Guide to the Dick Thornburgh Papers, 1932- AIS.1998.30

ULS Archives & Special Collections

Summary Information

ULS Archives & Special Collections
Dick Thornburgh Papers
Thornburgh, Dick, 1932-
Collection Number
1270.0 linear feet (Plus audiovisual material, scrapbooks, and memorabilia)
The Dick Thornburgh Papers begins with his youth and education at Mercersburg Academy, Yale University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. The bulk of the collection covers his tenure as U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania (1969-1975); Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. in charge of the Criminal Division (1975-1977); Governor of Pennsylvania (1979-1987); Director, Institute of Politics, Harvard University (1987); Attorney General of the United States (1988-1991); Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Administration and Management (1992-1993). Each of these positions is documented in detail by internal memoranda, correspondence and background material on issues, as well as by public statements, press releases, issue papers, speeches, drafts and goals and accomplishments, many of which are heavily annotated. The collection also contains extensive numbers of photographs and audio and video tapes relating to all aspects of Thornburgh's political life and on-going career. Digital reproductions of selected material is available online.
Sponsor Note
This finding aid is available on line as result of a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania grant to the University of Pittsburgh and with collaboration of the Archives Service Center and the Digital Research Library.

Preferred Citation

Dick Thornburgh Papers, 1932- , AIS.1998.30, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System

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Identified by Washingtonian magazine in 2006 as one of “ten legendary Washington lawyers who will forever leave their mark on the District’s legal landscape,” Dick Thornburgh is currently counsel to the international law firm of K&L Gates LLP, resident in its Washington, D.C. office. He previously served as Governor of Pennsylvania, Attorney General of the United States under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, during a public career which spanned over 25 years.

Elected Governor of Pennsylvania in 1978 and re-elected in 1982, Thornburgh was the first Republican to serve two successive terms in that office. He served as Chair of the Republican Governors Association and was named by his fellow governors as one of the nation's most effective big-state governors in a 1986 Newsweek poll.

During his service as Governor, Thornburgh balanced state budgets for eight consecutive years, reduced both personal and business tax rates, cut the state's record-high indebtedness and left a surplus of $350 million. Under his leadership, 15,000 unnecessary positions were eliminated from the swollen state bureaucracy that he inherited and widely recognized economic development, education and welfare reform programs were implemented. Pennsylvania's unemployment rate, among the ten highest in the nation when he was elected, was among the ten lowest when he left office as 50,000 new businesses and 500,000 new private sector jobs were created during his tenure.

Following the unprecedented Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, Governor Thornburgh was described by observers as “one of the few authentic heroes of that episode as a calm voice against panic.”

After his unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate, Thornburgh served three years as Attorney General of the United States (1988-1991) in the cabinets of Presidents Reagan and Bush. He mounted a vigorous attack on white-collar crime as the Department of Justice obtained a record number of convictions of savings and loan and securities officials, defense contractors and corrupt public officials. Thornburgh established strong ties with law enforcement agencies around the world to help combat drug trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and international white-collar crime. During his tenure as Attorney General, he twice argued and won cases before the United States Supreme Court. The Legal Times noted that Thornburgh as Attorney General “built a reputation as one of the most effective champions that prosecutors have ever had.” An honorary Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he chaired a panel of the National Academy of Public Administration examining the FBI’s post-9/11 transformation process and was a member of the FBI Director’s Advisory Board.

As Attorney General, Thornburgh played a leading role in the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2002, he received the Wiley E. Branton Award of The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in recognition of his “commitment to the civil rights of people with disabilities.” He also took vigorous action against racial, religious and ethnic “hate crimes,” and his office mounted a renewed effort to enforce the nation's antitrust and environmental laws.

All told, Thornburgh served in the Justice Department under five Presidents, beginning as United States Attorney in Pittsburgh (1969-1975) and Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division (1975-1977), emphasizing efforts against major drug traffickers, organized crime and corrupt public officials. In August 2002, he was appointed Examiner in the WorldCom bankruptcy proceedings, then the largest ever filed, to report on wrongdoing and malfeasance that led to the company’s downfall. He was also chosen in 2004 by CBS to co-chair an independent investigation into the “60 Minutes Wednesday” segment on President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard and has conducted numerous other internal investigations for leading enterprises.

