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Frontlash records

 Collection 0082-LBR-RG50-001

Frontlash was an activist group that was created to increase political interest and engagement among young adults and was, one of the most enduring college-aged activist groups to emerge from the 1960s. This collection has extensive material related to instruction in labor organizing and union support, as well as significant material relating to Frontlash's political activity. Types of records include organizational records, financial records, minutes, mission statements, reports, and photographs.


  • 1968-1997

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


37.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of the Collection

Frontlash was one of the most enduring college-aged activist groups to emerge from the 1960s, becoming a training ground for future personnel in the labor movement. Organized in 1968 to provide an alternative among young adults to extremes of the New Left and the Radical Right, Frontlash began when members of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID) and United States Youth Council (USYC), Tom Kahn, Charlotte Roe Kemble, Penn Kemble, Gene Lynch, and others created in New York City a nonpartisan organization to challenge the political backlash and electoral apathy among youth. At the outset, the new organization received money from granting organizations such as The Stern Fund and individual unions such as the United Auto Workers (UAW). The Frontlash mission was aimed at affecting democratic change through the voting power of the underrepresented. From its inception until the late 1970s, Frontlash focused on voter registration and increasing political awareness among American Youth. In 1970, the Frontlash organization in San Francisco registered 100,000 new voters. Two years later, Frontlash helped bring the vote to eighteen-year olds.

In 1974, the organization's work in campaign finance reform caught the attention of the AFL-CIO. By the late 1970s, Frontlash created training conferences in conjunction with the LID, the AFL-CIO, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI). Realizing the organization couldn't live by elections alone, Frontlash and labor coalesced in the 1980s under the directive “making Democracy work.” Initially Frontlash received only nominal support from the AFL-CIO through its Committee on Political Education (COPE), but by the early 1980s it had an annual stipend directly from the AFL-CIO and held office space at the Federation's national Headquarters in Washington, D.C. By this time, Frontlash's mission had evolved to effecting positive change through the actions of working people. The organization began more aggressively recruiting new members, especially on college campuses. At its height, Frontlash had regional offices nationwide and active branches at many colleges and universities.

During the 1980s, Frontlash focused more on international activities such as pro-democracy in Poland and anti-apartheid in South Africa. It also began boycotts such as Toycott, a campaign that targeted child labor in Asia and Indochina. By the 1990s, Frontlash became known as a supporter for worker rights, leading campaigns against union busting firms, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and international corporations such as Nike and Reebok. By the 1996 election, Frontlash had come full circle, running an active "Labor '96" political voting campaign. The AFL-CIO disbanded the organization in 1997.

The following individuals served as executive directors of Frontlash and most remained on the Board of Directors after their tenure: Penn Kemble (1968-1972); Charlotte Roe (1972-1977); Gene Lynch (1977-1978); Jessica Smith (1978-1985); Joel Klaverkamp (1985-1992); Cheryl Graeve (1992-1996).

Frontlash records were primarily created by the national office staff who filed incoming as well as much outgoing material. Some material was created by regional and academic offices and filed at the national office. The collection includes correspondence, annual reports, organizational charts, training conference schedules, staff meeting agendas and minutes, manuals, informational packets, press releases, pamphlets, booklets, fliers, newspaper clippings, newsletters, audio and video tapes, and photographs relating to the activities of Frontlash and Frontlash staff. The material documents the work of Frontlash, its national office staff, and its regional offices. It is particularly strong concerning the correspondence of the office of the executive director, especially the tenures of Jessica Smith, Joel Klaverkamp, and Cheryl Graeve. Executive director correspondence may also be included in files for key campaigns. The collection has extensive material related to instruction in labor organizing and union support. The organization's relationship with individual unions is reflected in correspondence, various financial reports, union files, campaign files, and Frontlash anniversary files. Throughout the collection, the term "action items" refers to the physical actions and activities in which Frontlash personnel participated or coordinated.

There is also significant material relating to Frontlash's political activity in areas such as voter registration, eighteen-year old suffrage, and the sub-minimum wage protest. The records also provide insight into the AFL-CIO's umbrella support group for Frontlash, COPE. The files on civil rights document the organization's commitment to civil rights through its relationship with A. Philip Randolph and APRI. The minutes of staff meetings and of the meetings of the Board of Directors may include additional financial information and proposals or reports. Staff and training institute files comprise conference planning meeting minutes, conference agendas, and material relating to regional and national office recruitment. For more detailed descriptions of the records, see the descriptions and container lists for particular series and subseries. The documents in this collection will enhance the study of the labor movement in the late twentieth century.

Organization of the Collection

This collection is organized into eight series:

Series 1
Administrative Files
Series 2
Series 3
Subject Files
Series 4
Organizing Files
Series 5
Union Files
Series 6
Press and Publicity
Series 7
Series 8
Audio, Video, and Artifacts

Although the material from the 1985 and 1986 accessions was housed in labeled file folders, there was no clear arrangement to the material. Due to a lack of files or any arrangement of individual records, the processors of the collection created the entire structure of the collection to the item level. Thus, the arrangement is totally artificial and not based on the filing system of the creators. The much smaller amount of earlier records that had arrived with some labeled files was integrated into the new structure. The bulk of the collection is arranged by subject-based series created during processing. Undated material was placed at the beginning of each series or folder. Within each series, files are arranged either by importance, chronologically, alphabetically, or in combination, as appropriate. The arrangements are described in the scope and content notes for each series or subseries.

Custodial History

In 1985 and 1986 the national office of Frontlash sent approximately 40 cubic feet of inactive records to the George Meany Memorial Archives (GMMA). In 2002, five years after Frontlash ceased to function, its former executive director, Jessica Smith, delivered to the GMMA the approximately 160 cubic feet of remaining records of the organization. The George Meany Memorial Archives transferred these records as part of a major transfer of their archive and library holdings to the University of Maryland Libraries in 2013.

Related Materials

Very little of this material will be available elsewhere, as the collection contains primary material created by Frontlash personnel. The Online Archives of California holds the Frontlash San Francisco collection, .5 cubic feet.

Processing Information

Unfortunately, prior to their arrival, the records had been stored under archivally poor conditions and had suffered mold, water, and sunlight damage. The possibility of insect or other infestation required that the archives staff freeze the records to destroy any such parasites. There was no discernable order to most of the boxes holding unorganized sheets of paper. A large amount of unrelated or secondary source material appeared throughout this collection, including AFL-CIO publications, background information relating to various union campaigns and boycotts, and material from related organizations such as the LID and the Social Democrats. Of the approximately 200 cubic feet of total records accessioned by GMMA, approximately 170 cubic feet of unrelated, duplicate, or public domain materials was removed and destroyed. Any item in the collection that had received mold damage was photocopied and placed in the collection with the original destroyed.

Archive staff at the George Meany Memorial Archives initially processed these records in 1984. The University of Maryland Libraries received the records and the finding aid in 2013. In 2017, Bria Parker exported and cleaned the finding aid contents from the Eloquent Systems database using OpenRefine, and finally transformed the finding aids into Encoded Archival Description (EAD) using a series of programmatic scripts. The finding aid was ingested into ArchivesSpace in 2018, at which point Rebecca Thayer updated the descriptive content for accuracy. Revisions include changes to biographical/historical notes, scope and content notes, and the creation of new collection numbers. Rebecca Thayer also enhanced custodial histories and re-wrote collection titles to better conform to archival standards.

Guide to the Frontlash records
This collection was processed at the George Meany Memorial AFL-CIO Archives.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742