J. Henry Roraback papers
Scope and Content
The collection was heavily used by Edwin McNeil Dahill for his dissertation at Colombia University Teacher’s College in 1971. He re-foldered the collection and arranged it roughly by year, further dividing correspondence into categories he named Internal—Important, Internal—Routine, External—Important and External—Routine, Business and General, and Personal. His definitions for these categories are not clear. He also left notes written on yellow lined paper sprinkled throughout the folders, primarily indicating suggestions for additional research. These have been retained and are filed chronologically at the end of the collection. He also annotated certain documents, and those annotations remain. It is impossible to know how Roraback, or his secretary Mary Collins, arranged the files. There is a hint in one of Dahill’s annotations that it may have been topical.
Dahill’s re-organization has contributed to an overlap within the correspondence files among personal, business and Republican State Central Committee letters and responses. Staff decided that unless a letter was addressed to Roraback as Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, it would remain with his regular correspondence. Some investment correspondence may also be found among regular correspondence. For ease of research, the correspondence is arranged in chronological order within three separate series: Correspondence, Republican State Central Committee, and Finances—Investments. Where feasible, Roraback's responses to incoming letters are kept together. Original folder titles, which were few, are in quotes.
The personal and State Committee correspondence provide a rich resource for studying political issues and strategies in the 1920s and 1930s. The letters contain frank discussions of opinion and policy between politicians at all levels, from Presidents of the United States to local ward bosses. Some topics covered in the letters include, but are not limited to, the development of power companies, prohibition, woman suffrage, anti-lynching laws, the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, restrictions on child and female labor, education, workmen’s compensation, the World Court, the development of rail and air transportation, prohibition, and patronage. Also among personal correspondence is information about water rights on the Housatonic River, patent information for a new fire extinguisher, 1917-1918; and letters concerning utility lobbying, 1921-1922.
One of Roraback’s most prolific correspondents was Hiram Bingham, who wrote to J. Henry to ask his advice on nearly every decision Bingham made. Bingham was elected Governor in 1925 but relinquished the position to become U.S. Senator for Connecticut after serving for less than one day. Other correspondents included Frank B. Brandegee, Governor John H. Trumbull, Talbot Otis Freeman Jr., entrepreneur Annie B. Jennings, lawyers William H. Blodgett, Benedict M. Holden, Samuel C. Morehouse, and Samuel A. Eddy, and anti-suffrage activist Grace G. Markham. He also received letters from Calvin Coolidge and William H. Taft.
Arranged within the Republican State Central Committee series are articles related to the McLean-Bulkeley election in 1911; letters about Temperance in 1916; about suffrage, both for and against, between 1918 and 1920; financial reports of the Committee; memorabilia from the National Republican Conventions; and one folder of letters from “ethnic organizations,” 1922-1936, gathered by Dahill. The letterheads are from such ethnic groups such as “Colored,” French, Swedish and Polish organizations. Roraback carried on an extensive correspondence with Charles Hilles, head of the National Republican Committee, and with Charles H. Clark, editor of the Hartford Courant. In 1927 there are a number of letters in support of the appointment of George H. Cohen as a federal judge from Jewish organizations and the United Palestine Appeal.
The collection also includes financial records, including bank statements, cancelled checks, and reports for both the Republican State Central Committee and for Roraback’s personal accounts. Financial materials related to the Committee are arranged in that Series. Among Roraback’s personal investments were various railroads, utilities, Edward Miller Co., Device Testing Corporation, Crude Oil Detector Company, and several mining companies.
Roraback kept a notebook with comments and thoughts on Arthur J. Spellacy, a Democrat and an Assistant Attorney, and retained a sheaf of papers, reportedly a speech, with resolutions dating from 1861-1873 concerning states’ rights. Arranged after these notes are a series of diary/appointment books from 1918-circa 1930.
