Sanders Collection is a rich trove

Watergate papers, other documents available for use
Friday, January 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:23 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The 9-inch-wide, cast-aluminum “O” from the “Boone County Jail” sign that hung outside the old building has been collecting dust since it was removed during reconstruction in 1988. Each of the letters from the title were distributed to people involved in the project.


Michael Holland, director of the MU Archives Center in Lewis Hall, displays items from the Donald Sanders Collection. Sanders’ notes from the Watergate hearings and documents from investigations of Jane Fonda, the Students for a Democratic Society and other groups are in the collection. (JESSICA BECKER/Missourian)

Donald Sanders, Boone County commissioner from 1988 to 1990, chose the letter “O.” Today, the letter can be found in Box 37 of the University Archives in the Sanders Collection, a compendium of more than 140,000 documents and artifacts collected over the course of Sanders’ career.

After two years of processing, the collection, which fills 39 cubic feet of archive space in MU’s Ellis Library and Lewis Hall, is now available through an online catalog.

Sanders is also known for his work as deputy minority counsel with the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, commonly referred to as the Watergate Committee. It was Sanders who first asked Alexander Butterfield, a former assistant to President Nixon, the question that helped change the course of American history: Was there any reason for President Nixon to speak softly with White House counsel John Dean in the corner of the Oval Office? That pivotal inquiry led to the discovery that Nixon had an audio taping system in the White House.

Inside the MU collection, featured online, is a planner Sanders kept during the Watergate hearings. Although small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, the plain blue planner is filled with details about an unprecedented moment in American history.

Michael Holland, head of Special Collections, Archives and Rare Books at the MU libraries, said that the simplicity of the planner was part of its appeal.

“It’s a planner that you or I would have,” Holland said. “But it’s full of really important information about American history.”

Sanders diligently collected records and documents throughout his diverse career. Before Watergate, he worked as the chief counsel and chief of staff of the House Committee on Internal Security, the successor to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. There are 16 boxes of records from his work investigating threats to homeland security from 1969 to 1973. There are several documents from the committee’s investigation of Jane Fonda, the Students for a Democratic Society and underground groups and activities.

Holland said that he hopes the online catalog draws more people interested in researching Sanders and his extensive career. Given the breadth of the information available, Holland said that he would like to see more people taking advantage of the resource.

The collection was donated to MU in 2004 by Sanders’ widow, Dolores Mead. Sanders died in 1999 at age 69. Mead said that her late husband would have wanted his records to be saved and used by scholars, which is why she donated them to the university. The collection wasn’t fully cataloged until days before the death of former President Gerald Ford two weeks ago, Nixon’s successor in the White House.

Holland said that cataloging Sanders’ papers and materials took a long time because the collection was very large and disorganized, and Holland’s department was understaffed. Holland, along with two interns, did all the work.

He also said that they arranged the collection according to Sanders’ career. It follows the outline of his life chronologically and is grouped by the organizations he worked for.

“There is nothing sterile about it,” Holland said. “The collection has a lot of personality.”

Anyone interested can view the catalog online at the Web site:

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