During his service as Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations (1992-1993), Thornburgh was in charge of personnel, budget and finance matters. His report to the Secretary-General on reform, restructuring and streamlining efforts designed to make the United Nations peacekeeping, humanitarian and development programs more efficient and cost-effective was widely praised. He also has served as a consultant to the United Nations, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank on efforts to battle fraud and corruption.

In 2006, Thornburgh received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from The American Lawyer magazine for “important contributions to public life while building an outstanding private practice.” He has regularly been selected by his peers to be included in “The Best Lawyers in America,” and the Washington Post, in 2008, listed Thornburgh as one of “Washington DC’s Top Lawyers.” Earlier, in addition, the Pennsylvania Bar Association presented him with its Public Service in the Law Award in 1992. He currently chairs the Legal Advisory Board of the Washington Legal Foundation and served as a member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Attorney-Client Privilege.

Throughout his career, he has traveled widely, visiting over 40 countries and meeting with leaders from Canada, Mexico, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand and Central and South America. He served as an observer to the Russian Federation’s first legislative (1993) and presidential (1996) elections. A long-time supporter of self-determination, Thornburgh authored “The Future of Puerto Rico: A Time to Decide,” published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2007. He is a former member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

A native of Pittsburgh, Thornburgh was educated at Yale University, where he obtained an engineering degree, and at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law where he served as an editor of the Law Review. He has been awarded honorary degrees by 32 other colleges and universities. Thornburgh served as Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government (1987-1988) and has lectured on over 125 other campuses, (including Moscow State University in 1989 and 2011), debated at the Oxford Union and has frequently appeared as a guest commentator on network news and talk shows.

Thornburgh is a Life Trustee of the Urban Institute and a Trustee Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh, the Gettysburg Foundation and the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. He currently serves as Chair of the Board of Visitors at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and is a member of the Advisory Board of the RAND Corporation Center for Corporate Ethics and Governance. He previously served as a member of the boards of Merrill Lynch Incorporated, Rite-Aid Corporation, ARCO Chemical Corporation, Élan Corporation, plc, the Urban League of Pittsburgh, The Stimson Center, the National Museum of Industrial History and the National Academy of Public Administration. He was the founding Chairman of the State Science and Technology Institute and serves as Vice-Chairman of the World Committee on Disability.

He is a member of the American Law Institute and the American Bar Foundation. In 1992, he was honored by The American Legion with its highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal for “outstanding service to the community, state and nation” at its annual meeting in Chicago. In 2001, he was selected as a lifetime National Associate of the National Academies of Science and Engineering in recognition of his pro bono service to their programs, including the chairing of studies on science and technology and economic development; youth, pornography and the internet; and electronic voting.

Thornburgh served as an elected Delegate to Pennsylvania's historic Constitutional Convention (1967-1968) where he spearheaded efforts at judicial and local government reform. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States House of Representatives (1966) and the United States Senate (1991).

Thornburgh, born July 16, 1932, is married to Ginny Judson Thornburgh, a former schoolteacher from New York, who holds degrees from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She presently serves as Director of the Interfaith Initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities, based in Washington, D.C., and has co-authored and edited That All May Worship, an award-winning handbook for religious congregations working to include people with all types of disabilities. She received the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in April, 2005.

The Thornburghs have four sons, six grandchildren and a great granddaughter. As parents of a son with physical and intellectual disability, they have taken a special interest in the needs of persons with disabilities and, with their son, Peter, were named “Family of the Year." Both Ginny and Dick Thornburgh were featured speakers at the Vatican Conference on Disabilities held in Rome in November, 1992 and were co-recipients in 2003 of the Henry B. Betts Award, the proceeds from which were used to establish the Thornburgh Family Lecture Series on Disability Law and Policy at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dick Thornburgh’s autobiography, has been published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in both hardback (2003) and paperback (2010) editions.

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Scope and Content Notes

The Dick Thornburgh Papers, comprising 1,270 linear feet of his personal papers, was donated to the University of Pittsburgh in February 1988. Thornburgh, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a native of Pittsburgh, served as Governor of Pennsylvania (1979-1987), Attorney General of the United States (1988-1991), and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-1993). He held several additional public service positions and conducted four major campaigns: one for the U.S. House of Representatives, two for Governor of Pennsylvania, and one for the U.S. Senate.

His papers incorporate subjects of research interest regarding Pittsburgh, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and national and international topics. These subjects range from home rule, welfare reform, education, Americans with Disabilities Act and balanced budget amendments to criminal justice, white collar crime, merit selection of judges, international drug control, and include the handling of the Three Mile Island nuclear emergency.

