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Polly Shackleton papers

Identifier: MS2031

Collection Scope and Content

This collection contains correspondence, memorandums, newsletters, speeches, news releases, public statements, news clippings, newspapers, events brochures, pamphlets, posters, buttons and pins, photographs, cassette tapes, plaques and awards, hats, scarves, a 44 star flag, expired passports, membership and identification cards, hats, and buttons and pins. The collection contains materials that date from 1900 ca. -97 with the bulk of the material dating from 1960-1979.

The materials tell the story of Polly Shackleton's political and civic activities in Washington D.C. politics. The collection documents Polly Shackleton's role in the development of the City Council of the District of Columbia and the D.C. City Council, the appointed and elected governing bodies of the District that were implemented in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The collection also provides information related to the various civic and voluntary activities Polly Shackleton was involved in as a member of numerous social and political organizations. Much of her work was dedicated to improving social conditions for the people of Washington D.C., and touched on areas such as family and child services, hospital services, services for the infirm and elderly, housing, transportation, and securing political representation for the District and its residents.


  • 1894-1997


Restrictions on Access

The collection is open for research.

Restrictions on Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Historical or Biographical Note

Polly Shackleton (1910-1997) was a politician and social activist in Washington, D.C. during the second half of the twentieth century. She came to Washington in 1939, after a brief enrollment at the New School of Social Research in New York and working on FDR's campaign during the 1930's. Polly Shackleton's professional endeavors prior to her work with District of Columbia politics included an editorial position of Who's Who in American Art and the American Art Annual, work with the Office of War Information as an information specialist and researcher during World War II, and an eleven year position with the American Institute of Architects from 1951 to 1962.

Polly Shackleton became involved in the politics of Washington, D.C. during the 1950's while working on Adlai Stevenson's Democratic campaign. After Stevenson won the Democratic nomination, Shackleton became both a Democratic Central Committee member and an alternate Democratic National Committeewoman. In 1956, she was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and served on the platform committee. Polly Shackleton remained at the forefront of local political affairs in the District of Columbia, and in 1967 she was appointed to the first .DC Council by President Johnson. As one of the first appointed council members of D.C., some of her responsibilities included serving on various council committees, particularly ones concerned with health and welfare, citizen's rights, and childcare. Though not reappointed to the following council term, Polly Shackleton won a seat on the District's first elected council in 1974. She was reelected to that seat twice, once in 1978 and a second time in 1982. She served on the elected DC Council until 1986 when she retired from public office. While serving on the city's elected council, Polly Shackleton was responsible for the passing of approximately 60 pieces of legislation that eventually became District law through her sponsorship and co-sponsorship.

Polly Shackleton's dedication to the social and political conditions in Washington D.C. is made evident through her life and work. She was a major advocate for District Home Rule and National Representation in Congress, lobbying for these causes throughout her career. Most of her greatest social efforts involved improving conditions for and protecting the existing rights of those whose interests were most often overlooked by the government, such as the poor, children, and the elderly and infirm. She fought against transportation legislation that sought to build highways through the District, and would result in the displacement of many residents in low-income areas. She was an advocate of the METRO system, taking an active role in its planning and development, and also sought to develop bicycle paths and routes throughout the city. She was involved with First Lady Johnson's District beautification efforts, and much of the collection includes information on Project Pride, a city-wide summer program that aimed to provide District youth with activities that would help build skills and foster a sense of community within neighborhoods while working to beautify certain areas of Washington, D.C. Polly Shackleton also took a stand to improve health care for the young and old alike, securing licensing standards for nursing homes, building better nursing facilities for the infirm, and advocating for better services and management in D.C. General Hospital.

At the time of her death, Polly Shackleton was referred to as a bridge between her predominately white higher income constituents in Ward 3 and the rest of the city's residents whose interests she fought for throughout her career. She was remembered for the many social and political improvement efforts she undertook as a politician, and also for the individualized attention she paid to those who came to her for help; the collection contains numerous thank you letters from District residents who had turned to Polly Shackleton with a problem and found their needs had been met. She outlived her husband, Robert Shackleton, by nine years, and lived long enough to see the fruits of her social and political labor.

Polly Shackleton was born in Brookline, Massachusetts.


180 Linear Feet (This extent is an approximation as box type data is unknown for a large portion of the collection. )

Language of Materials



Collection contains correspondence, memorandums, newsletters, speeches, news releases, public statements, news clippings, newspapers, events brochures, pamphlets, posters, buttons and pins, photographs, cassette tapes, plaques and awards, hats, scarves, a 44 star flag, expired passports, membership and identification cards, hats, and buttons and pins documenting Polly Shackleton's (1910-1997) career as a politician and social activist in Washington, D.C. during the second half of the twentieth century.

Collection Organization

Organized into 10 series: General records; News clippings; Photographs; Oversized; Scrapbooks; Ephemera, Oral history, Aphabetical files, Office files, and Subject, chronological, and correspondence files.

Acquisition Information

Polly Shackleton donated her papers to the Gelman Library in 1987, with further accretions occurring over the next twelve years. In 1991, Polly Shackleton donated her Oral History to the Gelman Library, and in 1992, she also donated additional papers to the library. After her death in 1997, a donation of materials was made to the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., which were then transferred to the Gelman Library in 1999.

Processing information note

In 2017 a project was undertaken to capture folder titles for series 8, 9, and 10. Some work had clearly been done to these files by archival staff years ago, but not completed. The series titles were derikved by staff based on existing folder titles and the type of content. These is nothing known about the original order or any description for these files and nothing known about how much work had been done to these files before 2017. The folders were maintained in the order found within the boxes, but intellectually sorted for an alphabetical order within the collection guide to aid researcher use. It is likely the same folder titles appear in all three series (8,9,10).

Reparative Description Project

This finding aid was revised in September 2022 to address derogatory descriptive language related to disability identified in numerous folder titles in the broad areas of mental illness and disability. As this description was provided by the record creator(s) the description was not edited or removed, but additional information was provided in an Historic Context note at each folder level in order to add context. A copy of the finding aid prior to these reivsions was retained. To view that finding aid please use Pre-revision Feb. 2022 finding aid of Polly Shackleton papers

Guide to the Polly Shackleton papers, 1894-1997
Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

2130 H Street NW
Washington 20052 United States of America