Rare Book & Manuscript Library

James G. McDonald papers, 1838-1972, bulk 1914-1962

Summary Information


This collection documents the professional and personal life of James Grover McDonald, a diplomat who worked extensively with refugee issues and served as the first U.S. ambassador to Israel.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0818
Bib ID 4078520 View CLIO record
Creator(s) McDonald, James G (James Grover), 1886-1964
Title James G. McDonald papers, 1838-1972, bulk 1914-1962
Physical Description 20 linear feet (47 document boxes; 1 oversize box)
Language(s) English .

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection has been arranged into nine series.


Scope and Content

This collection documents the professional and personal life of James Grover McDonald, a diplomat who worked extensively on refugee issues and served as the first U.S. ambassador to Israel. Much of the material relates to McDonald's positions on the High Commission for Refugees (Jewish and Other) Coming from Germany and the Presidential Advisory Committee on Political Refugees. These files document international efforts to help minorities, primarily Jews, escape Germany prior to World War II. There is also a fair amount of information on McDonald's experience as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Materials include correspondence, speech and book drafts, pamphlets, photographs, and newspaper clippings.

  • Series I: Special Files, 1922-1972

    This series contains correspondence with prominent public figures, primarily politicians and government officials such as Dean Acheson, Henry Stimpson, and Harry Truman. The files were originally part of the general correspondence found in Series II, but were removed and housed separately. They are arranged alphabetically by correspondent name.

  • Series II: General Correspondence, 1914-1962

    The correspondence in this series spans most of McDonald's life, but much of the material dates from after World War II and relates to McDonald's involvement with the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, the formation of Israel, and his experience as U.S. ambassador to Israel. There is also considerable material relating to refugees, as well as some personal correspondence with family and friends. Files are arranged alphabetically by correspondent or institution name.

  • Series III: Manuscripts and Speeches, 1914-1960

    This series holds drafts of two of McDonald's books, Palestine and the Middle East and My Mission to Israel, as well as drafts and transcripts of his speeches on current events and international policy. It includes many of the speeches McDonald broadcast over radio while working for the Foreign Policy Association, drafts for a 1943 NBC radio show, and many other speeches given before a variety organizations. Materials are arranged chronologically.

  • Series IV: High Commissioner for Refugees, 1933-1936

    This series contains material relating to League's effort to help refugees attempting to leave Germany prior to World War II. It includes reports from meetings with Nazi officials and extensive letters and reports discussing the insurance and property rights of refugees. Several files document McDonald's trip to South America with S.G. Inman to assess potential locations for refugee settlements. Documents are arranged chronologically.

  • Series V: Presidential Advisory Committee on Political Refugees, 1936-1945

    Series V is comprised of a wide range of documents on refugee issues, including discussions of visa requirements; letters from groups seeking to help particular groups of refugees (such as children or Spanish refugees); and correspondence on technical problems, such as transportation issues. Files are arranged alphabetically by name or topic.

  • Series VI: Photographs, 1937-1961

    This series holds a small number of photographs of McDonald, primarily formal portraits.

  • Series VII: Development Corporation For Israel, 1951-1961

    This small series contains business documents from McDonald's position as chairman of the Advisory Council. It includes correspondence, meeting information, speaking schedules, and expense reports.

  • Series VIII: Pamphlets and Clipping Books, 1914-1951

  • Series IX: Memorabilia, 1950-1961

    This series contains a small number of awards, gifts, and other memorabilia given to McDonald.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); James G. McDonald papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Archival Materials

Part of James Grover McDonald's diary is at the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Ownership and Custodial History

Gift of Mrs. James Grover McDonald, Mrs. Halsey V. Barrett, and Mrs. Archibald Stewart, 1972.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Correspondence, memoranda, documents, clippings: Date of acquisition--1970.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Correspondence, memoranda, documents, clippings Surveyed Julie Miller 05/--/87.

Papers processed Tracy Thai, Barnard 2012 2009.

Finding aid written Carolyn Smith July 2009.

