Senator John Tower decided to give his papers to Southwestern University, his undergraduate alma mater, approximately two years before he announced his 1985 retirement from the Senate. Soon afterwards, Senator Tower asked Ruth Wilson, long-time executive assistant and administrative assistant to Congressman W. R. Poage (D-Waco, Texas) to oversee the relocation of his papers to Southwestern University. Mrs. Wilson managed the packing of the papers and then worked part-time over the next several years going through the papers and making a preliminary inventory. Senator Tower directed Mrs. Wilson "not to save everything," and consequently she weeded and sampled the collection, reducing it from over 3000 linear feet to approximately 1500 linear feet.
In 1992, Kathryn Stallard, Senior Archivist and Project Coordinator, and Susan Eason, Associate Archivist, each working half-time, began the three-year project to process the papers, to produce a detailed finding aid for researchers, and to write this general guide. Two half-time clerks and several student assistants and interns also joined the project. The first task, to re-create the original order of the collection, was often a challenge. Much of the collection had been moved several times over the years, boxes had been renumbered as they were inventoried, and the original order was lost. The archivists reappraised the collection, discarding or sampling items such as unsuccessful applications to service academies, some detailed financial records for which summary documents existed, miscellaneous printed materials, congratulatory letters, regretted invitations, Christmas cards, requests for flags and donations, and duplicates. This eventually reduced the collection to approximately 800 linear feet.
The papers were arranged into tentative series, incorporating the categories found in Ruth WIlson's inventories and those outlines in the Senate Historical Office's publication, Records Management Handbook for United States Senators and Their Repositories. These series were then refined based on examination of the papers themselves. At the same time, staff moved materials into archival quality boxes and folders, made preservation photocopies of deteriorating papers, and performed as many other essential preservation tasks as possible. Most framed photographs were removed from acidic cardboard-backed frames in order to prevent their deterioration and to save storage space. Non-print materials (photographs, memorabilia, audiocassettes, computer tapes, etc.) found among the papers were placed with like materials for preservation reasons and separation records were created. The considerable number of artifacts, plaques, certificates, ephemeral items, and even some textiles were stored in archival quality containers.
As staff members examined the papers in order to write series and subseries descriptions, they wrote significant names and subjects on the folder covers so that these could be entered into an inclusive database of all the folder titles. Although deadline pressures limited this indexing during the project, it may be continued and expanded later. Database records were also created for individual books, many of which will eventually be integrated into the general library collection. The papers were screened for sensitive and classified materials as thoroughly as time allowed, and the few classified documents found were sent to Washington for review and potential declassification. Items such as transcripts and recommendations that would be subject to the 1974 Privacy Act were closed accordingly; a few sensitive personal items were closed until those involved may be reasonably assumed deceased. Also, the minutes of the Senate Republican Policy Committee remain closed for a period of 15 years from the date of creation.
After Senator Tower's death, his family gave or loaned the Tower Library over 65 boxes of additional materials. Of the gift items, several boxes of printed materials and a few personal files related to such things as auto and travel memberships were separated. Materials were then arranged into categories that reflected existing series and prepared for entry into the database.
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