern Manifesto.

Because of his progressive stance on issues, he had already run afoul of Tennessee’s Democratic Party boss, E.H. Crump, who accused Kefauver of being a raccoon-like Communist puppet. Kefauver donned a coonskin cap during a speech and rejoined, “I may be a pet coon, but I’m not Boss Crump’s pet coon.” The coonskin cap thereafter became Kefauver’s trademark.

The Estes Kefauver Papers is the largest collection held at UT’s Modern Political Archives. Scholars from around the world visit Knoxville each year to view the papers.

CONTACT:

Jennifer Beals, head, Special Collections, UT Libraries (865-974-0014, jbeals@utk.edu)

Kris Bronstad, Modern Political Archivist, UT Libraries (865-974-0939, lbronsta@utk.edu)

Karen Dunlap, UT Media Relations (865-974-2225, kdunlap6@utk.edu)