Revision Description

2009-12-02 File created.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Ambassadors Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bentwich, Norman, 1883-1971 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Blue Network Company Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Development Corporation for Israel. Advisory Council Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Diplomatic and consular service, American -- Israel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Foreign Policy Association Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Herbert H. Lehman Collections (Columbia University) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
High Commission for Refugees (Jewish and Other) Coming from Germany Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Immigration policy and research Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Inman, Samuel Guy, 1877-1965 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
International relations Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Israel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Israel -- Politics and government Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kotschnig, Walter M (Walter Maria), 1901-1985 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
League of Nations Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
McDonald, James G (James Grover), 1886-1964 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York Times Company Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Palestine -- Politics and government Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Political refugees Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Refugees -- Germany Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- Foreign relations -- Israel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States. President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Wurfbain, André L Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical sketch

James Grover McDonald was born on November 29, 1886 in Coldwater, Ohio. His parents, Kenneth and Anna Dietrich McDonald, operated a hotel, and the family's five children worked alongside their parents. The family later moved to Albany, Indiana, to operate a second hotel, and there McDonald met Ruth Stafford, whom he would marry in 1915. The couple would have two daughters, Barbara Ann and Janet.

McDonald studied at Indiana University, earning an A.B. degree in 1909 and a master's in History, Political Science, and International Relations in 1910. He won a teaching fellowship in history at Harvard Graduate School and then returned to Indiana University in 1914 as assistant professor of history. He taught until 1918, with a break in 1915-1916 to visit Spain as a Harvard University traveling fellow. He also taught summer sessions in international affairs at the University of Georgia in 1916 and 1917.

At the recommendation of his Harvard advisors, McDonald moved to New York City and took a position with the Civil Service Reform Association, which was committed to ending government corruption. From 1919 to 1933, McDonald served as chairman of the Foreign Policy Association, an organization dedicated to educating the public about foreign affairs. McDonald presided over Foreign Policy Association Luncheons, which were broadcast over WEAF and NBC. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, he gave weekly talks on international relations over the same radio stations, speaking on current world events. McDonald traveled extensively and made trips to Germany nearly every year, experiencing Hitler's rise to power firsthand.

In 1933, McDonald became League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and was faced with the task of negotiating refugee possibilities with Germany prior to World War II. In a meeting with Hitler in 1933, he became aware of Nazi goals to exterminate the Jewish population. McDonald struggled to help Jews and other persecuted individuals leave Germany, but found that his ability was restrained by League policies. He was respected and admired for his efforts and was awarded the American Hebrew Medal for Promotion of Better Understanding between Christian and Jew in America.

In 1935, McDonald resigned from the position. In his resignation letter, he detailed the mistreatment of minorities in Germany and urged the League of Nations to take proactive measures not only to help refugees, but to recognize and address the problems in Germany that forced them to leave in the first place. The letter was widely circulated and was one of the first denouncements of the Nazi government by an international diplomat.

McDonald returned to New York, and from 1936 to1938 he worked on the editorial staff of the New York Times, specializing in editorials on international relations. In 1938 he returned to the problems of the refugees, serving as chairman of the President's Advisory Commission on Political Refugees. The Commission was involved mainly in working with the State Department to adapt immigration laws to the crisis in Germany. McDonald served on the Commission until 1945.

In 1946, McDonald served with the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, a British and American committee charged with forming a policy on the admission of Jews into Palestine. McDonald traveled throughout the reason to hear the testimony of Jews and Palestinians, and became a strong supporter of unlimited immigration into Palestine by European refugees, and of the eventual creation of the state of Israel.

In 1948, President Truman asked McDonald to serve as a U.S. representative to Israel, and McDonald moved to the newly formed country along with his daughter, Barbara. The following year, he became the first U.S. ambassador to Israel and served for two years, working to forge a strong connection between the two countries during a period of upheaval. McDonald resigned as ambassador in 1951 and returned to the US, where he became chairman of the Advisory Council of the Development Corporation for Israel.

McDonald wrote about his personal experience as an ambassador in his book My Mission to Israel, published in 1951. His extensive diaries, now held by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, have also been published in an annotated, multi-volume collection, The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald.

In addition to his long career in international affairs, McDonald was also a member of the Board of Education of the City of New York (1940-1942); president of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (1938-1942); and a member of the Harvard Club of New York.

James G. McDonald died in 1964.