Although eclipsed by politics, Roraback’s vocation was a lawyer. Included in the collection are legal case files for the Lock Nut Bolt patent, 1909-1910; Device Testing Co., 1914-1917; the murder trial and parole hearings of John Hayes, 1917-1924; and several other cases. The final series in the collection is correspondence to Dahill and his notes on yellow paper.
One oversize box includes a photograph of a wooden bridge over a river, and Roraback’s household accounts from 1931-1933.
- Creation: 1888-1937, 1965-1968
Language of Materials
The records are in English.
Restrictions on Access
Restrictions on Use
See the Reproduction and Publications of State Library Collections policy.
John Henry Roraback was born in Sheffield, Massachusetts on April 5, 1870, the youngest son of John C. and Maria Hoysradt Roraback. The family owned a farm and John Henry (or J. Henry as he was generally called) attended school through the 12th grade in Sheffield. At the age of 19 he moved to North Canaan, Connecticut, to teach school and to study law with his brother Alberto T. Roraback. In 1892 J. Henry was admitted to the bar and practiced with Alberto. He tried cases in Litchfield County Court, served as registrar of voters and postmaster in Canaan, served as counsel for the New Haven Railroad, and was chairman of the Republican Town Committee in North Canaan, helping to elect his brother to the General Assembly in 1895.
Politics became a focus of Roraback’s activities. In 1909 he secured the election of Ebenezer Hill to the U.S. Senate in a contest with Frank B. Brandegee. In 1910 he managed George P. McLean’s campaign for U.S. Senate, and two years later Roraback became the chairman of the Republican State Central Committee. From 1912 to his retirement in 1935, Roraback dominated Republican politics by picking candidates, setting the legislative agenda and state appropriations, and assigning committee posts from his office on the third floor of the Allyn House in Hartford. He was ably assisted by his secretary, Mary E. Collins.
On national issues, Roraback opposed woman suffrage, prohibition, the League of Nations and the World Court. He held positions on the Republican National Committee and was a delegate to seven Republican National Conventions. On the state level, the conservative man advocated for lower taxes, fewer state services, and pay-as-you-go financing.
An astute businessman, Roraback organized the New England Lime Company and the Berkshire Power Company. He served as president of Connecticut Light & Power Company, which he created by merging four smaller power companies in the state, and by purchasing water rights, often through his control of the General Assembly. In addition, he was a director of Aetna Life Insurance Company, Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., the National Fire Insurance Company and the Hartford Trust Company.
Roraback married Mary L. Parsons on April 29, 1896; they had twin sons, one of whom died in infancy. The surviving son was Lewis P. Roraback. Roraback also had a son with his secretary Mary Collins. John Henry took his own life in May 1937 after a long illness.
16 cubic feet
Correspondence, legislative data, financial records, legal case files, and appointment books kept by a Connecticut businessman, investor, lawyer and political boss of the Republican Party in Connecticut in the early 20th century.
Series 1. Correspondence, 1888-1937
Incoming and outgoing, including personal, business, investment, job seeking, and political letters; also bodies of letters to and from Hiram Bingham and Talbot Otis Freeman.
Series 2. Republican State Central Committee records, 1898-1937.
Primarily letters addressed to him as the chairman of the committee; includes text of legislation under consideration at the state and federal level, and correspondence with Frank Bradegee. Also includes financial records.
Series 3. Financial records,1920-1937
Include correspondence and reports on investments, personal bank statements and personal check books.
Series 4. Legal case files, 1909-1926
Cases for individuals which Roraback handled in his role as a lawyer.
Series 5. Assorted personal items and diaries, after 1873-1930
Series 6. Edward Dahill notes and correspondence, 1965-1968
Series 7. Restricted, 1919, 1923
The J. Henry Roraback papers were donated by John A. Craig to the Connecticut State Library in 1999.
Barbara Austen processed this collection in 2018.
Genre / Form
- Bank statements
- Checks (bank checks)
- Legislation (declaration of laws)
- RG 069:071, J. Henry Roraback Papers
- Finding aid prepared by Connecticut State Library staff.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note
Part of the Connecticut State Library Repository