McMicken Professor Helps Society Write Its Own History

McMicken College Adjunct Assistant Professor of History Charles F. “Fritz” Casey-Leininger is the author of “To Secure Justice and Protect the Rights of the Needy: A History of the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati, 1908-1988.” The book was commissioned and published by the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati, and includes photos and documents from the organization’s early years, as well as lists of key personnel and notable events in its history.

Q: How did you get involved with this project?

A: I’ve worked on Cincinnati history for a number of years. Legal Aid’s executive director heard through a mutual friend that I did this kind of work. Also, their attorneys had taken on cases that had shown up in work I’ve done on race and housing. My previous work includes examinations of the history of racial segregation in Cincinnati’s neighborhoods and the development of the fair housing wing of the Civil Rights Movement in Cincinnati, particularly the local fair housing agency, Housing Opportunities Made Equal.

Q: The book includes newspaper articles, photos and a number of documents from the organization’s history. Were these difficult to find?

A: Murray Seasongood, who served as Cincinnati mayor from 1926 to 1930, left a large collection of papers to the Cincinnati Museum Center. They included information about Legal Aid, but it was really kind of scattered. The documents from Legal Aid’s day-to-day operation were also difficult to find. You know how it goes when an office moves and there’s a dumpster outside – they toss 10- and 20-year-old files and meeting notes. That’s one of the problems with doing this kind of history.

Q: Where else did you find the records that filled out the book?

A: I stumbled across a major collection of documents, the John Saeger Bradway Papers at Duke University. Bradway was an early president of the National Association of Legal Aid Organizations, and he was a pack rat. He kept everything, including a significant amount of correspondence and reports about Cincinnati Legal Aid.

To Secure Justice and Protect the Rights of the Needy: A History of the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati, 1908-1988

To Secure Justice and Protect the Rights of the Needy: A History of the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati, 1908-1988

Q: Were you able to find other information closer to home?

A: The Urban Studies Collection in the University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library has a wonderful collection of papers from local organizations and people. Once my researchers and I identified someone who might have been involved with Legal Aid, we looked for their papers there and at the Cincinnati Historical Society Library. We found the papers of such local political figures as Theodore Berry, Charles Phelps Taft and Bobbie Sterne. 

Q: Did you learn anything surprising while researching and writing this book?

A: The work Legal Aid did in its first 50 years speaks to what it does now. Its attorneys work one-on-one with clients, but also look at root causes and try to fix them through legislation. On the issues of foreclosure and payday lenders, Legal Aid has been very much involved in changing laws to protect people. That really parallels what they did in the early years, when they addressed lending law and borrower protection from before World War I through World War II.

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