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The Magazine of The University of Montana

ARTIFACTS: Mike Mansfield: A Legacy of Leadership

By John Heaney ’02

Photo: umt010690 Archives & Special Collections, Mansfield Library, The University of Montana

With a stroke of a pen, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson on July 2, 1964. The act—one of the most important pieces of legislation passed in the twentieth century—prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

A pen Johnson used to sign the landmark bill has a somewhat surprising home: a box on a shelf on the fourth floor of UM’s Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library. It’s a part of what’s called the Mansfield Collection, which consists of nearly 5,000 boxes of materials from Mansfield’s decadeslong career in politics.

The pen was given by LBJ to Mansfield, the Senate Majority Leader at that contentious time, “as a symbolic, physical representation of the importance of the role that he played in getting that legislation to the president to sign,” says Donna McCrea, head of Archives & Special Collections at the Mansfield Library. “Mansfield’s role was intentionally behind the scenes, but it was very, very critical.”

Mansfield rose from working as a mucker in the Butte mines to becoming one of the greatest statesmen in Montana history. He earned two degrees from UM and later taught on campus. He began his political career in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1943 and became a senator in 1952. He was elected Senate Majority Leader in 1961 and held that post until 1977—the longest tenure of a Senate Majority Leader in U.S. history. After he retired from the Senate, he served as ambassador to Japan until 1988.

“I hear stories all the time about personal experiences people had with him,” McCrea says. “People knew him, and they felt that he knew them, so he was a well-respected, maybe even adored, figure in Montana.”

Mansfield had critical roles in all sorts of legislation during his career, such as civil rights, the war in Vietnam, voting rights, and foreign policy. And all of his papers, speeches, correspondence with constituents—and even one of his desks—are part of the collection housed at the library.

Because Mansfield was such an important figure who gifted UM with a priceless stockpile of materials, McCrea, in cooperation with the Mansfield Center, decided something needed to be done to call Mansfield to the attention of the current generation and encourage further exploration of his legacy.

“We thought the best way to do this,” McCrea says, “was to get something online. Not just a list of what we have, but to actually digitize some content that people could look at on their own.”

What they created is Mike Mansfield: A Legacy of Leadership, an online exhibit featuring a biography and essays, as well as speeches, reports, and interviews pulled directly from the collection.

“It’s Mansfield’s words, his sentiments, his philosophies,” McCrea says. “Since we started by scanning documents that were already typed, they are easily keyword searchable. Researchers can find and look at material that actually was created at that time.”

Some specific examples of what can be found in the exhibit are a speech he delivered to Butte Public High School’s graduating class of 1957, his remarks about hydrogen bombs, and a series of essays ranging in topic from the voting age to foreign policy in Cambodia and Vietnam.

“What’s online is just a fraction of what we have in the collection,” McCrea says. “We digitized about 1,600 documents from twenty-seven boxes, and there are 5,000 boxes. So this is just a taste.

“It’s an amazing collection, and Mansfield was an amazing man,” she adds. “We could use someone like him today, and I think it’s important to remind our leadership in Washington, D.C., that legislation and work can get done without the acrimony and the divisive partisan politics we see today.”

To browse the exhibit, visit

“This is a pen that President Johnson held as he signed the Civil Rights bill into law,” says UM Archivist Donna McCrea.
Photo by Todd Goodrich