University of Massachusetts Lowell
Center for Lowell History
Paul E. Tsongas Collection
EXTENT: 720 boxes
ABSTRACT: Paul E. Tsongas, a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, served two terms as the 5th Congressional District’s U.S. Representative (1975 - 1979) followed by one term in the U.S. Senate before ill health forced his early retirement in 1985. Despite his short time in national politics, Tsongas achieved a remarkable impact, particularly in areas of environmental and economic policy. His pursuit of liberal ideals culminated in a popular run for President in the 1992 Democratic campaign.
Paul E. Tsongas was born on February 14, 1941, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to a Greek-immigrant father who ran a local dry-cleaning business and a native Massachusetts mother Katina (née Pappas; originally Panagiotopoulos) who died when he was six years old. He attended public schools and Dartmouth College, graduating the year after John F. Kennedy’s presidential election. Inspired by Kennedy’s call to service, Tsongas was among the first group of volunteers to join the Peace Corps, serving for two years as a teacher in Ethiopia and later as a Training Coordinator for a year in the West Indies. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1967 and passed the Massachusetts Bar the following year. His Peace Corps experience motivated him to continue pubic service directing his attention to helping his home town recover from the decades-long economic decline of its industrial textile mills. Tsongas ran for the Lowell City Council in 1969 and served until 1972. He was elected to the position of Middlesex County Commissioner from 1973 to 1975 before winning a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives. After four years in the House, he unseated Republican Senator Edward Brooke III (1919 – 2015) and served from 1979 until 1985. As he prepared to run for a second Senate term in 1983, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His illness compelled him to drop out of politics in order to devote time to his family and his health.
After a 1986 bone marrow transplant, Tsongas’s cancer was considered to be in remission, and in 1991 he became the first Democrat to officially announce his candidacy for his party’s 1992 Presidential nomination. In an 86-page pamphlet that Tsongas self-published and distributed freely at campaign events titled “A Call to Economic Arms: Forging a New American Mandate,” he promoted a comprehensive plan to revitalize American manufacturing through fiscal responsibility coupled with an assortment of proactive government policies. “Just as we deploy our men and women in the Persian Gulf,” he explained in his introduction, “we must deploy every American to stop our economic bleeding, to restore our social fabric, and to meet head-on the environmental and energy threats to our well being.” He won the New Hampshire primary along with several other early contests initially making him the front runner, but ultimately financial limitations forced him to withdraw as Bill Clinton dominated the race in subsequent primaries. Tsongas' run, while short, had an enormous impact. As Mark Shields pointed out on News Hour, it was Paul Tsongas who “shaped the entire debate of that campaign.”
Following his presidential run, Tsongas continued to promote economic causes, locally with his continuous advocacy for the Lowell Plan and the construction of Lowell's LeLacheur Park, and nationally by co-founding the non-partisan Concord Coalition "that advocates putting the national debt on a sustainable course and protecting future generations."
In May 1996, Paul Tsongas underwent a bone-marrow transplant and died less than a year later on January 18, 1997.
The Paul E. Tsongas Collection represents a broad scope of Tsongas' career. It covers the ten-year period from 1974 to 1984 when he served two terms as the U.S. House Rep for the 5th Massachusetts Congressional District (now the 2nd) his U.S. Senate term, his 1992 Presidential run, as well as projects with which he was involved locally and nationally. The collection contains correspondence, drafts for his books, interviews, legislation, pamphlets, photographs, speeches, talking points, videos, and is made up of the following series:
The initial acquisition of the Paul E. Tsongas Collection took place in 1985. Tsongas had left the Senate due to illness and served on the board of trustees of the then University of Lowell. During a board meeting, Tsongas had a conversation with University President William Hogan about the disposition of his Congressional papers. Hogan immediately accepted them as a donation and they were soon delivered to the university’s Special Collection. Local History Librarian Martha Mayo supervised the initial archival processing. Funds for supplies to rehouse the collection were provided through the president's office. This initial donation "The Washington Files" represents the files of Tsongas' congressional aids, a number of whom had followed him from the House to the Senate so that there is often a mixture of both records groups within a single folder. A student who was part of the "Second Chance Program" did the work of re-foldering and transferring the materials into archival boxes. A folder-level inventory was created using the Wang Vax system which was converted to Microsoft Word some years later. In the coming years, the Tsongas family would continue to add material to the collection which would be processed by the Center for Lowell History staff with assistance from interns for the Simmons Graduate School of Information and Library Science. As the Washington Files were prepared for selected digitization in 2007-08 a second round of processing took place. Numerous duplicates of press releases, clippings, as well as routine office receipts, were weeded reducing the physical size of the collection by 30%. Conservation steps were taken at this time with many photographs and fragile documents transferred into mylar sleeves.