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New Collection in the Archives: Bankruptcy Reform in the 1930s

March 17, 2011


In the wake of the economic hardship brought on by the Great Depression, the United States was compelled to revisit its system of debt relief.  Legislative efforts in the 1930s culminated in the passage of a new federal bankruptcy law, known as the Chandler Act of 1938, which established an administrative system that lasted for nearly 40 years.

Prior to the Chandler Act’s passage, a young Supreme Court law clerk, Francis R. Kirkham, advised Chief Justice Evan Hughes and his associates on recommended changes to bankruptcy laws as they existed at the time.  When writing the drafts of what would eventually become published as the “General Order and Rules of Bankruptcy,” Kirkham researched the existing legislation, reports from the National Bankruptcy Conference (which, at this time, was the leading bankruptcy advocacy organization), and corresponded with his superiors at the Supreme Court.  These and other materials from Kirkham’s working files were recently processed as part of the National Bankruptcy Archives.  

The finding aid of the Francis R. Kirkham Papers is located here.  To find out more about this collection or to schedule a research visit, contact me or stop by the Archives.