Records within the Thornburgh Papers relate to his more than 25 years of public service as well as his campaigns and political activities over many years. There are 183 published articles and op ed pieces, more than 500 speeches from the early 1960s up to the present and news releases from all his elective and public service positions. The collection is widely annotated by Dick Thornburgh, which illustrates his detailed participation in the issues and the accomplishments of his positions.

The full Guide to the Dick Thornburgh Papers, 1932- and selected digitized material are viewable at:

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The collection is arranged in the following twenty-two chronological series, representing Thornburgh's life and career:

Series I. Youth and Education, 1932-1957

Series II. Early Legal Career, 1950s-1970s

Series III. Pittsburgh Civic Activity, 1950s-1970s

Series IV. Politics, 1960s-1970s

Series V. Campaign for United States Congress, 1966

Series VI. Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, 1967-1968

Series VII. United States Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, 1969-1975

Series VIII. Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, Department of Justice, 1975-1977

Series IX. Campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania, 1978

Series X. Re-election Campaign for Governor, 1982

Series XI. Governor, 1979-1987

Series XII. Director, Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 1987-1988

Series XIII. Attorney General of the United States, 1988-1991

Series XIV. Campaign for United States Senate, 1991

Series XV. Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1992-1993

Series XVI. Articles and Op-Eds, 1956-2013

Series XVII. Ongoing Career, 1993-

Series XVIII. Photographs, 1932-2004

Series XIX. Videos, 1978-2010

Series XX. Audio Recordings, 1976-1993

Series XXI. Scrapbooks, 1966-1987

Series XXII. Awards, Gifts and Memorabilia, 1950-2007

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

ULS Archives & Special Collections, June 30, 2004

University of Pittsburgh Library System
Archives & Special Collections
412-648-3232 (ASC) | 412-648-8190 (Hillman)
Contact Us:

Access Restrictions

No restrictions.


Permission for publication is given on behalf of the University of Pittsburgh as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.


Material will be added to the collection on a periodic basis to reflect Thornburgh's ongoing active service.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Dick Thornburgh, February 27, 1998.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Nancy Watson, Curator of the Thornburgh Papers, Holly Mengel, Project Archivist, and a team of graduate students. Processing was made possible by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2002.

Revision and rearrangement for the encoded version of the finding aid provided by Holly Mengel in 2004. Information about the collection title and the controlled access terms was extracted from the MARC record in the University of Pittsburgh catalog Voyager ID number: 3608599

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital reproductions of the collection are available electronically at

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Allegheny Regional Planning Council.
  • Ben Franklin Partnership.
  • Health and Welfare Association of Allegheny County. Task Force on Youth Problems.
  • John F. Kennedy School of Government. Institute of Politics.
  • Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.
  • National Governors' Association.
  • Pennsylvania. Department of Transportation.
  • Pennsylvania. Governor (1979-1987: Thornburgh).
  • Pittsburgh (Pa.). Home Rule Charter Advisory Committee.
  • Republican Governors Association.
  • State Science & Technology Institute.
  • Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant (Pa.).
  • U.S. Committee on Hong Kong.
  • United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988).
  • United Nations. Under-Secretary-General for Administration and Management.
  • United Nations.
  • United States. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • United States. Attorney (Pennsylvania : Western District).
  • United States. Attorney-General.
  • United States. Department of Justice. Criminal Division.
  • United States. Department of Justice. Public Integrity Section.
  • United States. Office of the Assistant Attorney General.
  • United States. Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.
  • Urban Institute.
  • World Committee on Disability.

Geographic Name(s)

  • Pennsylvania -- Economic conditions
  • Pennsylvania -- Politics and government -- 1951-
  • Pittsburgh (Pa.) -- Politics and government


  • Civil service reform -- Pennsylvania
  • Economic development projects -- Pennsylvania
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Factory and trade waste -- Environmental aspects
  • Government
  • Home rule -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh
  • Industrial promotion -- Pennsylvania
  • Narcotics, Control of
  • Organized crime -- United States
  • Personal papers
  • Political corruption -- Pennsylvania
  • Political corruption -- United States
  • Politics
  • Pollution -- Law and legislation
  • Public welfare -- Pennsylvania
  • Social action
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • Urban renewal -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh
  • White collar crimes -- United States
  • Women

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Previous Citation

Dick Thornburgh Papers, 1932- , AIS.1998.30, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

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